This letter was written in August 1864 by 22 year-old Thomas N. Williams who enlisted two years earlier in the Chicago Board of Trade Battery. Thomas was a native of Eastern Pennsylvania but he enlisted at Chicago on 1 August 1862 and was mustered in 31 July 1862 to serve three years. According to his enlistment record, Thomas stood 5 feet 11 inches, had brown hair and gray eyes, and worked as a clerk. He mustered out of the Battery on 30 June 1865.
Thomas was most likely the son of Randal and Mary A. Williams of Lackawaxen, Pike county, Pennsylvania. I could not confirm his presence in Chicago before or after the war from City Directories but I also can’t be certain of his middle initial. In Battery records he is identified as Thomas N. William but the “N” looks like it could be an “H” to me. Randal and Mary Williams also had a son named Franklin (b. 1839) and he may have been the “Frank” mentioned by Thomas in the fourth paragraph.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent. The header image shows the Chicago Board of Trade Battery in the field.]
Chicago Board of Trade Battery
In Field 6 miles North of Atlanta
August 3rd 1864
Your appreciated favor of July 18th came to hand in due time and I hasten to reply. Was glad to hear that you were all well and also to get a letter from the Lackawaxen. I have only a few moments to write. Therefore you will please excuse brevity.
The news from this department are not at all interesting now as everything has been quiet for the past two days—although while I write there is a terrific cannonading in the center of our lines—and I judge that Sherman has opened on Atlanta again with his siege guns still banging away at Atlanta which we hope to have possession of ere many days as it is only a question of time.
This campaign has lasted now over 3 months and the soldiers are becoming completely sick of the continual whiz! buzz! of the Minié balls—as also the of continually sleeping on their arms in line of battle.
With yours came a letter from Frank. He is well and still at Memphis, Tennessee. His time is out in about 20 days. Consequently he feels highly elated. Who couldn’t? I have about 11 months yet and would be better pleased were it only days instead of month.
The Boys of the Battery all feel pretty good and are in excellent health. We lost 8 men the other day (wounded) at Decatur. The enemy charged our battery but did not succeed in getting us. The same day they charged our whole line but were repulsed with very heavy loss all along the entire line! ¹ They as well as we are getting heartily sick of the war and are willing to give up but the private soldier has but little notice among the big bugs of Dixie and vice versa.
I hope George will write me as I should be very happy to hear from him. That was a terrible collision of cars that you enclosed to me. ² So you saw it did you? It must have been horrible. But in the army we get used to such sights. With kind regards to all, I remain respectfully &c., — Thomas N. Williams
Chicago Board of Trade Battery
2nd Cav. Div., Army of Cumberland via Nashville
Write soon again.
¹ “Though supported by a small cavalry detachment and reinforced late, the Union defense of Decatur in the main consisted of only a single infantry brigade (63rd Ohio, 25th Wisconsin, 35th New Jersey, the Chicago Board of Trade Battery, and a section of Michigan guns) commanded by Colonel John W. Sprague [Second Brigade, Fourth Division, Sixteenth Corps]. The attacking force consisted of a large part of Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry, this mounted host significantly outnumbering Sprague’s infantry in the fight. The rich prize at Decatur was the estimated 1,600 wagons composing the entirety of the Army of the Tennessee’s ordnance and supply trains.” [Civil War Books and Authors]
² This was undoubtedly a reference to the collision of train cars on the Erie Railroad that occurred on 15 July 1864. In one train were 835 rebel prisoners being transferred to the Prison at Elmira, New York, accompanied by 125 Union guards, traveling west on the single track. Midway between Shohola and Lackawaxen they unexpectedly encountered a coal train heading east. The collision resulted in 64 passengers killed and 120 wounded. Among the dead were twenty-five rebel soldiers and 14 Union guards, mangled beyond recognition. “Viewed by moonlight, and with lantern, it was a ghastly and horrible sight,” according to a correspondent on the scene of the New York Times. [“Terrible Collision on the Erie Railroad Dreadful Loss of Life,” The Baltimore Sun, 19 July 1864] See also the Great Shohola Train Wreck and Great Shohola Train Wreck and Franklin Cauble and the Great Shohola, Pennsylvania, Prison Train wreck, July 15, 1864.