This letter was written by 2d Lt. John Tilbe (1836-1864) of Chillicothe, Peoria county, Illinois who served in Co. M, 11th Illinois Cavalry. John mustered into Company M as a sergeant on 20 December 1861 and was promoted to 2d Lieutenant on 25 April 1863. Regimental records indicate that he drowned in the Mississippi River. Military death records state that he “drowned visiting pickets at night” at Clear Creek, Mississippi on 1 July 1864. The Clear Creek encampment was approximately ten miles east of Vicksburg at a location that was also known as Hebron Plantation. 2Lt. Tilbe is buried at the National Cemetery in Vicksburg, grave no. 4300 in Section O.
The 11th Illinois Cavalry’s first experience under fire was at Shiloh on 6 April 1862 where they lost several men in killed and wounded. They then operated in Tennessee and Northern Mississippi, participating in the fight at Bolivar, Tennessee, and in the 3 days’ fight at Corinth and Iuka in October 1862. During the winter of 1862-63, they were in Jackson, Tennessee and met Forrest at Lexington on 18 December. Throughout the winter they guarded the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and had several skirmishes. They remained in the vicinity of Vicksburg from which place they journeyed out on expeditions during the spring and summer of 1864 to destroy railroads and bridges north of Jackson, Mississippi.
Tilbe was the son of John Tilbe, Sr. (1799-1873) and Mary Ann Smith (1799-1881). His siblings, all of whom are mentioned in this letter, included Harriet Tilbe (1830-1917), Catherine (“Kate”) Jane Tilbe (1832-1910), Rufus Tilbe (1840-1920), and Julia Mae Tilbe (1843-1912).
Camp Hebron, Rear of Vicksburg
November 7th 1863
Your letter of the 18th was duly received — was very glad to hear from you — that you was all well and hoping that these few lines may find you still enjoying the same blessing. I had begun to think that you had forgotten to write me as I take a letter so long to get here.
We are now in camp in a cornfield about 8 miles east of Vicksburg and have received orders for to build winter tents. I have built me a chimney of mud and sticks and it makes a very good chimney of the kind. I do not think we will stay long in this place for of late, as sure as we fix up, we are sure to move. We have moved seven times since we have been down here. We now have a very good camping ground and good water and a plenty to eat and not much to do but stand picket and scout towards Big Black River. We sometimes run across a few of the Reds, but they seldom stand and fight so you see that we have but [little] fighting to do.
This regiment is in very bad condition as one half of the boys have no horses and they are very hard to get down here as they have taken all that the Reds did not take before we came.
You want to know how much longer I had to serve before my time was up. We have fifteen months longer before our time expires and I think we will half to serve our time out — if we live that long of time. You said in your letter that you could not see as this war was a going to end until all of the young men are killed off. You must not despair as we are doing well. You must consider that this is one of the Big Times that the Book speaks of when brother shall rise up against brother and kill one another.
I am very glad to hear that [brother] Rufus is getting along so well and hope that he will soon be able to come home. For my part, I don’t think of coming home until my time is up — that is, if I have my health and strength. God grant that I may is my prayers. I would like very well to be at home to break that [hunting] dog of Rufus’s in, but I am hunting different kind of game nowadays. Don’t trouble my head about such kind of game as quails a such. You must tell Charles Prudenshaw that he must save some of them for me. Give him my best regards and tell him that I can take a Reb on the wing as well as woodcocks and quails.
Will William Ingersoll stand the draft or not? How many of the ones that was drafted go to the field? Will half of them go? Don’t they play off as not sound? How is it? Do they stand up to the rack or not? For my part, I think they had all ought to stand up to the rack and see the thing out. How is John Bouton getting along, if he is alive? Give my love to him and Silas Olmsted. Who is working for a D. M. Marvin now? How does George Nash get a long? Give him my love and tell him that I would like to hear from him. In fact, you may give my [re]spects to all of the boys that may inquire after me and some of the gals too (you know, ha).
There is but very little news of importance just at the present so I will not give you a great deal of information as you hear all of the news as soon as or before I do. Well, we have been having it rather wet for a few days but has now cleared off very pleasant and warm — too warm for to be healthy. Most of the boys are well and hearty and feel as if they would like to have this thing end as soon as possible. Give my love to Clark Nash and tell him that I am all right on the goose. If you see Sol Grey, just give him my best respects and tell him that I am all right and that Lew Adams is doing first rate as his wife has got a fine boy by all accounts. Perry is well and hearty and looking fine. Tell mother that I wish that I could come home on Thanksgiving day to have some of the turkey. Well, you need not look for me until you see me a coming and then you will not know me at the first sight as I have changed very much.
I have received no pay from government since Feb 28th on account of my Roll being wrong. I think they are all right this time and will get some the next payday.
Well, I will have two bring my letter to a close by bidding you good day. Give my love to Kate and Agnes and Carie — also Harriet and Harvey and Julia and Sam and all of the rest of the folks, and believe me your ever dutiful son, — John Tilbe
Company M, 11th Illinois Cavalry