This letter was written by 17 year-old William Mitchell (1846-1864) who mustered into Co. G, 8th Iowa Cavalry in September 1863. William was promoted from private to 7th corporal in April 1864 and was killed in action on 29 July 1864 at Newnan, Georgia.
William was the eldest son of James Mitchell (1818-1872) and Ann Jane Eakin (1822-1869) of Hazel Green, Grant county, Wisconsin. James Mitchell came as an emigrant to the United States from Scotland in 1842. He married his wife, an emigrant from Ireland, in September 1844 in Jo Daviess county, Illinois.
August 21, 1863
Camp McClellan, near Davenport
Dear Father and Mother,
It is with pleasure that I sit down to write you a few lines hoping that they will find you all well as it leaves me at present. We have a gay time of it. We got down to Davenport Wednesday night at 8 o’clock and put up at the Pennsylvania House all night and we marched to our camp Thursday morning after breakfast. We have plenty to eat and more coffee than you can shake a stick at.
There is 360 Indians here. There is one negro with them. He is their leader. We have them at work drawing provisions and cutting firewood and digging a well. There is a man with them with a gun for to make them mind. They are large and strong men. The prison is on the north end of the camp. I saw them twice yesterday. ¹
There was a man shot here last night about one o’clock. He was a deserter and he was trying to get out of the guardhouse. The ball went in under his left arm and came out at his naval. He is alive yet but he will die soon.
Dear Mother. We are all well and I have good times in camp. I have not forgot you yet and I hope that I never will. There is about _00 of the 8th here now and the regiment will soon be full. We will leave this camp soon and go to camp about half a mile from here and you must not write before you hear from us again. I thought that I would let you know how I was. I will send Mary Jane a ring that I got from the redskins. It is made of mussel shell. We can get all we want here for 10 cents apiece. So I must quit, so goodbye.
I remain your affectionate son, — William Mitchell
¹ The Indians mentioned by Mitchell were some of the members of the Dakota tribe rounded up after the uprising in Minnesota in late 1862. A very large percentage of them died of smallpox before they were released. They proved to be quite a curiosity to the young recruits at Camp McClellan. One observer wrote, We noticed this morning at Camp McClellan that Captain Littler makes the Indian prisoners ‘work for a living.’ Some were digging a well, others chooping wood, grading and sweeping the grounds, white-washing, &c. As a general thing they work well. Capt. Bob’s [Littler] orders are brief—‘Injun no work, Ingin no eat.'” [Meline to Roberts, August 31, 1863]
Another recruit from the 2nd Iowa Cavalry named McLain wrote from Camp McClellan on 31 October 1863: “There are about 2 or 3 hundred Indians under guard. They are prisoners for murdering whites up in Minnesota. Their leader—a negro [James Godfrey]—brags that has killed 17 or 17 women and children. The boys all hate the whole drove—particularly the Nig—and say if they ever give them a chance, they will blow thier brains out.” [See Camp Kearney, Davenport]