This letter was written by Robert Cassatt Manly [or Manley] (1843-1902), the son of Lewis Manley (1809-1863) and Rachel Ann Doran Hall (1812-1879) of Williamsport, Deer Creek township, Pickaway county, Ohio. Robert enlisted four months before his 18th birthday in Co. E, 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC). This was on 30 August 1861. He must have been incredibly popular among his comrades for he was made a sergeant upon entering the service and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant by 20 June 1862. He mustered out of the service on 25 January 1863. In the 1860 US Census, Robert was enumerated as a 16 year-old “student” in his parents home in Deer Creek township, Pickaway county, Ohio. He was enrolled at Oberlin College in 1860-61, and after he exited the service, he returned to the college in 1863-64.
The 1st OVC was the first cavalry regiment to arrive at Louisville from any state during the war. They remained at Louisville until January 16, 1862, when the men advanced to Lebanon, Kentucky and joined General George Thomas’s command. At Lebanon, the 1st conducted several expeditions against enemy guerrillas and also engaged General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalrymen. On February 14, 1862, the 1st OVC left Lebanon for Louisville where the regiment boarded steamers on February 28, 1862 for Nashville, Tennessee. They arrived at Nashville six days later and entered camp for one week. Now serving with the Army of the Ohio, on March 14, the 1st joined this force’s advance into western Tennessee. On the march, they skirmished repeatedly with enemy forces. They arrived at Pittsburg Landing on April 7, 1862, the day following the Battle of Shiloh. They then participated on the advance against Corinth, routinely skirmishing with enemy forces.
Robert wrote this letter to his cousin, Anna M. Leiby (1836-1907), the daughter of James and Elizabeth Leiby of Williamsport, Ohio. In 1860 US Census, Anna was boarding in the household of George W. Myers while employed as a school teacher in Circleville, Pickaway county, Ohio. She remained a school teacher all her life and never married.
Camp near Corinth, Mississippi
May 23, 1862
Is the pattering of rain on a linen tent inspiring? Does a head full of quinine bring forth bright ideas? Will thew perusal of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Twice Told Tales” add to one’s mental lustre and cause vivid thoughts to emanate from a dull brain? If so, then surely you may expect thrilling descriptions of hair-breadth escapes.
“Dangers past and haply o’er
Past I trust forever more.”
What would the world do without poets? Would I were a poet that I might touchingly describe a soldier in camp. I’d picture him of a bright moonlight even on “stable guard.” He should lie on a pile of oat sacks, bareheaded, dreamily gazing at the moon. All should be quiet save the cricket, fronts and mosquitoes. The “noble steeds” should sleep quietly and not get loose to disturb the reveries of my hero. His cogitations should begin with the battle field and “Hope, memory in disguise” should lead him back, as it were, to his home and the associations of his childhood. I’d make him think sweet things of his girl left behind and do all manner of silly prattling to invisible dulcibolae.
Would it not be rich? But I’m not a poet nor am I given to sentiment. An almost incessant volleying of musketry among skirmishing pickets spiced now and then with a few moments cannonading isn’t congenial to transcendentalism (O, what a long word!).
Not a day passes, but we hear
“Cannon to left of us
Cannon to right of us
Cannon in front of us
Volleying and thundering
While all the world winders”
at our indifference and equanimity.
“And when the pie was opened
The birds began to sing.”
But when the ball is opened
All the boys will dance.
Yes, when will it open? We expected Beauregard would attack this morning but her didn’t. When he ventures out of his entrenchments, he may find himself and band captured. then the should-be “Southern Confederacy” will “dry up” and “blow away” just like any other thistle that encumbers the ground. As chaff before a strong wind, it will soon cease to have itself visible, audible, or feel-able. Then goodbye to daring soldiers. Farewell for a time linen towns! Welcome home friends and the comforts of a civil life. And good morning Mr. Assessor!!! My property isn’t taxable so good for me.
Now it is candlelight and I must hurry through before “Taps,” for then immediately all lights must be put out, so that if Mr. Beauregard feels inclined to make an attack, we will have no signal light in the 1st O.V.C. to lead his satanic footsteps. Let him walk rather with an eye of faith and discover what he can by his inward candle. Some love darkness rather than light. Others hide their lights under a bushel. That is what General [Henry] Halleck is doing as a “military necessity.” I suppose he thinks we soldiers know too much to tell before the impending battle, so you may find my letter rather stale before it reaches you. I’ve tried to write what will not be touching slightly on military matters. No being able yet to do harder business and having a better chance than may appear again for a good while, I write now and run the risk.
Before sealing I must tell you of some of our Ohio Generals. There is Gen. [George H.] Thomas in command of this, the Right Wing. A good-looking, brave, whole-souled gentleman, scholar, and soldier. He was tried at Mill Springs and proved his invaluable service to our country. He is a Major General.
General Bob McCook ¹ is one of those enthusiastic, energetic, cool calculating, go-ahead boys of the “fighting family.” He is a Brigadier and the pet of his command. In day time continually in the alert. Dresses in privates clothes and is everywhere familiarly known as “Bob.” When tired, coming in late, the first tent he comes to he stops, calls out, “hello!” One of the mess comes out, takes his horse and riding to headquarters tells where “Bob” may be found. In the meantime, the General has entered the tent and saying, “lay over boys and divide the blankets,” nestles down to sleep. The boys fear and love him and all declare they would die for him—even those whom he kicks when they get in a muss like him better for it.
When you receive this, answer, and believe me still your cousin, — R. C. Manly
To Miss Anna M. Seiby
¹ Robert Latimer McCook (1827-1862) served first as the Colonel of the 9th OVI, and was promoted to command a brigade in the West Virginia Campaign under McClellan. When he transferred to the Army of the Ohio, he was wounded leading his men in a bayonet charge at the Battle of Mill Springs in January 1862. Though not fully healed from his wound, he rejoined his command was was shot in a skirmish with the 4th Alabama Cavalry near Huntsville, Alabama. Northern versions claimed he was shot by Confederate guerrillas while lying helpless in an ambulance, but a Southern version disputes this. In agony from a mortal wound in the intestines, he was taken to a nearby house, where he died within 24 hours. [Wikipedia]