Rich and Racy Crumbs: A sampling of battlefield souvenirs from Stones River

     During the Civil War, soldiers of both armies were wont to wander over the battlefields after an engagement on the hunt for relics of all kinds. For some men, they were on the hunt for practical reasons: picking over the dead to remove boots, clothing, equipment, and weapons, as replacements for their own worn-out or missing items. Others wandered to satisfy a ghoulish curiosity; this was especially true for a soldier in his first engagement but often one visit amongst the debris of a battle satisfied all desires and the scene of battle was one avoided in the future instead of sought.

Among the items that usually elicited attention were letters, and today’s post shares the findings of a Mississippi soldier at the Battle of Stones River.  While walking through the cedar forest near the Wilkinson Pike in the days following the battle, he came upon the body of a dead Union private and discovered a few items of interest. After perusing them, he decided to send them home to the editor of the Natchez Daily Courier who published them in early February 1863. “A friend has furnished us some Yankee letters from the late battlefield of Murfreesboro,” it reported. “Occasionally in such missives of the enemy the reader picks up some rich and racy crumbs.”

The first “missive” evidently came from a diary and is entitled “Chronicles of a Soldier in the 69th Regiment,” while the second was a love letter from Katie C. in Hamilton, Ohio to her “loveyer,” a soldier named Henry. “The boy soldier was numbered with the other dead Lincoln invaders at Murfreesboro,” the Courier reported.  Based on the context of the two missives, it is possible that these items were plucked from the body of Private Henry Arkins of Co. D of the 69th Ohio Volunteer Infantry; he was the only Henry of the 69th Ohio who was killed in action at the Battle of Stones River, and the 69th Ohio was the only 69th regiment stationed at Camp Chase in April 1862.

The 69th Ohio was raised in southwestern Ohio and in early February 1862 organized at Hamilton, Ohio, the same town from which Katie wrote her letter. Arkin was a member of Co. D from Darke County, and on February 19th, the seven companies of the 69th Ohio left Hamilton for Camp Chase where three companies from Harrison County were added to complete the regiment. After a few months of guarding Confederate prisoners of war at Camp Chase (see here), the 69th Ohio went south and joined the garrison of Nashville. It was later assigned to Colonel Timothy R. Stanley’s Second Brigade of James Negley’s division of Thomas’ corps along with the 19th Illinois, 11th Michigan, and 18th Ohio regiments.

Stanley’s brigade went into action about mid-morning on December 31, 1862 and suffered heavy casualties in their fight for the cedars. The 69th Ohio had a rough start in the battle due to the reported drunkenness of Colonel William Cassilly (see here) which led to some command confusion; the regiment lost seven men killed, 51 wounded, and 38 missing for a total of 96.

 

Typical soldier's letter, this one written by Corporal Thomas T. Hall from Co. I of the 69th Ohio Volunteer Infantry while the regiment was encamped in Nashville in the days leading up to the Stones River campaign. (Image courtesy of Will Griffing's Spared & Shared website)

Chronicles of a Soldier of the 69th Regiment

Written at Camp Chase, Ohio, April 10, 1862

 

The soldier of the 69th is gay and festive; he loveth sport and is not made angry by levity.

He obeyeth the summons to his meals with promptness; he answereth roll call by proxy.

He devoureth his rations with alacrity, and drinketh his coffee with dispatch; as for pies, cakes and other knick-knacks, lo they vanish away like the morning dew before the summer’s sun as soon as his hand lay hold upon them.

He goeth it while he is young and he careth now whether school keepeth or not.

He carveth curious rings and pipes and many other curious articles; he valueth Cannel coal far above Youghiogheny.

He loveth ease and pleasure; good living terrifieth him not nor offendeth him.

He playeth cards with looseness and gambleth with diligence so long as the spondulix lasteth or the sutler’s checks endureth.

He longeth for the coming of the Paymaster even as a maiden longeth for the coming of her lover; yea, as his cash disappeareth and his Sutler’s checks vanish away, he cryeth out in sorrow.

Oh Lord, how long wait we in vain for his coming!

He standeth brigade guard in the mid while the day lasteth; but when night cometh, lo be straighteth away goeth to his quarters and sweetly sleepeth and dreameth of the girl he left behind him.

He promptly halteth whoever approaches him and carefully searcheth him to find whether carrieth with him anything contraband in a bottle and behold, when he findeth it he exclaimeth “are we not brothers? Oh, how thirsty I am!”

He is afflicted with colds, sore throats, and diverse other diseases; as for diarrhea, he is often moved thereby.

He sickeneth suddenly when his day for guard duty approaches; he disappeareth mysteriously as the hour of company drill draweth nigh.

He longeth for the time when his regiment goeth to the battlefield where the powder burneth, the cannon roareth, the Secesh runneth, and the whangdoodle mourneth for the first born.

As the time of the writer expireth and the paper descreaseth, he therefore concludeth that this description is now played out.

Camp Chase, Ohio


 

Hamilton, Ohio

October 29, 1862

 Beloved,

          We have been waiting for communication to open between here and Nashville so we could write to you and today we heard that letters could go, and you cannot imagine how glad we were for it has been a great, great while since we heard from you and we had begun to be quite uneasy about you. Father has as much work to do as he possibly can get through with and he could do more but he cannot get hands. Lydia still sews for us and Laura Kimbal. We would like to see you but you must stand it out and content yourself. Henry, as soon as you get paid off please send me a little spondulix.[1] Bryant and Cully are working in the gun-shop now; they are learning their trade. They get $2.50 a week. Next week they are going to get me a skating cap to wear to school. Maybe you don’t know what it is, but I cannot explain it now; when you come home, I’ll tell you all about it. I go to school now to Mr. Winn, a preacher/ I beat everything getting preachers for school teachers. When we lived in the country, I had Mr. Tibbotts and he was a preacher and Mr. Brown last time, and now Mr. Winn. I like him better than any of the rest of them. He has learnt me more in three months than the rest of them did in six months.

 Katie C.

 P.S. Henry, you and I are going to get married, ain’t we? But don’t tell it all over camp. As soon as you get paid off and send some to me, I will have my photograph taken and sent it to you.

K.

 

Sources:

“Rich and Racy: Chronicles of a Soldier of the 69th Regiment,” Natchez Daily Courier (Mississippi), February 10, 1863, pg. 1

“Yankee Missiles,” Natchez Daily Courier (Mississippi), February 6, 1863, pg. 1

 

 

 



[1] 19th century slang for money

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