Among the letters in Lt. William Cherry’s wooden box in Fort Delaware prison lay one from Montreal — an unsigned letter but in a familiar hand. We know who wrote it because the writing matched later letters from a “Monk Reese.” Here is the letter:
Montreal, Canada July 12th, 1864
[envelope postmarked New York}
Lt. W. B. [sic] Cherry
I have just received a dispatch [sic] from Mr. Parsons of New York stating that: “Lt W C Cherry is a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware & wants to hear from you.” I feel glad & sorry both. Glad that an opportunity has presented itself so that I can hear from home & sorry that you have the misfortune to be a prisoner. Better that though than to be killed. I have no doubt but you will be treated well & with humane kindness. I have been absent from home now ever since the 10th of October last  and only twice have I heard from home directly. In consequence thereof I want you to give me a lengthy epistle about home matters. It was just night before last I was speaking of the West Point Guards [Company D, 4th Georgia Infantry] and your name mentioned. I am anxious to know the fate of the boys who compose that brave company. I fear though many of them have been sent to their “last home” since the year’s campaign set in. Judge [Pvt. James A. Cherry] I suppose is still in the company and Sam [Cherry]
(Pa wrote me in April) was in Atlanta. Where is Storey your brother? Bill Darden[,] Joe Bradfield & others I suppose are all in Joe Brown’s “melish” [probably militia]. I often wish I could get a long letter from home
[Page 2] detailing me all of the news. Many changes no doubt have taken place. Congress I see has repealed the substitute law & of course every fighting man is in the army. I hope Ben Cooper & Mark Smith (the “white-head feller”) have at last got a chance to “chew up” a thousand “Yankees” at once. They were very anxious for every body but themselves to go to the war. I am afraid Mark Sr is “dodging behind” 20 Negroes and a plan[t]ation. I am told that exempts a man down in “Dixie.” Well Billy I have had a gay time since I left home. Except having the Itch about 3 months which unruffled my amiable temper and kept my hands in perpetual motion for that length of time – day & night – I went to [illegible] & intended going to Europe, but meeting with some of my old SoCa [probably South Carolina] & Alabama acquaintances was prevailed on to go to Havana to spend the winter. I did so & had a nice time when I wasn’t scratching. Funny aint it? – Ma wrote me that Miss Annie Gwin & Rebecca Harrington were married – Tell me who they married. Miss Sallie Reid & other younger “beauties” I suppose are still single. If this war lasts much longer they will be single from necessity. I would like to hear from “Doc” & “Pink.” I would like to say something funny in relation to the two boys just named but fear they might be badly wounded or (may be) killed. I trust God neither is so. Uncle Hamden I suppose is still at West Point “blowing” as usual.
At the top of the page was this sentence:
I will direct this letter to Mr. Parsons & request him to forward it to you through the proper channels.
Mr. Parsons was, perhaps, a Northern copperhead – i.e., a Southern sympathizer. We will likely never know.
But who was Monk Reese?
Mary Elisabeth Reese was the maiden name of Lt. Cherry’s mother. She died when he was eight, according to his memoir. Monk Reese must have been a cousin.
Finding him however, proved a challenge. There was little else to go on.
Then recently I discovered that Kessenger Legacy Reprints had republished a volume entitled GENEALOGY OF THE REESE FAMILY IN WALES AND AMERICA (Richmond, Va., 1903). The author was Miss Mary E. Reese. According to this genealogy, a Mary Elizabeth Reese married her cousin Dr. James A. Cherry of Pendleton, South Carolina, on August 9, 1832. “She was sixteen, and he nineteen” (p. 68). The Cherrys and the Reeses must have intermingled before.
The couple had left South Carolina and moved to Alabama (at the time Indian territory) and then to West Point, Georgia, on the Alabama line. They had four sons and a daughter. Three of the sons joined the West Point Guards — the local militia — at the outbreak of the war. The oldest son became a teacher in Alabama and a Republican officeholder after the war.
The author included in her genealogy not only Lt. Cherry’s family but some other Cherrys. But she had no entry for a Monk Reese.
I searched for Reeses with Ms in their names. That produced “Milton Eli Reese.”
Success: the author wrote, he was “better known as Monk Rees, a name he always bore” (p. 212). And Monk Reese’s family lived near West Point, Ga.
Mary Reese’s genealogy did not mention whether Monk took psrt in the Civil War or his sojourns in Montreal. But she did describe him:
“‘Monk,’ as he was familiarly called, was educated at the University of Georgia, and afterward read law at the University of Virginia. He was a bright, erratic man, generous and kind, a friend to everyone.”
But religion changed him, she wrote:
“When he first grew up, he was wild and dissipated, but after his conversion, he reformed, joined the Baptist Church, and entered the ministry, and preached a short while. He had a peculiar disposition, was morose and unhappy. He was a lawyer and a journalist at different periods of his life.” (Reese Genealogy, p. 214)
Monk was bright and erratic in this letter. He writes almost as if there was no civil war going on.
His reassurance to Lt. Cherry that “I have no doubt but you will be treated well & with humane kindness” in the Union prison was wrong. The history of the Immortal 600 in earlier posts shows how the Union general commanding at Charleston starved all his Confederate prisoners on purpose during the winter of 1864.
When the Confederate prisoners arrived in late summer at Charleston Harbor, he imprisoned them in a stockade in front of the Union artillery. That forced the Rebel guns to fire over the heads of their own men — a war crime even in 1864.
But Monk Rees never foresaw that. This letter shows the wild man who wrote to William Cherry from New York and Canada. Wilder letters were to come.