The Albert Wilder papers primarily consist of Wilder's letters home to his sister, Sarah, and brother-in-law, William, while he served in the Civil War. Wilder enlisted in the 39th Massachusetts Infantry in 1862 at the age of 21 and died after being wounded near Spotsylvania, Pennsylvania, 1864.
The Albert Wilder Civil War letters are written almost entirely to his sister, Sarah, and her husband, William, whose last name may have been Flaisdell. One letter, written from the hospital following his wounding, is addressed to his mother, and the final letter in the collection, written a week before his death, is badly tattered, showing how much it was fondled, read and reread, as a relic from the late Albert. Because his regiment saw so little military action for so long, the war news which Albert encloses in his letters is almost entirely second hand; he had little to report first-hand. There are no letters at all for three months after Mine Run, suggesting that the collection may be incomplete.
A constant theme of the early letters is advice to friends back home as to whether or not they should come to the war. He advises his married brother-in-law to stay at home, because there are enough single men to fight the war. He discusses the shoe trade back home in Massachusetts, and politics in the home state, with some information on camp life and the common soldiers' perspective on the leaders of the war. His letters to William are more substantive on the whole; those to Sarah are little more than one-liners in answer to her letters.
Two letters in the collection were written by James R. French to his parents. Men from the French family were in the 39th Massachusetts, but James was not among them. His letters are semi-literate, but illustrate well the quality of life found in the lower (rural?) class: he writes that morale in the regiment is low "sens we found out we ar fitine for nigers" and admonishes his parents to keep the money he sends to them: "I dont want that wife of mine if I must carle her wife to have a sent of it."