This letter was written by two troopers, M. J. Fancher and M. D. Overacker, of Co. M, 8th Illinois Cavalry—the only cavalry unit from Illinois to serve in the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. The letter was written just after the regiment was landed on the Peninsula and just before they began their movement towards Williamsburg in pursuit of the Rebels who were about to evacuate Yorktown.
In Illinois military records, Michael Johnson Fancher (1838-1905) was described as standing 5’9″ tall, with light hair and gray eyes—a 23 year-old farmer from Killbuck, Ogle county, when he enlisted on 22 September 1861. Likewise, Mervin D. Overacker (1834-Aft1880) was described as standing 5’7″ tall, with light hair and blue eyes—a 27 year-old teacher from South Grove, Dekalb County, when he enlisted in the 8th Illinois Cavalry on 23 September 1861.
The letter was addressed to John H. Patten (1839-1923) and his wife, Martha (Kendrick) Patten (1841-1901) of South Grove, Dekalb county, Illinois. They were married in March 1861 in Ogle county, Illinois.
Shipping Point, Va.
May 3d 1862
Dear Cousins John & Marthy,
Yours of April 13th came to hand today & as an opportunity is presented, I hasten to answer it. I began to think that you had almost forgotten me but to my disappointment, your letter renews our old acquaintance & brings to mind the thought that my friends have bot yet forsaken me.
Since I wrote to you before, I have experienced some of the hardships of soldiering but have been very rugged & healthy most of the time (with the exception of one or two sick spells).
Since I wrote my first, for five weeks our regiment was marching and following the rebels. During this time I experienced some of the fatigue of soldiering. We followed them as far as the Rappahannock River & then returned to Alexandria & from here we were shipped for Yorktown. We were aboard the Brig. Alston 10 days & finally have been landed & now are hourly expecting to attack Yorktown which is seven miles from here.
The cannons have been roaring since I commenced this letter. A shell burst within a half mile of our camp from the enemy’s guns.
I hope to hear in your next that you have recovered from your illness—all of you. I shall expect to hear from you as soon as you can conveniently write. Post Office address is M. J. Fancher, Co. M, 8th Regiment Ills. Cavalry, Cheeseman’s Creek via Fortress Monroe, Va.
From your friend & cousin, — M. J. Fancher
Camp Winfield Scott
Saturday, May 3rd 1862
J. H. Patten & Wife,
Having just had the pleasure of reading Mr. Fancher’s letter from you, and there finding your respects to me, induces me to take the present opportunity to return to you the same token of respect and even (be it possible) with more feeling than it was given for our relations at this present time with the world calls forth deeper emotions than any other known occupation. And when we hear from friends—even a word—it gives an unusual cheer. Yet we hope the day is not far off when the toil-worn soldier may return to the bosoms of his friends though many a poor brother I cannot see again until the last trumpet shall sound to wake those noble dead.
As for the war, we are laying at present, awaiting that dread day when the battle shall commence—that day of pleasing terror. Though we will not have to wait long for as near as we can ascertain, Monday is the day to commence a general siege of that. It will not come any too soon to our boys for we are all anxious to see the thing got along with.
I shall expect to hear from you. You may expect to hear from us and a full account after the battle.
Yours truly, — M. D. Overacker
Cheesman’s Creek via Fortress Monroe, Virginia