Yours of Aug. 28th reached me this morning, informing me of your tedious & unpleasant journey, also of your safe arrival in Carlisle

Joseph Culver Letter, September 3, 1863, Page 1

Head Qrs. Co. “A” 129th Ills. Vol.
Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 3rd 1863

My Dear Wife

Yours of Aug. 28th, dated at Carlisle, reached me this morning, informing me of your tedious & unpleasant journey, also of your safe arrival in Carlisle.1 I have not written since Sunday as I have been absent & without opportunity to write. I found on my return two letters from you & one from Sarah Williams; a very long & interesting one, indeed. If I don’t forget it, I will send it to you when answered.2

You will be happy to know that Bro. Johnie [Murphy] spent last night with me & is in good health. My letter will explain itself, as I think the incidents connected with a long journey into Dixie will prove interesting.

I left this place on Monday morning [the 21st] at 6:30 A.M., as Military Conductor of Freight Train loaded with commissary stores, with 25 men as train guard.3 About 9 o’clock A.M. we were stopped by the wreck of two cars of the train preceeding us, and lay there about 7 hours. We got to Christiana at about 7 o’clock & found ourselves out of water, & none to be had. We ran on a side track & put up for the night.4

We had lain there but a short time, when our ears were greeted with the sound of music. So the Conductor of the train & myself took a lantern & set out to find from whence it came. In a grove a few hundred yards from the Rail Road, we found a very handsome cottage from which the music proceeded. We cast about us to devise some way to introduce ourselves & finally hit upon the happy expedient of seeking lodging for the night. We went boldly to the door & knocked, not knowing what fate might have decreed, and asked for the Gentleman of the house. The darkies not knowing what our business might be, at first refused to listen to us & was about to close the door on us, when a little girl about 8 years old happened to come into the hall. With her we were more successful, & soon a gentleman made his appearance.

We made known our wishes & was referred to the Mistress of the cottage, who soon made her appearance & invited us in. After making ourselves known, we were duly introduced into the parlor, where we found a very old lady, three young ladies, a gentleman, a piano & melodeon. We found during our conversation that the family were originally from New York & latterly from Pennsylvania & have been residing in Tennessee for the past eight years. Two of the ladies were of the ages of 14 & 15, the beauties of the house, & the other perhaps 18 several years ago & exceedingly anxious for a BEAUX.5 She found out I was married, I presume, as she made a furious onsett after the Conductor & almost annihilated him.

In the meantime I succeeded in getting the two young ladies to the melodeon, & we sang & played till midnight, & then retired to a very handsomely furnished room & bed. I cannot boast of a very excellent night’s rest for the feather bed, as usual, prevented my resting well. I believe I much prefer a floor & carpet. We got a good breakfast in the morning, and, after repeated invitations to call again, we bid them adieu & departed.

I sent a note the night before to Jack Lothrop, military operator at Wartrace, to telegraph to Bro. Johnnie to meet me on Wednesday [Sept. 2] at that place.6

We got started from Christiana at 7 o’clock, & about 81/2 o’clock A.M. were again stopped by the wreck of two cars of a train that passed us during the night. We got off at about 11 A.M. and passed over the battle field of Stone River about noon. It would be impossible to give an accurate description of it from the hasty glance I got of the place. There are a large number of fortifications, some of them very extensive. There are but few troops there.7

We arrived at Wartrace about 2 o’clock P.M. & laid there about one hour. I found that Lothrop, in addition to the dispatch, had written to Johnie & also to the officer commanding the Battery. Shelbyville is eight miles from Wartrace on a branch road, one section of the Battery is at Wartrace & the balance at Shelbyville.8

We passed on out of Tennessee into Alabama. I was not very favorably impressed with the appearance of the country. It is much more devastated than any place north of Nashville, vast numbers of houses destroyed, & all the mills, factories & manufactories. The soil looks very sterile & what little produce has been raised looks stunted and imperfect. The most prepossessing aspects are the groves, many of which are beautiful. Tallahoma, the first place of note after leaving Wartrace, was a short time ago the front of our Army.9 There are a few troops only left, & the country bears trace of the presence of a large Army.

About half way between Tallahoma & Cowan we stopped in a forest for wood.10 There I saw a sight that I hope I may never behold again. I have read many accounts of the destitution of the poor whites of the South, but never even conceived their real condition. I have seen on this trip many families who scarcely seemed to possess intelligence above the brutes & scarcely were their equals in instinct & self preservation. In a little hovel, a few feet from the wood yard, live one young man, three women, and several children. One of the women is a raving maniac & lay upon the floor amid all kinds of filth, tossing about & making a very hideous noise. Outside of the hut sat another woman, afflicted with disease & looking the picture of misery. The younger, a woman of about twenty-five to thirty, & the mother, I should judge, of the children, was very pregnant, & the whole party almost entirely naked; the mother without a husband & never had any, & all the children fatherless. It was a horrid sight, & I hope I may never behold the like again.

At Decherd I saw the first armed negro soldiers I have ever seen, an entire Brigade drilling. They made a fine appearance & had a beautiful camp. There was but few white troops.11

At Cowan the Army had just left a few weeks, and the camp equippage was being removed. At this place we commenced the ascent of the Cumberland mountains. The grade is very heavy & with the assistance of an additional engine, we got along at a good speed. There is a tunnel on the mountain 2800 feet long, & the descent on the other side is steep and long. At various points through the mountains, detachments of troops are posted, but it would be a small task to get on the cliffs beyond the reach of the guns & roll rocks sufficient to crush a train & escape without harm.12 I am surprised that it has not often been done.

At Anderson at the foot of the mountains, there was two divisions of troops, Genl. Rousseau’s division and a large number of Regulars.13 The first named Division were making preparations to leave the next day.

We arrived at Stevenson, Alabama, at about 8 o’clock, the end of our journey, making 113 miles in two days. After the train stopped, I looked around for something to eat, my rations being all consumed by our delay on the route, & finally found a tent in which meals were served. I succeeded in getting a couple of eggs, a little piece of meat, some bread, butter & a cup of coffee, for which I was charged the moderate sum of 75 cents.

After supper, I took a guard & started for General Rosecrans’ Head Quarters to report myself. It is about a mile south of Stevenson in the direction of the [Tennessee] river. General Negley’s & Sheridan’s Divisions were marching on Chattanooga, & the men were singing, laughing & hallooing, seeming to be very lively.14 You could scarcely conceive of the noise & confusion occasioned by the moving of 15 or 20,000 troops.

Two Divisions crossed the river last week, & part of the Army is in Chattanooga.15 The Rebels fled without making any attempt to defend the place & have fallen back to Atlanta.16 I must request that the present positions of our Army are not made public. I do not know whether the news are contraband or not, but, having seen nothing in the papers, I am somewhat suspicious. In fact many of the papers have denied that our Army have possession of Chattanooga.

A large number of deserters from the Rebel Army have been brought over the river, & will average, I am told, from 50 to 100 per day.17 Many days they amount to 2 or 300. The Rebel Army is badly scattered. Burnside’s Army is at Knoxville & pressing steadily East.18

I arrived at Hd. Qrs. at 10 P.M. & after transacting my business returned to Stevenson, succeeded in buying some rations, & after waking up the guards to cook their breakfast, I lay down on a little bench in the car & slept about 2 hours. At 4 A.M. of Wednesday [the 2d] we left Stevenson for home, & arrived at Wartrace at about 11 o’clock.

I found Bro. Johnie just arrived. He came from Shelbyville on horseback & came aboard the train with us. He is enjoying better health than at any time since he has been in the service & looks well. He is in good spirits & enjoys himself very well. Shelbyville has more Union families than any part of the South, and they are generally very kind. We had a pleasant time. He says he recd. a letter from you a short time ago which he answered. He has had no letters from Pontiac for two months. I am sorry his stay was so limited; he returned this morning. There is to be an election for Lieutenant in the Battery in a few days, & he is busy engineering for the position.19 One of the sergeants that I met in Wartrace tells me that his chances are very flattering; I earnestly hope he may succeed.

I have some idea of the difficulties you had to encounter in your travels, & wish very much I could have been with you to relieve you of your burden. I am happy to learn that no accident befell you & hope you have ere this recovered from the effects of your journey & are enjoying your visit. I fear I shall not be able to answer your letter to-night; it is very late, but as I cannot get my letter off before 2 o’clock to-morrow, I will try & write in the morning. If I should fail, I will write again to-morrow night. May God help you, dearest, & keep both Frankie & you in perfect health. Good night.

Morning 5-1/2 o’clock; Dear Mary. The first thing that proposed itself to my mind this morning was the finishing of my letter, for by walking to the Depot, about 2 miles, I can get my letter off to-day; otherwise it must wait until to-morrow &, believing that you will be happy to hear from me, I will try & make the trip. I will not attempt to answer in full.

I cannot perceive any reason to be alarmed in your letter, yet I have trembled for fear you might not enjoy yourself.20 I hope you will not feel diffident nor hesitate to enter into the full enjoyment of every pleasure afforded. Recollect I went among your friends in New York once, a perfect stranger, & made a very happy visit.

I feel kindly for the man though he is black who had gallantry enough to offer his seat. May his shadow never grow less & the smiles of the one he loves best ever be sweet & abundant.21

I am surprised to learn of Jennie’s fix, but it will be some little consolation to YOU. It ought to make you friends forever.22 I never was in the room you occupy. I spent two nights in the little room in the south east corner of the building fronting toward Carlisle Barracks.23 You will find the heighth of the mountains increases as you near them, & very rapidly if you commence to ascend them.24 I believe I could enjoy a cup of cider very much if I were with you.25

I never learned why Mother [Murphy] returned home & certainly never received the letter you allude to as informing me. I shall write to her to-day.

Lt. Smith & his wife started for Pontiac on Tuesday [the 1st], & I presume are there by this time. Alf Huetson has returned. He was sick all the time he was home. He informs me that his wife was thrown from her horse last spring & lost her babe from the injury. He never knew that he was about to be a FATHER until he went home. He walks about six feet 4 in. now. Christ Yetter & Johnie [Murphy] had a long talk about Jennie Gutherie. I had forgotten that they both corresponded with her.

I must close. Give my love to all the family. Write to me very often & take notes of all that you find interesting. Kiss Frankie for me. He must be growing into a large boy. What did grandfather & grandmother think of him?

Remember me kindly to all our friends. I will write soon again. May God give you health & happiness & your visit prove very pleasant. I shall be so happy to know that you enjoy yourself & that nothing mars your happiness. Until I hear from you again, Farewell,

Your Affect Husband,
J. F. Culver

  1. Mary Culver had written, “I reached this place [Carlisle] safely and in health yesterday afternoon [the 27th]. I had rather a tedious journey and do not think I shall ever travel this road again alone, with a baby. I would tell you of a host of troubles, I had on the way, but
    I    think would occupy too much time and space to enumerate. Suffice to say I had to
    change cars five times and get my baggage checked as many, and with one exception the
    only attention or politness I received from a man was from a black who got up and offered
    me his narrow front seat rather than see me stand up with a baby in my arms, while his
    white brethren comfortably kept their seats. I sat down and cried. I could not help it, I
    believe they thought I was a bad woman, as they would not have treated me so.
    “I found no one at the [Carlisle] Depot, who knew me, so sent a boy with my card to the house, and Hannah and Charlie came right down after me. I had written them when I would come, but they have never received the letter.
    “Mrs. Zug was at the Depot when the cars came but there was so great a crowd she did not see me, or if she did, failed to recognize me.” Mary Culver to J.F.C., Aug. 28, 1863, Culver Collection. []
  2. Sarah Williams was a New Hartford friend of Joseph and Mary Culver. []
  3. To supply his army as it thrust deep into the Confederacy, General Rosecrans employed the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. By August 31, the railroad had been reopened to traffic as far as Stevenson, Alabama. To protect supplies while in transit to forward depots General Robert Granger called upon commanders of units stationed in and around Nashville for necessary manpower.
    During September and October, the 129th Illinois was ordered to provide daily two officers and 50 enlisted men for duty as train guards; two officers, nine noncommissioned officers, and 50 enlisted men as pickets; one noncommissioned officer and 12 enlisted men for extra duty; and one noncommissioned officer and five enlisted men for fatigue details. Speed to Case, Sept. 1, 1863, Regimental Papers, 129th Illinois, NA. []
  4. Christiana was a station on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, 12 miles south of Murfreesboro. []
  5. The family visited by J.F.C. near Christiana may have been that of J. H. Grant, an engineer. Grant, a native of Maine, had lived in New York and Pennsylvania before moving to Rutherford County, Tenn. In 1860, Grant was living with his wife and three daughters (Mary, Sophia, and Emma) and two sons. Eighth Census, Rutherford County, State of Tennessee, NA. []
  6. John P. Lothrop of Pontiac had been mustered into service on Sept. 8, 1862, as commissary sergeant of the 129th Illinois. Lothrop had been reduced to private and had been transferred to the military telegraph service. Compiled Service Records of Union Soldiers, NA. []
  7. The train would have passed the Stones River battlefield on the previous day as the site of that bloody battle, fought December 31, 1862, and January 1-2, 1863, is several miles northwest of Murfreesboro. In the months following the battle and before resuming the offensive in the fourth week of June, General Rosecrans’ troops had erected a number of earthworks. These fortifications, centering on the Stones River railroad bridge, were known as Fortress Rosecrans. []
  8. John Murphy’s unit (Company M, 1st Illinois Light Artillery) had been headquartered at Shelbyville since June 29. The battery commander at this time was 2d Lt. Thomas Burton. Adjutant General’s Report, State of Illinois, Vol. VIII, p. 665. []
  9. General Bragg’s Army of Tennessee had evacuated Tullahoma on June 30, and the town had been occupied by Rosecrans’ soldiers the next day. Rosecrans’ columns had pushed on, and during the period August 29-September 4 crossed the Tennessee River at four points. Cist, Army of the Cumberland, pp. 179-180. []
  10. The stop for wood was made near Elk River Bridge. []
  11. One white regiment (the 69th Ohio) from General Thomas’ XIV Corps had been detached and detailed to guard the depots at Decherd and Cowan, the tunnel, and the bridge across Boiling Fork. O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXX, pt. Ill, pp. 35, 268.
    The 12th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment commanded by Col. Charles R. Thompson had been organized in July and August and was posted at Elk River Bridge. Tennesseans in the Civil War, Vol. I, p. 397. []
  12. The 69th Ohio, reinforced by 650 casuals, guarded the railroad between Elk River Bridge and Anderson. On September 1 orders were issued for General Gordon Granger to relieve the Ohioans with a regiment from Fayetteville, so they could rejoin their brigade. O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXX, pt. III, pp. 289-290. []
  13. Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird on August 23 had assumed command of the division of the XIV Corps formerly led by Maj. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau. Included in Baird’s First Division was Brig. Gen. John H. King’s brigade of regulars. There were one, not two, divisions camped along the railroad between Anderson and Stevenson.
    General Thomas on the 1st had issued orders for Baird’s division to march from Anderson to Taylor’s Store, crossing the Tennessee River at Bridgeport. Ibid., pp. 132, 267-268, 282. []
  14. Maj. Gen. James S. Negley’s division of Thomas’ XIV Corps had crossed the
    Tennessee River at Caperton’s Ferry during the afternoon. Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s division of McCook’s XX Corps was at Bridgeport. It would cross the Tennessee River as soon as the engineers had completed the pontoon bridge. Ibid., pp. 282, 285-286. []
  15. Although General Bragg was pulling his troops and supplies out of Chattanooga, the Federals had not occupied that key transportation center. It was September 9 before units of General Crittenden’s XXI Corps crossed the Tennessee River and occupied Chattanooga. Cist, The Army of the Cumberland, p. 183. []
  16. Stories that the Confederate Army of Tennessee was abandoning the region and falling back on Atlanta had been spread by “deserters” sent into the Union lines. Bragg and his generals hoped that Rosecrans would be taken in by these stories and lunge into the rugged hills and hollows of northwest Georgia. Rosecrans on September 9 telegraphed General in Chief Halleck, “The army has retreated to Rome. If we pursue vigorously they will not stop short of Atlanta.” Horn, Army of Tennessee, p. 248. []
  17. The number of Rebel deserters is exaggerated. Between September 1 and October 7 the number of deserters tabulated by Rosecrans’ provost marshal was 750. O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXX, pt. I, p. 232. []
  18. General Burnside’s vanguard had reached Montgomery, Tennessee, on August 30, and the next day found his cavalry skirmishing with Confederate horse-soldiers on the Knoxville and Kingston roads, 14 miles east of Montgomery. Knoxville, which had been evacuated, was occupied by units from Burnside’s XXIII Corps on September 3. O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXX, pt. III, pp. 267, 333. []
  19. Commissary Sergeant John Murphy was campaigning for the vacant 2d lieutenancy created by promotion of Thomas Burton from 2d lieutenant to 1st lieutenant on August 5, 1863. Adjutant General’s Report, State of Illinois, Vol. VIII, p. 653. []
  20. Mary Culver had written, “I was very kindly received by the whole family, and think I shall love them very much and enjoy my visit exceedingly.” Mary Culver to J.F.C., Aug. 28, 1863, Culver Collection. []
  21. On the roundabout ride from New Hartford to Carlisle, a black man had given up his seat to Mrs. Culver and her baby. See note 1. []
  22. J.F.C.’s sister, Jennie Cheston, was pregnant and would give birth to another child in November. On October 24, 1862, she had given birth to twins, both of whom had since died. Mary Culver to J.F.C., Aug. 28, 1863, Culver Collection. []
  23. Mary Culver had written, “I occupy the room over the sitting room. I believe I am turned around for I cannot tell whether it is East or West.” Ibid. []
  24. The “Cumberland valley,” Mary Culver had written, is “very beautiful … so different from the monotonous scenery of our Prairie State.” Ibid. []
  25. Father Culver was making cider from apples blown during a recent hail storm. Ibid. []

About Colleen Theisen

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