THIS LETTER IS WRITTEN BY WM. H. BROWN, (WILLIE), TO HIS PARENTS. HE IS 19 YEARS OLD. HE WAS MORTALLY WOUNDED AT THE BATTLE OF SHILOH ON APRIL 6, 1862.
Fort Heiman, Ky.
February 18th, 1862
I wrote you a short letter about a week ago giving you an account of our expedition to this place which I sent to Paducah to be mailed there. I hope you received the letter.
Since writing that letter we have had a great battle and a great victory at Fort Donelson. The Stars & Stripes now wave over one of the strongest footholds of the Confederacy. Thirteen Thousand prisoners including 3 Generals, 128 cannons, large and small, 2000 horses and mules and an immense amount of stores of ammunition are ours.
I will try and give you some account of the part played in the engagement by the Eleventh and the 8th Mo. as indeed that is the only part of the fight I can give a correct account, judging of the rest only from hearsay.
Last Thursday night at 12 o'clock while sleeping soundly in the tent we were aroused by the rattle of the drum. At first, we supposed we were attacked by the enemy but presently the long roll began to sound and then we understood it was for a "tramp". that we were called up. Pretty soon the Sergeant came around to each tent giving orders to draw 3 days rations and pack knapsacks ready to march. Up we got, drew the rations, packed our "duds" and after standing around the fire for an hour or so received orders to fall in. We were marched to the river landing and our Reg. and the 8th put on board the "Aleck Scott" and ferried across the river to Fort Henry. About 8 we started on the line for Fort Donelson at which place or rather about 3 miles from there we arrived at 3 p.m. We were not taken up to the Fort at all that day but stopped over night where we first halted so that we might get some rest after the march and be able to go into the action fresh on the next day. It was quite novel and interesting to see the many different kinds of uniforms mixed together traveling up and down the road along which we were camped. Conspicuous above all were the Sharpshooters with their backwoods uniform and rifles. There were men from every Northwestern state, including Kansas and Nebraska, clad in almost every conceivable kind of uniform.
At 9 o'clock the next day we were marched up to the lines and took our position along side of Totten's Artillery. After remaining there an hour we marched around more to the right of the fort by the Chicago Artillery. There we threw off our knapsacks and everything that would be in our way in the action. The two regiments formed in line by the battery and away we went through the brush to find the enemy. I should state that we and the 8th formed a Brigade of ourselves that day and were commanded by Col. Smith of the 8th. A little brigade, but one calculated to fight. After proceeding about 1 1/2 miles the enemy were found posted on a hill. The 8th deployed as skirmishers and went forward to engage them while we remained behind for them to fall back upon. They had left us hardly five minutes when the sharp rattle of musketry told us they had met them. We kept cheering to let them know we were there and would be with them. Then came the word "forward" and forward we went cheering all the time.
Soon we came to a cornfield which we had to pass through to get to the hill and while going through this they pored the bullets into us thick as hail almost, and the way they whistled around one's ears was enough to make him jerk his head./ You may be sure we made somewhat of a hurry to get across the field.
After we had got over the field into the ravine below the hill we formed again and the 8th who has been fighting on the side of the hill fell back behind us to allow us to charge. All this time, although the enemy had been pouring the bullets into us, we had not fired a single round for fear of hurting our own men ahead of us and it being our wish to make a bayonet charge. We made all the haste we could to get up the hill, but when we got there the enemy had fled and we could just get a sight of them flying through the brush. We poured a volley at them and pitched after them. We had run about 500 yards when suddenly there was a flash and a whiz and the grape and canister shot were flying all around us. The order to "lie down" was scarcely necessary for we were all down as soon as we saw the flash. The cunning rebels had thought to run us on to their battery and then mow us down. And the chief gunner afterwards said that when we all fell he thought he had made a good shot. After firing about half an hour, killing but very few of us, they stopped a while;and the word "forward" was again given. We got up and went to the edge of the woods in front of the battery when Col. Smith, seeing we could do nothing by ourselves without sacrificing us all, had us retreat about 50 yards to a ravine and lay there for the night. The enemy seeing us here again opened a heavy fire, this time a crossfire - a battery firing on us from the front and another battery to the right of us. We had to hug the ground pretty close to escape all their balls.
They banged away till after dark and then stopped, seeing it was no use to continue. We stayed there all Saturday night and had a most miserable time of it, our knapsacks and overcoats not being with us, the weather freezing and no fires allowed because the enemy might see our position. Talking even in whispers was prohibited and the strictest silence kept.
Col. Smith's plan was to hold this position till next morning when reinforcements would arrive and then go over the breastworks at the point of the bayonet with his two regiments. About 12 o'clock men were detailed to carry off the dead and wounded from the field, myself being on the detail from Co. A. The scenes I saw that night are too horrible for me to think of describing. The hill where the Eleventh Ills. had fought the day before was literally covered with dead. On the Hill where we had first met the enemy we found 106 dead rebels.
Sunday morning came at last. Immediately after daybreak we formed in ranks and took an advanced position in the edge of the woods and lay there till the reinforcements came up. And we did not have to wait long for soon the very man we wanted to see then, General Wallace, with a whole division at his heels. He rode along the lines scrutinizing each man closely and telling us to remember our old name and old times and to charge like men. Just at this moment - as we were going to move forward our pickets brought in word that a flag had come out of the fort. Wallace rode forward to confer with them and all hearts beat high to learn the result of the conference. Presently the General came riding back and rising in the saddle said, "Boys, the Fort has surrendered unconditionally." You cannot conceive the joy those few words caused us. We could now enter the Fort peaceably and not with the bayonet as we would have had to do. The terrible sacrifice of human lives was now over. The Stars and Stripes had come off victorious.
We marched into the Fort, the first regiment. The Eleventh had the double honor of giving them the last brush and entering first into the breastworks. Arrived inside we formed in a hollow square, stacked arms and broke ranks.
It would be hard to give you an idea of the works unless you could see them. They consisted of a main Fort surrounded with breastworks something like Fort Anderson at Paducah only the batteries are very numerous and strong and command every conceivable point of entrance. Around the whole runs a rifle pit. The Fort is situated near the little town of Dover on the Cumberland.
We stacked our arms near the camp of the Mississippi 3rd. A first rate set of men but ununiformed and without drill. They were well fed and hearty. If you could have seen the immense amount of provisions stored here you would open your eyes. I tell you the South cannot be starved out. There was a pile of bacon on the wharf which covered nearly half an acre and nearly as high as one of our tents.
Concerning the number killed it is impossible to form an estimate but the sacrifice was truly awful. The 11th Ills., took into the field 650 and brought back 170. The fault of this was in their drill for when the cannon commenced on them instead of spreading out and lying down they ran together and were mown down. The 9th Ill. suffered terribly. They shot away every cartridge they had and Col. Mersy, although shot 5 times, still kept command. The 12th Ills. also suffered much. On Friday last, Capt. Chesley was wounded and taken prisoner. I could not learn whether he was recaptured or not. O.S. John Swannell was missing the last I heard from them. The boys did not know what had become of him.
In our Co. there was 8 wounded and 1 Mr. Joe Reeder Killed. The regiment lost 14 killed and 25 wounded.
Col. Smith commanded the admiration of all in the engagement, riding forward in the hottest of the fire and shooting the rebels down with his revolver. He is just the kind of man to lead troops in an engagement.
Webster is all right. We fired 14 rounds.Gen. Floyd was killed by one of his own men because he would not let him get on the boat on which he was trying to escape. We remained at Fort Donelson Sunday and came back to Fort Heiman on Monday. Tomorrow we leave here probably back to Donelson and from thence to Nashville. Clarksville, a considerable town 16 miles from Fort Donelson where the rebels had considerable stores, was burned by themselves Sunday night.
It is getting so dark I cannot write more. You must not think if I do not write that I have forgotten you for everyone of the family and host of friends are remembered just as affectionately as ever by me.
Give my love to all,
Your affectionate Son
W. H. Brown
I stood the fire as well as any, getting neither scared nor excited. Please let me know if you received a letter from me a short time ago.
Camp Halleck, Benton Co., Ark.
Feb. 28th, 1862
Dear Father & Mother,
This morning Lieut. Fithian's trunk arrived in camp and among other contents was a box and several letters labeled Thos. R. Brown. In side of the box I found a towel, a piece of soap, 2 combs coarse and fine, some crackers, some raisins, a bit of cheese and some writing paper. And in the letter I found a dollars worth of postage stamps which comes in very handy, for out here we can not have our letters franked and very seldom can we send them. Anyhow, yesterday there was a chance to send them and, I being on guard, I had not time to write any. So today I am going to write and be ready to send the very first opportunity that offers. It may be as long as 2 weeks before I get a chance to send and again I may have a chance tomorrow.
It has been now better than a month since we left Otterville and has been by far the most pleasant march we had ever made. It is true we have marched farther than here before, but there has been more excitement and more resting than the march to Springfield last fall. From the time we got into Springfield until the time we gave up the chase, I never saw a much more exciting time in my life. Why at times we were as close as 2 miles on to Price. One night we camped within 3 miles of Price's camp and I understood that General Davis wanted to take his division (which consists of our brigade and his old brigade), clean out old Price that night and felt so confident in Curtis and permit that he even gave us orders to push ahead, but when he came to ask Gen. Curtis would not listen to him but sent him away the next morning.
Everybody expected a fight, but we kept going until we got to his old camping ground and there learned that he left about 12 o'clock that night. We have been very close to him several times since that time but never close enough. We may see him to our satisfaction - yet strong he is and cunning as an old fox.
Ed Robinson told me to tell his folks that he is well. Jo Clapp and George English never looked better in their lives. I don't believe George has had his very long hair cut off. I will stop for present but if I do not get a chance to send this right away I will write some more.
Give my love to everybody and remember your ever affectionate son,
T. R. Brown
P.S. Direct your letters to Saint Louis, Mo.Co. "K" 37th Ill. Vol.
Down in Arkansas - I don't know where?
Dear Father and Mother,
We have at last rid Mo. of Old Price and are still after him. We have been running him pretty close. One night we camped within 3 miles of his camp. We have been drawn up in line of battle several times. Have not got any fight out of him. We will probably follow him to Fort Smith and then get him cleaned out.
I am as well as I ever was in my life. Ed Robinson says to tell them that he is well and in good spirits. Jo Clapp looks hearty, Lieut. Fithian over took us the other day. His trunk is still at Springfield. Our cavalry was cut up pretty badly in a brush with the enemy day before yesterday. Between 15 and 20 killed and wounded. We keep taking prisoners all the time. Swear them well and turn them loose.
With much love to everybody I still remain your affect. son.
Thomas R. Brown
P.S. Don't think hard for me for not writing oftener for I can't find time.
Camp of the 37th Ills. Vols.
Near Bloomington, Missouri
March 12th, 1862
Dear Sister Sallie,
I have just got in from a three days forage and we had a good time generally. Sleeping in feather beds and living on corn bread & sorghum molasses.
The first question I asked after getting in camp was has there been any mail? Yes!, was the answer & three letters for Thos. R. Brown. Good says I & down I squats on the mess box & goes to reading the news from home. I have received five letters from Mother & haven't answered any of them. But it is not my fault for we have had so much guard duty and so much foraging that I have actually not had time to write. I owe that fair correspondent, that you speak of a letter yet & you know very well that I would answer her letters if I had time. Tomorrow I will try & answer them all if I am off of duty as I think I will.
Sallie, what do you think I have made up my mind to do? I'll bet (no, I won't for I ain't a betting man), but I'll venture to say that you cannot form the least idea. I will tell you though what I intend to do. I ain't agoing to desert, but I am going to serve my time out until I get an honorable discharge and then I am a going to go away off across the plains into Oregon where everything is everybody's & where a fellow can pick up his rifle & go out two or three hundred yards & kill him a big nice deer or a turkey or two to have something nice. Not live for ever on old pork & tough beef. What do you think of my notion? Do you think that you can coax me out of it? I know that you will say "yes, you can", but I don't think that you can for I am tired of being hemed up in one little hole like Danville all of the time.
Sallie, you say you wish that we would get some place where Mother could come & see me but you don't wish it one bit more than I do. I believe that our chances are better now than they ever were before. We
are now camped just 80 miles in a south easterly direction from Rolla & the report is very current here that we will go there in a very few days. I don't know whether we will or not though, it is hard for a private to tell.
You say that Nettie Vance's husband is in the army. I never knew before that she was married & Charlie is in Danville now, too, you say. Give him my love & tell him to write. I think a good deal of Charlie. You have had one or two or three rather strange weddings it seems to me.
Oh!, yes that birthday dinner I had like to have. I forgot that you wanted to know what my bill of fare would be and if I wasn't going to invite you to it. I do give you a most cordial invitation, but my bill of fare will be pretty poor. I think that I can get some of Uncle Sam's light bread baked in St. Louis, a little bacon & a cup of coffee. I am afraid if you come through I will have to furnish you with a set of army utensils.
Love from your most affect.