Home History ‘I Will Shoot’: Three Gritty Letters Describe the Civil War’s Reality

‘I Will Shoot’: Three Gritty Letters Describe the Civil War’s Reality

by Enochadmin

For greater than a decade, William “Griff” Griffing has been transcribing letters of Civil Conflict troopers. It’s not only a pastime, however a ardour. He has transcribed 1000’s of letters and diaries, many held in personal collections, which he posts on his Fb web page and web site “Spared and Shared.” We requested Griff to share with us a few of his most favored, memorable, or compelling letters thus far. A tricky activity, he famous, since he has come throughout so many exceptional accounts.

Right here, we embrace three of almost a dozen he selected, together with a letter from a soldier recounting his experiences on the Battle of Shiloh; a civilian who survived William Quantrill’s grisly raid of Lawrence, Kan., in August 1863; and one from an officer of a USCT regiment recounting the Black troops’ terrifying battle on the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads on June 10, 1864. “When ghastly demise stares a person within the face, [it] conjures up him with such dauntless braveness and bodily energy as solely those that have met it know to energy,” he wrote.


Lester Bishop Filley

This exceptional letter was written by Lester Bishop Filley. On March 22, 1862, at age 33, Filley enlisted in Firm D, 61st Illinois Infantry. On this letter, Lester informs his spouse of the demise of her brother, Marshall Smith Corey, who served with him and was killed through the Battle of Shiloh.

Based on accounts from the primary day at Shiloh, 400 males of the 61st Illinois Infantry have been shaped in line in time to obtain the primary assault of the enemy they usually stood their floor for greater than an hour. They have been then ordered to help a battery of the first Missouri Artillery, and at 1 p.m. have been ordered to the help of Maj. Gen. Stephen Hurlbut—coming to his help at a essential second, and sustaining his line till relieved by a contemporary regiment, their ammunition being totally exhausted.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published with his express consent.]

The April 6–7, 1862, Battle of Shiloh was the Western Theater’s first main engagement. The 2 days of vicious preventing within the fields and woodlots close to the Tennessee River resulted in almost 24,000 casualties on each side.
(Bridgeman Pictures)

Pittsburg, Tennessee
Thursday night time, April 10, 1862

My Expensive spouse,

I’ve simply obtained yours of April 1st—the primary one I’ve had since I left St. Louis. I’ve handed 4 as laborious days as ever I noticed. You have got, I suppose, ere this seen an account of the horrible battle fought at this place final Sunday, Monday, & Tuesday. It was the worst preventing I ever noticed. 1000’s of lives misplaced and amongst them our brother Marshall [Smith Corey of Co. E]. He fell after having fought from six A.M. until about 2 P.M. Sunday. He was shot in his left aspect above the hip bone. I didn’t see him [but] Robt. Wilder and others noticed him. He fought like a hero all day. He threw down his gun, unbuckled his belt, threw off his cartridge field, & fell face down. I didn’t hear of it until that eve. I couldn’t get to him until Tuesday. I then dug a grave, wrapped him in blankets, and buried him….It was an terrible unhappy time for me. I lower off a lock of his hair and can ship it on this letter.

We count on hourly one other huge battle right here. They don’t seem to be but happy. The Secesh took every part we had. They smashed my trunk. I discovered my broom, hair brush, and at the moment I discovered your bible out within the woods moist and ruined. I inform you, it’s a unhappy sight right here. The sphere for 5 miles sq. is roofed with lifeless. The camps, boats, & every part handy is full of the wounded & dying. We’ve got not begun to get the lifeless buried but. I’m fully worn out. I’ve not had an evening’s sleep this week. Three nights I used to be out within the rain. I’ve had nothing however uncooked ham & laborious crackers to eat. I’ve seen sufficient of warfare. If it was in my energy, I would depart for house tomorrow on foot. If I stay to see you there once more, I shall be a cheerful man. I by no means shall enlist once more.

Inform Cora I promised to put in writing her this time however I felt too unhealthy to put in writing her such a letter as I wished to. Kiss her & Dora for me. How unhealthy they’ll really feel to listen to of poor Mack’s demise. I need to give up for tonight. Will write extra within the morn if I can.

Friday Morn—3 o’clock A.M.—Our pickets have been pushed once more and the military are drawn up in line of battle. It’s raining laborious. Our poor troopers are having a tough time. I should not have to enter battle however I consider it’s worse to see the skin horrors.

We’ve got simply heard that Island No. 10 was taken. If we beat them once more right here or at Corinth, they’ll, I feel, hand over. Wm. Vedder would give something if he was out of this [place] however nobody can depart. We’ve got to remain and take it.

Now my pricey, I’ve thus written you a hasty letter in pencil as our ink was destroyed by Secesh. My thoughts is in no situation to put in writing. I don’t know as I may say something extra in regard to Marshall’s demise. It was as unhappy a blow to me as any ever I had. He was the one one right here I may go to with my little troubles. We met usually after we received right here. He was very wholesome. It’s unusual that he needs to be the one chosen however such is life. It’s unusual to me how anybody escaped. Ball, shell, & bullets fell as thick as hail. I can’t understand. All of it looks as if a dream or ledger story. Ought to we go into one other battle right here, I don’t count on to come back out as sound as I did this time for my flip should include the remainder.

Now spouse, sustain good cheer. Suppose and pray usually for me. I’ll do my greatest to come back out protected and hurry again to see you. You don’t communicate of getting the letters I wrote on the boat coming right here. Give my regards to all. Kiss the infants for me. Settle for & obtain an enormous one for your self and far love. 

(Kiss) Goodbye, —Lester


Mathew Shaw

A civilian named Mathew Shaw, a carpenter in Lawrence, Kan., penned this gorgeous letter on the time of William Quantrill’s August 21, 1863, raid. Having survived it, he wrote his pal again East of the horrors he witnessed. After the raid, Shaw’s carpentry store made dozens of coffins for the lifeless residents.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Rob Morgan and is published with his express consent.]

Envelope containing Shaw's letter about Quantrill's Raid
This envelope contained Mathew Shaw’s letter detailing the stunning results of Quantrill’s Raid. Shaw’s particulars of the rampage are correct, and confirmed by different sources. About 450 guerrillas killed 150 males and boys through the infamous raid.
(Courtesy of Rob Morgan)

Lawrence
August 28 [1863]

Good friend Cressey,

I’m nonetheless alive, I consider, but it surely didn’t appear potential on the morning of the 21[st] that I’d escape. Good friend Cressey, I’m not capable of inform you of the horrors—it’s past description. The scene was greater than I may endure. My intimate buddies laying in all instructions [just] as they was shot down by the villains. A big quantity was shot close to the place the homes have been burning and have been partially burnt, some with their legs burnt off, some with their heads off, and arms burned off. Others all burned up. The bones of a person was dug from the ruins yesterday.

I’ll inform you as close to as I can the entire thing. On the morning of the 21[st] about dawn earlier than many individuals had received up, the villains made a cost on town and in a second they have been everywhere in the city. I being somewhat distant, they didn’t get the place I used to be till I had run out with two others to fulfill them. However we had not received far once we noticed that they have been well-mounted and armed and have been taking pictures down apparently all my neighbors. We began again to the home adopted by the fiends and one of many different two was shot.

William Quantrill holding gun
Accomplice partisan William Quantrill died in a June 1865 Kentucky skirmish.
(Everett Assortment/Bridgeman Pictures)

I stood inside my yard ready to get an opportunity to shoot. I used to be partially hid by the peach timber that grew from the seed you gave me. The possibility got here—I took good goal—and all I may do was to snap a cap at them. My musket wouldn’t shoot. Oh! however I felt my time had come. Then I throwed the gun [down] and bumped into my home. By this time buildings have been burning throughout city. Throughout this time the opposite man that was with me had been firing at them, and ran in the home. Then about 12 surrounded my home and demanded us out and threatened to kill us all and burn the home, and dismounted to make a cost on the home. I then ran out of my home they usually after me, taking pictures on a regular basis, however I escaped and I can hardly inform how.

Good friend Cressey, I used to be not the one one which had a slim escape. There may be hardly a person however what had some encounter. They’d go as much as a home and name males out, promising to not damage them, and make them hand over their cash and shoot them down. They shot one previous man that was feeding them. After they had sufficient [to eat,] they shot him proper down lifeless. They shot others within the arms of their wives. Killed in all 130, wounded 15 and fairly a quantity lacking—most likely within the ruins. You most likely have an inventory of the killed and may guess whether or not there will probably be a retaliation or not. I say rattling them. Give them no quarters…

I used to be going to say should you select to assist us right here that one of the best factor for us now could be to ship us one thing to shoot with. I’ll admit we’ve misplaced most all of our property, however we’ve a approach of getting that again once more—if we had something however previous muskets that received’t shoot. I’ll assure you that if you’ll ship me one thing to shoot with, I’ll shoot.

I don’t know that I want say something extra. I’ll ship a paper with this and ship you extra [later]. You wrote me to ship you the State Journal. I’m sorry to say that each one of our printing homes are burned out. [Josiah] Trask—the editor of the [Lawrence Kansas State] Journal—was killed. He was an Odd Fellow and a greater citizen we didn’t have on this city. I inform you, Cressey, we’ve one thing to mourn for right here. There was 4 shot from the home that he was in….I need to cease writing about it. I can’t. I tremble to consider it.

We’re all effectively. Your affectionate pal, —M. Shaw


John M. Magner

Captain John M. Magner of the fifty fifth United States Coloured Troops (USCT) wrote this letter to his sister praising his troopers. Magner resided in Edgar County, Unwell., when he was mustered in October 1861 as a non-public into the 66th Illinois Volunteers. In Might 1863, he was discharged as a corporal to just accept a fee as 1st Lieutenant of Firm A, fifty fifth USCT. He was later promoted to captain. The fifty fifth USCT was organized from the first Alabama Infantry (African Descent) in March 1864 and fought with distinction on the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads. It was transferred to Louisiana in February 1865 and served there till mustered out on December 31.

The Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads happened on June 10, 1864, and concerned a wholesale rout of Union troops, who have been vastly outnumbered by Accomplice forces—particularly Basic Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. Union losses have been 2,600, as in contrast with lower than 500 Accomplice losses. The fifty fifth and 59th USCT served as a rear guard to Union forces underneath Basic Samuel Sturgis and bravely prevented Forrest from fully demolishing their routed White colleagues as Sturgis withdrew towards Memphis. On this letter, Captain Magner describes the battle and subsequent retreat of Union forces, detailing the desperation of his coloured troops.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published with his express consent.]

55th USCT group photo
Lots of the enlisted males within the fifty fifth USCT, a portion of which is pictured above, had been enslaved when the warfare started.
(Smithsonian Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition)

Memphis, Tennessee
July fifth 1864

Sister Nellie,

Your pricey good and fascinating letter of June twenty sixth was duly obtained. I cannot grumble at somewhat delay hereafter if you’ll write such good letters. My well being has been enhancing slowly, however I don’t really feel effectively and wholesome as previously. I’m doing common responsibility with the opposite officers and I hope I’ll quickly be “Richard himself once more.”

You wished me to inform you in my subsequent letter all about my escape from Forrest, and so on. Nellie, would I may inform you all, however to inform all of the hardships, the sufferings, and hair-breadth escapes I’ve had would, I feel, make greater than you’d wish to learn at one time. Anyhow greater than I care about writing in a single letter. We had been marching 8 days by means of the recent solar…on the ninth day we heard cannonading some ten miles earlier than us. My regiment was scattered and divided out—3 males to every wagon and the practice being scattered over some three miles of the street. We was some 3 or 4 miles behind the principle infantry drive. Our cavalry was over 12 miles within the advance. It was the cavalry with some gentle artillery that had [met] the enemy in drive, and was partaking their consideration with compliments of balls and shells.

I had been sick with the diarrhea for a number of days and for the final 24 hours had been using within the ambulance. Nearly as quickly because the firing commenced in entrance we was ordered to ‘double fast.’ I received out of the ambulance and run to the top of my firm and took command. I didn’t suppose once I did so I’d be capable of go 2 miles, however I stored on the head of my firm 6 miles and on the double fast on a regular basis. I can’t now inform how I did it. Different males that was constitutionally stronger fell of their tracks as if lifeless. I feel as a lot as a 3rd of the infantry drive fell out on the roadside earlier than we received into motion, and once we did rise up, we was so exhausted and so thirsty we was nearly loopy. I consider as a lot as I consider in my very own existence I’d have given half my life for one good cool drink of water. Oh, you can’t think about the unendurable ache thirst creates. I seen males as we was leaving the sector—the poor fellows—some from exhaustion, others from wounds, to fall within the palms of the enemy would beg to us to cease and get them water then because it was unimaginable to get water. They’d throw up their palms and cry in essentially the most bitter agony and beg us to shoot them to place them out of their distress. We was led into the combat as worn out, over-heated, and nearly dying of thirst, by regiment, firm, and even platoons, that it was brief work to overpower us.

I’m happy Gen. Sturgis is a Insurgent as a lot as Lee or Davis, and that he had an understanding with Forrest and I’ve little question however was effectively paid by Forrest by means of the residents of Memphis. There may be not a coloured man in my regiment however may have dealt with the lads higher than was carried out by Sturgis and if I had been in command and wished my command all “devoured” up, I’d have put them in simply as was carried out. Forrest may have whipped the entire U. S. Military after the technique of Sturgis.

Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis
Previous to Brice’s Cross Roads, Brig. Gen. Samuel Sturgis was a strong, if unspectacular, commander. His rout by the hands of Nathan B. Forrest, nonetheless, ended his area service.
(Library of Congress)

My regiment and one other coloured regiment [the 59th USCT] fought them an hour after all of the white troopers had grow to be panic stricken and left, however our two regiments couldn’t whip 15,000 males—and nearly surrounded too—so we commenced the retreat and now I have no idea what to put in writing additional. The scenes from the battleground to Memphis beggars all description. I don’t consider Nellie if I used to be to put in writing all I suffered and endured simply because it was, you’d hardly give it credit score. After we commenced retreating, the rebels outnumbered us 8 to 1 and had us nearly surrounded. We was now lower off from all potential succor or help from our white troops—the enemy pouring grape, canister and lead into our ranks at a horrible price. To me it regarded like we couldn’t march 2 miles.

Now think about the state of affairs—to give up, if we had been white troops, would have been one of the best we may have carried out. However to give up now was solely “demise” and when ghastly demise stares a person within the face, [it] conjures up him with such dauntless braveness and bodily energy as solely those that have met it know to energy. We was 25 miles from Ripley and 125 from Memphis. We supposed the white troopers who had began on earlier than us would go to Ripley and cease, rally and provides Forrest one other combat, if they didn’t earlier than, so we lower our approach by means of and commenced as fast a retreat as potential—the graybacks (Rebels) as near us that if we regarded again, we may nearly see the white of their eyes.

We marched about 3 miles once I fell down on the street helpless (however right here, because it appeared to me, Windfall or some form destiny saved me, as the identical good luck saved me in twenty different cases during which I had given up all hopes of getting again). One in all our wagons was standing right here—all of the mules was lower unfastened from it however one. Two of the boys lower it out of its braces, put me on it, and by nearly tremendous human energy I managed to trip that mule to Ripley…

I used to be now on the head of the regiment. I received off the mule and sit down on a log pondering to relaxation till the regiment and the scattering stragglers handed, and by that point I believed I’d be capable of mount, and trip on to Ripley. However I had hardly touched the log earlier than I used to be asleep and nearly because the final man of our drive was passing, a soldier seeing I used to be asleep wakened me up. Once I noticed my state of affairs, I commenced to attract my mule to me, however to my utter astonishment and mortification, some one had come and lower the rein (which was mounted round my wrist) and had rode the mule off, leaving me to carry the [empty] strap. Right here I used to be, our forces nearly in Ripley, again with two or three stragglers who was nearly as close to gone up as I used to be. However it was no time to consider or spend in silly regrets. I may distinctly hear the Rebels arising behind us. I knew if I may make another mile, I’d (as I believed) be protected, so I began as brisk as potential—each step appeared the final—however lastly reached Ripley….

However [at Ripley] I didn’t discover any of our forces besides the 2 items of coloured regiments and some sick and wounded who had given up and will go no additional. We had hardly received on the town earlier than the Rebs have been approaching us from two instructions—from the east and north. We fought them (or our two regiments did—I laid down and regarded on) about 2 hours, driving the Rebels out of the city. However as they have been being strengthened, it was ineffective for our small squad to remain longer. A retreat was the one approach to save ourselves. Surgeon [Wesley] Humphrey received me one other mule right here and received me on it and I succeeded in sticking to it till I received inside about 8 miles of Lagrange, Tenn. This was about 1 o’clock A. M. and really darkish. We was crossing an enormous swamp—I had been taking opium capsules and all of the day earlier than and that night time I’d each couple of minutes get to napping and fall off my mule. I had no saddle and needed to trip ‘lady vogue’ more often than not and I do know I fell off 15 or 20 instances. Effectively, once we received to this swamp, I attempted the previous challenge of sitting down on a log, tied the halter strap round my wrist so the mule couldn’t get away and thought I’d relaxation whereas they was fixing up a bridge to cross over. I went sound to sleep and I suppose I slept two hours.

this text first appeared in civil warfare instances journal

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[When I] awaked, every part round me was nonetheless as demise. I spotted in a minute my state of affairs and knew my solely hope was to over take our forces which had most likely received 8 or 10 miles upfront. I commenced pulling the strap for my mule to come back up when, lo once more—image my ideas when I discovered the exact same trick had been performed on me as the opposite aspect of Ripley. I used to be in the identical predicament. I began to seek out the street decided to observe [it] so long as I may a stay, however I had no thought in any respect the place the street was and if I discovered it, was simply as apt to go to Forrest as from him. However just a few steps introduced me into the street.

“Halt! who comes there?” Two males stood earlier than me demanding who I used to be. I couldn’t inform sure however I nearly knew it was Rebs and I knew I need to deceive them if I received away, in order fast as ideas, I answered to the problem “a pal,” and, stated I, “Boys, what regiment do you belong to?” However they didn’t appear to need me to seek out out whether or not they was Rebs or Federals. They answered, “The tenth,” not giving the state. Then asking me what regiment I belonged to, I answered on this approach, “I belong to the tenth. I’m misplaced. The place is the regiment? They stated it was not far off and would quickly be up and one in every of them started to come back up near me. I noticed what he was at—he wished to seek out out by sight of my uniform who I used to be—so one other thought struck me, so I stated, “My horse is correct out right here. I’ll carry him up,” and began out as if I used to be after him. However by the point I used to be 20 toes from them, I made tracks by means of that swamp fairly quick owing to the circumstances in opposition to me. They halted me quite a few instances however I wouldn’t halt.

I run about 75 yds, not understanding which approach I used to be going once I run in opposition to a horse standing along side the street consuming weeds & grass. He had a full rig on him however was coated with mud which I came upon once I received on him. I feel he had fell off the bridge and the rider was misplaced. Anyhow, operating in opposition to that animal not solely saved my life however was the happiest second of my existence. I bounced up on him and turned him within the path I supposed our forces had went. It was however a couple of minutes till daylight once I quickly overtook a squad of rear guard and afterward our scattered forces. I have no idea to this minute whether or not the 2 males that halted me have been feds or enemies, however I’m fairly sure they have been rebs.

Effectively, Nellie, I’ve information to put in writing not of the warfare. I’m a father. Addie gave beginning to a superb boy as they are saying—June tenth. It was the identical day of the combat at Guntown. They’re each doing effectively.

Nellie, excuse haste. Write quickly. Like to all and kiss the kids

Ever yours, —J.M. Magner


Extra memorable letters: Learn a bonus number of letters right here, or go to Spared and Shared at sparedandshared.wordpress.com.

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