In my last blog post, I introduced our collection of Civil War Letters. If you missed that post, or would like to read it again, you can find it here. As stated previously, I will be taking some time to look more closely at the 92 letters written by Jasper Newton Smith to a girl back home, Miss Elizabeth Jane Smith.
Jasper's letters focus on his relationship with his beloved, and the war raging around him seems almost an afterthought. He often says "I haven't anything of very much importance to write to you at the present time." Read now, this statement seems so full of irony. Entire books have been written about the occurrence of individual battles in the Civil War, yet a Union soldier felt that he had nothing of interest to share with his significant other. He worries about his family back home, asking them to conserve their fuel. He asks about friends stationed elsewhere, wondering about their current status. He is also certain to reiterate his undying love for Elizabeth, and reassures her of his loyalty: "if you hear that Caroline Quarterman say that her and me is going to get married, tell her it is a damned lie." Oh, poor Caroline.
Though those moments in which he does speak of battle are full of confidence and strength, young Jasper is transparent about the possibility of his death. He speaks frankly with Elizabeth, saying in one letter, "I would like for to see you, but I can't tell whether I will ever get home or not. But if I fall, I believe that I will die in a good cause."
While preparing to write this blog, I acted on a partially-educated hunch. I began digging into Jasper's specific location during the writing of two letters, and how that corresponded with the first major battle in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, the Battle of Shiloh. Through my research, I discovered that Jasper was a part of Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee.
The Army of the Tennessee was a group of Union troops located in the western portion of Tennessee. They were named for their location near the Tennessee River. The group of roughly 50,000 men was made up of six divisions of Union soldiers. Our very own Jasper, as well as the other members of the 53rd Regiment of the Indiana Infantry, were ordered to Savannah, Tennessee on March 15th, 1862. Upon arrival, they were attached to the 2nd Brigade, 4th Division of the Army of the Tennessee. They were put under command of Brigadier General Stephen Hurlbut.
The gathering of troops camped along the Tennessee River, awaiting reinforcements marching 20,000 strong from Nashville before heading south to attack the Confederate forces. They spent their time training for battle under the direction of General Grant.
Unbeknownst to Grant and his troops, the Confederate army had their own set of plans.
Sunday, April 6th, 1862, was a beautiful spring morning. Flower blossoms hung from trees and littered the ground. The Army of the Tennessee sat eating breakfast, shining their shoes and cleaning their rifles. Some attended church services at the Shiloh Church. As the Union's leisurely activities carried on, three lines of Confederate soldiers, each 2 miles in length, approached with rifles at the ready. The Rebel attack was immensely successful. Thousands of Union soldiers were slaughtered in a matter of minutes. It wasn't until General Grant reached the battlefield late in the morning (he had been at his headquarters in a mansion 9 miles down the river, which would later draw a great deal of criticism) that union soldiers began to gain ground. Fighting lasted the entire day, and only came to halt when darkness set in.
That evening, the Union army's efforts were further supported by the arrival of the long-awaited reinforcements from Nashville. When battle returned with the sun the following morning, the fresh batch of Union soldiers forced the Confederate army back beyond their original battle lines. This Union victory came at a very high cost: 13,047 Yankee soldiers were killed in just two days. 13,724 rebel soldiers also lost their lives.
As the battle raged on for two days time, Jasper Newton Smith stood at attention just a short distance up the river. To his beloved Elizabeth he wrote, "It is very warm and pleasant here at this time, and has been ever since we came here. The peach trees are in full bloom and everything looks very nice." He goes on to say, “We are looking for marching orders every minute, for they are fighting like smoke up the river. We can hear the cannons firing all day and we are now ready to go at a minute to call. We drawed forty rounds of cartridge this morning so that if we was called on we would be ready for to go.”
On April 10th, 1862, just 3 days after the Battle of Shiloh’s gruesome end, Jasper wrote to Elizabeth once again. I will leave you with his words until my next blog, which will follow Jasper to Corinth, Mississippi and beyond.
My transcription of this letter will contain a few small corrections, making it easier for readers to follow. My main corrections in this letter will be periods at the end of each sentence; Jasper didn't seem to think they were necessary. I will leave most misspellings for your entertainment.
I seat myself to inform you of my health. Through the kind providence of heavenly divine, I am well at the presant time. I do most sincerely hope that when these fiew lines comes to hand that they may find you well. I received your kind and welcome letter yesterday, which gave me great satisfaction for to hear from you and to hear that you was well. I havent anything of very much importance for to rite to you at the presant time. I wold like very well for to see you and have a good old social chat with you. But Elisabeth, if I should never chance for to see you on this unfriendly Earth, I hope to meet you in that happy region above where there will be no more parting.
I have quit all my bad habits. I have quit swearing and I expect for to try to get to that happy region above, where there will be no more wars nor trials for to go through with and no more Secesh to put down (Note: Secesh is a nickname for Confederate Soldiers, referring to their secession from the United States). Now Elisabeth I want you for to tell Father and Mother for to rite to me and let me hear how they are geting along. Tell them that I have been sick but I am now as well as I ever was. I have had the chills but I have got them broke on me and I am a getting as fat as a pet pig.
We are here a guarding Secesh prisoners. There is about 200 of them and we are expecting a lot more of them here in a fiew days. I dont know if it is worth while for me to rite any thing about the fight, for I expect you have heared all about it. Our loss is verry great and that of the enemy is much greater. I cant tell you what our loss is, but it is verry great. Every house in Savannah is full of wounded soldiers. The talk is that our force has surrounded them and has taken a great many of them prisoners, but I cant tell whether it is so or not, for we hear so many reports I dont know when to believe them. I will tell you all about it in my next letter.
When this you see remember me and bear me in your mind. Remember, a trusty friend is hard to find. The rose is red, violets blue, candys sweete and so are you. Shure as the grape grows on the vine, I will be yours if you will be mine. Now Elisabeth, I swear by all the gods above I love that you and only you. I will have to come to a close before long for it is verry near dark. I want you to rite as soon as you get this letter and let me know how things are gowing on.
I have to come to a close for this time so fare you well. If I never meet you here on this earth I hope to see you in heaven where there will be no more pain. Well, beloved Elisabeth, I remain your affectionate true love until death. Rite soon.
Jasper N Smith to his true love Elisabeth Lee
Frankly, I am not fond of monkeys. They affect me the way spiders and snakes affect other people. The flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz” and the rogue monkeys in Robin Williams’s “Jumanji” were menacing to me, and I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see them.