85th Illinois letter – May 1863

Source: The Excelsior Brigade

Jas. P. Walker, Brig Surgeon, 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 14th Army Corps


Original Civil War soldier’s letter. 2 pages, written in period ink. Refers to Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Brentwood, Tennessee
May 23rd 1863

Dr. Jas. A. Walker

Dear Brother,

I wrote you this morning to let you see that I was still in hand and doing the best I can to make time pass swiftly.

I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from you dated 14th inst. Glad to hear that you are well; that Eliza and the rest are well, but very sorry to hear that the children are down with measles. But hope that the very favorable time of the year and good care will have brought them through safely by this time. I am sorry that you did not see Mr. Straight as I am ashamed to write to Ritchy until that matter is fixed up. I don’t care very particularly about Rankin’s case but want him paid as soon as you can conveniently do it. The tax matters I want settled, i.e., all that I own.
I wrote to Annie about it some time ago; but she might have forgotten to ask you to see to it. I want you to ask Bill Walker or someone else how you can pay the tax on the Missouri land; and the lot in Springfield must be paid for soon. It has been sold for city, county and state taxes.

The health is very good here now. In fact, there is no sickness really – a few cases of ague and diarrhea. We have 1900 infantry, 4 pieces of artillery and 750 cavalry here now. We look for some fun here every day almost. Old Forrest is in command of the forces of Van Dorn in our front – a rather troublesome neighbor, we think. They blaze away at our pickets nearly every night. Night before last, one of the sentinels shot his fellow guard dead. He was buried last evening at sundown. One of the 104th Illinois was wounded in the leg severely a few nights since. One of the 85th Illinois shot off two of his fingers not long since while getting over the fence.

N. Patterson is fat as a hog.

We get fresh butter 40 to 50 cents a pound; milk 20 cents per quart; strawberries ditto. Young chickens will soon be plenty. We draw fresh bread, beef, potatoes, &c. I went to the city two weeks ago and drew from the Sanitary agent 55lbs. and six boxes of various sorts of vegetables – mostly potatoes, onions, dried fruit and pickles and 6 dozen canned fruit.

The weather is quite warm now but cool night. This Harpeth Valley is nearly a paradise but damned with Secesh. But they will take the oath. We call it, “iron sheathing them;” then they are “Iron Clads.”

I must close. Give my love to sister Eliza and cousin. Tell Annie I will write soon again. We have not got the Mason City mail this week. Good bye. Write soon. How is the boy?

Jas. P. Walker, Brig Surgeon, 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 14th Army Corps

I send a white rose and a sprig of arbor vitae to Eliza and Red rose and arbor vitae for Annie.

9th PA Cav soldier (Jordan) writes of Thompson Station action in March 1863


9th Penn Cavalry

Franklin, Tenn

March 6th, 1863

As the senior officer remaining of the Expedition to Spring Hill, as directed by Special Order No 15, from Head Quarters of Brig. Get Gilbert, commanding at Franklin, Tennessee. I beg leave to report that the expedition consisting of Col Colburns’s Brigade and Six hundred cavalry detachments from he 9th Penn & 4th Kentucky & 2nd Michigan under my command and the 18th Ohio Battery, Captain Heshire (Aleshire?) all under command of Col Colburn of the 33rd Indiana Infantry, left Franklin about nine o’clock on the morning of the 4th of March 1863, their line of march being on the direct road towards Spring Hill and Columbia. The regiments marched with but four wagons each, and a train of 80 wagons brought up the rear, for foraging purposes. The Expedition was ordered to march in a body to Spring Hill, thirteen miles distant, at which point a part of the cavalry was to be detached to march upon Rahley Springs on the Lewisburgh road, to meet certain U.S> forces from he direction of Murfreesboro.

About four miles from Franklin and about half past four o’clock A.M. the advance guard of our forces came into contact with the advance forces of the enemy, marching it is said so at back of our position at Franklin. Lines of battle were at once formed. The enemy occupying a range of hills coping the turnpike at right angles, while we took post on a knoll to the left of the road, our right extending over the undulating [next page] towards the railroad and our left. Some wooded hills and ravines in the direction of the Lewisburgh Road, our battery was at once brought forward and placed on a hill to the left while that of the Enemy was placed on a corresponding position upon their right, with one piece on a large hill to the left of their position.  The first shell was fired from our guns at ten o’clock and forty minutes A.M. and in a moment afterwards a corresponding messenger came from the enemy. 

The lines of the Enemy’s cavalry were drawn up in full view, on the face of the hills, within half a mile range, and to the right and left of their batteries. A few rounds from our guns caused the enemy to withdraw behind the hills to their rear but I noticed large bodies f the cavalry filing to the right and left from the turnpike, in the rear of their batteries, and taking position under the cover of the hills. The batteries confirmed for abut an hour an a half to thunder their compliments to each other when I discovered a position to our right from which a ravine in which they had massed large bodies of their forces could be shelled. I at once ordered up one piece to the position and a few shells cleared the enemy of their support to their battery on our left and it was at once withdrawn.

The enemy then retreated leaving some fifteen killed and carrying away a large number of wounded.  During the battle our skirmishers were hotly engaged on the left in the hills and ravines, and at every point drove the enemy from their position. Our Our loss in this action was but two men wounded, and both slightly. I have no doubt but that the force of the enemy was a from three to four thousand cavalry with four pieces of artillery, one of which lost a wheel in the action, which was knocked to pieces by one of our shells. I also saw five or six (though I was informed there were more) horses that were killed by our shells. Just as the action ceased Col Colburn was informed that a large body of the enemies cavalry was approaching Franklin by the Lewisburgh road, and I immediately directed my cavalry upon their flanks upon which they retired. We encamped for the night upon the position held by the Enemy in the morning.

On the morning of the 5th soon after daylight our column was again in motion in direction of Spring Hill. By order of Col Corburn I directed the 4th Kentucky Cavalry under my command to observe the Carter’s Creek turnpike on our right, and the Lewisburgh Road on our left to see that no flanking force should gain our rear and with the 9th Penn and 2nd Michigan Cavalry deployed as flankers and skirmishers, moved cautiously on Spring Hill.  About one mile from camp our skirmishers drove in the pickets of the enemy who after a few rounds retired but so slowly as to keep up a confirmed skirmish until the battle opened.  At the range of the hills overlooking Thompson’s Station, about nine miles from Franklin the skirmishers of the Enemy made a very determined resistance but we charged them and they retired over the intervening valley and to the opposite hills. While this was going on I halted the head of the column, but Col Colburn rode up and ordered it to advance, remarking that the enemy were in small force and that we had nothing to fear. At this point the road turns sharply to the left and south (the previous direction for about 3 miles had been south of west) and for about three quarters of a mile is perfectly straight leading to the hills, that bound Thompson’s Station on the South.

The column had proceeded on this straight road for about five or six hundred yards and was just entering the jaws of the pass between the hills that we afterwards occupied as our position, when we were opened up by a Battery of the Enemy placed close on the right side of the road, at about half a mile range.

This was an eighteen pounder and the shell passing close over head of the column, struck in the ditch on the left of the road abut one hundred and fifty yards in the rear and within a few feet of the side of the column, exploding and polishing up the dirt, and stones, but some wonderful interposition of Providence without killing or wounding anyone. A six pounder also opened up at the same moment but the shell fell a few yards to the left in the field doing no damage. 

The troops were at once deployed to the right and left under the hills to protect them from the shells that were now literally rained upon them and our artillery brought and placed in position three guns upon the hills to the left and two upon the hill to the right of the road, and in a few moments a battery of the Enemy of four guns which had heretofore been masked, opened upon our left flank, completely covering the ground upon which our infantry and cavalry were placed making it necessary to change their position, and also complete flanking our guns, and a battery to our right had previously opened upon our skirmishers in the valley near Thompson’s Station. This battery Col Colburn determined to charge and take hoping to throw back the left wing of the enemy upon their centre and force their position. This was the culminating point in the battle. The column was formed and [next page] moved from its position behind the guns over the crest of the hill and downing the valley below prepared to charge the battery while the Enemies guns thundered their shell upon them from front and flank.
They bravely withstood the shock and moved steadily forward, though their track through the fields could be plainly marked by the human milestones left in their rear. All at once there artillery of the Enemy ceased playing and a dense mass of infantry began to show themselves on the hills in our front. Col Colburn at once saw that all would be lost unless the column could be again retired behind our guns, and sent an officer to order them to fall back.

But it was then too late. The avalanche had been started and it came sweeping down upon them, while from behind a stone fence in their front, near the railroad, a perfect storm of lead was thrown upon them. 

Seeing that all was lost, I was ordered by Col Colburn to call in my cavalry and form them in such position as to cover his retreat. I at once proceeded to execute the movement necessary to prepare for retreat and formed my cavalry behind a small strip of woods about a fourth of a mile to the rear of the Battery and directly skirting the Franklin road at the point where the road turns to the East, and seeing the infantry of the enemy moving from the hill occupied  by their flanking Battery with the intention  of cutting off our retreat and capturing the Battery and wagon train. I at once ordered Majors Scranton of the 2nd Michigan and Jones of the 9th Penn Cavalry to dismount such part of my command as might be necessary and take possession of the fences and megnalities [sp?] of the ground and if possible drive them off till I could withdraw the Battery and be joined by Col Colburn’s infantry. [new page]

I at once ordered the Battery to withdraw from the hill to the left of our position as a swarm of Rebel infantry was about enclosing it, and then dashed off to the hill on the right and withdrew the two pieces stationed there, and just in time as the Rebel line was within sixty yards of them and they entirely unprotected, the infantry under Col Colburn having retreated through the hills to the right of our position and in a directly opposite direction from the point I was holding to cover the retreat. After getting the guns under my protection I waited (though my while line was engaged with the enemy) at least fifteen minutes hoping that the firing on my right was receding while that on my left was approaching and that nothing but stubborn resistance could save my flank. I ordered the retreat to begin. For two miles my men sustained with unflinching bravery the repeated assaults of more than three times their number, while others could be seen at double quick still further towards my rear.As I withdrew from one position I had at once to place them in new ones to repel fresh attacks. To Major Scranton in my extreme front and flank and Major Jones in my extreme rear, and so the heroic bravery of the 2nd Michigan and 9th Penn is due the safety of my retreat. After about two miles and a half the enemies infantry withdrew finding that they were foiled in cutting off my retreat. Their cavalry often came in sight, but never participated for a moment in the engagement. About 3 o’clock [P.M.] the firing ceased, and my retreat was no further interrupted. Had Col Colburn retreated by the Franklin road, not a man would have been lost. My column never moved a step until long after he was out of sight [next page]

. . . on the hills to my right. After passing the West Harpeth Creek, I for the first time  heard that there was a regiment if infantry retreating from the field of battle, without firing a gun, and that they were in front of the wagon train. Major Scranton was the first to make the discovery and galloped forward to stop them till the artillery could be brought up. By whose order they marched away in retreat, I have no knowledge.
I known Col Colburn never issued such an order to them and I did not know they were in existence to give them such an order. Had they remained upon the ground, or sent to me for orders, I could not only have safely covered the retreat, but have given the enemy such a chastisement as would have made them more cautious in the future. The Enemy reports our killed at sixty five and wounded at two hundred and fifty while they on their part acknowledge a loss of one hundred and sixty killed with a very large proportion of wounded.

I cannot speak too highly of the steadiness, discipline and bravery of the troops under my command. Officers and men did their duty nobly. The 18th Ohio Battery of long range Rodman guns acquitted themselves most nobly and thigh subjected to a cross fire from the artillery of the Enemy, they never for a moment became excited, but stood to their guns delivering their fire with regularity and precision. The Battery when withdrawn, had but sixty shells on hand for the while five guns. Col Colburn behaved with the greatest bravery, and was under fire during the whole of battle.
Chaplain Edmund McKinney of the 9th Penn Cavalry rendered most essential service during the retreat. He remained with the rear guard and [next page] by his coolness and bravery during a most critical moment, when hundreds of the Enemy were thrown upon a handful, contributed largely to the safety of my command.

Cant Charles A. Apple, Co F. 9th PA Cavalry with his own and parts of Cos A, Co G, Co H and Co L with a few of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry constituted the rear guard. Capts Kimmel, Longsdorf and Waters and Lieut Hancock and Hiesland of the 9th PA Cavalry behaved with marked coolness and bravery.

The loss on the part of the 9th PA Cavalry was one killed, one mortally wounded, who died during the night, five wounded and six taken prisoners.

On the part of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry two men were killed and eleven wounded. Of the 18th Ohio Battery one man is missing.

Respectfully submitted (Signed) Thomas J. Jordan

Col Commanding, 9th Penn Cavalry

eBay acution, September 2019

1863 Civil War Letter – 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry – Van Dorn Attacks Franklin, TN

Camp of the 9th Penna Cavalry

Franklin Tennessee April 14th 1863
Dear Parents, I now apply myself to the pleasant task of writing to you again to let you know that we are still enjoying good health. We received our letter on Sunday last and was surprised that you had not received our last letters but suppose you have got them by this time. I was sorry to hear of Grandmother sickness but I am afraid her days are about numbered, although I hope she might survive at least untill this terrible rebellion is over. We have moved our Camp since I commenced writing this letter and it rained all day, which is another more than it has done every time we have moved camp since we came here. We have a pretty camp but no shade, although we might as well get use to the hot weather gradualy. The rebs made an attack on us the other day. They came a charging into our Picketts and five came right up to the Pontoon bridge and undertook to take an officer prisoner when the infantry guards shot three and took the others prisoners. I tell you it was a dear charge for Van Dorn. He intended to take this Place that day and the next he was to take Nashville. His men were all drunk & he thought there were only about there Thousand men here and was shure of taking this place, but he slipped up on it slightly. I suppose we will stay here quite a while as I do not think Rosecrans will attack them, but wait for them to attack us:
I D Landis
[now written in Gideon’s hand] as Isaac had to go out with the forage train I will send this off: We are enjoying good health wich is the greatest Blessing that a Soldier Can have: We have a great deal of duty to do here. But that has been our lot ever since we have been in Service and is nothing new: Van Dorn made a sorry Charge on us the other day: our Loss was 3 killed 3 wounded and 4 taken Prisoners (all of the 40th Ohio Infantry). The Rebel loss was heavy. Wee took 70 Prisoners, Buryed about 20. But their Loss is not known. But deserters say their Loss is over 300: I wish you would send a Silver Pendon (watch pendon) with a screw and a Mainspring the size of the piece I enclosed and Charge them with the hands and we will pay you on pay day: We expect to be paid in a few days. Wright often and we will do the same: They will not go for forage. Isaac is back: yours
G W Landis

Source: eBay auction

90th Ohio chaplain writes about battles of Franklin and Nashville, Hood’s Retreat

William C. Holliday, Chaplain in the 90th Ohio Infantry, Co. S
Battle of Franklin detail
Dec 7-8th, 1864
The 90th Ohio was next engaged during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign in late 1864. In a letter spanning 7-8 December 1864, Holliday writes to his wife about a skirmish preceding the Battle of Nashville, and also about a young girl,
“…A black Negro woman apparently 26 years old with a little girl about as old as Lama and just about as white. As about the same color and as curly as long as used to be. She is very smart. Ask her who her father is. ‘His name is Jones. He is a white man. In the rebel Army.’ And so it is. That’s the kind of children they sell in the South. Great God! What an institution is slavery…It is about 2 p.m. I went to the regt this morning. Had not been there more than an hour until the rebels advanced their skirmish lines and drove our skirmishers back more than 1/4 of a mile. Then our boys rally and drove them back. From where our regiment is we could see the whole thing. I looked fine to see our boys all along the line driving the rebel skirmishers. They would shoot and run. It appeared to be in advance of the rebels all along the line. One of the boys of my regiment was shot, poor fellow. I am afraid he will die. Shot in back, the ball coming out of the side of bowels. I rode down in the ambulance with him to the hospital…The rebels I think intended it as a faint, to cover some other movements. The day is quite cool. Coming in the ambulance the wounded boy was cold. I took off my overcoat and put over him…”
Battle of Nashville detail
(Writing on Dec 15th) . . . he briskly describes the Battle of Nashville where the regiment lost 5 killed and 15 wounded, “Ma, A terrible battle today. We are victorious. About 20 casualties in my regt. Many of whom are yet to be cared for to night. I am well. God be praised.”
On 21 December 1864, he writes about the Battle to his brother James, “…Our regiment Brigade Division and Corps, did nobly in Nashville. On the one day of the fight the 21 Indiana and 81, 101 Ohio and our regiment charged to fortified hill and took it. We lost about 25 Men. I think there were five killed and 25 wounded. Probably six or eight of them mortally. Killed – Jo Bond Co. C, Emmerich D, Sylvester Smith E…Segt. Harris shot through both thighs, one amputated. Must have died same night. Perry Edward H shot through face, tongue merely shot into. Could neither talk nor eat. Must Die. Walker H shot through side, fear he must die. There are several others who may die. Sergeant Thurman arm fractured…Dave. C. Connor leg amputated above knee. …Sergt. Parsons escaped death narrowly. Ball struck the plate on his belt. Would have gone through him but for that. The regiment added new Laurels to its name…On the second the rebels were completely flanked and were charged from several points. On the one day they were so flanked on the right that they had to fall back on the left and Centre leaving to very strong lines of works. There were nearly 60 pieces of artillery taken, about an equal number of each day. On the second day our Court took 13 pieces. I saw a nine of them. They left thousands of small arms. There were a few unsuccessful attacks or charges made. The rebels in fact left everything and went or rather were driven like a drove of cattle, for it is a strange fact that  these mounted officers rode between the rebels and our men with drawn swords and compelled them to retreat. Was ever such a thing heard of before?…”
Hood’s Retreat detail
He continues to describe the Battle of Nashville in a letter to his mother dated 18 December 1864,      “…Yesterday morning we moved early in the AM. Our troops had moved rapidly after the panic stricken and fleeing rebels about four miles. It was night. They slept on the mud and under the rain. It rained all day, but this army is so flushed with victory that they did splendid marching though tired and worn from two days incesent fighting and almost sleepless nights. We came about fifteen miles. Rebels are still going. It is the greatest victory of the war. About fifty pieces of artillery captured. Rebels have but three or four cannon left. We have now over three hundred wounded who were left here at the battle of Franklin. Fifteen hundred Rebel wounded all here and have fallen into our hands. We have only lost about three thousand or four thousand in the battle at Nashville. I saw about 200 of our dead lying on about one acre of ground. They were our men…”
And also on 18 December, in a letter to his wife, “…In Franklin I had an opportunity of riding over the battlefield. The rebels suffered terribly. They assaulted our works and were killed by the hundred. I counted on one side of the pike 350 graves. There were as many on the other side. I never saw a more joyful set of men then were our prisoners who had been in the hand of the Rebels for two weeks. The rebels came through Franklin and a great hurry. Our cavalry captured 5 pieces of artillery there. Quite a number of rebels have been captured…There were 30 casualties in our regiment. 5 killed, five or six mortally wounded. The regiment came off well in view of what they pass through. They and our whole army are in fine spirits. The rebels were badly whipped…”
(Writing 12/26/64 . . . The day after Christmas, Holliday writes from Pulaski, Tenneesse, where he describes skirmishing and the destruction of the city, “…The rebels are being closely followed and fighting occurs with our cavalry and theirs every day. They do not get time to burn bridges over the large streams. At Pulaski there is a large bridge which they fired in several places, but our cavalry was so close on to them that they prevented its destruction. At Pulaski we left our sick and stored about half our hospital stores and then struck out on a mud road. Emphatically such mud I never went through before…Where we are going I cannot tell. To the Tennessee River no doubt, but what point I know not. We follow the rebels. I saw great destruction that the rebels made yesterday which shows their desperate state. In Pulaski they piled up 18 wagon loads of ammunition and burned it. This side of town there were the remains of about 15 burned wagons with shot and shell, grape and canister scattered all around. They have destroyed in all near here nearly 50 wagon loads of fixed ammunition…I rather think we will return back after the rebels are pursued across the Tennessee…”