To Scio from Harpers Ferry with Love: Alonzo Cady’s Civil War Letters to his sister, Jerusha Cady Howe

Letters transcribed by Madeline O. Scott and Skip Testut.

Originals on file with Scio Town Historian, email:

Introduction by E. W. "Skip" Testut, Ph.D.  Web resource developed by Stephen Sweet.

Rufus Alonzo Cady wrote many letters to his older sister, “Juty” (Jerusha Cady Howe), while he served in Company I of the New York 5th Volunteers, Heavy Artillery during the Civil War. Born on November 24, 1837 in Hunt (near Portage), NY, Livingston County, Rufus enlisted on December 21, 1863 in Scio. He received basic training and his assignment to Company I at Elmira, where he mustered into active duty on December 28, 1863. Basic training must have been very basic, indeed, for a month later, on January 29, 1864, and after having received a 7-day furlough home in early January, Alonzo arrived at Maryland Heights across the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry, Virginia to begin his tour of duty.

Alonzo and George Cady
 Rufus Alonzo Cady at a family gathering in the early part of the 20th century. Alonzo is standing in the front, just left of center wearing a dark suit and hat. Standing to his left wearing a dark vest over a white shirt is Alonzo’s older brother, George Cady.

It was in the Harpers Ferry theater that Alonzo would serve during the Civil War ending with his discharge from service on July 19, 1865, also at Harpers Ferry. He served as a private for most of his enlistment but was appointed corporal on June 24, 1865, a month before his discharge. Alonzo returned to Allegany County upon his discharge where his wife, Mary, and he raised a family and farmed until his death on July 13, 1912 from a stroke. Mary and he lie buried at Knights Creek Cemetery.

Rufus was a prolific writer, but, unfortunately, Alonzo’s letters to his sister, Juty, although just a portion of the letters he wrote, are all that seem to survive. Still, the letters to Juty provide insight into the thoughts of a Union soldier from Allegany County, hungry for the latest news not just of home, but nationally and internationally. They describe camp life, the roles and the duties of soldiers battling not just Confederate soldiers, but loneliness and homesickness while wanting to be back home, getting on with an interrupted life.  Alonzo’s letters tell of newspapers and magazines, whenever and wherever they could be found, comrades, prisoners, plans for after the war, a time and place largely lost except to historians of the era. They also tell of an individual with a clear sense of purpose and meaning in a confusing, trying time. There is little self-pity in Alonzo’s writing and it’s clear that he expects none from others (although a letter to Harpers Ferry would be appreciated, greatly). In short, he’s a man of his time and his letters reveal just what that meant. May you, the reader, enjoy and appreciate them as much as we, his descendants, have.