1863: William L. Johnson to Benjamin J. Johnson

These letters were written by William L. Johnson (1838-1912), the son of Irish emmigrant Benjamin John Johnson and Elizabeth Constance Foote of Belmont County, Ohio. William wrote the letter to his younger brother, Benjamin J. Johnson, Jr. (1840-1914) of Assumption, Christian county, Illinois.

William entered Co. G, 116th Illinois Infantry as a private on 6 September 1862. He served with that company until he was mustered out on 7 June 1865. William’s presence in Memphis at the time he wrote the first letter is not explained but he was likely there as a consequence of sickness rather than with his regiment before Vicksburg.

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Letter 1

Memphis, Tennessee
July 6, 1863

Dear Brother,

I received yours of the 28th on the 4th. The Fourth [of July] was rather dull. There was some firing done and two or three speeches. They had a considerable of a ball at Helena 75 miles below here on the 4th. There was about 900 prisoners arrived from there yesterday. ¹ There was about 400 negro soldiers killed, so I heard. There is no particulars yet of [the] battle but we will hear this evening.

Gen. Grant was to make a grand charge on Vicksburg on the 4th. I hope he may bring it this time.

I received a letter from Tommy dated the 23rd of June. He was well and getting strong and hearty. I was talking with a Texas Ranger—a prisoner that was brought to this hospital. He said he heard of Gen. Lane often—that he was with Price now. I heard that Price crossed the river between here and Cairo a few days ago. This city was threatened on the 4th. It was reported there was 15,000 Rebs going to pay a visit here. It has been so often threatened and I suppose they know better than to try. They keep hot shot on hand at Fort Pickens ready at any time. If they ever try to take this place, our men will burn it in a short time.

There was one of my company came up the river the other day wounded on the neck. He is here in Webster Hospital. He left below on the 26th. Captain [Thomas] White of Co. C arrived here and remained only a day or so. He was wounded in the face. Capt. [Alonzo B.] Davis is all the captain left with the regiment. I think if the war should last until my time [is] out, my regiment will be all gone the way it has been served the past year.

I could get to go to St. Louis this week if I should wish to do so but just [to] go there and come back, I should rather stay. If I thought the boat would stay there three or four days, I would like very much to go. There is a boat they are arranging for to take some sick and wounded—a common steamer. All the hospital boats are so busy they cannot take them North as fast as they should.

Ed wrote to me some time ago. He expected he would be sent to some hospital in his own state. If he should, perhaps he may go to Springfield.

The river is rising very fast. It came up 7 feet on Saturday.. The weather hot and showery. We have a rain almost every day.

I just saw a specimen of the South pass along the street—a drunk woman and a guard with her taking her to military prison. They have quite a number of women there, some very respectable looking ones. George Whaland is almost well. He is out in town every day. He says if he ever should come across Dan [illegible], he will kill him. Old [B. P.] Washburn is doing well. His wounds is almost dried up. Clark McGee is in some carpenter business such as [illegible] building and fixing railroads, [Prosper] Voney was telling some of the boys. Voney has been at Holly Springs all this winter, he said by so Clark.

Write soon. I send my best respects to the neighbors. Your ever true brother, — Wm. L. Johnson


¹ These prisoners were captured during the Battle of Helena fought on 4 July 1863. They were taken to the prison at Alton, Illinois.


Letter 2

Little River, Alabama
October 23rd 1864

Dear Sister,

It is with pleasure I take this opportunity of answering your kind letter of 30th of September which came to hand on 20th. We are all well and hope this may find you all the same although we have had some hard marching since we left East Point—almost day and night. I should give you some idea where we are if I had a map but we are here some 30 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Alabama and 30 miles from Rome. We was at one time [with]in 16 miles of Chattanooga but we have been traveling in every direction of the compass on this trip so it’s hard to keep run of our journey.

There is three rivers here in close connections and they have some Indian name and I cannot think of the names. We are [?]0 miles south of Belfont that near Larkenville so you can guess somewhere near where we are. There is but little chance here to write as I should have answered it sooner for it is only once in awhile there is any chance to send a mail and I write ever chance there is.

Barron Barrette has charge of the ambulance team now. I see him every day. He is fat and hearty as ever I saw him. Luy [Lewie?] is well and along with us. We left John Heimer and Clark Megea at Marietta in the convalescent camp but they was in reasonable health then but was not able to stand the tramp and carry their load. I think I mentioned about the 32 Illinois. There [were] 46 of them taken prisoner near Kennesaw Mountain in the 17th of September. They was out foraging. Aaron Adams was one of them, The rebel army is some 2 miles south of this place. They are on a waver which way to go. If they go south, we will move soon, and if they go north, we will stay here for several [ ]. We may move in ten minutes and we may stay some time yet. It is hard to tell. But it is little difference to me which of them is done. I shall try and be ready.

I advise Wade and Bob to go if they are drafted and if they cannot stand it, Uncle Sam has to take care of them, I thought Walt or Ben perhaps would want to take their places but a man that does his duty and them that is not able all gets the same pay and thanks and if there is anyone left at home it should be the stronger persons for there will be a great deal to be done in as large a place as there.

I shall close for this time. It is uncertain when there will be a mail go out. Give my best wishes to all the neighbors. Write soon. Yours truly, — Wm. L. Johnson

The weather clear and cool.

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