Heman’s Last Letter: Final Words from a Private of the 60th Ohio

     In the summer of 1860, 20-year-old Heman B. Huggins was running the family farm near Buford in Highland County, Ohio for his widowed mother Lucinda. After the outbreak of the war, Heman enlisted as a private in Co. B of the 60th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 9, 1861; the 60th Ohio was a unusual regiment in Ohio’s history as it was the one of the few that enlisted for just one year’s service and it was supposed to be utilized in the defense of Ohio’s border counties. The regiment fully mustered into service at the end of February 1862 and spent the next three months guarding government stores at Gallipolis, Ohio.

In March, Heman started sending regular letters to the Highland Weekly News in Hillsboro to keep the home folks posted on the doings of the 60th Ohio. Army life suited Private Huggins and by the end of March 1862 he was bragging that he had “so wonderfully increased in flesh that our worthy surgeon thought it prudent to confine us in houses and feed us a light diet such as toasted bread and rice with the view of keeping our corpulency within bounds. Strange to say, our fattening qualities do not extend further than under the jaws and on the sides of the face. In one particular, we remarkably resemble fat pigs or persons who have the mumps.”

          Those days of getting fat on government rations proved short, and by early May, the 60th Ohio had moved into Virginia to contest for control of the Shenandoah Valley with Stonewall Jackson and his army. By mid-May, the 60th Ohio as part of General John Fremont’s Mountain Department was deep into Virginia, Heman describing Franklin, Virginia as “like most of the towns of Virginia, a miserable dirty hole. What there is of it is meeting the fate of Secessia in general. Property of all kinds is left without protection. The few that are left here will certainly starve if the war does not end soon. There is scarcely anything to eat in the country and nothing will be raised this summer as the fences are all gone and there is nothing being done in the way of farming.”

          In early June, the 60th Ohio set out in pursuit of Jackson’s army up the Shenandoah Valley and finally caught up with him at Cross Keys. It was Heman’s first battle and proved to be his last. “I was so unfortunate, or perhaps I might say, fortunate as to get wounded in that battle,” he wrote. “I say fortunate because so many others are so much more severely wounded than I am that I may be thankful for escaping as well as I did. My wound is severe but not dangerous. A ball pierced my leg just below the knee.”

          About a week after he was wounded, Heman sent this final missive to the Highland Weekly News.

 

A lonely grave on a quiet hillside became the fate of thousands of soldiers during the Civil War. Unfortunately, Heman Huggins' final resting place is unknown. 

Mount Jackson, Virginia

June 14, 1862

          It is rather peculiar, and to me, novel circumstances that I attempt to write you a short letter this morning. Indeed, I am afraid it will result in nothing but an attempt. I am lying on my back and unable to get up or help myself to any great extent which of course makes it difficult for me to get into a very pleasant position for writing. I am pursuing the vocation of letter writing under difficulties.

You have read, of course, before this time in the city papers of the severe battle which was fought about 25 miles south of this place on last Sunday between our army and the Rebel army under Jackson. I was so unfortunate, or perhaps I might say, fortunate as to get wounded in that battle. I say fortunate because so many others are so much more severely wounded than I am that I may be thankful for escaping as well as I did. My wound is severe but not dangerous. A ball pierced my leg just below the knee. My roommate Sergeant Joseph Ervin of Co. and myself are the only ones who were wounded in the 60th except George Bowman of Co. K who died soon after. Only three of the regiment were killed. You have, no doubt, been furnished with a list of the killed and wounded in time for publication before this reaches you, so it will be useless for me to write the names. It is surprising that so few of us were injured as we were in one of the hottest places on the battlefield for a little while.

General John C. Fremont
"The Pathfinder"


I will not attempt to tell you anything of the battle in general as you have read all about it and will have forgotten it in anticipation of others more important to come before this sees the light again.

Our trip to this place on Tuesday the second day after the battle was very severe on those who were badly wounded, part of it being over a mud road very much cut up. Most of the poor fellows stood it very well, however. We are quartered now in the best houses of this Secesh town and are as comfortably fixed as we could expect.

Our worthy surgeon Dr. Noble has shown his fitness for the position by the promptness with which he attends upon us and he does not stop, like too many officers, when his mere duty is done; that is, when he has done as much as regulations require, but with open-hearted generosity he furnishes out of his own pocket those delicacies which are ever welcome to a wounded soldier. Here he comes now with a bottle of lemonade. Oh, what a cool delightful beverage for this warm day!

The 60th has done some very hard marching within the last month and the boys are all pretty well run down. The regiment, however, has shown that the Highland Boys cannot be outdone in marching. It has become a common remark here that the 60th can out-walk any other regiment in this army. Indeed, we have acquired the title of “the Lightning Train.” Look out for some tall walkers when we return.

This is a beautiful country, one of the best for wheat I ever saw. The wheat is fine here now but fences are nearly all gone and but little of it will be saved. Oh, you mad leaders of the South, how you have ruined its prosperity.

 Heman

 

          Heman B. Huggins died of his wounds on June 30, 1862, at Cumberland, Maryland although the state roster states he died in Winchester, Virginia. The Highland Weekly News reported Heman’s sad fate the week after they published his last letter. “We regret to learn that our correspondent Mr. H.B. Huggins who was wounded at the Battle of Cross Keys, died in the hospital at Cumberland after having his leg amputated,” it reported. “He was a noble and excellent young man whose death will be deeply mourned by all who knew him. To his widowed mother, the blow will be almost heart-breaking and we most sincerely sympathize with her in her great affliction. Our readers will remember the letter we published last week, written by her son after he was wounded, and must have observed the cheerful tone in which he spoke of his misfortune. Alas, we little anticipated that we should so soon hear the sad tidings of his death!”

 

 

Sources:

Letters from Private Heman B. Huggins, Co. B, 60th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Highland Weekly News (Ohio), April 10, 1862, pg. 1; May 29, 1862, pg. 2; July 3, 1862, pg. 3

“From the 60th,” Highland Weekly News (Ohio), July 10, 1862, pg. 3

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