These letters were written by William C. Johnson (1840-1864), the son of Charles M. Johnson (1814-1886) and Melvina Peed (1821-1902) of Indiana. Prior to the war, William moved to Menard County, Illinois, where he enlisted on 18 September 1862 in Co. K, 114th Illinois Infantry. Many of the members of the 114th Illinois were particularly outspoken against Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Capt. William Gibson of the 114th Ilinois was even dismissed from the service after publicly disparaging Abraham Lincoln and writing, “I hope to sink in hell if I ever draw my sword to the fight for the negros.”
A year before enlisting, William was married to Samantha DeWitt (1833-1918) in Petersburg, Menard County, Illinois. They had one child, Sylvester A. Johnson (1862-1939).
Family legend has it that William was bitten by a mad dog as he was returning home from the Civil War and died in Mason Co. Illinois on 29 November 1864. Can’t vouch for that story, however, as William’s three years service would not have ended until 1865. More than likely, William was ill and returned home on furlough or was discharged prematurely for ill health.
After William’s death, Samantha remarried Daniel Keith Merritt (1810-1874) in 1865; and after his death she married John Huffman (1823-1903).
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
January the 18th 63
I sit down to write a few lines to let you know that I am in good health at this time and I hope when you get this letter, it will find you and Sylvester well.
Well Samantha, the snow is 18 inches deep here at this time. We had a nice winter here in Tennessee. I did not know that it might snow here so much and it is very cold here at this time but I think that the weather would get warmer here in a few days. If it don’t, we are in a bad fix here sure. We have got our tents again. We was without any tents for two months, We laid outdoors all that time in the rain and cold. We had nothing to cover with neither. We made our bed in a tin cup and backed it on a pens rat and we made our coffee in our tin while our bred was baking and we fried our meat on a sharp [ ] before the fire. We live well here in Dixie. I don’t recon that you [ ] that lives in the North would not like to love that way if you could help it but we could [ ] ourselves now. But I will help myself sometimes.
Samantha, I saw Mister Rowe today. He told me that he sent a letter from Fred Wilson and he said that Richard Rumels had gone home again. I was glad to hear that he had got back again but I thought that he was going to stay with me till I got home. But he did not stay with me as he did promise to. I think that he had better stay at home after this for we don’t have any use for him here. We want good men here to fight for his country which he is living in at present. Samantha, write and tell me all about him and Thomas Spence and how they got home and what they told [you] when they got at home. I recon that they had a good talk to tell there.
Fox Longer [?] shot himself the other night [while on] picket guard. He shot one of his fingers off. He has got his discharge and he is going to start home in the morning, Lieutenant [Lucian] Terhune shot himself the other morning with his pistol. He shot himself through his foot. I saw the Col. taken out. The rest of the boys is well and [in] good spirits yet.
G. W. Sullivan is well. The negro question is getting too great for me and him. I did not enlist to fight to free the black scamps nor I han’t a going to neither but I dare not to say what I want to. But I think a great deal about coming home in some time. But I must keep this still for awhile. I will tell you more about it in the spring.
Samantha, I hain’t got any letter this week. The last letter I got from you was last Sunday and then I got 8 letters. Two from G. W. Johnson and 3 from you and one from Aaron and one from Jerry Castel and one from James Johnson and that made 8 letters in one day. The last letter that I got from you was dated the 9 1862. Them was the last I got from you. I want to hear from you again. I am uneasy about home. I want to get a letter from you so bad that I don’t know what to do.
Well Samantha, I just got done eating my dinner. I have got to [ ] a good [ ] now. I have to cook or starve. If I had you and Sylvester with me here I would be satisfied. I haven’t see as good looking a woman as you are since I left you. If you want to see me as bad as I want to see you, I don’t know how you can’t sleep for for I don’t lay down to sleep at night but you are in my mind for 3 months. I think all of the time about you and Sylvester. Samantha, I did love you and him and I hope that I will get to see you and him again. If I don’t on earth, I will see you and him in heaven. I will meet you in heaven if I don’t see you again here on earth. By the grace of God, I will meet you all in heaven at last.
Samantha, remember that you have a friend that it not fit to die yet but I won’t give up till I am fit to meet you and Sylvester in heaven. I want you to remember me in your prayers that I may meet you in heaven at last. I want you to raise that sweet baby of mine to love God while he is young for I hain’t there or I would. Samantha, treat him right for he needs it if I don’t get home. Tell him his father fights for his country.
— William C. Johnson
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp on Bear Creek, Mississippi
July the 31, 1863
Again with the greatest of pleasure that I have the time to sit down to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope when this comes to hand, it will find you all well.
Well, my dear, we have gone into camp once more and I thought I would write you a letter. We have been marching for three months every day and now I think that we will rest till fall and some of the boys are going home on furlough and I can send this with them. I wanted to come home myself but I could not come this time. But the Captain told me that I should come home the next time. I can’t tell when that will be but I think I will come sometime next month. The furloughs are given for 20 days and I know I can start in 20 days from now. You may look for me home the last of August, I think. So I shan’t write much now for I can tell better than I can write it.
Well, Samantha, I want you to have a nice dinner for me when I get home. Put the little pot in the big one and have something fresh to eat for I have been living hard since I left you and that hain’t all neither. I can tell you all about it when I get there and I will do it too. You can tell Aaron that I am coming home soon and I wil come and see him then. I may start in 10 days, I can’t tell certain till General Sherman comes back from Vicksburg. Then I can tell all about it.
I will close my letter for this time. Rest easy till I get home. So goodbye. I will come as soon as I can. You meant to answer this letter for I will be at home before I can get the answer from you. I will send this by James Bracken. My dear, rest easy till I can get home. So no more at this time but remember your husband till death. Goodbye till I get home.
— William C. Johnson
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Camp near Black River, Mississippi
August 11, 1863
Again I take the time to try to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and I hope when these few lines come to hand, they will find you and Sylvester enjoying the best of health. Well, my dear, it is very warm here now. The health of the boys is good.
Samantha, I got a letter to some days ago and then I thought I would get to come home to see you sometime this fall but the way things has turned out, I have got discouraged and give up the notion of trying anymore. I have tried every way I knowed how and I have give it up for a bad job.
Samantha, if I don’t get to come home soon, I will send you some money by the boys that come home next. I know that I can’t come till very late this fall and it is no use to keep money here and I will send some home to you for you have more need of it than I have. But I want you to keep it for yourself for no-one need it as bad as you for you don’t know what may turn up yet and you must look ahead. Be saving of it for my dear, this war hain’t over yet and before it is over, you will need it.
They are talking of having war with France and England and if that be so, you must be saving of your money. Don’t pay anyone money for me again for you need it worse than anyone else.
Now Samantha, don’t think I want you to [deprive] yourself and child for I want you to get everything that you want and need. If you hear anything, don’t you pay it on my debts. I will pay them myself when I come home. Samantha, I will come home this fall if I can. Samantha, if you want a cow, you can get another this fall but you must look a bout and see if you can get feed for them this winter and if you can’t get feed terrible cheap, you had better not buy anymore. Then you won’t take good care of your stock. Don’t let them starve nor suffer for feed. You had better not keep too much thing to feed.
Well, I must close my letter. Give my love to your father and mother and all the rest of the folks. So no more at this time but write soon. Remember your dear husband till death.
— William C. Johnson
Remember me when this you see. Remember that you have a dear husband that is far, far away — many miles between us at the present time. Goodbye my dear wife and child. Take good care of your sweet self. Write soon. — Wm. C. Johnson
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp near Vicksburg, Mississippi
November 2, 1863
Once more I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am as well as common and I hope when these few lines come to you they may find you and Sylvester in the best of health. Samantha, night before last I had a very hard attack of the cholera morbus and it come in of killing me. It was the hardest one I ever had in my life. You can’t tell how much I suffer[ed]. I could hardly walk yesterday at all. I believe them ___s will kill me yet. O how I long to have you here to wait on me. When I was sick the other night, Samantha, I thought awhile that my time was near at hand. But the good Lord took the hard cramps from me; then I got better. Then I thank[ed] the Lord for saving my life. Samantha, I feel a great deal better than I did yesterday. I think I will get well again.
Samantha, I received a letter from you last night. It was dated the 19 of October. I was glad to hear from you. It was wrote in 10 [days] after them other letters was. That is the way I like to get letters — a batch every 10 days — and then I can rest easy. You said that you could not get corn for 10 dollars per acre. You would have to pay more than that. I am sorry that you have to pay more than that. I wrote some time ago for you to get corn right away for I knew that corn would rise. Now Samantha, if you haven’t got any yet, get it as soon as you can. Don’t put it off till you can’t buy any. Get it at any price for corn is going to be high.
You wanted to know what I thought about the war now. I can tell you very well it is a hard place here but I don’t think it will last much longer. And for putting Lincoln in for 4 years more, they can’t do that — not by a vote. If he has an election, he won’t gather votes in the army and ask for the negro votes. That is not so at all.
Samantha, I have drawn two months more pay and I will send you 10 dollars in this letter and I will send some more in the next letter. I am afraid to send any more at a time. Well, I believe I will close my letter. Give my love to your father and mother and the girls and take some yourself. Tell Sarah that I wrote her a letter some time ago and she hasn’t answered it yet. Tell her to answer it right soon as this comes to hand. No more at this time. I still remain your husband till death.
— William C. Johnson
Samantha, excuse my bad hand writing for I don’t feel well this morning. I don’t know what is the matter with me. I don’t know anything about Spring to. You will have a hard letter to read. I don’t know whether you can read it or not but do your best and maybe you can read it after studying awhile.
In this letter, William C. Johnson describes the fighting of the 114th Illinois in the disastrous Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads (or Tishamingo Creek) near Guntown, Mississippi, on 10 June 1864. He tells his wife of his narrow escape in being captured by the Confederates.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
June the 16th 1864
Once more I am permitted to write you a few lines to let you know that I am tolerably well at the present time [and] hoping these few lines may find you in the best of health. Samantha, it has been some time since I saw a letter from you. You don’t know how glad I would like to hear from you. I hain’t had a letter from you for a half a month and that is a long time for me to not hear from you.
Well, Samantha, we [ ] them off of a cat [?] down here in the State of Mississippi and on Friday of 10 and 11 says of June, we fought the rebels. We left on the battlefield 16 boys and a many of them. We left some of the best men that we had in the regiment or company. I will send the names of the boys to you, We lost out of the regiment 215 men. We lost more than half of our men in that fight. We was whipped very bad. we went out with our 22 pieces of cannon and we lost all of that. We lost between two and three hundred wagons loaded with provisions and ammunition. We lost all of that. We lost everything that we had. We left our tents that they had the wounded in them. We had one of our boys in it and they left it in the middle of the road.
Samantha, that was a hard fight. I came mighty near being taken with the rebels. They told me to halt and surrender but I ran on as fast as I could for my life. They were within two rods [10 yards] of me when they told me to stop. They shot at me but they did not hit me but come close to me. One of the balls went through my hat but I never halted for that for I knew that they would kill me when they took me and I thought I would go as long as I could and I made my escape by the hardest. We came back in one day and 2 nights and we was 2 hundred 25 miles from here. We never slept a wink nor ate a bite until we got here at this place and that was from Thursday night till Monday morning so that [ ] the way that we done well.
We hain’t drawed any money yet but we will in a few days longer, I hope, and then I will send it to you all I have to spare. So I will close my letter. Write soon to me and often. Tell all of the folks to write to me. So no more at this time. I still remain your true husband till death. Farewell Samantha, my dear wife.
— Wm. C. Johnson
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
September the 10th 1864
Duvall’s Bluff, Arkansas
Once more O am permitted to write a few lines to let you know that I am well at this time & I hope [when] these few lines come to hand they may find you well and hearty.
Well, Samantha, it has been some time since I have had a chance to write to you. I wrote a letter to you when we was at Memphis. I wanted to write more but I had no time to write. We was only 2 days there till we had to leave and come way down here. I don’t know whether they will get through or not but I will try it anyhow, let it go or not.
Samantha, I han’t much to write at the present. They say that there is a big squad of rebels here but I don’t see how it is. I hope that we won’t have any fight with them for I am tired of fighting.
Samantha, I don’t want you to think hard of me for not writing to you more often than I have for I have not had the chance to write much lately for we have been on the [move] about all the time. You must take it easy for I will take care of myself and I don’t want you to be uneasy about me. I can’t write as often as I want to. I think there are several letters at Memphis for me. I don’t know when we will get back but I hope soon for I am tired of this marching.
Samantha, we hain’t drawed any money for a long time and some says that we will draw our money here. And if we draw here, I won’t draw any money here for I hain’t any chance to send it away and I don’t want so much money with me for 7 months money is right smart money for me to carry here. I would draw it if I had a chance to send it home. It is more than I want to carry here.
Well, I will close my letter by hoping to hear from you soon. No more at the present time. Write soon. I still remain yours until death.
— Wm. C. Johnson
to his dear sweet wife Samantha Johnson. You won’t forget me Samantha….