1864: Enoch Wesley Cunningham to Mary (Cunningham) Smith

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How Wesley might have looked

These letters were written by Enoch “Wesley” Cunningham (1844-1865), the son of Horace Cunningham (1784-1882) and Caroline Elizabeth Tree (1810-1880) of Porter, Porter county, Indiana. Enoch wrote all three of these letters from a camp near Huntsville, Alabama, while serving as a private in Co. F, 12th Indiana Cavalry. The regiment was organized in the spring of 1864 and after a brief stint at Nashville, Tennessee, they were moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and placed on duty guarding the railroad “from Decatur, Alabama to Paint Rock, Alabama—a distance of about 60 miles. They were also to defend the area between Huntsville and Paint Rock, and between the Tennessee river and the Memphis and Charleston railroad. That portion of the country was then infested with several bands of guerrillas and ‘bushwhackers.’ The six mounted companies were fighting numerous skirmishes and engagements and quite a large number were killed or wounded. These six companies of the 12th Indiana, including Companies C, D & H, were the only mounted cavalry then at or near Huntsville. At this time the unmounted companies were building and defending blockhouses. Henderson mentioned that Company E took possession of four blockhouses and two bridges at Brownsboro, 12 miles from Huntsville.” [Source: History of the 12th Indiana Cavalry, by Russ Poole]

Wesley did not survive the war. He died of disease on 12 June 1865.

Wesley wrote the letters to his sister, Mary (Cunningham) Smith, the wife of James Hall Smith.


Camp at Beaver Dam Bridge, Alabama
June 14, 1864

Dear Brother,

I take the present opportunity to inform you that I am well at present and I hope these few lines may find you all the same. It has been some time since I have heard from home. I wrote Mary a letter some time ago but haven’t had any answer from it yet. James [Ludington] and Levi [Briggs] is well. The health of the soldiers is generally good.

We are camped about 18 miles from Huntsville, Alabama. We have a very good time here, plenty to eat and drink, and nothing to do—only drill one hour a day in the Manual of Arms. We have all the apples, peaches, and blackberries we want if we stay here this summer and I think likely we will stay here all summer—at least the boys want to for they can have all the liberty they want. When they want some fresh meat, they go out in the country and get it. There is plenty of it here. They fetched in a hog the other day and yesterday they fetched in two beefs. The folks around here is most all secesh and the boys don’t have much mercy on them. There is plenty of cows here and when they want some milk, they take a pail and go and get a pailful. The boys live very well here.

We are very strongly fortified here. We have a blockhouse here that is almost cannon proof. Jim, I can’t think of much to write at present. The 25th Indiana Regiment and the 22nd Wisconsin Regiment and the 17th New York Zouaves Regiment is going to camp here tonight. They are going to Georgia. They have just come from Decatur. They say there is only one regiment left there and they are one hundred days men. They say the Rebels drove in some of their pickets. I think they will soon be attacked. The Rebs is plenty across the river. Old Forrest is across the river. He intends to make a raid through here some place.

I haven’t any more to write at present so I will close. Yours truly, — E. W. Cunningham

Direct to Huntsville, Alabama


Camp at Beaver Dam Creek, Alabama
July 14, 1864

Dear Sister and Brother,

I received your kind letter some time ago and have neglected answering it until now. I am well at present and hope this may find you all the same. I thought I would write you a few lines as I had nothing else to do. Times is about as they have been. The weather is warm and moderate with plenty of rain. It has rained two or three times a week ever since we have been here. Crops look well here. Corn is silking out. We will soon have roasting ears here. They have the biggest corn here I ever saw. The land is very rich. The health of the boys is very good. James [Ludington] and Levi [Briggs] is well. James [Ludington] has been sick for the last four or five days.

We had orders to leave here some time ago but I guess they have been countermanded. I think we will stay here all summer. Jim, I haven’t much news to write this time. They had a little fight down at Decatur the other night. We could hear them firing plain as day. Our men wiped them out nearly. It is about twelve miles from here. They are skirmishing down there most every day. They come across the river.

There was some of our cavalry had a fight the other day. Capt. Baker’s Cavalry had the fight and they got pretty badly whipped. They lost several horses and several men wounded and three killed and the Captain and one Lieutenant was killed. The Captain was shot through the arm. Lieutenant-Colonel [Alfred] Reed had the command. Capt. Baker and Colonel Reed are now arrested at Huntsville for running off and leaving the men to do the best they could. There is several of the boys missing. ¹ They think Colonel Reed is a traitor. There isn’t a boy in the regiment that likes him, but Colonel [Edward] Anderson is right the other way. The boys almost worship him. The boys all likes him. He is death on guerrillas. They fetched in a couple of them a while ago and Colonel Anderson and Major Chalkings shot them. I haven’t anymore to write at present, so goodbye.

Yours truly, — E. W. Cunningham

Mary, I won’t direct to to you for I am afraid someone will get it and read it like they did the other one. We was paid yesterday. Write soon.

¹ Wesley is writing of the skirmish near Vienna, Alabama on 8 July 1864 described in the following account: “The next 12th Cavalry skirmish of which there is record occurred on July 8, 1864 near Vienna, Alabama involving mostly “B” and “C” companies. This report is from Lieut. Col. Alfred Reed, commanding a detachment of Twelfth Indiana Cavalry at Vienna to Col. Edward Anderson at Huntsville: ‘The detachment under my command yesterday morning separated about 5 miles north of Owen’s Mills, on Flint River, Company C going east to J.C. Drake’s, who is father to three of Johnson’s gang; thence we went south to Vienna; the other company (B) was ordered to make Vienna via Owen’s Mills. About three miles from Vienna the company was fired upon by Parson (Captain) Johnson’s company of bushwhackers and dispersed. The captain and Lieutenant Burden and 7 of their company (B) were wounded, and the scout, John C. Martin was killed; 3 horses were killed, and some 4 or 5 wounded. The wounds on the men, though some of them are severe, are none of them mortal. I was with Company C. On arriving at Vienna I learned of the disaster to Captain Baker, and immediately repaired to the scene of action. After plundering the dead horses and men, the rebels retreated to the southward. We followed them some distance, but night coming on we returned to this place. I shall keep Company C here and pursue my original plan against the bushwhackers until further orders. I will make this place my headquarters, and orders will readily reach me here. The company is fearful that they will miss the paymaster. Whenever he is ready to pay, you can notify us and we will report there if so ordered. I shall be glad to receive instructions from time to time as to my duties here.'” [History of the 12th Indiana Cavalry by Russ Poole]


Camp at Beaver Dam Creek, Alabama
August 7, 1864

Dear Sister,

It has been some time since I have heard from you. I am well at present and hope these few lines may find you all enjoying the same blessings. I wrote to you a good while ago but haven’t got any answer from it yet. Mary, the health of the boys isn’t so good as it has been. There is a good man of them got the ague and chill fever. Levi [Briggs] has got the ague. Jim was well the last time I heard from him. He has gone to Indian Creek. That is about 8 miles from here, betwixt here and Huntsville. There is 20 of our men there.

Mary, our men had a little skirmish a few days ago down at Decatur. Our men whipped them out and took several prisoners. There was four thousand of our men engaged. I don’t know how many of the Rebels there was. They was Old Roudy’s men. We have been expected to be attacked here several times. Our pickets were drove in the other day by some bushwhackers. The report was that there was one hundred and fifty of them six miles north of here but we haven’t force enough to go after them. The telegraph wire has been cut two or three times betwixt this place and Huntsville. There was a train fired into by some bushwhackers on the other side of Huntsville and wounded Captain [Sheldon] Stoddard of Co. M very bad. I don’t know whether they done any more damage or not.

The weather is very warm and showery. We had the hardest thunder shower the other night. The most I ever heard. The lightning struck one of our men or come close to him that it knocked him down. He was on camp guard and was walking by my tent when he fell. His hand that was hold of the gun was all numbed. When he fell, he said his arm was broke.

Mary, the news is that we are a going home within two or three weeks and I guess it is true. I don’t care about going home for a month. The peaches is just getting ripe and melons. There is no end to them.

I haven’t any more to write at present. Yours truly, — E. W. Cunningham

Write soon and all the news.

Huntsville, Alabama


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