LETTER FROM AN OLD SOLDIER
(i.e. Solomon B. Smith of the 37th Regt. IL Vols. Source: The Stamford Mirror, November 17, 1885 page 4 columns 1&2)
Transcribed by Linda Robinson, May 26, 2004
Mendota, LaSalle Co., Ill., Nov. 1
Mr Mirror:---You have been waiting long and trustful to hear from me, and I will say very briefly, my Col., of the 39th Reg't Ill. Vols., is gathering materials for the history of this 37th Reg't.; 10 companies of 100 men each make a full Reg't. Col. Julius White, of Chicago, is historian, and each company has one man selected to write the history of his company. My son, Edward H. Smith of Toledo, Ohio is the company historian, and you well know the fact that Uncle Sol. B. Smith, of old Delaware county, New York, was your army correspondent for about three full years, while he was a musician in Company E., of this 37th Reg't Ill. Vols, and he was participating in many hard fought battles, from the great battle of Pea Ridge Arkansas---three days fighting, the combined forces of Ben. McCullough, General VanDorn and Sterling Price, they claiming 35 thousand men, while the Union army had only six thousand five hundred. The Union forces under Gen. Herren fought Sterling Price three days on retreat---Ben. McCullough came from Fayetteville, from the South; Gen. Van Doen from the North, and Price lead the Union forces between these ten regiments. Gen. Francis Siegel took command of the 37th Reg't; Gen. Osterhaut(?), Gen. Carr, and others, engaged in this deadly strife, came out of this Battle with their lives. Many of Company E. were killed and I helped to lay the boys in their shallow resting place, except one, Orville H. Powers. I helped to make a rude box from the shelves of an old store, on Sunday, March 9th, twenty-three years since. Cut the name of O.H. Powers, Lieut. Of the 37th Reg't, Ill. Vols, Company E. This was my first great battle. You, and us my old Delaware county friend had the history from me after this of many skirmishes and battles. The battle of Prairie Grove, our Reg't had only one man killed. Battle of Fayetteville we had only one man killed by one of our own shells. You have the dates of some of the battles which you published in your valuable Mirror, as I think you was a resident of Bloomville. From Prairie Grove fight at Fayetteville, Missouri, we drove Gen. Marmaduke out of the state at Chalk Bluff. Passing over the many skirmishes we had with bushwackers and other miserable rangers and rebels, we passed down the river to Vicksburgh. Our monitors were in the advance hunting up the masked batteries, torpedoes, &c. The White Cloud was our flag ship, Minnahaha, War Eagle, Essex, Pautucket, in all, nine transports. Could by referring to my journal, give you the names of them all. But one of the ships run the gauntlet with a ten inch cannon ball through her smoke stack. Gen. U.S. Grant was on board the White Cloud. We landed our forces on the west side and lay in the woods for a short time, and crossed over the river at Warrentown. The rebels burnt up their commissariat for we gave them no time to carry its valuable contents into the fort. I once knew how long we were in driving the enemy into their fort. Matters little about this. I know full well when we dug long trenches under one fort and carried kegs of powder and blew it up. I know full well when our noble battery boys cut off a good share of one of their cannon with a steel pointed ball and the rebels rolled up a bale of cotton to plug the hole. I remember well when our noble boys made a set of cannon wheels, sawed off from a burr oak log and we transported a cannon on this uncouth looking carriage and silenced the old Whistling Jack, by sending a solid ball into its muzzle, as they were on the point of sending a shell at us, as I saw the cannon after the surrender of Vicksburgh. I know full well that I have seen as many as five dead mules, which I would guess that hyenas or other rebels had eaten a good share of their carcasses. I have seen these facts without any contradiction, though I never cared to eat mules myself.
Step backward to Pea Ridge for a moment, to see how we lived for a few days. First our hard tack was gone; we had to heat them very hot, so the worms could crawl out of the fork holes, the small ones, while those that could not escape, the larger ones, we cooked, and thus had more and better steak than some of our grand boarding houses may furnish to their guests. Now these are gone and we draw from the commissary (that is, stole from the horses) one ear of corn for two men. Well I wished to be generous to my comrade, and gave him the butt end, which had the most corn. This we roasted in the fire, then put it in our cups, and like the German's lager beer, drank it without any murmur or complaint. Why so?-be glad to get this. Now, my old friend Champ, when you hear the soldier slandered, matters not his color, church, or sex, whether he be a Democrat or any other crat, pray don't get offended and strike him. No, No! Only let him go three years in the army and fare as your humble servant did, and he will be quite a respected citizen.
I had flattered myself with the pleasing thought that I could come to old Delaware county on a visit to my old friends, especially S.B. Champion; but providence seemingly directs my steps to the distant West, perhaps Omaha, Council Buffs and a daughter who lives about 25 miles from Council Bluffs. Should it be even thus ordered by an overruling Providence, and my health sufficient good to wield my elastic pen, you will receive a line from me. Were I with you only a few days, would like to even see the short extracts which you published when I was in the army. I could banish from my mind, all enmity to my fellow soldiers or citizens who took up arms and fought against the best government the sun e'er shone on---bury the hatchet, handle and all. But for me to forget the hardships of three and over three long years, is another matter. You ask me to forget the wrongs done to our soldiers in prison dens-no, no! Please call that fellow who says soldiers ought to be compensated and honored by a free people, a good citizen.
Let your boys, who can honorably fill your place, ever remember what it has cost to save the Union. I gave two boys and myself, over nine years hard service to save the Union. One of them returned after the third year of hard toil, broken down in health, and his bones are moldering with the dust at Saratoga, New York, whether or not a monument stone or slab denote the place where he quietly rests, is to me of very small moment. We all pass away, but let us teach those who fill our places, what it cost to save the Union. You are a lover of history and know full well, the history of border wars, written years since by Jephtha Simms. I then lived in old Schoharie, New York, and he was with me several days and unknown to my relatives, I gave him a brief history of the Mohawk and Sir John and William Johnson's fiendish schemes and treachery to the Whites along the borders of New York state. My grandfather, when I was a lad of no more than sixteen years, gave this history to me and I penned it for publication.
I received a book and invitation, yesterday, from Col. E? B. Messer of Chicago, giving me the address of all soldiers of our Reg't 37th Ill. Vet. Vols., and the association, with the address, cordially invites me to attend the reunion of the 39th Reg't Ill. Vols., which will be their 23rd re-union from the 6 March, at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, on the 7th and 8th of December, 1885, the anniversary of the battle of Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Should I not leave for the contemplated visit to Council Bluffs, would most respectfully attend this re-union. I was at Chicago four days in September, to meet my comrades, and shook the hands of many of our boys, whom I had not seen since I left them as a brother soldier. Gen. John C. Black, our present Commissioner of Pensions, is President of this honorable association. He was Col. of the 37th Reg't at one time. Julius White of Chicago, was the Col. when I left Mendota for the army, mustered into service at Camp Webb, Chicago, where I started for the service of my country.
Three long years without a furlough. Bid Mendota a long farewell, but like the noble Spartan band, returned with my gun, (fife) untarnished, the same one I took from Mendota, and believe the only one our 37th Reg't brought back. With it I have a Mississippi rifle I captured at Pea Ridge Arkansas, in the fight. I have my old Haversack blanket, tent, canteen, little salt and coffee, a rebel cartridge box, and a few rounds of ammunition. The same I captured at the fight. English powder in the cartridge, and I presume, Galena, Illinois lead. Our old flag was never surrendered. My son has one of the original stars for a keepsake. When we captured Elk Horn tavern, we sent the elk horn to Governor Richard Yates of Illinois. Should I visit Springfield, Illinois, I could see some of the old flags. Gen. Grant had the arsenal removed from St. Louis to Rock Island, Illinois and when you come to see me in Mendota, would like to honor you with a visit to Rock Island, where you can see acres of guns and munitions of war and many of these guns were captured by our "Brave boys in Blue" and you will see them in all conceivable shapes, like our soldiers, were badly scarred. As I have written conclusion, I hope to have the good politeness to stop. But, like Gen. Taylor in the Mexican war, he ordered retreat, and the officers mistook the order and renewed the battle and gave the enemy great slaughter. But as I have been so long silent, please pardon me. And give me another hearing. Your esteemed friend.