Category Archives: Soldiers and Sailors

From William Hamblin, 4th Massachusetts

Letter from Private William Hamblin, Company K, 4th Massachusetts Heavy Artillery to his wife.

Fort Barnard

April 16, 1865


Massachusetts state flag | Image Credit:

Massachusetts state flag | Image Credit:

I suppose you have all heard the dreadful news of the murder of the President ere this. It does not seem possible that he could have been killed in the manner he was, after having the for the last four years passed through so much danger with his life in his hand, to be at last struck down by a drunken, miserable play actor, a dissipated fool who did not know when he had done the deed and cried “Revenge for the South!” that he had killed a man who had that day been kindly urging the mild treatment of the rebels and who has on more occasions than one risked his reputation for honesty of purpose to shield the South from the just desserts that she was receiving and has always stood ready to listen to any decent proposals for terminating the war.

In killing the President the South has lost their best friend. With the feeling that has been awakened by the assassination of the President, the treatment that the Vice President who succeeds him received at the hands of the rebels in Tennessee, the feeling that must prevail in the Armies of Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan and the Navy everywhere–I am inclined to think the South and all who sympathize with her will meet with rather harsh treatment hereafter. If the inhabitants of the South are not reduced to a worse situation than the Irish under the English Government, then I am mistaken in the signs of the times. I am afraid they don’t realize what is in store for them, but they will soon be undeceived if Johnson has his own way and I hope to God he will!!

It seems so sad right in the midst of our rejoicings at the prospects of a speedy peace, and while Lee is doing what he can to put a stop to the slaughter of innocent men on his part, that this thing should have happened. There is but one response to this, the last argument of “Southern Chivalry,” and that is a cry for vengeance, and you may be sure it will come. Thank God the President, in using his influence in the selection of his chief officers of State, has left the Government in such hands that we need not fear any loss of National dignity. The Government will go on in spite of this terrible bereavement. If the South will not learn what they have lost, they will be made to drink the dregs of the cup that Lincoln would have spared them, and it is my desire that they should…

All the flags on all the forts today are at half mast, every citizen who is caught within our lines is picked up and trotted off to the Guard House, Martial Law is proclaimed in Washington, we are kept sleeping at night with our equipments on all ready to start for Washington or Richmond as the case may be at a moment’s notice–as Theodore Parker used to quote, “The mills of God grind slow but they grind exceeding fine,” and if the South isn’t ground down after this, I am much mistaken. I suppose you read all the particulars in the papers at home but I will try and get you a paper here and send it. You have no idea of the bitter, revengeful feeling that prevails…

Affectionately Yours,



Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 235-36

From John Lightner, 200th Pennsylvania

Letter from Private John Lightner of the 200th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to his mother on the day of Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

Nottoway C.H., Va.

Sunday, April 9th, 1865


Pennsylvania State Flag | Image Credit:

Pennsylvania State Flag | Image Credit:

I really think the first thing I ought to do is to beg pardon for not writing you for so long. The first chance to send a letter since we started however was this morning, but I had none ready.

Have not the last weeks been glorious one(s)? You must be nearly wild with excitement. I know I am, and I don’t know near as much as you do. I feel just like hurrahing every time I think of it. The end is surely near. Where the rebels are is now the question. I don’t believe they are of much account anywhere.

Yesterday afternoon, I met a small squad of over 8,000 going to the rear under guard, and they reported that Lee only had about 20,000 with him in any sort of shape and that is almost nothing in front of our army. Our boys are jubilant I tell you, anxious and eager to push on. I may be over-sanguine but I am really looking for the close of this long and desperate struggle in the course of a month. I don’t see how it can last.

But perhaps you are particularly interested in the personal movements of your absent boy. You can get all the general details of movements through the newspapers.

Well, after my scribble in the old camp on Monday morning, I went again to (the) hospital. About noon, all were packed and we took our place in the passing column through our works across the long-contested middle ground, through the rebel lines, which are if anything more wonderful and intricate than our own, and on into Petersburg, the town whose steeples I have been looking at for almost 10 months. No one could help thinking in passing through the reb lines, if they could not hold such fortifications as they had there, surely they cannot make a stand anywhere. The fighting is almost over.

It was hard to realize that we really were in Petersburg. I remained there all afternoon, riding up one street and down another, stopping occasionally at some house. It is really a very pleasant city and by far the largest that I have yet seen in Virginia. The inhabitants were rather shy. Most of them did not appear particularly well pleased, but our troops were feeling gay and we made the old town ring again with good old Union music. Our troops all filed out along the Southside R.R. Thus far we have been following it right along. I suppose in a day or two it will be in running order up to this point and probably beyond.

Our division had been engaged all the time in that meanest of all ways of marching wagon guard and bringing up the rear of our whole wagon train. I have occasionally heard the sounds of fighting away in our front, but never near enough to be at all engaged. ‘Tis a very safe position and in fact a pretty responsible one, though there is but little honor, credit or glory in it. We have been taking it very leisurely, we are only about 45 miles from Petersburg now. We have had seven nights marching nearly all the time, though never more than five or 10 miles at a time.

We have had most beautiful weather ever since we started and the country looks pretty. ‘Tis a better country here than on the other side of the river, many large plantations, but very few that I call comfortable houses. I do think they are as a class the most miserable set of people that I ever saw. They do not seem to have the least idea of what decent living is. Of course there are a few exceptions but only about enough to prove the general rule.

The orchards are all in full bloom, flowers beginning to appear and the grain fields are beautifully green. So far we are having a beautiful country trip. Last night was the first that has really seemed to me like actual campaigning. The first night that I have slept in a tent. I have had a house every other night and all but one good bed to sleep in…

Love to father, self and all folks as ever,

Your Affectionate Son,



Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 232-33

From J. Webster Stebbins, 9th Vermont

Letter from 1st Sergeant J. Webster Stebbins of Company I, 9th Vermont Volunteer Infantry, to his mother after his regiment became one of the first to enter Richmond.

Richmond, Virginia

April 3rd, 1865


Vermont flag | Image Credit:

Vermont flag | Image Credit:

The fated city has fallen and the black clouds of smoke from its burning ruins are rising to the heavens, and the pickets from the 9th Vermont were the first ones into the rebel capital.

We are in the works in the suburbs of the city. The enemy evacuated last night, and I have heard of no fighting at all today this side of the river. The rebels fired the arsenal Co. and the bridge across the James River also. We heard the shell in the arsenal bursting for half an hour.

The country is a fine looking one; some fine residences. So far as I have seen, the citizens are glad to see the Union soldiers coming…

At last dispatch from Grant, we learn that they had captured some 15,000 prisoners and any quantity of guns, etc. It was just five minutes of five this morning when we halted in this fort and planted our colors on the parapet, giving three cheers for the fall of Richmond.

Do not know when I will get this into the mail, but hope it is soon. My regards to all and much love for yourself. Write soon and direct to Richmond, Va.

Your Affectionate Son,



Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 231

From Luther Rice Mills, 26th Virginia

Letter from 2nd Lieutenant Luther Rice Mills of the 26th Virginia Volunteer Infantry

Trenches Near Crater

March 2nd, 1865


confederate-flagSomething is about to happen. I know not what. Nearly everyone who will express an opinion says Gen’l Lee is about to evacuate Petersburg. The authorities are having all the cotton and tobacco moved out of the place as rapidly as possible. This was commenced about the 22nd of February. Two thirds of the Artillery of our Division has been moved out. The Reserved Ordnance Train has been loaded up and is ready to move at any time. I think Gen’l Lee expects a hard fight on the right and has ordered all this simply as a precautionary measure. Since my visit to the right I have changed my opinion about the necessity for the evacuation of Petersburg. If it is evacuated Johnson’s Division will be in a bad situation for getting out. Unless we are so fortunate as to give the Yankees the slip many of us will be captured. I would regret very much to have to give up the old place. The soiled and tattered Colors borne by our skeleton Regiments is sacred and dear to the hearts of every man. No one would exchange it for a new flag. So it is with us. I go down the lines, I see the marks of shot and shell, I see where fell my comrades, the Crater, the grave of fifteen hundred Yankees, when I go to the rear I see little mounds of dirt, some with headboards, some with none, some with shoes protruding, some with a small pile of bones on one side near the end showing where a hand was left uncovered, in fact everything near shows desperate fighting. And here I would rather “fight it out.” If Petersburg and Richmond (are) evacuated–from what I have seen and heard in this army–our cause will be hopeless. It is useless to conceal the truth any longer. Many of our people at home have become so demoralized that they write to their husbands, sons and brothers that desertion now is not dishonorable. It would be impossible to keep the army from straggling to a ruinous extent if we evacuate.

I have just received an order from Wise to carry out on picket tonight a rifle and ten rounds of cartridges to shoot men when they desert. The men seem to think desertion no crime and hence never shoot a deserter when he goes over–they always shoot, but never hit. I am glad to say that we have not had but four desertions from our Regiment to the enemy… Write soon.

Yours truly,

L.R. Mills


Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 229-30

From Andrew Moon, 104th Ohio

Letter from Private Andrew Moon of the 104th Ohio Volunteers to his sister.

Nashville, Tenn.

Sabbath, Dec. 4, 1864


Some time has passed since I wrote you a letter and part of it a bloody time with me, but I am very thankful that I have been as lucky as not to receive a scratch.

Union Flag | Image Credit:

Union Flag | Image Credit:

To begin, I must relate from the end of the 29th Nov. That eve, after a brisk skirmish with the rebs, our forces commenced to withdraw from Columbia, Tenn. We marched all night, and in the morning about daylight we found ourselves at Franklin, Tenn., a distance of 23 miles–a pretty good night’s march. We got breakfast at Franklin, then went to fortifying the place. We marched all day until about 4 o’clock p.m., when the Johnnies thought they would try us.

On they came in three lines, driving our skirmishers and front line in ahead of them. We let them get up within about 400 yards of our marks. Then we opened fire on them with cannon and muskets, slaying hundreds. I tell you, it was but a few of them that reached the works and what did surrendered and came in. There was a few of them got up in safety and climbed over the marks and commenced a hand to hand fight with our men behind the works, but our men would just turn their muskets and beat their brains out right on the spot.

There was a steady firing kept up until after dark. After it ceased a little, I went over in front of the works to see what we had done. Well, for 400 yards in front, I could hardly step without stepping on dead and wounded men. The group was in a perfect slop and mud with blood and, oh, how they suffered that night was terrible, they had to lay just as they were shot down all night without anything done for them. I think they will long remember the last night of November 1864. Co. C had 4 men killed and 5 men wounded.

After the battle that night, we fell back from Franklin and left the dead for them to bury–that is, their own dead. We lost about 700 men in killed, wounded and missing. They lost about 6,000 killed and wounded and about 1,500 prisoners. Our corps and the 4th was all that was engaged.

We are now stationed at Nashville. There is some cannonading today from the fort. Their line of marks is about two miles in front but we have some guns that can easily throw shells to them. They threw a 64-pound ball. I tell you, they make a loud refrain when they go off. I don’t know if they will attack us here or not. If they do, they will get worse whipped than they did at Franklin…

Excuse this hastily written letter and all mistakes from your affectionate Brother,



Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 225-227


From Cyrus Lewis, 1st Missouri Engineers

Letter from Cyrus H. Lewis of the 1st Missouri Engineers to his parents.

Head Qrts. 1st Regt. Engrs.

Mo. Vols.

Atlanta, Ga.

Nov. 3, 1864


After a strong time of anxious waiting, I have again received from your hand a welcome letter bringing the pleasing intelligence of your good health and well being. Ah! If there is anything that will afford consolation and comfort to worn and wearied soldiers, it’s the reading of communications from parents and loved ones at home. It inspires the soldiers with more confidence and energy to press onward toward the grand ultimatum of this awful but magnificent warfare.

Union Flag | Image Credit:

Union Flag | Image Credit:

Awful, I say, because of the great destruction of life, and the deep mourning of the land. Magnificent because it is accomplishing the abolition of (that foul stain) human slavery and planting and cultivating in its stead the principals of true radical reform. Hence the great and paramount object the people should have in view is supporting the present administration and carrying to the presidential chair the very man who had presided over the government during the last four years of trial and warfare and who has always been found at the helm guiding and directing the great ship of our country.

The present issue is one of the greatest and most important in the history of our country or that the land has ever known. Here is life or death to our republican form of government and free institutions. If McClellan is elected, we will have peace but it will be upon the recognition of the damnable rotten Confederacy of the south. If such should be the case, I and a thousand would spend the rest of our days in fighting against it.

We have lived, prospered and been protected under a free government, and we wish to preserve the same for the welfare and happiness of our posterity. The welfare of millions yet unborn is dependent upon us, and thus far we are responsible for their welfare. It behooves us then to do all in our power to sustain the government. It is to be one on the 8th day of this month.

Father, I want no greater consolation than to know that you are going to support the government. If I have the privilege of voting, I am going to cast my vote for Lincoln and Johnson and for the people. I have read and studied the Chicago Platform, and I pronounce it treason of the darkest hue. They call it democracy and are holding it up to the people as democracy and are trying to make the people think it’s right by crying peace, peace, and talking about free speech, but when Mr. Murphy of Maryland opposed the nomination of McClellan at Chicago, they hissed him down and cried put him out, put him out. But since he could not say all that he wished to until he had knocked down two or three of his fellow democrats, I think it is a fair demonstration of their democracy.

It is like a thief feigning to be a clergyman or a wolf in lamb’s clothing. It seems that they have taken upon themselves the responsibility of damning to all eternity the black abolitionists and have gone so far as to pronounce the federal soldiers hessians and hirelings right in their face and, yes, of the militia at Chicago, and there was no resistance made. If it has come to such a test that militia will give consent to such views and proceedings by remaining silent, then it is high time that we were waking up to a quicker and keener sense of the duties involving upon as American citizens and soldiers for the maintenance of government and its laws, but perhaps I have already written too much upon this subject. Though it is one that I am deeply interested in, I will drop it, feeling that the hand of kind providence is lifted in behalf of our country.

We are now fitted out for a campaign of fifty days but we have no knowledge of our destination. We ill no doubt be entirely cut off from communicating with our friends for a time. Therefore you must not think it strange if you don’t hear from me for some time…

Yours In Truth,





Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 223-225

From Frederick Bartleson, 100th Illinois

Letter from Colonel Frederick Bartleson, 100th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, to his wife while captive in Libby Prison at Richmond.

February 26, 1864

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit:


I take this opportunity of sending you a longer letter than usual by the hands of a prisoner who has been exchanged. Owing to the fact that many here do nothing else but write letters, which, of course, as one would expect, are to be read, such an accumulation of letters ensued that an order has been issued, unduly severe, prohibiting more than one letter a week, and that to contain no more than six lines. This will account for what you have doubtless regarded as very brief epistles…

The question of exchange looks black, but perhaps it may clear up one of these days. Some special exchanges are being affected, and it is said that Capts. Sawyer and Flum, who were once on a line selected to be hanged, are to be exchanged.

You noticed the arrival of a number of officers who had escaped from Libby by means of a tunnel. It was, I think, the most clever performance in that line during the war, and we could see them coming up from their subterranean hole and issuing on the street in full view of the guards. Of course, there was great rivalry as to who should go, as all could not. For my part, I could only look on with regret, as it was impossible for me to crawl through or to make the descent, which was through a fireplace to the ground floor, where the tunnel was commenced. Some have been brought back, but the rest are safe. But the difficulties after getting out are very formidable. The country is swarming with scouts and patrols on the lookout for deserters…

Considering our number in this prison, it is a matter of as much congratulation as wonder that we are so healthy here. The same cannot be said of the Island. But there is very little smallpox among us, while it is said to be quite bad elsewhere. I was vaccinated and it took slightly.

My daily life: I go to bed about ten, get up a little after daylight for roll-call, then breakfast. Read, write, walk and talk and grumble for a while. At two P.M., roll-call, then have dinner. Read, write, talk and grumble till bedtime. Not a great variety, to be sure…

Being confined in a building, with insufficient exercise, is very irksome. But there is nothing which does not become systematic, and Libby has its life and its routine and its characters. I wish Dickens could paint and describe it. When I first came here, there was a newspaper edited by a chaplain and published weekly. It contained some good articles occasionally. Then for a long time there were French classes and German classes, and some soldiers improved the time very well.

Now, in regard to the relative treatment of prisoners by respective Governments, I have a word to say. No man can say that prisoners are as well treated there as they are here. There are two reasons against it; one is, they haven’t got the means to treat them as well, and another is, they haven’t got the disposition. They are fighting from different motives from us. We are fighting for the Union, a sentiment, a high and noble sentiment, but after all a sentiment. They are fighting for independence and are animated by passion and hatred against invaders.

When men fight for independence, it makes no difference whether the cause is just or not. You can get up an amount of enthusiasm that nothing else will excite. And while we feed our prisoners well, and it is our policy to do it, and while public sentiment would not justify any other course, they feed theirs they are not particular how. Public sentiment there will justify almost any treatment of the Yankees.

When a box is received, there is great joy with the recipient. If it is a dull season for boxes, great crowds gather around with the most vociferous cries and pass critically on each article received, tickled to death, like a child with a new toy. This prison life almost makes one a child again, and it is reason, undoubtedly, which purifies a man’s mind and makes him think he will be better when he gets out. Render him liable to good impressions–you imagine how I get along here.

The whole secret of making it endurable consists in having something to do. When I am in good trim and my mind is clear, I manage to make the day pass tolerably. Something to do at stated hours, making one forget where he is, is the secret. When there was a general belief that an exchange would be affected, I broke in on my ordinary pursuits and devoted myself to tracing the reliability of the rumors, which flowed in on us like a flood. I was more dissatisfied at that time than almost any other, when our hope vanished; so little doubt had I entertained, previous to that time, of the success of the negotiations which were going on.

A rumor here on exchange is dissected and analyzed with the utmost skill and acuteness. A thousand minds, eager and watchful, are brought to bear upon it. And no matter how absurd it may appear at first, it is gravely considered from all angles. Your old maid is no match at all for the Libby gossips. Curiosity here beats the most inquisitive form of that article elsewhere–and as for the exaggerations of a rumor after it is once started, no one can imagine them. I do not believe that on this subject it is possible for any inmate here to tell the truth. I am accustomed to say that here it requires twelve men to tell the truth.

We are made up here, as you can well imagine, of every variety of character and disposition. Sometimes I am sorry to say that the temper of some few is overcome and that fight is the consequence. We have had one or two of these little affairs since I have been here, but they were stopped. Of course, there is a public sentiment which condemns all such things, but in a population numbering nine hundred, we constitute a little village without the restraints of home.

The vermin are troublesome, so please put something in the box to help keep them off. We have bed bugs, too, and I presume that in the summer, we will find them very bad…

Now, dear Kate, I think this letter is long enough. I have not sent it through the mail in the ordinary way, but through the favor of a friend.

My love is all for you. Remember and give my love to all our friends.



Note: Colonel Barleston had been captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and sent to Libby Prison. He was later released and was killed in operations around Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, on 23 June 1864.


Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Press, 1988), p. 186-89