This letter was written by John F. Kauffman (1843-1869), the son of Daniel B. Kauffman (1810-1890) and Linda K. Croninger (1818-1913) of Mifflin, Ashland county, Ohio. John enlisted as a private at the age of 18 in Co. K, 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) in September 1862. On 24 September 1864, while the regiment was stationed in Decatur, Alabama, John was ordered with 400 others from his regiment to join an expedition sent to relieve the Union garrison at Ft. Henderson in Athens, Alabama, that was under attack by rebel cavalry under CSA Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. While the relief detachment was fighting to gain the fort, it was suddenly and unexpectedly surrendered by its commander. Thereafter, the relief column was attacked by Forrest’s troops and Pvt. Kauffman was captured and taken to the prison at Cahaba, Alabama.
From John’s letter, written just before his exchange, we learn that he was a very religious man. “I cast all my cares upon Him for He careth for me,” he wrote his mother. Indeed, God not only spared John while imprisoned, He spared him from death while being transported North on board the ill-fated Sultana as she exploded and sunk in the Mississippi River on 27 April 1865. Though John survived both these ordeals, he died at the age of 25—mostly likely from broken health.
This letter was penned from Camp Fisk—a camp for paroled prisoners that was established at Four Mile Bridge near Vicksburg. The camp housed prisoners from both sides while the details of their exchange were negotiated. Guards were provided by both sides; food and supplies were provided by the Union. The neutral territory was between Four Mile Bridge and Big Black Bridge and lay on both sides of the railroad between the two. Paroled prisoners were sent to Camp Fisk from Cahaba as well as Andersonville and Macon. The camp operated into April 1865 with some 4,700 prisoners arriving there on April 14th.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.]
Hospital near Camp Fisk, Vicksburg, Miss.
April 17th 1865
You will see by the commencing of this letter that I am in the hospitals but for your consolation I am happy to inform you that I am not very bad and am able to take care of myself. I have the diarrhea which has run me down and made me rather poor, but I feel better here already from the medicine and diet which I receive.
I came here on the 15th and feel more like a man today than any day since we crossed Big Black, I believe. You know my old failing—that of not writing more than once in two or three—but so it has been this time again. While I was in camp I never felt worth more than two or three cents and of course I would put it off.
Since I last wrote to you Joseph Bechtel died. ¹ He died at 3 o’clock in the 11th. John Hartman, one of my messmates, was to see him in the forenoon and when he returned, he said he did not believe that he would live over night and that Joe wanted me to come and see him. So I “run the blockade” that evening and when I got there he was dead, so they kept me over night and let me see his corpse in the morning. He looked very, very poor. I hardly could recognize him.
One of the Christian Commission agents told me he had written for him a letter and felt sure that his prospects for a better world were very bright. May God grant it. It was so hard to get a pass here that it was impossible for me to get up to town to see on proper authority. The only way a man could get to town almost (there being only 20 passes given for the whole 4,000 in a day) was to jump on the cars when it was about to start and run the risk of being locked up. This is the way I had to do but do it I would if I could comfort Joe the least bit.
There are a lot of sick going away from here tomorrow to take a hospital boat. I don’t know but what I might be one of the lucky ones myself. At least I hope so. They are making great preparations to send all the prisoners away soon. There may be some go tomorrow and as fast as they can they will send the rest through.
Poor me! I have not received a letter yet from home. But I shall not trouble myself about it now but wait a few days yet and I will be in Ohio again someplace and perhaps home if it is the will of my Heavenly Father. I cast all my cares upon Him for He careth for me. I commit all my ways unto Him, and trust in Him, and He brings it to pass. He overrules all things for good to those that love him and these promises are worthy to be trusted seeing [that] while we were yet in our sins, Christ died for us. Then how precious those promises ought to be to me?
I don’t pine away any lonely hours here for I have plenty of books and my taste for reading is good at present and time passes happily. The Surgeon has just taken my name now to be ready to take the cars tomorrow morning and we will be on the boat by about 11 o’clock A. M. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable mercy.
But I must close my letter now and by the time you get it, I may be at Cincinnati or some other northern city. I feel as if I was about to start for a “land that flows with milk and honey.”
May God’s blessings attend you all. — John F. Kauffman
¹ Joseph B. Bechtel also served in Co. K, 102nd OVI. He was captured with John on 24 September 1864 at Athens, Alabama, and died on 11 April 1865 at McPherson General Hospital in Vicksburg, Mississippi.