Letter dated February 5, 1863
Lt. Abner Westbrook
9th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry
Abner Westbrook enlisted September 12, 1861 as a Sergeant in the 9th Illinois Cavalry Regiment. His claimed residence was Kingston. He was promoted to full 2nd Lieutenant on October 3, 1862. His rank when he died October 22, 1864 was that of a Lieutenant. He is buried in Memphis National Cemetery in Tennessee.
Abner was born in 1836 as the sixth of ten children to Peter and Fanny Westbrook. Their children were Luther (b. 1822, d. 1834), Rebecca (b. 1824, d. 1848), Daniel (b. 1826, d. 1836), Lyman (b. 1829, d. 1832), Charity (b. 1835, d. ?), Abner (b. 1836, d. 1864), jacob (b. 1839, d. ?). In his letter, he refers to his brothers, Amasa, Jake (Jacob), and Dell (Adelbert) and his mother, Fanny. His father, Peter, died in 1860. His mother, Fannie, died in 1871.
Helena Feb the 5th 1863
I received your letter but a few moments ago-have just finished reading it and seat myself immediately to answer it. Aunt, allow met to call you so, for I use to when a boy and I want to bring myself back in memory as near as I can to those days, I never received a letter that gave me greater pleasure than did yours. It brought home friends and my boyhood associations so vividly to my mind. I gave me joy to think I am not forgotten by those from whom I have been separated so long.
You commenced by wishing me a happy New Year! Thank-you. I will tell you how I was engaged that day then you can judge for yourself whether it was a happy New Year or not. I will speak of both Christmas and New Years. Christmas I spent in search of a band of guerilla's ridding all day in the rain and at night instead of meeting with friends in cheerful room perhaps to pass away the evening by singing or some other pleasant amusement. I had to wrap my solitary blanket around me throw myself down on the damp ground to pass the night as best I could. New Years I spent in my lonely tent a shaking victim to the ague and fever. These were the enjoyments I had for the holidays. You spoke of the day as being a solemn one to you, that it brought up the memories of the past and that you had lost another neighbor. I well know what feelings this causes in neighborhoods where death does not call so often. You spoke about my becoming accustomed to it! In a sense I have. An yet! I have not. I hope I will never become so heartless but what I will have sympathy for those who suffer and will look upon Death with due solemnity. A soldier can be brave in battle and still have humane feelings. I will admit that in battle when a person's bad nature is aroused, when he thinks of avenging a fallen comrade he will take another life and even feel a sort of a hellish pleasure in the suffering of his enemy. I can call it by no more gentle name: I know I have myself at times delighted in human misery. Yes I have seen the time, when my comrades were falling round me. Had it been in my power, I would have dyed my sabre in the blood of at least a thousand and then would not have felt satisfied. At such times death has no terror it is all swallowed up in passion. But let theat excitement pass away and the demon again becomes a man: humanity returns-that enemy -that possibly he has wounded so dangerously and would have delighted in killing at the time his passions we! re aroused, has now fallen in his hands. He see's his suffering and all malice is gone. He binds up his wounds and talks with him pleasantly as though they had always been friends. Let a man sicken and die by disease and death never will lose its solemnity with me. Aunt, you spoke about being interrupted and hoped I would not throw your letter aside because you had been so long writing it! You needed no apologies. If you had been a year writing it, it would have been gratefully received. I am under great obligations and not being in the habit of writing to old ladies ( my mother excepted) I hardly know how to make my letter interesting. I believe I will write as I would talk----------- You spoke about your mother getting old! I fearfully realize it by thinking of my own age. But a short time ago I was with you a worthless boy: a terror to all of you old people on account of my folly. A few months it seems to me have only------------- and I have passed from the boy to the man! . Yes, an almost and old bachelor. How or when this time has passed I can hardly tell. It seems like a long dream and the last part or last year seemed like a blank, but it has left its marks upon me and if I have grown old how much more have you that were advanced in life when I last saw you. Aunt Nancy, I don't believe you would know me. I have grown prematurely old. I don't know but I think suffering and sickness makes me appear ten years older than I really am, but I am enjoying pretty good health now and am in hopes that I won't be sick so much as I have been.
The same time that I received your letter I received one (from) Brother Jacob. He was well and enjoying himself as well as a soldier can. You spoke about getting a letter from Amasa. I have never received a letter from him since I have been in the army. I like to hear from him much but for some cause we do not correspond. I have written to him but I suppose he never go my letter. I get letters from Jake oftener than I do from home. We are fast approaching the time when another great battle is to be fought at Vicksburg. The bloodiest battle of the war- the battle that will decide the destiny of our nation. If we are victorious the Union will be safe. If not it will be lost. The battle I think will be fought some time this month. The flower of the western army is already before its frowning batteries, thousands are still passing down. I suppose we will be there to take part and if I survive that battle I am going home. Aunt, It would cause you painful feelings if you were here! and could see these fine healthy looking men going down the river so full of life and fun, knowing that thousands would never return, that they go there but to find a bloody grave. Vicksburg is probably the strongest fortified place in the states-it is the key if taken that could unlock Richmond. Against this place about one hundred thousands brave and tired troops be brought, men that will fight only as western troops can fight, men that have always been victorious and led by---------------who have sworn to conquer or perish what a fearful-------------of life must follow. But if we are successful let the cost be ever so fearful we will be paid. God grant we may be victorious. Aunt, I wrote a letter to Mr. Cooley only a few days ago to inquire about home. I had not heard from home in so long a time that I was fearful Ma was sick, but your letter relieves my mind of that trouble. I fell that I ought to be at home at this time. I know that Ma is getting old and she needs some! one to care for her. I being the oldest and the one who caused her the most trouble ought to be the one for her to lean on and Aunt, if I am spared I am going to care for her. I would have sent her money long ago, but it is risky sending money from here in a letter; and Jake has written he and Amasa have both sent money home. I have about $800 coming from the government now. I have not drawn any pay for six months. I always have this fixed so that she can draw my pay if I should get killed or should die. It cost me about $300 to fit me with horse saddle and bridle. You spoke about Dell having written me a letter. I would give me pleasure to receive a letter from him. I once told him I would give him a gold dollar if he would write me a letter. ----------------------- him told the amt. I got but I will send him a five dollar green back if he will write me a letter. Hell, I guess I have written enough. I will ask one or two questions and quit. What is (Print) doing and w! hats the reason he don't write. I would like to call in and eat a few pancakes & honey, a few apples also. Give my respects to all my associates and if you have nothing else to occupy you if you will write me another letter, you may take your own time and I will be under great obligations. Give my respect to Uncle. Hoping I may yet live to see you all; I will quit
Lieut. Ab Westbrook
Direct 9th ILL Cav.