These two letters were written by Daniel Oliver Negley (1832-1896), a blacksmith from Canton, Fulton county, Illinois, who enlisted in August 1861 as a private in Co. A, 55th Illinois Infantry and mustered out as a sergeant in November 1864.
In the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou (See regimental history, page 194), Dan Negley “was hit full in the breast, but the many folds of the blanket slung around him interposed and saved a valuable life. When unrolled, the blanket had more than twenty perforations in it.”
Negley wrote the letters to his friend and former employer, William J. Orendorff (1829-1897). William and his wife, Mary Rohrer, also lived in Canton where William worked as a plow manufacturer in partnership with his brother-in-law, William Parlin. Mr. Parlin was the inventor and designer of the operation while Mr. Orendorff was the business manager. By 1880 they had incorporated the P & O Plow company in Illinois. Their sons, William H. Parlin and Ulysses G. Orendorff, successfully continued the business, which was eventually purchased by International Harvester in 1919.
[Note: The tintype in the header is William Lawrence Shellenberger (1830-1862) of Co. D, 55th Illinois Infantry, who was killed at the Battle of Shiloh. William was also from Fulton County, Illinois, and roughly the same age as Sgt. Negley.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
January 22, 1864
Wm. J. Orendorff, Esqr.
It is with pleasure I seat myself to fulfill my promise made by me when at El Paso enroute for my regiment which I meet at Memphis, Tennessee, and was very glad of it as I was worried by the trip from Cairo down. I saw your brother John there and thought he looked better than I ever saw him but the stay in the city was short as we were soon on the road for Chattanooga. Passed out on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad to Iuka. From there we marched to Tuscumbia forty miles east of Iuka and had a three day’s skirmish with the enemy which completely baffled Gen. Bragg as he supposed we were a going to repair the road and would not reach his front until spring. But instead of doing the work on the road, we retreated, struck the Tennessee river at Chickasaw Landing twelve miles above Pittsburg and crossed and pushed out for the enemy where we reached in time to participate in the hard contest of Chattanooga and Mission Ridge which I presume you are conversant with ere this.
As I saw Henry Orendorff with his fingers burned by rebel vengeance and also learned he had gone home on leave of absence, he would inform you how it goes to face the music of musketry and the thunder of artillery. After the Rebs evacuated, the comes the most severe march we ever was on—that is, we suffered the most. We started with seven days rations and was out one month after the dreaded Gen. Longstreet (by the way, his corps made their assertions that they would like to meet the 15th Corps and give our brave commander Wm. T. Sherman a sound drubbing—at least the citizens informed us of it) but before we got within fifty miles of him, he commenced his retreat and I think by the way his wagons and mules was scattered along the road, he must of changed his mind as we followed him into North Carolina and as far as we was. His retreat was a hurried one. If that is the way the eastern rebels fight, the veteran 15th Army Corps can whip five times their numbers (this is bragging but nevertheless true).
William, I used to think it almost impossible to think man could stand to travel over the frozen ground shoeless and almost naked but I am satisfied it can be done. I traveled two days with one shoe. The other one give out but I saw them barefooted. I lived thirty-six hours on three corn cakes and them out of unsieved meal. You may think this a fable but a true one, my friend. Mr. J[ohn] B. Ridenour has enlisted in the veteran service and desires me to let you know that if not too cold when he comes home, he will go to see you. Our regiment is enlisting a great many, so much that the prospects are good for the regiment to come to Illinois to recruit. The Union sentiments is very strong in the north of this state and Georgia. In fact, all along the lines and while scribbling this, there is a company of Alabama troops forming under the old stars and stripes to sustain the government a put secession and treason where it dare not raise its head again. The farther we get into the interior of the rebellious states, the less we have to fear from traitors North, or any of their crews. I see by the papers that some of them has suggested the name of Gen. John A. Logan as governor. He is a true man. I would not hesitate a moment to support him but I do not think that Gen. Dick Oglesby would make as good and our John will do good service in the field and then after this war is over, we can give him the honors by giving the office to him.
I find I am getting too lengthy and must close. I am not very well at present, having an inflammation of the kidneys which is severe, but hope this finds you and family enjoying good health. I remain yours truly, — D. O. Negley
[to] W. J. Orendorff
Please excuse all mistakes and bad composition. Write soon. Give my compliments to all the boys. Yours &c. — D. O. Negley
I can not get a stamp for love or money and send without. I hope the next will not be so.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Larkens Landing, Alabama
March 10th 1864
Wm. J. Orendorff, Esqr.
In reply to your ever welcome line of February 21st, has been received and read and appreciated as a soldier in the field can appreciate the news from friends at home. The throbbing of the heart, pen fails to describe. I admire the style of your circular and card. I think they speak well of the firm and you you will accomplish every wish of your patrons. I am aware that you & Mr. Parlin have done your utmost to give entire satisfaction. From yours I am glad to hear of some old familiar names, and reminds me of years gone by, but there appears to be new ones to fill the places of my former shipmates (for instance Donn is missed).
I am glad to learn while we in the field are battling against the enemy of these United States that at home we have brave hearts and hands to sustain us in our strife of right against wrong. Would that this unGodly rebellion was crushed and traitors all swung up to the limbs of the tree where treason ought to of hung over thirty years ago. We would not have this bloody content on hand now. But with Old Father Abe in the chair drawing the reins of government, this war will not last one year longer as all the rebels are holding on to is the treacherous sentiment of the North. Those cowardly cutthroats have been the cause of thousands of brave men’s lives at Shiloh, Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Vicksburg, Jackson, Champion Hills, Vicksburg and Missionary Ridge. But I tremble for them when I think that God is just and know that the blood of my brave comrades are upon their shoulders. Our lines are closing in on the territory claimed by the so called Confederacy with our brave and accomplished officer (Major Gen. Wm. T. Sherman) at the head of a column of brave men to march with right into the heart of it now with three points to make connections with and I am confident that he will come off victorious yet.
I see the sarcastic remark in some of the journals that he is crazy—Sherman. I have more confidence in him than any general in the West; no exceptions whatever. He by right was the hero of Shiloh but no laurels for him. He was robbed by the coward Buell. And now where military skill is required, Sherman is the man—that is, sufficient to say, I hope the writer of the history of this war will give him and his troops their just dues and he cannot fail to be the hero of the West.
The 55th [Illinois] is located on the banks of the Tennessee river about twelve miles from Larkensville on a beautiful bottom guarding a pontoon bridge having a pleasant time generally. There are some handsome women (not ladies) passing through our lines at this time. I was surprised to see the girls using tobacco. In fact, if you are desirous of spending a dollar for that obnoxious weed, come down and the head of the family will ask you for a chew The plug goes to he old lady, from thence to the children not over three summers.
The climate is healthy and valleys fertile but desolation meets the eye on either hand. Was has set its foot upon it and the fruits of the leaders are being fed, but the citizens pass along cheerful. In fact, they are Union to the core and have take up arms to defend the stars and stripes, determined to make the Rebs let their homes alone. This is the Unionism I desire to see. Would that Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee had come boldly up to the work. This war would of been over a year ago.
I was somewhat surprised the other morning at seeing six citizens with double barrel shotguns with three rebel soldiers in their midst. They marched their charge to headquarters and turned them over, got some tobacco, and went home rejoicing. We have true men in this county of Jackson. She has over sixteen hundred men in the service of the government with home guards such as I gave you one instant of.
I met with a misfortune a few days ago in the loss of my whole rig—blankets, coat, pants, and shirts, gold pen, in all, to the value of fifty dollars, but in fact it hurts twice the amount as I must have the same amount of articles and pay for them. As you are aware, we soldiers are an honest set of men. I am in tolerable good health at present but still the old complaint has a hold that the Doctor thinks that if my constitution is strong enough, I may wear it our. But I suffer tremendous something but hope to live to go to the land of he free and home of the brave (Illinois). Then I hope to retain my health again.
Messers. Augustines sends you their kindest regards but their sorrow is inexpressible at present having heard of the death of their mother. How my heart yearns for them but trust their loss is her eternal gain. William, J[acob] M. & Henry Augustine are exemplary young men. As a captain, J. M. has no superiors and Henry is a true man and Christian. J[ohn] B. Ridenour sends you his best wishes and hopes for your success in all things and sends his compliments to his acquaintances. I see in the journals that the Republican candidate for President will be honest Old Abe. I admire the choice and if nominated, he will be elected. Should the opposition run Gen. B. McClellan, he will be the worst beat man that ever run—especially if they let soldiers vote. I hope that you men in Illinois will select a good man for governor and then elect him. I am in hopes that I will be at home soon enough to vote for all the true patriots that are run for office but I am getting too lengthy with my foolishness and must close hoping this finds you and family enjoying the blessing of civil life.
I heard from your brothers John and Henry yesterday. They were well. Tell C. M. Stewart I have wrote four letters to him and no answer yet. Has he forgotten me or not. Please let me know. I remain yours truly, — D. O. Negley
P. S. Give my respects to all the boys and also to Mr. Parlin. Yours &c. — D. O. Negley