My last two blogs have shared the contents of our collection of 116 Civil War letters. My first post gave the background story of the letters themselves, and of the people who's stories are contained within the letters. If you missed it, you can still read it here. My second and latest blog post dug deep inside of on particular letter written on April 6th, 1862 from the fields of war during the Battle of Shiloh. You can read more of Jasper's recollection of the iconic battle here.
This time, I would like to share with you excerpts from 14 letters written by Jasper Newton Smith between May 8th, 1862 and October 26th, 1862. When we last heard from Jasper, he was surrounded by blooming peach trees in Savannah, Tennessee. When the Battle of Shiloh came to an end, Jasper and other members of the 53rd Regiment of the Indiana Infantry were still active members of Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee. They spent a significant amount of time at Pittsburgh Landing in Tennessee after its successful takeover. From there, Jasper wrote the following on May 8th, 1862:
The next set of marching orders carried the men to Corinth, Mississippi, where they were involved in the Siege and Battle of Corinth. This battle was fought from April 29th to May 30th, 1862. Two important lines of railroad crossed in Corinth, making the location vital during the war. Union forces eventually won the battle when Confederate soldiers withdrew. Jasper speaks of that withdrawal one day after the battle ended in a letter written from Corinth on May 31st, 1862.
After that letter was written, Jasper fell silent until July 4th, 1862. His regiment marched more than 100 miles to Memphis, Tennessee via Grand Junction, LaGrange and Holly Springs. They often backtracked in pursuit of the Confederate forces. Jasper wrote:
They remained in the Memphis area until September 6th. They spent much of their time guarding that which had already been taken from the Confederates. In his letters, Jasper often alluded to Elizabeth's request for "his likeness" (or a modern day photograph) to be taken and sent to her in a letter. On July 29th, Jasper finally obliged. Oh, how I wish this picture of our Civil War hero had been included in the collection of letters.
After that letter and picture was sent, Jasper went a long time without hearing from his beloved Elizabeth. On August 12th he wrote, "I haven't heard from you in a long time. I recon you have got married or something is the matter, for you never write any more. I sent you my likeness a short time ago." Thankfully, our love-sick soldier heard from his lady just two days later, and his confidence was renewed:
On October 5th, Jasper took part in the Battle of Hatchie's Bridge (also known as the Battle of Davis Bridge or Matamora). This battle was the final push at the end of a 3-day fight for Iuka and the re-capture of Corinth. The Hoosier boys, along with the other members of the Army of the Tennessee, fought against Major General Sterling Price, Major General Earl Van Dorn and their 22,000 men. Confederate forces, facing 23,000 Union Soldiers under the command of Major General Stephen Hurlbut, took an early lead, nearly defeating their counterparts.
The fight raged on, both sides suffering from lack of water and pure exhaustion under the hot sun. As battle resumed on the morning of the 5th, many weary Southerners were quickly taken down by Union artillery fire. Now, the rest of the story, as written by Jasper Newton Smith, just days later from picket in the woods:
I will now try for to tell you something about the fight that we had with the rebels on last Sunday. We left here on last Saturday and we marched all day very hard and at night we stayed and camped. Early the next morning we started on and we had not gone very far when we came in contact with the rebels and you had better believe that there was where hard fighting commenced. The fight lasted for five hours We marched up on a high rise and the rebels began for to shell us and then we was ordered for to make a charge on there artillery, which we very quickly did obey. On we went and we charged up within sixty or seventy yards before the rebels retreated. They stood and fought like devils for a while but we soon made them leave there artillery and run. We took three pieces of artillery away from them and then we opened on them with our small arms and we drove them acrost the hatchy river. We come up to the river and then we gave three harty cheers for our brave and gallant General Breach. Then we was ordered for to cross the river which we done on double quick time and you had better believe that there was where killing men commenced. Betty it was hard for to see our boys a falling all around me but it could not be helped. The loss in our Ridgment is 13 killed dead on the field and 93 wounded. The loss in our company is two killed and six wounded. I was in the fight from the time it commenced till it was all over with. The rebels left everything that they had. They left horses wagons tents ammunition guns Commissary Stores and every thing that they had on the field. There loss was very great.
I will have to come to a close for this time you must excuse me for this time for I am out in the woods on picket and I haven’t anything for to rite with but a led pencil. Tell mother that I am well and as fat and saucy as ever. I remain your most sincere Trulove until death. Rite on receipt of this.
Jasper Smith to Elisabeth Lee
One week later, Jasper writes again. "There was one of our boys died last night. He was wounded in the left shoulder. His name was James and he will be buried this morning in the honors of war. There is several of our boys that we are expecting for to die." For me, it is absolutely incredible (and heartbreaking at moments) to hear his first-hand account of battle and its aftermath. It is one thing to open a book and read about the war, and another to read the handwritten narrative from a soldier on the field. To explore the two together has been a mind-altering process.
As read, Jasper's letters exude every possible emotion, the most dominant being fear, sadness, joy, courage, hope and love. The moments that make me smile the most are seeping with confidence. On October 26th, 1862, Jasper wrote from Bolivar, Tennessee:
The ground is covered with snow here. The report is that we will have to fight here again in a fiew days. I cant tell how true it is. The talk is that General Price is advancing on us. Let him come if he wants to. We fought him once and we whiped him and if he comes on us we can whip him again.
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.