Letters Home from

George Surtees

Company E, 88th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

My great grandfather, George Surtees, was born in England in 1826, and came to America with his wife, the former Priscilla L. Old in 1852. After living in New York they came to Gardner, Illinois in 1858 and set up a saddlery business there. This, and the following information, is taken from the Surtees family history written by Basil Surtees, the grandson of George, circa 1932.

George enlisted in Company E, 88th Illinois Volunteers (Infantry), known as the Board of Trade Regiment (Col. Fred Staring, Commanding) August 2, 1862. He went to camp Douglas near Chicago, about August 5, His letter dated August 12, 1862, is written from Camp Douglas. His letters of August 18, 23, and 31, 1862 were written from Camp Fuller. The letter of September 7, 1862 was written from Jeffersonville, Ind., Camp Sherman. They left Camp Sherman, Thursday, September 18 and were put aboard steamboats at Cincinnati, Ohio, and landed at Louisville, KY, on Saturday morning the 20th.

The following are extracts from his letters written home to his wife:

In his letter dated September 20, 1862, written from Louisville, he states that they were digging rifle pits and cutting down trees to intercept the enemy. He says: "The enemy were reported concentrating troops about seventy miles from Louisville and were reported very strong, but great preparations were being made to receive them, troops were pouring into Louisville fast. They were digging rifle pits all around the hills and mounting cannon on top of some of them."

September 28, 1862, written from Louisville, he says: "We expected to have a fight last week. We were drawn up in line of battle on Wednesday (24th) night and put into the rifle pits. We were in only about an hour when the cavalry came in and we were marched to camp again. We were called up again next morning about two oclock. We waited until about six oclock, but the Rebels did not come on. They skedaddled and tried another point but we changed our position. It was reported they were only nine miles from here this morning."

October 3, 1862 he wrote from Bowling Green, KY that they had been on the march almost all the time since his letter of September 20, following the enemy.

October 9th, he wrote from Perryville, KY, that "We were in a battle yesterday and I came out without a scratch and am in good health." (This was apparently the battle of Perryville.)

October 15, written from Camp before the enemy, one mile west of Lancaster, KY, he states: "We are having a rest today. Hogbin, Andrews, Crooks, Hardy and myself have been down to a river about one half mile off and done our washing. I have my shirt and stockings drying on a bush beside me. I wish you could only get a peep at us all and see what contrivances we have to get our cooking done. We have to cook each one for himself now while we are on the march. We pull down the nearest fences as soon as we come to a camping place every night and build our fires and then commence the business of cooking. We boil our coffee in our tin cups and sometimes stew our meat and crackers together for a change. Other times, we broil our meat over the fire stuck on the end of the ramrod of our guns. It is quite a sight to see. The Captain often takes a good laugh at us and goes to work cooking with us himself."

"We have had no tents since we left Louisville. We cannot get them conveyed along with us. We have to lay down upon the cold ground and sleep as well as we can. We cover ourselves up with our blankets and overcoats and most of the time lay with our feet to a good fire all night. But when we get near the enemy we are not allowed to make fires for fear of attracting the Rebels by the light and bringing them on to surprise us in the night, then we suffer a good deal from the cold. Often we are called up at three oclock in the morning and brought into line of battle for fear of an attack. Our General was shot at Louisville and we are under Gen. Buel now and in Sheridan's Division."

His letter dated November 8, 1862, is written from Nashville, Tennessee. "We have our tents now and are a good deal more comfortable at nights. We make a little fire in the center of the tent and cook our victuals on it. I would like to send you some money, but the communication between here and Louisville is partly cut off by guerrillas. They have been destroying bridges and attacking provision trains on their way. Some of our regiment had a fight with them on Friday morning and there has been a strong guard placed along the road for protection."

"The land here seems good and fertile, but it is a sad picture of destruction and misery. War has wrought its work here, crops are destroyed, fences torn down and burnt and houses and whole villages almost entirely forsaken. We have passed through several villages as large as Gardner, almost entirely deserted, the windows broken and the doors thrown open. Some of these places have been "secesh" and the union troops have driven them off and sacked the place."

November 30, 1862, Camp eight miles south of Nashville. "There is quite a number of Rebels in the woods here. We have to go out on picket duty a good deal. We have just returned this morning from a post two miles from here We went out yesterday morning, but did not come across any of the "Secesh". There was a reconnoitering force sent out on Thursday. Our regiment was out and our Battery with it, but I happened to be on Regimental Guard that day and did not have to go. They came up to quite a number of Rebels eight miles off. Our men fully expected a fight. They fired on us, but as soon as our Battery opened up on them, they ran like frightened sheep. The same day, the 34th Regiment Illinois Volunteers had quite a skirmish with them a few miles to our left and drove them back, killing a good many of them and then they burnt a town. It is thought we are going on to Chattanooga and it is likely we will not have to march more than about one day a week. We will have to drive the rebels out of the country as we go."

Camp near Nashville, December 7, 1862. "President Lincoln, I understand, has issued another Proclamation, giving the south every chance to return to their former allegiance and it is causing quite a sensation here. The soldiers in camp seem to be in good spirits about it and I think the South will come to terms this time if they have any reason at all left in them."

Camp on Mill Creek, near Nashville, December 14, 1862. "I do think there is a better prospect of the war coming to a close than there ever has been since it broke out. Surely the Rebels can wish for nothing more reasonable that the chance the President has given them in his message, to save their property."

Camp near Murfreesboro, January 5, 1863. "We have had a terrible battle here which you will no doubt have heard about. I knew you would be dreadfully worried until you heard from me. We started from Nashville about ten days ago and had skirmishes with the enemy nearly all the way, but our regiment was in the rear and kept out of it until Monday night we were brought up in the advance and took picket in front of the Rebels. Next day we were sent on skirmishes. We had a hard time of it. It rained the most of the time and we had to lay in front of a Battery right down in mud all day. It is a wonder we are not sick. At least, you can imagine what we suffered from the cold, lying in that position all day. At night our company had to stand picket again from four oclock in the morning until six oclock. We had only gotten through with our breakfast, when the rebels came out of the woods upon us in line of battle. We formed our line as quick as possible. The 36th Regiment was at our right and fought for considerable length of time, but had to retreat. We stood the fire about five minutes longer than they did, but we had to retreat also. We drove them back once, but on they came again in stronger force and overpowered us and we had to retreat or be taken prisoner. We had one killed and two wounded and four or five missing. Hogbin and a man that used to live with Mr. Crooks, is missing, (his name is Hardy). They had the ague that morning. Hogbin went to the hospital and I suppose was taken prisoner. The Rebels got possession of the hospital and took all the sick and wounded that was able to go, as prisoners".

Camp on Stone Creek, two miles from Murfreesboro, Jan 19, 1963. "There is a rumor in camp that England and France have notified the Rebels to lay down their arms or they would help the North to put down the rebellion. I sincerely hope it is true, as that would very likely put an end to this war at once."

Camp near Murfreesboro, January 25, 1863. "My dear Wife: It gives me great pleasure to sit down this morning to inform you that the long looked for box has arrived safely at last, filled with so many good things. I am glad also to tell you that they were in much better condition than I expected. The cake was beautiful. I gave all the boys in our Mess a taste of it, and the Captain. They praised it very much. Some of them said I must give their compliments to you when I wrote and tell you they had had the pleasure of eating some of it. The Plum pudding was very nice, it was only a little moulded on the outside, not more than a quarter of an inch deep. It eat delicious when sliced and warmed. The bread, I am sorry to say was nearly all spoiled, but I managed to get a little of it and toasted it. The butter is first rate. It has kept quite good and is a grand treat. The chicken was not entirely lost as I thought it would be. The two legs, I managed to eat and the breast, after cutting off the mould, and the stuffing was nearly all quite good. I enjoyed it very much. The sausage, I have not tried yet, but I think about half of it will be good. I have not used any of the tea yet, but will do so some of these days soon. It looks first rate and I have no doubt it will be as good as it looks. One little accident happened in coming. The cover came off one of the pepper boxes and sprinkled the things a little, but not to do any serious damage. I am glad one of them is preserved. We cannot get any such pepper as it here. The suttlers sell it for .20 a paper such as we could get in the North for .05. I don,t know whether you got the letter I wrote right after the battle. Hogbin came back again in a few days. He ran all the way to Nashville, 26 miles. He says he went for water just before breakfast on the morning of the first days fighting. It was dark and he lost his way and could not find the regiment again, then he had to run. Poor Hardy has not been heard from since."

Camp near Murfreesboro, February 15, 1863. "My dear Wife: It gives me great pleasure to have the privilege once more of writing you a few lines. I would have written two weeks since, but we were ordered to Nashville the next day after I had my likeness taken. We were gone four days with the provision trains. Next day we were sent out on picket duty and have had eight days of that right along, so that I have had no chance of writing until tonight. We have just got into camp. I don,t know whether I have done right or not in getting the likeness taken, but I thought you would like to have it. I don,t know whether you will know me again or not, or at any rate, you will think me rather rough looking, as I have never shaved since I left Chicago. I thought I would rather have it taken just as I look with my equipment . It is the first chance I have had of getting it taken since I left Louisville. There are two Daguerriens in camp here and they are doing quite a business. I had to pay a dollar for it. I spent my last dollar on it for fear it might be my last chance."

Camp near Murfreesboro, March 15, 1863. "We just returned from a reconnaissance. Our whole division has been out eleven days. We expected to have some fighting to do, but the Rebels skedaddled and left us. The most of them were cavalry regiments under General Forest Wheeler and Van Dorn. The second day, we were out, the Rebels took a whole Brigade near Spring Hill, belonging to General Granger's Division. We heard the firing, but were about six miles in the rear. We have had rather a rough time of it. It rained a great deal of the time and we had no tents with us, so you can imagine it was not very comfortable, particularly at nights, but we built sheds in the woods with rails and covered them up with our rubber blankets to sleep under. Our rubber blankets were presented to us by the Board of Trade, and I tell you, they are an excellent thing. I don,t know what we would do without them, but I must not forget to tell you we had a fine time of it in other respects. I wish you could only get a peep at the soldiers sometime when they get a chance to rob the "Secesh", and I must tell you that the 88th Regiment is not behind any other Regiment, not even the 127th. I could tell you as much as the Gardner boys perhaps, about the lots of chickens, sheep and hogs we get on our marches whenever we get a chance. We have had plenty of things this time and as much tobacco as we could carry, but perhaps I have said enough for our credit. If I tell you all I have seen you will think we are a pretty set of thieves, perhaps. We have been through the following places: Eaglesville, Tyrone, Franklin and Spring Hill. Spring Hill is near the place where the Rebels took the Brigade. We went as far as Dark River and then gave up the chase and marched back in three days, 17 miles the first day, 15 miles the second day and 23 miles yesterday."

Camp near Murfreesboro, March 16, 1863. "Our Company has gotten reduced in numbers very much which makes it harder for those that are left and fit for duty. We can muster about twenty five men that are able to do any duty."

"I must hastily conclude. There has an order came for us to march with five days rations in our haversacks, but I don,t know where to. I suppose it is another reconnaissance."

Picket post near Murfreesboro, March 28, 1863. I have for a long time been in a sort of despondency way. Things looked so very gloomy and the prospect of the war coming to a close seemed at one time farther off than ever. I almost despaired of the Union Cause when I heard and read so much about these cowardly traitors, the Copperheads. I think the name they have got is very befitting their snakish designs, but I am glad to hear the vigorous exertions of the loyal, honest, liberty loving people of the North are making them crawl into their nests again. They are, I think, our worst enemies. It is enough to fight an open foe without contending against traitorous villains at home, for whom I can have no sympathy at all, but I think their sneaking underhanded game is nearly played out and a brighter day begins to dawn. May God grant it, is my humble prayer. Instead of going on a reconnaissance as I expected we were, we are on a picket three and one half miles or thereabouts from Murfreesboro. There are three brigades. We are posted near the ground where our cavalry and the Rebels had a skirmish last Saturday morning. We have to be here five days and then will go into camp again. I am glad we did not have to march yet, nor do I think we will for some time. I think it is the intention of General Rosecrans to keep us here to protect Murfreesboro. They are fortifying the place very strongly. I had no idea they were doing so much until a few days since, we went past the fortification on our way to another Picket Post. You may depend upon it, the Rebels will have warm work if they ever try to take this place again. They will no doubt make a feint at it a few times and we may have some skirmishes with them, but that is only my opinion. But I hope we will not have much more fighting to do. It is a pretty risky business.

Camp on Stone river, Murfreesboro, April 1, 1863. My dear Wife: "We have just returned from our picketing and got into camp last night. I think myself lucky this time for I got a letter from you last night and on the day before. I was glad to see the letter from brother William. I had to shed a few tears over it. I wish we had gone back to England long before this was commenced, but it seems to me it was not the will of God."

"I think myself the prospect of the war coming to a close shortly is a great deal better. From what little I can learn, the Rebels are on their last legs. If our forces could only take Vicksburg and Charleston, I think it will be a sure thing for us. The language of the Rebels seems to indicate their game is nearly played out."

"And I say, "Down with Copperheadism". I think among all the traitors ever yet known since the war began, they are the most vile. Even Jeff Davis and his would be "Lords of the Land" are not worse. They should all share the same fate if I had their well earned punishment to inflict. I hope my children will at least have the satisfaction in looking back upon this war, of knowing I for one, did my duty faithfully although I may never be promoted higher than High Private, may it never be heard in their ears or said anywhere else, "Your father was a coward, a deserter or a copperhead".

"The soldiers here are in high spirits over the conscript act. They hope it will be put in force right away."

Camp on Stone River, Murfreesboro, April 13, 1863. "The Rebels have captured a train between here and Nashville on Friday last. It is said they got Forty Thousand Dollars in soldiers money."

"I must not forget to tell you the Rebels are not having it all their way in this part of Tennessee. There has been several skirmishes not far from here where they have been beaten. At a place called Snow Hill, they got a whipping from General Stanley last week and then again between Tyrone and Franklin, they got enough of it. They lost, it is said, three hundred men which we took prisoners, besides some killed, also four hundred horses etc."

Camp on Stone River, Murfreesboro, April 15, 1863. "The news from the army in different places is rather conflicting the last day or two, but I think our armies will come off victorious at last and that right not might will rule. I think the day is not far distant when every poor oppressed slave will be set free and our Government placed upon a better foundation that ever, although I believe it has been one of the best ever known. I feel a little uneasy about Charleston and Vicksburg. I suppose they are fighting perhaps at both places while I am writing, but I hope God will enable us to conquer and speedily put down this Rebellion."

Camp on Stone River, Murfreesboro, May 11, 1863. "We have the news that Richmond is ours. We have had quite an exciting time of it this week, first we heard of great successes and then reverses, now the papers say Richmond is taken. I hope it is so and that our army will not stop until Victorious all over the rebellious states."

Camp Shaffer, Murfreesboro, May 17, 1863. "The battle Hooker has had, I am sorry to hear, has turned out partly a failure, at least we have not gained much, but if you have seen the papers, you will see Stoneman,s Cavalry did exceedingly well."

Camp on Stone River, Murfreesboro, May 22, 1863. "We may possibly be in another battle soon. We got orders night before last to be ready to march at a moments notice, but we are still here. I have heard that two spies came in that night and reported Bragg's Army was advancing upon us and we supposed that was the reason we got the orders."

"I must not forget to tell you our Cavalry went out from here last night about eight oclock and surprised the Rebel camp early this morning and brought in about two hundred prisoners with them. The place where they were in camp is about seventeen miles from here, called Middleton."

Camp on Stone River, Murfreesboro, May 26, 1863. "I am beginning again to be in better spirits about getting home soon, as we have accounts of a great victory at Vicksburg."

"All is quiet here. Still no signs of a battle as far as we know, nor do any of us want one if we could help it, but if Bragg wants a fight, we are ready for him and will do our best to satisfy him in such a way that he will not try us again."

Continued on Page 2

Submitted by Thomas Jacob Brown, Jr., P.O. Box 10099. Santa Ana, CA 92711

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