This letter was written by 33 year-old Aaron O. Wheeler (1830-1899) who enlisted in Co. G, 50th Illinois Infantry as a private on 24 September 1861 at Avon, Illinois. Aaron was identified on the muster rolls as a 5′ 9″ carpenter with brown hair and blue eyes at the time of his enlistment. He remained with the regiment until September 27, 1864 when he was mustered out of the service at Decatur Junction, Alabama.
In the 1860 US Census, Aaron was enumerated at Avon, Fulton county, Illinois, with his wife, Fannie (Butler) Wheeler (1833-1917) and their 3 year-old daughter Mary (1857-1933). He was employed at that time as a “saloon keeper.” The couple had another child, Rosa Jane Wheeler (1861-1938) in 1861.
Wheeler’s letter describes the execution of Alex J. Johnson of Co. D, 1st Alabama [Union] Cavalry. Johnson enlisted on 1 June 1863 at Glendale, Mississippi, and 18 days later deserted while on picket duty. The execution took place on the parade ground a half mile southeast of Corinth. “After the troops were stationed the prisoner was brought into the square from the right…in front of him his coffin was borne by four soldiers. He was attended by the Chaplain of the 81st Ohio… At precisely 23 minutes past nine, the band sounded the funeral dirge…The chaplain offered prayer and the order for the execution was read as ordered by Brigadier General G.M. Dodge. At four minutes past ten o’clock the order to fire was given after which the troops were marched past the corpse so that troops might have the opportunity of seeing the doom of a deserter. At the time of his desertion the soldier was posted as a vidette (sentry) near the post of Glendale, Mississippi. His last request was to see his photograph which had been taken the morning of the execution. This was denied but he was told that the picture would be sent to his wife.”
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
November 2, 1861
My dear wife,
I now take my pencil in hand to inform you that I am well and doing well and I hope these few lines will find you & Father & Mother the same. I should like to see you all and my little girls also. We were mustered for our pay today and we shall look for our pat every day until we get it. We shall get it between this and the tenth of this month. I shall send you the money as soon as I get it.
I suppose you have heard some bad news about our regiment but it is all false. We have not had any battle yet. Last Sunday there was about 250 of us went out on a scout about 25 miles. There was 33 out of my company went. I was along with them to a town called Jamestown. It was once quite a little town but now there is but four families in it & they are Union. We see no chance for fight. The rebels are scattered. We don’t find more than 2 or 3 together. They are what they call here bushwhackers. We got back here last Tuesday. We brought 8 of the rebels with us and the rest that was taken took the oath that was sealed with blue pills. How many there was, I don’t know, but probably there was 30 or 40. We had a cavalry company that joined us. When we got there they sealed those oaths. We had [it] very good for soldiers. We had a chance to see the country. It is broken and a good deal of timber and not much rock to be seen. Our officers think that we shall have a chance to fight here before long but I don’t believe the rebels dare not tackle us. There is another regiment here besides ours. There is about 15 hundred of us here now and more expected so I think there is not much danger here as yet.
As my candle is almost all gone, I must close. I like to of forgot to tell you that I am a going to have a turkey for dinner tomorrow and I should like to have you all to take dinner with me. This is all the news I [can] think of now. This from a friend. Please write as soon as you get this, all of you.
Yours truly, — A. O. Wheeler
Direction: A. O. Wheeler, Chillicothe, Mo., Ill. 50 Regiment, Company G, Capt. King
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
St. Joseph, [Mo.]
December 1st 1861
My dear wife,
I take my pen in hand for the first time to write with ink since I came here on Wednesday last. We have a good place here. We are in a hall. It is large enough to accommodate two companies. I have a small room to cook in at the end of the hall. The building that we are in is three stories high. The upper story is the Old Fellows Hall. My health is good. It never was better and I hope these few lines will find you all the same. I am well fixed now. I have a stove to cook by now. It keeps my room warm & nice this is much better than camping out in tents. I don’t think we shall have to camp out any more this winter. We shall if we stay here build shanties to live in. We don’t know where we shall stay yet. The Illinois 16th Regiment is here & two other ones besides ours.
I told you in my last letter that a part of our regiment went out on a scout and expected a fight but they did not get one. We look for one hear every day but we may not have one at all. We hear a great deal about he secesh coming on to us. That is not true that we do not know when we are safe and when we are not. This is a large place—as large as Quincy. I think there is a good many very nice buildings here. It is a pretty place for a town. It is on the Missouri River. I can look over into a town there is opposite here to have it said that I have been in Kansas—that is, if we stay here any time. We may not be here next week at this time.
I sent you ten dollars in money last Friday, or that is, I put it in with some others, and Mr. Barrett sent it to his wife and he wrote her to fetch yours to you. I did not get all of my money yet and won’t get it till the next pay day and that will be the fore part of January. I don’t know whether I shall come home then or not. It depends on where we are. If we are here, I intend to come if I can get a free pass. I should like to see you all first rate. I don’t think of anything more to write you this time.
I would say to Father and Mother that I have written this as much to them as you Fanny, and I wish you all would write me as soon as you get this. Yours truly, so goodbye. This from your best friend, — A. O. Wheeler
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 3
St. Joseph [Mo.]
December 8th 1861
Father & Mother,
As I have just got my work dome up, I embrace this opportunity to inform you that I am getting along first rate. My health is good. It never was better and I hope these few lines will find you all enjoying the same blessing. I now weigh 154½ pounds you would hardly know me now, I am so fleshy. I should like to come come home and see you all but I don’t know as I can at present for I can’t get a furlough unless it is in case of necessity. Even our officers can’t get a furlough. They have got stay with us now. If I could get a furlough, it would cost me 20 dollars to get home and back again from here.
I think that we shall stay here until March but I don’t know. We may be 2 hundred miles from here. I have intended to be at home at New Years but I don’t expect that I can get away unless my folks are dangerously sick an then it us just as General Halleck says about it. He has the control of the troops in this state. He takes the place of Fremont. I hope we shall stay here this winter. We have got good comfortable quarters. We are in a very large, 3-story building. It is built with brick. The most of the buildings are brick. This is a very nice place. The streets are paved with stone and the sidewalks are laid with brick and it is quite a city—much larger than I expected to find so far west as this. It is 206 miles from here to Quincy [Illinois].
There is quite a town just across the river from here. I forget the name of it. It is in Kansas. The country around here is very broken so far as I have seen. I have not been out of town since I have been here. I don’t have much time to look around. I have 11 to cook for besides myself. There is 7 thousand troops here now. The talk is that General Price is a going to come here to winter this winter. I think he will have a great time of it if he undertakes it.
I don’t think of anything more to write this time. Please write me as soon as you get this. Yours with my best respects. — A. O. Wheeler
St. Joseph, Mo.
December 8th 1861
My Dear Wife,
I will say a few words to you now. I have written you three letters since I got one from you. I have sent ten dollars in money or that is, I gave it to Mr. Barrett and he sent it with his to his wife and he wrote to her to give you yours and he has written back that has received it and I wrote to you at the same time and I have not heard from you yet and I begin to think that you are sick. Pray don’t delay having someone write me if that be the case because I want to know if you are sick or the children. The last letter I wrote you I forgot to tell you how to direct your letters to me. I will this time. The room is a getting short on this sheet so I must close. So goodbye. Please write as soon as you get this. Direction Mr. A. O. Wheeler, St. Joseph, Mo., Company G, Ill. 50 Regt., Capt. King
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 4
March 25, 1863
My Dear Wife,
I received yours of the 18th night before last and I was happy to see it. My health is tolerable good at this time and I hope these few lines will find you all the same. Mr. Ganer’s wife came the same night that I got your letter with her three children. Her oldest one is about the bigness of our Mary. Well the reason I did not write yesterday, I had to cook for them and help them fix up their cook house. Well today I have nobody to cook for but myself. Mervin Converse has gone to board with Lieut. Fee and I expect I will have to go to work helping to build barracks for our company. They have commenced them—that is, they are getting out the timber and M. Converse told me that he guessed he should have me to boss the job. He has taken command of the company now.
Capt. King has been detailed out of the regiment on a general court martial all winter and probably will be all summer. His wife and whole family are on their way here. I don’t know whether I shall do any more cooking or not. M. Converse and Lieut. Strade are talking of getting up a mess and if they do, I shall cook for them an if I do, my cook house will be between Capt. King’s and Capt. Burnams’ and they will both have their families here and if all this should be the case, I should be very anxious to have you come and stay with me this summer. But I don’t know what is to come. It is very easy to look back and see what has passed as it comes day by day and all we can do is to be prepared for it and do he best we can. Mr. Ganes told me yesterday that he was sorry to have me go back to my company again but if we had to move from here, he should have me to cook for him again. He was well satisfied with me. I feel rather lonesome and down-hearted today but I will get over that by and bye. I don’t think of much more to write this time. I wish you would answer all my letters as fast as you get them and tell all the news there is. Please give my respects to all enquiring friends. This from your best friend, — A. O. Wheeler
Mother, I am sorry that I don’t see the mark of your pen any oftener. You may say that you can’t write very well but you should never mind that. I think you have plenty of time and I take just as much comfort in reading your writing as though it was the best in the world. Please write often. Very respectfully yours, — A. O. Wheeler
I forgot to say that I found five stamps in the letter I got from you. I was very glad to see them although I had some on hand.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 5
July 26, 1863
My Dear Wife
I have received two letters in the past week but have not had time to write until today. I was happy to see them but sorry to hear that mother was not well and that you are troubled with your old complaint. My health is very good at this time and hope these few lines will find you all better than when you last wrote me. The last letter I got from you [was] yesterday. The reason that I did not answer the other one before now [was that] I got [placed on] a detail a week ago yesterday to report the Division Engineer Corps. They have detailed eight men out of each regiment in the division to build bridges or warehouses or anything that is needed for the use of the army. Our quarters are by the side of the railroad but little ways from the depot.
I think I shall like this better. We don’t have to work hard and only about half of the time and we don’t have to go into a fight as long as there is anybody else to do it. We are now at work on our barracks. I came here last Monday and [on] Tuesday was put on duty. Twelve of us were sent out about three miles to guard teams and negroes while they hauled in rails to burn brick with. Well, we had a good time. We got all the apples we wanted and blackberries, &c. Wednesday I worked on our barracks.
Thursday I witnessed that that I never did before. Our cavalry last Sunday captured a man that last spring came from the Rebel army and enlisted in our cavalry and stayed a while and [then] deserted while on picket with his horse and equipments. He was caught burning a bridge between here and Memphis. He was brought here and had his trial and was sentenced to be shot. I went to see it done and all the troops were marched out to see it. He was taken out of the guard house to a wagon that had his coffin in and he and a minister got into the wagon and sit on his coffin and there was a brass band and twelve men that were to shoot him went in front of the wagon and twelve armed men followed behind. They took him out about a mile from town where all the troops were in line.
They took him out of the wagon and marched him in front of the troops the whole length of the line with the same escorts that took him out there in addition of four men to carry his coffin in front of him—then to the place he was shot. He was set on the foot of his coffin facing the men that were to shoot him. They were ten steps from him. A bandage was put over his eyes. The first six were ordered to aim and fire at him. The other six were kept so if the first six did not kill him, the others would. But he did not know what hit him after the first six. They all fired at once. The other six did not fire. There were five ball holes through him—four through his head and one through his breast. It was a hard looking sight. He leaves a wife and children. His home was in Alabama.
There was an artist there to take a picture of him as he lay before he was touched. I intend to have a picture of that scene and send it to you as I was an eye witness. It seems heartless to shoot a man in cold blood but I think it right enough to shoot all such men. There is lots of them that deserve it as bad as he did I have no doubt—if they could be ketched.
It begins to seem that the war is drawing to a close. I should not be at all surprised if some of the old troops was discharged and at home before this time next year. I hope it will be my lot. Well, I don’t think of anymore this time. You and Mother must keep up good courage and not get down-hearted. Let nothing trouble you. I am your friend as long as I live and I don’t think my time will come for several years yet. Please write me as often as you can for reading your letters is the best comfort I take here.
Very truly yours, A. O. Wheeler
You will please direct as follows
A. O. Wheeler
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 6
December 19, 1863
My Dear Wife,
It is a long time since I have heard from you and what the reason can be, I don’t know. I have written several letters since I have got one. I have not got one since the last of October. My health is very good at this time and has been for the last month and I hope these few lines find you all in good health and enjoying yourselves very well. One reason is that I have not heard from you for so long and another is I have not been with the Corps since the 3rd of November and I don’t know when I shall again. There is 10 of the Corps boys that has been with me all of the time. We are at work building a pontoon bridge across the river. We are a building 12 boats and we fasten them in the water and then put timbers across them and then put plank on. That makes the bridge. I think we shall get it done next Tuesday and where we shall go then, I don’t know. We may stay here and we may go to the Corps and we may go somewhere else to building bridges. We don’t know one week where we shall be the next.
The most comfort I have is in thinking that in a few months, if I live, I shall be at home. The time is fast passing away. I had a dream last night. I thought that I got there some time in the night and I thought that we sat and talked till daylight and then I had to come away and I did not like it a bit. But I could not help it. Well, if I could get a letter from you once in awhile, I should feel better. I suppose you are a having cold weather there now. We are not having much cold weather here. It has froze a little in the last 2 or 3 nights. I have not seen any snow yet. We are in a tolerable good house so that we don’t suffer with the cold much.
I saw some of the boys of company from the regiment day before yesterday. I asked them if there was any mail there for me and they said they thought there was and they said they would send it to me the first chance. That is all I have seen or heard of any letters for me since the last of October. I know there must be letters for me somewhere. I don’t know. Well I must draw this to a close. The reason that I have not sent you any money is because I had no chance that I thought it would come through safe, but as soon as I have a chance, I shall send you some.
Please write as soon as you get this. Yours truly, — A. O. Wheeler
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 7
Camp near the Chattahoochee River
July 8, 1864
My dear wife,
I am once more permitted to pen you a few lines. My health is very good at this time and I hope these few lines will find you all enjoying the same blessing. I have not heard from you for some time. I answered the last one I got as soon as I got it and have been looking for one from you for some time. Our army are progressing very well. We are driving the Rebs back slowly. We are a taking more or less prisoners every day. We have got them out of the hills and mountains and we are within eight or ten miles of Atlanta and I think it will not be many days before that place will be ours, but I don’t expect that it will end the campaign. I don’t think that it is the intention to give the Rebs any rest this summer. There has not been a day for the past two weeks but what there has been more or less cannonading. We have drove them out of as strong works as ever was built for field works and off of the hills that one would think to see them that they could not be taken. Our army moves slow but when it does move, it counts. Two or three days ago one of our Army Corps laid a trap for the Rebs and they went into it and sixteen hundred live ones did not get out of it. That was a pretty good haul.
General Hooker commands the 20th Corps. [He] had a fight with them some eight or ten days ago. They charged him six times in succession and then he charged them and took their words and held them and him men buried eight hundred Rebs. ¹ There has not been very much such fighting as that was on this trip.
I with 29 others was detailed on the 1st of this month from the Pioneer Corps to a pontoon train. We have been having a pretty easy time since we have been with this train. We have not had anything to do yet but I expect in a few days we shall have to lay it across the rivers.
I don’t think of much more to write this time. I suppose if reports are true, in 25 days I shall be ordered back to my regiment to start homewards with the rest of the boys. That is the talk now but I [don’t] credit it much. I don’t think there is any as good luck as that for me. I shall not be very much disappointed if I don’t get out till the last of September but I hope I may.
Please write often and direct your letters the same as you have done. Very affectionately yours, — A. O. Wheeler
¹ This is probably a reference to the Battle of Kolb’s Farm (22 June 1864).