Samuel B. Cook
, also known as “Willard S. Cook”, was born 1837 in Orleans County, New York, the son of Levi (b. 1805) and Susan (b. 1806).
Massachusetts native Levi married Vermonter Susan in 1824 and they eventually settled in New York. Sometime after 1847 the family left New York and moved to Michigan. By 1860 Levi had settled on a farm in Carlton, Barry County, where Samuel was living with his family and working as a farm laborer for Wilson Odell, a farmer in Carlton.
Samuel stood 6’2” with blue eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and was 24 years old and still living in Barry County when he enlisted in the Hastings Rifle Company in April of 1861. The company was disbanded shortly after it arrived in Grand Rapids and its members distributed to other companies of the Third Michigan infantry then forming at Cantonment Anderson just south of the city, and Samuel eventually enlisted in Company E on May 13, 1861.
On September 17, 1861, Samuel was in a hospital in Washington, DC, when he wrote home to his “Dear sister Susan,”
I now write a few lines to you to let you know that I have not forgot you and the reason why I have not written to you before is that I have felt so miserable that it has been hard work for me to write at all. I have got a very lame side and hip and perhaps it will be a long time before it gets so that I can be with my boys. For six weeks I have suffered every thing and yet I live in hopes of being able to do my duty to my country, which it needs so much. When you and Jacob has your good times think of me and say he is suffering for his country, and he is willing to suffer for his Native Land and its noble flag. Tell Mary and Daniel that I am . . . unable to do anything that I have not forgot them although I have suffered everything and now I am deprived of talking. I have not spoke a word in over two weeks. There have four doctors been doctoring me and they have not helped me any yet. Write to me as soon as you get this and direct your letter to Union hospital [on Washington Street in] Georgetown DC. I hope these few lines will find you in good health and I hope when I hear from you I shall be well. So good bye for this time from your brother.
That same day he also wrote to his sister Esther, “I thought that I would write a few lines to you to let you know that I received your letter and was glad to hear from you but I am sorry to say that it found me in very poor health and not only in poor health but that I couldn’t talk or can’t yet. The captain brought it to me when he came to see me and one from Dolley Coin [?]. You must be a good girl and when I get well I will send you something. . . . Tell father to take good care of the steers. So good-by this time, from your brother.”
Samuel was discharged on September 23, 1861 at Arlington, Virginia for “chronic bronchitis accompanied with complete paralysis of the vocal chords” (aphonia).
Samuel eventually returned to Barry County and was living in Carlton in 1862 when, under the name of “Willard S. Cook” he apparently enlisted on July 26, in Company C, Twentieth Michigan infantry, at Battle Creek, Michigan, for three years, and he was probably sworn into federal service along with the rest of the Twentieth Michigan on August 16, 1862, at Jackson, Jackson County. While he was with the regiment in Jackson, Michigan, he wrote to his family on August 28, 1862.
Dear Parents, Sisters, I now take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope that these few lines will find you all the same. I have not time to come home but will send you my best love and respects. We have got marching orders and I think that we will be in Washington by the first of next week. I would like to come out there before I leave but there is no use of thinking any such things for I can’t get away tho most of our men have been home and came back. They say that if I go they can’t do anything. I would come if I was sure that we would not leave here next week but it is uncertain. I sent you my trunk this morning with a nice shawl [?] in it for mother. If it don’t suit her she can sell it for 8 dollars or what you think its worth. The price was six dollars. You must look to the express office . . . for the trunk and also twenty dollars in money that I have expressed there this morning. I would send more but I was gone and did not draw it [another pay day?]. I want you to do whatever you think best with it if you want it to use it if it an interest . . . shall not draw again under two months and then I will send you some more. I want you to do whatever you think best with it. I sent my likenesses all home because I can’t keep them here. Keep them for me until I send for them. I will write you again soon. I forgot to send the key to my trunk but the big trunk key will fit it if it don’t break it first. So good by for this time. I will write you again as soon as I know what we are doing.
The regiment left Michigan on September 1 and shortly afterwards arrive in Washington, DC, where it was attached to the Ninth Corps, of the Army of the Potomac.
Samuel along with the rest of the Twentieth Michigan apparently missed the action at Antietam and did not join its division in the Army of the Potomac until September 23 when it arrived on the battlefield. Five days later, from a bivouac along the Potomac some 18 miles from Washington, Samuel wrote to his parents.
Dear Parents, I now take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I received your letter today. It is the first one that I have got direct from home. You can better imagine my feelings than I can tell them. Our mail came to us today for the first time since we left Washington. I received three, some did not get any. The boys said that [I] get more than my fair share but I don’t think so. I am very sorry I could not come home before we left the state but the prospect is that we will all be home in a few months. We will if they will only let us follow the enemy. A few battles more like the last one [Antietam] will be all they want and our men are anxious to meet them again. We can see their pickets from our lines. We are on one side of the river and they are on the other. I think that there is another movement on hand. One division of our army has moved down the river and the other lies in front of the rebels. I think that Sigle [Gen. Siegel] is coming up in their rear. If this is the case we will have them in a ____ before long. Perhaps before this reaches you we will give them another thrashing. If they will only let Burnside and Sigle [Siegel] lead us we will lick them every time. You asked me what I thought about buying some sheep. If you don’t want it for anything else it is the best thing that you can do but get young ones if you can. I sent it to you to use and do what you think best with it and it will suit me. I wrote Charles a letter today and you one yesterday so I can’t write much today. You must write as often as you can and I will do the same. . . . I will send you some more money as soon as I get my pay. They are owing me thirty-eight dollars. I am next to the Sergeant Major in rank. I will close for this time. So good by to you all.
Samuel had been promoted to Sergeant by October 29, 1862, when he was admitted to Carver general hospital in Washington, Dc, suffering from hemorrhoids. In fact he was much sicker.
On November 28, 1862, Samuel wrote a note – apparently to be left with his personal belongings – dated Carver hospital. “If any thing should happen that I should not live to go home it is my wish that all that is owed to me should go to my mother Mrs. Susan R. Cook. From her son W. S. Cook.”
Samuel died of chronic diarrhea, presumably at Carver hospital in Washington, DC, on December 12, 1862 and was reportedly buried in the Military Asylum Cemetery.
Both his parents and his widow applied for and received pensions: his widow in August of 1863 (pension no. 66,385), his mother in 1880 (no. 203977) and his father in 1885 (no. 215415).
By December of 1866 his widow was living in Charlotte, Eaton County, receiving $8 per month for Samuel’s service in the army. His parents were still living in Carlton in 1870 where Levi worked as a farm laborer.