1861: James Leamon Waller to Family

This letter was written by James Leamon Waller (1837-1933) , the son Elisha Waller (1798-1848) and Jane Leaman (1801-1865) of Marshall, Clark county, Illinois. James enlisted on 25 June 1861 to serve three years in Co. A, 40th Illinois Volunteers. He was discharged from the service on 17 September 1862.

In this rambling 4-page letter written from Paducah, Kentucky, James gives his family instructions on the disposition of his crops back home, his best guess as to the future movements of his regiment, and his impressions of camp life & unusual incidents.

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Union Fortifications erected at Paducah, KY, in the fall of 1861


Paducah, Kentucky
October 21st 1861

Dear Mother & Sisters,

In answer to yours of the 16th, I would take my seat flat on the ground whilst I write off my knee. I am well & like the little boy getting weller & weller every day. I was glad to hear of everything you wrote. I thought it was a very interesting letter. I was glad to hear of brother & sister Beal’s visit but I requested before I came away that if they came, that you would write me a big family letter. I wrote them one letter that I thought they would get before the left home but I sent it to Baker’s Corner & perhaps they didn’t get it. I forgot the name of their Post Office. I want you when you write to them to tell them I want them to write to me. Give them my address.

If it is so you can, I wish you would pay a little visit to my crop & see how matters stand & get their experience with the Soldier’s widow & let me know how they made it. Tell them I want to sell the crop & if they will buy it, I will leave it to three good responsible farmers what it is worth & if they can’t pay money, I will take their note at ten percent. I had allowed for Mary to have it but I got a letter from her last week that she had moved to Coles County, thank the Lord, & so I will have to do something with it myself. Tell them if they will buy it, that I will make choice of Old Mr. Henry Taylor as my man & if they buy it, I want you to hold the note or money as the case may be. If left to men, they will hold the note until they write to me & I will send them my receipt or as the committee may see fit. I have wrote two letters to John Madison & one to Doc Madison but have received no answer. But it is time that I was seeing about it & I would like also to hear whatever became of Mrs. Huddleston. Give my good wishes to George & Jane & tell them I wish them much joy together & also give my love & good wishes to Old Uncle Billy & Betsy. Tell them when it goes well with them to remember this poor soldier & remember me to the neighbors generally.

Now I will tell you what I think in my weak judgement is in store for the 40th Reg. Ills. Volunteers. Everything goes to show that we have gone about as far as we will go this Winter. It is in the opinion of us all that we will go into winter quarters either here or at Shawneetown—twelve miles below the mouth of the Wabash. They are building winter quarters here & say they are fixing for us but we don’t know certain.

We passed a review once before our Brig. General Smith & he was not near satisfied with us & said we would have to drill a good while yet & we have not drilled scarcely any since then & in fact, but little since we came here, To take it on an average, we stand guard one  day, rest one day, work one day, and then on guard again & sometimes on guard & then work day about so that we have no chance to drill. But this week well near about finish the work here & we will know then pretty soon where we will go. There will be three or four thousand troops winter her & it is my opinion that where we are now, there we will stay.

I heard today that the General had give orders to the citizens that all houses that was not occupied in fifteen days would be filled with soldiers.

There is a big Marine Hospital here—about two or three times as big as Old Doc Payne’s house—that belongs to the U. S.  They are building entrenchments round from ten to fifteen feet high & down the slope on the outside it will measure from 20 to 30 feet. They will put eight 32-pounders round it besides having breastworks on top for men & muskets. They have took all the sick from there to the Court House & is going to put a regiment to winter in it. I also learn that the South has proposed to cease hostilities until Spring. If they agree on that, the war is over. And if they don’t agree on it, we will be through in time to put in a crop in the Spring anyhow—so everybody says & it must be so, But write soon & in my next I will be able to give you some intelligence as what we will do this winter—whether we go to Dixie or stay here.

I will now tell you something about soldier’s life in the service as I have known it here. I have never got into any close place yet. I have stood on picket guard several nights but was never any disturbance when I was out. One night at Birds Point the picket was fired on. A guard was sitting with his back against a sapling and the bullet went into the sapling about four inches above his head. The guard fired three shots in return but no one was hurt that night.

Since we was here, there has been three or four pickets killed. One night a farmer had started to town with marketing with his little girl & dropped off to sleep & came to the pickets & they halted him & the team went ahead & they fired & killed one of his horses & a minié ball grazed the girl’s temple. The same night the guard was fired on twice but no one was hurt. At another time there was five cavalry out on a scout & rode until they was tired, stopped, & took off their saddles & tied their horses & sat down to rest & dropped to sleep & awoke to find themselves surrounded by the Secesh that fired into them, killing one, wounding two, & two made their escape. The horses all came to camp in a day or two. They came past our company going to bury the one that was killed. They had his horse shrouded in black with the boots in the stirrups, his gun, sword, hat & all his equipments hanging on the saddle & as they walked slow along the poor horse with his nose right against the hearse. He looked like he was crying. I never felt as sorry for a dumb brute in my life.

One night a Secesh shot a bullet through one of our men’s hands as he was wiping the sweat off his face which caused  him to have a finger took off. And there has been two of our company has shot at men in the night but did not kill anybody.

Our regiment has sent out several scouting parties without accident. They one night brought in 13 prisoners, one of which was a Secesh Captain that had been in our camp several times peddling but we took him & 12 men without firing a gun. But take it all round, we have a glorious time.

I will mail a letter to you, one to Reuben, & one to Mary all at once. I wrote Mary one & I recon she had moved before it got there. If you have not got it & it is there, I wish you would have it forwarded to Dolson Post Office, Clark county, Ill. It will only cost three cents & I wanted her to have it. She wrote me a very ugly letter & asked me some plain questions & I answered them. Her last one was not so bad but was a hard one. I want you to tell me if you got my razor & hone from the old widders or not.

I expect up there they think now I am an awful case but lordy, lordy, wait till Spring. If there was no cost on that suit, could you not send Dr. Dougherty five dollars by John Johnston or Lee Morgan & get his receipt. And another thing—stamps is awful hard to come at here. Just get half a dollars worth & send me half of them & I will run a race who can write the most letters.

I sent the Lieutenant my last two dollars & he was disappointed about getting money & him & I both has to go wanting for awhile. As soon as he gets it, I will send you my minature. Enclosed I send one of you a Union pin. You can find the owner. I intend to send you one apiece.

The other day I was at a large nursery & warm house here & I saw a [    ] tree & a great many curiosities. In Reuben’s letter, I send you some seed. The leaf looks like a Morning Glory & the blossom is like a Cypress. The big black seed is white Honeysuckle. It makes the nicest bower you ever saw. I can’t exactly understand that cussing story about your running downstairs. Tell me the circumstances over again for I burn all my letters as soon nearly as I read them. I would not have them to get hold on one of them for a month’s pay. I rather think she has got some of your letters. This makes six I have wrote & received two, Will Watson & me wrote one & in yours you never mentioned him but from now you will receive your own. I write to you all alike & don’t want one to think themselves stilted because it is not backed to them. I know where the danger lay.

Yours eternally, — J. S. Waller

I want you to not fail to write soon.




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