These letters were written by Dr. James Philander Walker (1826-1892), the son of Joseph Culton Walker (1786-1841) and Lucretia Fletcher (1790-1851). Joseph was born in Adair county, Kentucky, on 6 April 1826. His father removed to Illinois and settled on a farm in Sangamon (now Logan) county in 1830. Seven years later found the Walker family at Irish Grove, in Menard county, where his father died in 1841, leaving a crippled wife and younger son to the care of James P. He took his mother to his mother’s father in Kentucky, where he remained for three years, working on a farm to get money to return to Illinois. He was fortunate in that his father was an educated man, as all his schooling was obtained from his father before his death. On his return to Illinois in 1844 he began the study of medicine and by working on the farm and teaching school he earned the money which enabled him to prosecute his studies.
When the war with Mexico broke out he enlisted in Company F, Fourth regiment, Illinois infantry, commanded by Colonel Edward D. Baker, was a messmate of Colonel R. S. Moore and participated in the battle of Cerro Grande and the siege of Vera Cruz. After the war he resumed the study of medicine and graduated from Rush Medical College in 1850.
In 1857 he located at Mason City and was practicing his profession when the Civil War began. Under the first call for troops in 1861 he recruited a company and entered the service as captain of Company K, Seventeenth regiment, Illinois infantry. He participated in the battles of Fredericktown, Fort Donelson and Shiloh. After the battle of Shiloh he resigned, returned home, helped to raise the Eighty-fifth, and at the organization of the regiment he was commissioned surgeon. He was promoted to be lieutenant colonel on June 14, 1863, and was dismissed from the service on October 6, 1863.
Just prior to the battle of Chickamauga he was arrested for permitting his hungry men to forage, that being at that period of the war about the worst thing an officer could be accused of. Unfortunately for Colonel Walker he did not violate his order of arrest when the battle came on. If he had no doubt he would have escaped punishment. But his remaining under arrest afforded an opportunity for those whom his kindness to his men had offended, and he was summarily dismissed without a hearing.
He returned to his former home and resumed the practice of medicine, which he continued to his death, which occurred on January 14, 1892. He was buried by his comrades of the Grand Army of the Republic, a special train carrying the post from Havana to Mason City to attend his funeral.
James wrote these letters to his cousin, James Alexander Walker (1833-1911), the son of William Hammer Walker (1797-1859) and Ann Harris (1807-1844). James A. Walker was also a physician and practiced in the vicinity of Mason City, Mason county, Illinois during the Civil War. He later moved to Santa Clara, California.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp [85th Illinois] near Louisville, Kentucky
September 18th 1862
Dr. Jas. A. Walker
I had the pleasure yesterday of receiving a short letter from you bearing the disappointment of your failure. We all expected that you would bring the news yourself and I need your presence very much. I am sorry to learn that A____ is getting along o poorly but glad to hear that she is better. I am very sorry to hear is sister Eliza’s sickness. Hope she is better. Tell her that she must cheer up, get well, and send you off in a hurry or I’ll draw a long black mark aainst her and consider her some “secesh.”
You had better not wait for your examination but come at once unless you know just what time it can take place.
I want you to give me a mortgage on all those lots and lands that have been deeded to you for a sum sufficient to save them. In case of any accident, you know that your marriage has complicated those matters. Just give the paper to [your brother] Stuart.
I have nothing to write. We have plenty of rumors but no news. The enemy is threatening. Our regiment has gone this morning to work on the entrenchments.
Write soon. Give my love to my wife and sisters Mary & Eliza.
Yours &c. — Jas. P. Walker
P.S. I will write to Ann tonight. — J. P. W.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp 7 miles north of Bardstown, Kentucky
October 5th 
Dr. Jas. A. Walker
I take the few moments while the troops are getting ready for the march to send you a line. I received yours & Maggie’s letter since I left the camp to the city. I left that camp at 10 P.M. on the 3rd inst. Have not been well until last night. I feel pretty well this morning.
We formed battle array all day yesterday and let the Secesh run away from us. Maybe we will catch them & maybe not. I think that yesterday morning was a better time though we will soon see again.
I want you to say whether you intend to come or not. There is great blame being attached to me for your not joining us. The order that you speak of cannot apply to the regiment organized under the call but may to new ones. We have not heard of any such order here & I think that it is only a ruse to get you to stay. The health of the men with us is very good.
Give my love to Ann & the children, Eliza & Mary. Goodbye Jim. Write at once.
— J. P. Walker
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
April 14th 1863
Jas. A. Walker
I write you a few lines to inform you that I am well as usual though I have been under the weather ever since I came out here last Wednesday. I have been troubled with flux pretty bad but have just few symptoms of it now.
I expect to send some cash home soon. I could get my pay anytime now if I were at Nashville. I owe a note to the Bank of Peoria, Illinois, endorsed by Stra_____ & secured by my lean on Ritchy’s house. I want you to go to Peoria as soon as the money arrives and see if you can lift the note. It is over due long ago. If it cannot be done, find out what can be done in the premises & let me know at once — note & interest $100. I did hope all the time what I would get home this spring but I have about given the idea up. I will send the money by express to Lincoln. I may be in town in a day or two. Will send the money as soon as I get there if nothing happens.
We have had three rains since we came to this place. It is now raining 2 P.M. & has been since 10 A.M. There has been a sharp look out for a battle here everyday since we came here. One battle at Franklin 9 miles further out and very heavy firing in that vicinity again for two hours this morning. All quiet now. Have not heard anything yet.
Tell Banes & Hart that now is the time to get an office in the regiment as the Major has resigned. I think one of them might get the office.
I am boarding at a house just out of camp paying $1.30 per day.
This is the place where [Lt.-] Col. [Edward] Bloodgood surrendered. His trunk & several other things I find here.
We have parts of eight regiments here, 4 pieces of artillery, & twelve companies of cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. J. D. Morgan of Quincy, Illinois. Gen’l Morgan is the only real general that we have ever had over us at any time since we have been out.
The train will soon be in so I must close. Tender my regards to all my friends and my love to sister Eliza. tell Annie I’ll write to her again in a day or two.
Surgeon Jas. P. Walker [ ] 85th Ill. & Act. Brig. Surgeon 2nd Brigade, 4th Div., 14th Army Corps, Army of the Cumberland
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
May 23rd 1863
Dr. Jas. A. Walker
I wrote you this morning to let you see that I was still in hand and doing the best I can to make time pass swiftly.
I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from you dated 14th inst. Glad to hear that you are well; that Eliza and the rest are well, but very sorry to hear that the children are down with measles. But hope that the very favourable time of the year and good care will have brought them through safely by this time. I am sorry that you did not see Mr. Straight as I am ashamed to write to Ritchy until that matter is fixed up. I don’t care very particularl about Rankin’s case but want him paid as soon as you can conveniently do it. The tax matters I want settled. I.E., all that I own.
I wrote to Annie about it some time ago but she might have forgotten to ask you to see to it. I want you to ask Bill Walker or someone else how you can pay the tax on the Missouri land & the lot in Springfield must be paid for soon. It has been sold for city, county & state taxes.
The health is very good here now. In fact there is no sickness really — a few cases of ague and diarrhea.
We have 1900 infantry, 4 pieces of artillery & 750 cavalry here now. We look for some fun here every day almost. Old Forrest is in command of the forces of Van Dorn in our part — a rather troublesome neighbor, we think. They blaze away at our pickets nearly every night & night before last one of the sentinels shot his fellow guard dead. He was buried last evening at sundown. One of the 104th Illinois was wounded in the leg severely a few nights since. One of the 85th Illinois shot off two of his fingers not long since while getting over the fence.
N. Patterson is fat as a hog.
We get fresh butter 40 to 50 cents a pound. Milk 20 cents per quart. Strawberries ditto. Young chickens will soon be plenty. We draw fresh bread, beef, potatoes, &c.
I went to the city two weeks ago and drew from the sanitary agent 55 lbs. & six boxes of various sorts of vegetables — mostly potatoes, onions, dried fruit & pickles & 6 dozen canned fruit.
The weather is quite warm now but cool nights. This Harpeth Valley is nearly a paradise but damned with secesh. But they will take the oath. We call it, “Iron sheathing them.” Then they are “Iron clads.” I must close. Give my love to sister Eliza and cousin. Tell Annie I will write soon again. we have not got the Mason City mail this week. Good bye. write soon. How is the boy?
— Jas. P. Walker, Brig. Surgeon, 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, 14th Army Corps
I send a white rose & a sprig of arbor vitae to Eliza & Red rose & arbor vitae for Annie.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Mason City, Illinois
June 15th 1864
Dr. J. A. Walker
Received a letter from you last Monday giving us much satisfaction about your safe arrival. Sisters by as much wished for improvement &c.
We are all well & getting along as well as you could expect. The friends and relations are all in good health except Mrs. Brooker who has had another attack of inflammation of parts about the [ ] organs. Is able to be up now.
Annie is doing her work without [ ] now.
I have not heard of Stewart ¹ yet. Can’t see that his ship arrived safely at Aspinwall.
Lincoln and Johnson — three cheers! You know this is my ticket for the last year & for the next four years.
I wrote in my last about two operations. The case of James Riggins Wesphine proved fatal on the 9th day. Jack Fidler is just about well. The thigh he [ ] its entire extent by [ ] traction. Another case on hand. Mrs. Spaughburg’s little boy was at school sick. His sister went after him on horseback on last Thursday. As they were going home the horse took fright [and] threw them off. Broke the boy’s arm at the elbow pushing the upper fragment of the humerus out through the tissues forward. They sent for me. I was not at home. Took Hall next day. Patterson went with him. [ ] for several days. They still reported the case doing exceedingly well. I told J. A. S. W. that from what I could learn of the case, they would be [ ] that they ever saw it.
Yesterday there were out and returned in haste for me to go out to amputate. I went out with them at 4 P.M. & took of a rotten arm — Selah. Mrs. Riggins paid me $84.oo for the [ ing].
I sold those 4 lots where the old stable was to Harme so as to pay my notes with interest and $4.80 & left me $5.00. I bought a fine brown horse for $90.00 worth $150.00. I rebought Jesse of Dan River.
Dave Ross & Cofton are at home. Patterson & Ragan had to go to Vicksburg till their time was out.
I must close. Give my love to sister and tell her we look for letters from her. Cousin Ada, little cousin Neany also & tell her that I did not answer her letter for reason that you were going up there just at the time a letter would have went. Regards to all the rest. Goodbye.
— J. P. Walker
¹ This may has been William “Stuart” Walker — a younger brother of James A. Walker. He is know to have gone to California. Aspinwall was at the eastern terminus of the Isthmus of Panama.