Letters Home from

George Surtees

Company E, 88th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

- Page 2 -

Manchester, Tennessee, June 27, 1863. "I knew you would feel very bad when you heard we were again on the move and likely to be in another fight, but I am glad to inform you, my dear wife, that all is well with us yet. We have not been in any engagements yet. Our division is in the rear guarding the train and it will probably happen that we may not have much fighting to do this time, but there has been a good deal of fighting every day almost as we came along we could hear the firing in our front. Johnson's and Davises Divisions are in front of us. We hear that Johnson's Division has lost heavily."

"I cannot tell you much about the fighting as we have not been in it, but you will see the papers. This much I can tell you. We have driven the Rebels this far and I hope we will not stop until they are whipped soundly."

Cowan, Tennessee, July 4, 1863. "My dear wife: I thought I would sit down and write you a few lines today again as we are here for the day and will likely be off again in the morning. I hope you will excuse the paper etc. I send. It has rained almost every day since we started and I have had a hard job to save it. I cannot promise you much of a letter under the circumstances. I will give you more particulars as soon as we get to Chattanooga if I am spared. I am thankful to tell you our Brigade has not been in a fight since we started on the march. The most of the fighting has been skirmishing with the Cavalry and our Brigade has always been pretty far back in the rear when fighting was going on until yesterday when we came to a place called Winchester. The Rebels made a sort of a stand but our Cavalry soon drove them. We have gotten to the mountains now and will have slow work in getting through to Chattanooga. One thing I must tell you. We expected to have quite a fight at Tullahoma. There they were strongly fortified, but they scarcely showed fight at all. We came upon them so quick they had to burn up some of their large Siege guns, they could not get them off. We were surrounding them and they thought it better to skedaddle as quick as possible."

Cowan Station, Tennessee, July 18, 1863. "My dear Wife: I received your very kind and welcome letter dated the 10th inst. On the 16th. You may perhaps think I have been negligent in not answering it sooner, but such is not the case. I had quite a time to get this paper and envelope. Our knapsacks were left at Murfreesboro and have not got up yet and paper etc. is a very scarce article among us, but I managed to borrow this at last. We are still here at this place, but how long we will stay, I don,t know. We can,t get any further until the railroad and bridges which the Rebels burnt are fixed. Our Regiment has gone out on a reconnaissance about fifteen miles from here this morning and will be gone three days, but I have been excused from going out with them. I have not felt very well for about a week and was not able to stand the march. I hope you will not feel worried about me. There is nothing serious the matter. I have been troubled with a sickness at my stomach and a swimming in my head. The doctor says it is biliousness."

"Oh my dear wife, I feel so glad and thankful to God, the good new is coming in so fast of our success at so many different points in addition to the fall of Vicksburg, we have got news that Port Hudson has surrendered. General Johnson has been defeated and General Lee severely whipped in two battles. Morgan is surrounded and likely to be captured and today I hear that a dispatch has come to headquarters that Charleston is taken. I hope it will all prove to be true. It appears Lee has got over the Potomac again, but I hope General Meade will catch him and capture his entire army."

Cowan Station, Tennessee, July 28, 1863. "We got paid yesterday. We got four months pay."

"We have got nicely fixed up in camp again and are doing well. I wish you could only see our camp how nicely we have got it fixed. We have put up sheds almost like our old cow shed over our tents, and put up a thick covering of brush on the top so that we have it quite shady and cool ."

"I have not felt well since we came here. I had diarrhea but soon got it stopped, then I believe I told you in my last letter, I was taken with sickness at my stomach and dizziness in my head. The Doctor said it was biliousness and gave me medicine which put me right again in that respect, but the last four or five days I have been suffering with my old complaint, Neuralgia in one of my eyes and forehead. I went to the Doctor again yesterday and he gave me some powders to take and today I feel much better. I have had scarcely any pain so I think I will be allright again shortly, but I hope you will not be worrying so much about me. You know I like to tell you when anything is the matter, but I don,t wish to tell you anything that will give you trouble. And as to the Diarrhea, it is so common with us, we don,t take much notice of it. Almost all the soldiers have it more or less this warm weather and a great many are bilious and their blood is in a bad state. A great many have boils, etc. I think it is for want of vegetables etc. We had potatoes often at Murfreesboro, but they are scarce here."

"I understand General Sheridan sent orders to all his regiments to fix up and make themselves comfortable as possible for we were likely to stay here three or four months and guard the Railroad, but I am in hopes the war will be over within that time. The news we get is so encouraging and I am glad to hear they have captured Morgan at last. Charleston is likely to be ours soon and the Rebel Army on the Potomac either captured or scattered and demoralized."

Bridgeport, Alabama, August 5, 1863. "My dear Wife: I hope you will excuse me. I have been longer in answering you kind letter than I ought to have been. You will perceive that we have been making another forward movement since I wrote last. I told you how nice we had got our camp fixed up, but we had to leave it just when we had got it made comfortable. Don,t you think it was too bad? We are at the above place but can't go any further. The bridge is nearly all burnt by the rebels on their retreat. It is a large bridge across the Tennessee River and it will take a long time to rebuild it so it is likely to be some time before we can move forward again. I was left back in camp with all the sick who were not able to march and sent on the Railroad cars. We got here night before last (August 3rd). The cars don,t run very often yet. I am still troubled with the Diarrhea. I get it checked but it comes on again every few days. I got a bottle of Davises Pain Killer and used it all up. It helped me considerable, but the ride on the cars brought it on again. I am taking Doctor's medicine. I don't expect to be much better until I get rid of this Bilious complaint. I believe I told you in one of my letters, Doctor said I was Bilious. The boys say my skin is quite yellow, particularly my face and forehead, and looks as it I had the Jaundice almost. I think the warm weather and the want of vegetables to eat is the cause. If I could only get home on a furlough I believe I would soon be all right again. I am trying to get one. The Captain and me has had some talk about it two or three times. I spoke to him today about it and he is of the same opinion as I am and said he would try to get the Doctor to make out a certificate and see if the Colonel and Generals would sign it, but I don,t have much hope of succeeding. Rosecrans Army is the worst department in the service for getting furloughs and discharges. If I had been in Grant,s Army I would not have much trouble in getting it. I see he issued an order granting furloughs to all the sick and wounded who are able to go home, for thirty days, but if there is any chance for me I will not let it slip for want of looking after. If I can,t get it and don,t get well again soon, I think I will go into some Hospital where I can get better care. I have always been much opposed to going into a Hospital if I could help it, but I think there is a great difference. I have been talking with some of the men in our Company and they speak well of those they have been in. I was talking with one of them this morning who was in Nashville nearly all winter. He came back strong and hearty and has got along first rate since. He says they were all well treated and had plenty of good nourishing food, even Ale and Wine for them that needed it."

Nashville, Tennessee, August 18, 1863. "My dear Wife: I have been longer in answering your kind letter which I received last, dated 6th inst, but I hope you will excuse me. I told you, I believe in my last I was going to apply for a furlough and have done so, but could not get it. I have not been well for about a month. I managed to keep up with the Regiment, but I have done no duty during that time. The Doctor said I was bilious and I had the Diarrhea with it. My eyes were affected. I could scarcely see at all after dark at nights. I began to be alarmed on this account, but I thought I would not say anything in my letters to you about them as it would make you feel so bad. Our Second Lieutenant and the Captain took great interest in trying to get me a furlough, also the Doctor, but while they were looking after it, my eyes have got well again and when they found it was no use trying any longer for a furlough as they could not succeed, the Doctor did the next best thing as our Regiment was under marching orders and expecting to move every day, the Doctor gave another man that has been long sick with Diarrhea and me a Certificate to come here to General Hospital and advising the Doctor in charge to send us North as soon as practicable. They have been sending the sick who were able to go, out of the Hospitals, here lately. A great many have been sent to their own state I understand. I am in hopes they will send my companion soon. Oh how I should like to be sent to Chicago. I could no doubt get leave of absence for a few days and come down and see you."

Address General Field Hospital, Division 'B' Sec. 2, Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville, Tennessee, August 29, 1963. "I am sorry you have been disappointed. I should very much like to be home on a furlough just now, the weather is so pleasant, but perhaps it is for the best. It would cost me quite a good deal as I would have to pay half the fare of my passage home and back again and it is a long journey and I don't think we have got anything to spare. I am afraid you have hard work to make ends meet sometimes. Ten dollars per month is a small sum for you and the children to live upon, particularly these times everything is so high."

"I must not forget to tell you I think I am improving although the Doctor has given me a bit of medicine since I came."

Stephenson, Alabama, September 11, 1863. "My dear Wife: I take this opportunity of writing a few lines. I am thankful to inform you that my health is so much improved that I am on my way back to the Regiment again. I came here on the cars yesterday from Nashville. I expect to leave here this afternoon at four oclock and will most likely have to travel on foot from Bridgeport across the mountains. I have learned from a Lieutenant belonging to our regiment that they are on the march and making their way to Lookout Valley in a westerly direction from Chattanooga. There is a squad of men here belonging to the 36th Illinois and one or two of our own men to go along with me. The weather is very dry and warm. I am afraid we will find it pretty tough marching. You never saw such a rough, wild looking country as this is. Great high mountains covered with rocks piled up one upon the other and a heavy growth of timber. It is like looking up to the clouds to see the top of them."

"I suppose the news has reached you by this time that Rosecrans has taken possession of Chattanooga. There was little or no fighting. I believe the Rebels evacuated. There is great rumors of dissatisfaction and desertions among Braggs troops. I hope it is all true. I wish all the Southern Army would desert and go home and let us go home too. But I think we ought to be very thankful for the success we have had lately. We seem to be steadily gaining on them."

Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 4, 1863. "Letters will go very unregular no doubt until we get possession of the Railroad between here and Bridgeport which I hope will not be very long. Hooker is fighting the Rebels for it and has got it all except about two or three miles near this place. If we had that it would be a very important point gained for us. That has been the cause of us having to live so long on short rations. The roads through the mountains are almost impassable and our wagons have to take such a wide circuitous route that it is slow work and almost impossible to get anything here at all. But however the Steamboat I was on managed to run down the river without being noticed by the Rebels and has got back again with a load of provisions for us and also some flat boats loaded which she towed up with her. She came as far as we had possession of the river, about two miles from here, and we have men at work making roads so that we can bring up the rations with the wagons from the place where she landed. But I hope things will not last long this way. I never suffered so long for want of enough to eat, but I would be willing to suffer anything almost if it would hasten this war to a close and an honorable peace to our country. I have long been tired of a soldiers life, yes much as I dislike it and bad as I feel to be away so long from my dear wife and children, I believe it my duty to struggle on a little longer and endure hardships as a good soldier."

Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 21, 1863. "My beloved wife: I have to make apology for not writing sooner I received your kind letter dated 4th. Would have answered it right away but I was on duty and could not, besides we were expecting to get paid every day and I wanted to see how I would come out as this is the time they settle up the clothing bills. Our Company was just drawn up into line yesterday to get paid when I received another kind letter from you dated the 11th inst. And enclosed in it four postage stamps and .50 in postage currency for which I feel very thankful to my kind and loving wife. But my dear wife, I don't want to be robbing you of what little you have to provide for yourself and the dear little children. I often wonder how you can get along so well with only ten dollars per month and everything so high. I wish I could do something to earn a little extra money here so that I could sent it to help you along for I could not bear the idea of your going out to do washing or anything of that sort to keep you from starvation. But my dear wife, I hope that will never be and I trust you will never be subjected to the painful and mortifying necessity of asking relief from the town. That, I think, would almost kill me."

"I suppose there are a great many deserters coming to our lines from the Rebels. Sixteen came in last night. I hear they said they would rather risk being shot in crossing than stay in the Rebel service with only three quarters of a pound of Bran per day issued to keep them in existence as that was all they could get. If that be true, they must be getting pretty hard up. We are getting a little better rations now. We get three quarters rations except coffee and sugar, only one half of them."

General Field Hospital, Chattanooga, Tennessee, December 10, 1863. "My beloved wife: I am afraid you will be worrying a great deal to hear from me. I should have wrote sooner but I have not been able. You have been informed I expect, that I got wounded on the 25th of last month at Missionary Ridge. As soon as I was wounded, Andrew Crooks kindly offered to write for me and let you know what had happened, which I expect he intended to do, but I have not seen him since to ask him since our Regiment and Brigade was sent off in the direction of Knoxville after Longstreet right away and have not got back again. Perhaps they will not come back here again at all. I suppose the letters you have sent me have gone on to the Regiment with the others so there is no saying when I will have a letter from you again. We expect to be sent to Nashville or Louisville soon where we will be better provided for. They can,t get things on here fast enough for us. They have not got the Railroad running yet. Our fare is poor for wounded men, but they have to do the best they can and I don,t want to complain. We have to eat hard bread and the balance what we get is soup, coffee and Farina, but very little meat. My wound is doing well. It has been very painful up to within a day or two ago. I could not sleep at nights and could scarcely bear my leg turned over. It has been so sore and stiff, but I think I will soon be able to get mounted upon a pair of crutches and hop around. Do you remember that old leather pocket book I used to have at home? The ball went right through it in my pocket and what little money I had in it, a two dollar bill and three ten cent postage currency tickets. I want to keep this old pocket book as long as I live any how. I expect the ball is still in my thigh, but the Doctors could not feel it and I could not get any of them to work to try and get it out. They said it was a pretty ticklish place to get it out as it must lay buried among the cords under the bone. I don,t know how long it will take to heal up again, but it runs a great deal of matter and the Doctors and Nurses say it is doing finely."

Ward 'C' General Field Hospital, Chattanooga, Tennessee, December 23, 1863. "My dear wife: I wish you and the dear little children a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Although circumstances seem unfavorable as far as I know, I did hope last year to be home and spend Christmas with you this, but God in his Providence has ordered otherwise and I do not wish to repine. He knows what is best. Indeed I feel very thankful that nothing worse has happened to me. My wound is doing well. It is healing up fast, but my thigh is very stiff. I believe I told you last time, the ball was left in. I got the heart Doctor to examine it about a week ago and he went to work with his instruments and probed the wound, but could not find where the ball had gone and he said it would not do to go to work and cut in such a dangerous place where there were so many blood vessels and muscles, upon such an uncertainty and it might probably never hurt me if it was left in, so he thought it better to let it alone. He hurt me pretty bad I tell you and it has been very painful since or I would have wrote sooner. I expected to have been sent to Nashville before now, but here I am yet. I wish I had told you how to direct your letters here as I want to hear from you so badly. I have not had a letter from you for about six weeks."

"We are not comfortable here as I would like to be. They cannot get things through fast enough to make us comfortable, but we get along. The Railroad is not open yet between here and Bridgeport and I don,t know when it will".

General Field Hospital, Chattanooga, Tennessee, January 22, 1864. "My thigh still pains me a good deal at times and I have been troubled a great deal with gripings in my bowels and unless I be taking Morphine or something of that sort, I suffer a great deal."

"My wound looks to be almost healed up, but it still discharges a great deal of matter and often bleeds. I guess it will take a long time to get well enough to come home, which I certainly will do if I can get away."

"I am sending my money and purse home by Mr. Bannister of the 36th Illinois Regiment."

Hospital #4, Nashville, Tennessee, February 9, 1864. "My dear wife: I am happy to be able to inform you that I have been brought to Nashville where I can be made much more comfortable than I could be at Chattanooga. I came here on the 31st of January and have been very sick since, but am now improving rapidly and I think with the treatment I am receiving I will soon be well."

Ward 'C' General Hospital #4, Nashville Tennessee.

The above is apparently his last letter as he died February 20, 1864, gangrene having set in in his wound.

He is buried in the National Cemetery at Nashville, Tennessee, Grave #1272, Section 'E'.

After his death, his widow, Priscilla, was forced to work as a housekeeper to support herself. For a time the three younger children, including my grandfather, Robert William Surtees, were placed in the orphanage for war orphans at Normal, Illinois.

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

Back to page 1 *** Return to Scrapbook page