My Dearest Nellie: Last Letter from Lt. Col. Leroy Crockett, 72nd O.V.I.

In what may have been the last letter that he wrote home, Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Crockett of the 72nd Ohio informed his "dearest Nellie" about his regiment's recent campaign in Mississippi, taking pride in "having gone farther into the Rebel state of Mississippi than any regiment in Grant's army or any other army." 

    "We have a pleasant camp, twenty miles from Vicksburg near the Black River stuck on top of a high hill, just wide enough for the camp and beautifully shaded by the magnolias of which there are three varieties, all very pretty," he continued. "We expect to rest here during the hot season and be ready for the full campaign.  The men as a general thing are in good health and spirits anxiously awaiting their turn to go home on furlough." 

    Colonel Crockett was among those anxiously awaiting his turn to visit Ohio. He had commanded the regiment throughout the Vicksburg campaign, but as the siege wore on, his own health, already shaky after nearly a year as a prisoner of war, started to fail completely. Regimental surgeon John B. Rice informed Crockett that he could not remain with the regiment and expect to live. After considerable persuasion on the part of Surgeon Rice and Adjutant John M. Lemmon, Crockett finally applied for a furlough, and Lemmon (with the help of General Ralph Buckland) quickly pushed it through the chain of command to both Generals Sherman and Grant who approved it. 

    Colonel Crockett departed Vicksburg on August 14, 1863, and never saw his beloved regiment again. Suffering from camp fever and dysentery, Crockett arrived home in late August but slowly faded, passing away in his old home in Adams Twp., Seneca County, Ohio on December 10, 1863. "Colonel Crockett was an able and efficient officer, and was highly respected by the officers and men under his command," stated the Fremont Journal. "By his death, the regiment as well as the country loses a brave, experienced officers, and a devoted patriot." 

    Colonel Crockett's letter appears courtesy of Keith Fleckner, a friend of the blog who shared this letter from his personal collection. 

 

Surgeon John Rice, a close friend of Lieutenant Colonel Crockett, closely monitored his friend's declining health and was finally able to cut through the army red tape to secure a furlough for Crockett just a week after this letter was written. The colonel returned home to Ohio, but his health continued to decline and he died December 10, 1863, at his home in Seneca County.

Black River Cliffs, Mississippi

August 7, 1863

My Dearest,

I am again where I can send and receive letter.  On our late Jackson campaign, I've had no mail facilities, but since we have returned we have enjoyed Uncle Sam's carrying sisters to its fullest extent.  We arrived in this camp about one week ago and received a large mail last Monday; among diverse and sundry other things (of minor importance) received was 1,2,3, letters from ? which had my full attention for the balance of the day. 

Nellie, I beg your pardon for writing such a foolish note as that I sent you from before Vicksburg.  But I had the blue blues and every other kind of blues and felt that I should like for someone to be aware of the important facts, but I won't do so anymore.  I joined my regiment at Jackson and found them head over heels in a map with the man they call Johnston but he soon ran. Our brigade chased him to Brandon, caught his rear guard, shot a few guns at them, just enough to give them another scare, then destroyed the railroad and came back to Jackson after having gone farther into the Rebel state of Mississippi than any regiment in Grant's army or any other army.  Grant is high.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant

 I believe our troops suffer intensely for want of water.  During the siege of Jackson, we had to carry all the water we used on mules with canteens 10 miles through the hot sun and clouds of dust, but-thank God this is over one with for the present and our men can have rest.

I have not told you much about the siege nor the operation of the army before nor since in any of my previous letters, nor do I propose to in this, but will let that go until some cozy rainy night when we can together find enjoyment in reciting the trials that have passed.  Suffice for the present to state that all the hardship we cheerfully borne by the troops, and they feel that they have been paid a thousand-fold by the successful termination of the campaign. 

We have a pleasant camp, twenty miles from Vicksburg near the Black River stuck on top of a high hill, just wide enough for the camp and beautifully shaded by the magnolias of which there are three varieties, all very pretty.  We expect to rest here during the hot season and be ready for the full campaign.  The men as a general thing are in good health and spirits anxiously awaiting their turn to go home on furlough.  There are about 40 Officers and men of my regiment at home now, Major Charles Eaton being one of the number. 

Major Charles G. Eaton
72nd O.V.I.

I think some of applying for leave of absence when the Major returns. That will fetch it about grape season then lookout Mr. Grapes you will look out a good lot, say half an acre will be enough and engage them before hard, when you hear that I am coming.

I have my commission as Colonel but the regiment is so small that we are not entitled to a colonel and unless the regiment is filled with drafted men.  I cannot be mustered into service as such without a special order from the War Department--which I do not expect--for there are hundreds of such cases in this army as all the regiments are more or less reduced.  I have sent three Officers Captain Samuel A.J. Snyder, Captain Leroy Moore and Captain James Fernald to Ohio after drafted men. For some reason or rather I have but little confidence in the draft and do not much expect the regiment to be filled.  Notwithstanding, I have General Sherman's assurances that it will.  If it is not filled so that I can be mustered, look out for me at home this winter

Captain James Fernald (left) of Co. G and Captain Leroy Moore (right) of Co. F were two of the three officers Colonel Crockett sent back to Ohio to bring back draftees to fill up the ranks of the regiment. Moore was captured June 11, 1864 during the regiment's disastrous retreat from Brice's Crossroads and would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of war. 

Nellie, I don't speak of this because I feel any great interest in the matter for, I assure you I do not--especially in my present state of health which although improving quite rapidly is not good.  Then I think the orders from the War Department very unmilitary and unjust.  If I have merited promotion and have been recommended by my General and received a commission, I think it’s very unjust for Mr. Secretary of War to issue an order founded on a rear technicality--relative to the number of men in a regiment.  It is certainly calculated to destroy that spirit of evaluation necessary to make good officers. 

Here comes the mail with a letter from Maggie.  Says Mother is not well and that they have lots of company.  Lt. Roy to write often. General Buckland has just arrived in camp from Ohio and must go and see him.  Buckland says, "the people of Ohio are alive and rejoicing over our last victories they are well organized and will outcast the banished at least seventy-five thousand." I hoped they will.  It would be an everlasting disgrace to the people of Ohio to beat him ?? that. 

Brigadier General Ralph Buckland
72nd O.V.I.

Nellie how do you prosper? Is Sandusky a dull old town?  How do you like your cousins or your Mary?  The fashionable ones.  Do they scare you up from off the parlor floor an cause you to take ? very suddenly by sultry ?;  Do you ever think of a fellow about-my size strutting around, putting on airs;  abusing everyone that don't outrank me.  Do you think your Pa will give me some brandy when I come to Sandusky?  Nellie, don't you think Major Eaton, Major Rice and Cpl. Strong took that bottle your father gave me and drank every drop of brandy and then gave me the bottle empty--when I came into quarters, I never got a drop.  It done me just as much good.  "I reckon."

Nellie, I hope you will not infer from what I have written that I am losing interest in the cause for such is not the case.  If I do leave the service, it will be for private reasons, not public.  I should regret to have it said that the one I hope you love lost his interest in the great causes for which we have been so long struggling.

Your sweet true and devoted,                                                                                                                                 Leroy Crockett

Scarcely four months after writing this letter, Lieutenant Colonel Crockett died of camp fever and dysentery on December 10, 1863, aged 31 years. His remains were laid to rest in the Lowell School Cemetery near Green Springs, Ohio. 

 To learn more about Colonel Crockett's career and how he was remembered by his comrades in the 72nd Ohio, check out the following posts:

Honoring Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Crockett

Buckland's Picnic Excursion Before Shiloh

You May Glory in Us Now: Powder-Stained Bayonets and the Fight Before Shiloh

Sources:

Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Crockett, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Keith Fleckner Collection 

"Death of Col. Leroy Crockett of the 72d O.V.I.," Fremont Journal (Ohio), December 18, 1863, pg. 3

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