K.N. Cowing Collection

 Collection
Identifier: MSS.0967

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

This collection contains 38 original letters dated 1858-1861 from a young man detailing the tense years just before the American Civil War and his eventual enlistment in the Union Army at the outbreak of the conflict. There are also five envelopes and one photograph.

Description from the vendor: The letters document the fraught political upheaval taking place at the time and the tense years that led up to the civil war. It goes up to the start of the war and also documents the author being mustered into the Union Army. The author of these letters is named K. N. (Kirkland Newton) Cowing. He is eventually stationed at Camp Wickliffe in Larue County, Kentucky. This camp was the assembly and training camp of Brigadier General William Nelson's 4th Division of the Union's Army of the Ohio, eventually ending up with Company A of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with Nicholas Longworth Anderson as Colonel. Almost every single letter in this group is addressed to his brother: Judge & Attorney Rufus B. Cowing, Esq. of New York. Rufus, the recipient of these letters, had quite a background and is very interesting in his own right. The only letters not written to Rufus are three to his mother, and one written by a sister. There are 31 letters, the majority mentioning politics and the looming war. He also mentions becoming the President of a Debating Society and that's where many, if not most, of the political questions arise.

K.N. Cowing presents himself as a very smart young man, discussing these sensitive and difficult topics well and with knowledge. He is solidly for the Union side of the war, but also seems to believe quite strongly in State's Rights, wishing the North had not gotten itself involved with the Slavery Question. "I belong to no Geographical party and whether slavery is right or wrong is none of my business unless the question comes up in my state,” he writes once. He was also quite keen on getting into West Point and discussed this with his brother. K. N. Cowing was born in 1843 and it is very interesting to know that these letters were written by a very young man. The letters show him to be very bright, but still learning and exploring his life. He enters the army in 1860, at the age of 17.

There are also five of the original envelopes to which the letters were sent to Rufus. As well, there is also a photo "carte de visite" of an officer. It is unclear how he fits in with the family. The photo was found with the letters. His name is written on the reverse of the image: Lt (David) P. Richardson 6th N.Y. Cav- and the date Nov, 1861. David P. Richardson would eventually become a U.S. Representative from New York after serving over three years in the Union Army.

Here are some excerpts from the letters:

"Glendale Ohio, Nov 13, 1858. We have a Debating Society here and the next question for the debate is whether Slavery is right or wrong. I am on the affirmative that it is right, but of course that is against my principals but of course some person must take that side and it devolved on me.";

"Glendale Ohio, Dec 21,1858. We have a Debating Society and last time they elected me for President. Our last subject for debate was whether 'The freed Negroes of the United States should be allowed to vote.' Many of the members thought if they were allowed to vote they might have a 'Wooley Head' for President of the U.S. For if they were allowed to vote they would of course have the right of being chosen to office. What is your opinion of the question? Our next subject for debate is whether 'War is necessary.' Have you any good speeches? if so send it to me.";

"Cincinnati, Dec 3,1860. Dear Brother, I received your letter in due time and I was glad to hear from you for I had almost thought that you had got so immersed in politics and was so gleeful over Lincoln's election that you died for joy. Yes as you say Lincoln is elected but from appearances he will rule over only half the U.S. for with whatever jest you may pay over the grumblings as you call it of a distracted party there is a great deal of trouble get in store. N****s out of the question and we indivisible divided we fall. That is what I think but a great deal depends on Lincoln himself and what party he selects his cabinet for if he selects it from the Republican Party he will I have a sectional one and that is what I hope he will not do from OPF's message he seems to wave all responsibility and leave everything for Lincoln if I was in hopes he would redeem his character and give is a message that would recall the days of Jackson didn't you. Well I go in for the Union my mottoes are Union now and forever one unresponsible. No sectional party do away with all geographical parties.";

"Jan 27, 1860, Cincinnati. Dear Brother, Your last letter I received this week and was very glad to from you in regard to politics I am afraid that there is disunionist North as South and that the rights of the South have been disregarded. Many in regard to slavery question lose sight that is the laws of the Land. They say the platform of the Union Party means nothing but it means everything. Constitution of the United States and its interpretation by the Supreme Court. I am for the Union out and out but the South has a party as well as the North. I say the ministry should let politics alone and not make it a principal of the church the great principal is whether man is capable of self government or not at all other questions ought to be ignored... Mother has gone to Jamestown I have not heard from her in sometime. What a great humbug this great talk of which we will lose the most and which will be the gainer. It is as sensible as it would be for the words of a watch or anything else to talk of separation. United we Stand divided we fall and with regard to Coercion it can't be for it would be Brothers against Brothers and soon against Fathers. When ministry learn their duty and preach peace instead of war & newspapers confine themselves to their business instead of misrepresenting affairs then will there be peace. I belong to no Geographical party and whether slavery is right or wrong is none of my business unless the question comes up in my state. When will the North learn to mind their own business but enough for once. Write soon.";

“Cincinnati July 23,1860. I am glad you like the Law and hope you will succeed in your profession, so you are changed from Fillmore well if you engage in politics I advise you not to change so often although your Vice President is a stray sheep from the folds of Democracy. Well my great principle is Americans to rule America. J think that Henry Clay was right when he said that foreigners should stay 21 years here before they could vote or at least longer than 5. Have you seen the "Great Eastern" What do you think of that English ship?";

“Camp Wickliffe Feb 4,1862. Dear Brother, Your last letter I received a few days ago and also the Herold and World in the same mail. I am trying to buy the house next to mothers and giving it to her and 1 will do all I can towards it and if you will take this matter in hand I think we could manage it. I wish you could be with me for a short time but I think seclipin is as the boys have it here about played out. 'What is the opinion of New Yorkers?' The victory was read the day after the battle and the news being read to the Regiments it was concluded by these remarkable words: 'The Union must & shall be preserved! By Order Regt. Gen. Nelson per G.W. Kendrick's acting adjutant.' And we think that if Nelson says anything it has to be done. We have an inspection of quarters every Sunday and last Sunday Nelson Pronounced our tent the best of the Division said it was no wonder none of us were sick and declared we lived better than himself and said an order for the Company Officers of other Regiments to visit our quarters and take pattern after them it has been raining for some days but has stopped and we expect to advance as soon as the roads get dry...Our Regiment has the advance and all the rest of the Regiments are calling us Nelson's 'Pets' and they say he gives us the best chance. Nelson was very much disliked at first by the Grey's but he is treating all alike making offices as well privates do their duty."

Dates

  • 1858 - 1861

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact specialcollections@vanderbilt.edu.

Biographical Note - Kirkland Newton Cowing

Kirkland Newton Cowing was born in Dexterville, Oswego, New York on October 3, 1843. He entered the army in 1860 at the age of 17. He was solidly for the Union side of the war, but also seems to have believed quite strongly in State's Rights, wishing the North had not gotten itself involved with the Slavery Question. "I belong to no Geographical party and whether slavery is right or wrong is none of my business unless the question comes up in my state,” he wrote once. He was also quite keen on getting into West Point and discussed this with his brother. He was eventually stationed at Camp Wickliffe in Larue County, Kentucky. This camp was the assembly and training camp of Brigadier General William Nelson's 4th Division of the Union's Army of the Ohio, eventually ending up with Company A of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with Nicholas Longworth Anderson as Colonel. He died on October 7, 1863 after succumbing to wounds sustained in battle while in the custody of the Confederate States Army.

Biographical Note - Rufus Billings Cowing

Rufus Billings Cowing (1840-1906) was a New York City Judge and Wall Street lawyer. He served for 28 years and had been involved in some sensational criminal and political corruption cases. His career intertwined with the history of New York City. After leaving the courts, he entered private practice by joining his son's firm on Wall Street. Cowing was born in Jamestown, New York in 1840. Cowing's father died when Cowing was just 5 years old. At age 12, he came to New York City where he attended boarding school until he entered the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn from which he graduated in 1861. Next, he clerked at a bank for a short while and then decided to enter a law career. He worked for and studied at a New York City law firm for about two years and then entered Harvard University's Law School, graduating in 1865. He practiced law in New York City and got involved in politics.

Extent

.3 Linear Feet (6 folders)

Language of Materials

English

Overview

This collection contains 38 original letters dated 1858-1861 from a young man detailing the tense years just before the American Civil War and his eventual enlistment in the Union Army at the outbreak of the conflict. There are also five envelopes and one photograph.

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives
Title
Finding Aid for the K.N. Cowing Collection
Status
Completed
Author
Zach Johnson
Date
March 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville TN 37203 United States


 

About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

Requesting Materials

Each finding aid contains a link to request materials from the collections. Collections can also be requested by emailing the repository directly through the library website. Each repository has its own location, hours, and contact information. Please consult the repository with questions about using the materials. Collections are non-circulating and must be used in the repository’s reading room. In many cases, the collections are stored off-site and require advance notice for retrieval.