Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Burnett, Wellington Cleveland (1829-1907) to his parents

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00155.01 Author/Creator: Burnett, Wellington Cleveland (1829-1907) Place Written: Cuernavaca, Mexico Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 4 April 1848 Pagination: 3 p. : address ; 34 x 39 cm.

Writes about his enlistment and his promotion to sergeant. Tells his family about his ability to learn the drills faster than anyone in his company and mentions having seen combat. Discusses camp life, rations, and not having a uniform. Mentions the possibility of a promotion to lieutenant. Impression in the upper left-hand corner of an eagle clutching a scroll with a picture of a galleon.

Duty Sergeant Burnett enlisted in Dayton, Ohio, with the 15th Infantry, E Company. The Burnett family lived in Highland, Michigan, but had strong roots in Connecticut and Massachusetts. After the Mexican War, Burnett served as brigadier-general of the California National Guard under the administration of Governor John Neely Johnson. Burnett was a California pioneer who won distinction in the legal profession as well as a public official and leader. He was one of the foremost members of the San Francisco bar at the time of his death. Burnett was a descendant of a signer of the Mayflower Compact, a Minute Man, and a Revolutionary War soldier.

{{Cuernovaca. Mexico, April 4th, 1848.}
Fond and affectionate Father and Mother,
It is with Pleasure i pen these few lines in answer to your letter (which i received yesterday) dated Feb 16th. May these few lines find you in as good state of health as i am happy to learn you were in when you wrote that letter. In that letter you wished me to inform you as to my situation. I enlisted on the 19th of march in Dayton Ohio, under Capt Edward Ring who was recruiting a company for the fifteenth infantry; We arrived at Vera Cruz on the 4th of May and left the beach on the 3d of June. On the 5th we had a fight with Guerillas at Tolomos our party being commanded by Lieut Colonel McIntosh. We lost 64 men killed and wounded. We could not assortain the loss of the enemy. We arrived at the National Bridge on the 10th of June and had another battle. Gilson was right when he said i had been in four hard fought battles. I am a duty Sergt. in Co. E fifteenth infantry. When i enlisted i said nothing about a noncomisioned office. But there is one thing i can say and that is although the noncommissioned offices were at first filled by those who were so low as to ask for them, i filled the first vacancy without asking for it. My companions wil tell you that i learned the drill quicker than any man in the Com[pany] and that I always volunteered on any Hazerdous enterprize. I hesitated to tell you that i had been in any battles or that i was a Sergt. out of modesty--I think this extreme modesty was entirely uncalled for towards a parent but my constitution is such that i cannot help it. I have not tasted a drop of intoxicating drinks since i left home. Our living is principally bread and beef. Coffee sugar rice or beans Vinegar. salt. are also furnished. and soap to wash our clothes. Our rations are not as good as at home in time of peace. We are not furnished with a uniform suit in this country. But we shall get pay for it in money when we are discharged. The term of my enlistment is during the war. My pay is 13 dollars a month. I have not sighned the two last pay rolls therefore there is four months pay due me besides 27 dollars which i foolishly lent. but I am glad it was when i was young as I shall proffit by the lesson. You spoke of a Lieutenancy. I enlisted as a private my greatest wish being to do my duty as a good soldier, but if my friends think i am deserving of a commission and are succesful in getting it for me shall accept of it with the greatest pleasure. If unsuccessful, i thank them for their kindness. And it will not hurt my feeling in the least as i never expected such an honor! I don't expect to get it as men who never have heard a ball whistle have been promoted over others who have been reccommended who have been all through the war. Direct you letters to W.C.B. Company E 15th US infantry. I have never received but one letter from you they were probably mislayed as I perceive this letter [3] not directed to the fifteenth infantry at all. Write to me verry often as the mail arrived here from the States once in two weeks. Tell me what you are about and how you are getting allong. I should
be perfectly happy if i thought you were so. I want to know if mother is well as John Burnett T me you were in Conn for your health last fall.
Your Affectionate Son.
Wellington C. Burnett

Dear Brother
it is a long time since i saw you but i perceive you have not forgotten me please accept my advice and mind your father and mother and learn all the good you can. and keep away from wicked children.
From your
Brother [Welkon].

Dearest parents I thank you most sincerely for your prayers and good advice accpet my prayers for your safety and well being in return.

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources