This letter was written by Private Mason M. Vermett (1843-1913) who enlisted on 24 September 1861 as a member of Col. John Ward Birge’s Sharpshooters. The unit was raised with men from Illinois, Ohio and Michigan was supllemented by recruits from Iowa, Minnesota, and other western states. They eventually came to be known as the 66th Illinois Infantry and Pvt. Vermett served in Company D with the other young men from Michigan.
This letter was written just after the capture of Fort Donelson in which the sharpshooters were engaged. This regiment had a distinctive appearance, armament, and mission. Each recruit was a selected expert shooter and wore a squirrel’s tail died black in his gray felt cap. Each man carried a long-range Dimmick hunting rifle. The regiment remained at Fort Donelson until March 5th before moving south to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee where they fought at the Battle of Shiloh and participated in the siege of Corinth.
Pvt. Vermette was captured at Corinth on 4 October 1862 during the Second Battle of Corinth. He was exchanged on 1 March 1863 and returned to his regiment on 21 March 1863 (according to the diary of Lorenzo A. Barker of Co. D, 66th Illinois Infantry). He reenlisted in 23 December 1863 and was wounded before Atlanta on 7 August 1864 and sent to hospital in St. Louis. He returned to duty on 20 January 1865.
I have not been able to confirm the identity of the young woman to whom Pvt. Vermette addressed this letter. Her name appears to be “Marla Ashley” and though there was an Ashley family in Van Buren County, Michigan, at the time, I could find no one by that name. A Maria Ashley of Van Buren County was married in 1861.
Addressed to Miss Marla Ashley, Hartford, Van Buren [County] Michigan
February the 17, 1862
I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present and I hope that you are the same. It has been a long time since I saw you. It will be not very long before I can come back there to see you all.
We had a battle. It lasted three days. It was a hard time with our boys. There was six hundred killed on our side. I don’t know how many there was wounded in all. It was at Fort Donelson. We gained the day and made them surrender. We took 15,000 of them [prisoner]. It has been the hardest battle that has been fought in this war. We have got one more to take. Then we are coming home for good, I think. The rebels say that if we gain the day there, they will give up — beat for good. It is getting late now. I just came from the battlefield and pen you a few lines to you so [tell] my old Ma now that I am living yet. It will make a ___.
It [has] been raining every night and we had to lay on the ground and no sleep. We are going to move our tents tonight.
Manla, you must write and let me know how you get along. This from your friend, — M. M. Vermett
So goodbye. Direct your letters to M. M. Vermett, Benton Barracks, Col. Birge’s, First Regiment of Sharpshooters in the care of Captain [John] Pifer in the field.