1864: Cyrus E. Ferguson to Martha (Bryant) Ferguson

How Cyrus might have looked

How Cyrus might have looked

This letter was written by Cyrus E. Ferguson (1830-1918), the son of James E. Ferguson (1799-1859) and Margaret Baird McGrew (1801-1886). Cyrus was married to Martha A. Bryant (1839-1919) in 1857 and they had three children: William (“Willie”) Potter Ferguson (1857-1891), Anne L. (“Fannie”) Ferguson (b. 1860), and Grace Ferguson (1864-1921). Prior to the war, Cyrus earned a living as a farmer and painter in Linn County, Iowa.

At the age of 33, in December 1863, Cyrus enlisted in Co. A, 15th Iowa Infantry and marched with Sherman’s army across Georgia in the summer of 1864. He lost his brother Amos (1833-1865), also of the 15th Iowa, to starvation at Andersonville Prison. His brother Rufus (b. 1835), in the 15th as well, also survived the war.

Ferguson’s letter gives us a compelling account of the skirmishing on the Union right as Sherman’s army flanked Kennesaw Mountain near the Chattahoochee River and attempted to cut off the railroad line between Atlanta and West Point. We learn from this letter that this was Pvt. Ferguson’s first engagement since joining the veteran regiment. We also learn that he enlisted in the regiment as a musician with no intention of ever fighting and that he had been given a musket and thrown into the ranks by a “set of whiskey-drinking officers” who broke their promise to him.


On the way towards Atlanta
July 4th [1864]

Dear wife & children,

Nothing new has taken place since I wrote until the night of the 2nd [when] we pulled up & left the place we occupied so long. We marched out at night & took a course round to the right. We marched all night & a good part of Sunday. The rebels left the [Kennesaw] mountains. Our forces were getting too far in their rear. We saw no rebels on our way. We went to the right & towards the Chattahoochee River. We are not far from the river now. We come up to where a small force of rebels were skirmishing with our advance but they were soon driven back & we went into camp for the night & were not disturbed through the night. We are here yet & I don’t know what we [will] do today.

Yesterday our left wing had a good deal of fighting to do & took a lot of prisoners (reports say from 3,000 to 7,000), I don’t know how many. There is cannon firing off to the left this morning but I don’t know whether there is any fighting or not. I expect this is for Johnson [Joseph E. Johnston] had not got across the river yesterday & if he didn’t slip across last night, our forces will plague him all they can for it today. I don’t know whether he will come to see us or not. Most likely not for he can’t go to see all the folks at once.

Marietta was taken yesterday, I believe. I see the special reporters had it taken long ago & several other reports that were not true, but you can see how fortunate we have been in escaping fights. Why is it? I don’t say this to brag, but it looks well in our favor. Tis true we don’t know what may happen yet, but we are hopeful & believe that there is more than mere luck in it. Rebel prisoners say that here will be the last stand — or rather on the other side of the Chattahoochee River. It will be a scratch between us which will get possession of the railroad bridge. We have pontoons with us. It has been reported that part of our forces had to get across the river on the pontoons but I guess that is not true yet. But they are hard pressed or else they would not have left that mountain for we could not have taken it very easy.

(9 o’clock) We are ordered to fall in. We marched a short distance & our company & four others were deployed as skirmishers. We soon got into business. We advanced & drove the rebels for some distance, when they opened on us with artillery — throwing grape & canister among us. We fell back a short distance & made a stand & fired away at them awhile & they at us. But they were like to gobble us so we fell back across a field to our reserve & our brigade then moved up & advanced slowly, driving them again & they have about ceased fighting now for it is nigh almost dark.

Amos & myself did not advance with the brigade & they found the enemy too strong posted to risk an attack at so late an hour, so they fell back & threw up a line of breastworks & rested for the night. Among the wounded today are Jim Sweeney in the thigh, early in the day; Perry Gephart ¹ in the hip just before we were driven back; a man by the name of [William] Watson ² in the thigh — these were in Co. A.

You need not believe one quarter that Perry Gephart will tell for he will be sent home most likely. I know of but one man killed in the regiment. I had got somewhat overheated & Capt. W ³ ordered me to remain back, which I did, but the hardest fighting was over then. I can no longer say that I have not been shot at & that I have not fired a shot at the rebs, for I did put in a few to celebrate the 4th with & there was plenty coming thick & fast to us but we came through without a scratch.

I said that [illegible] what Perry Gephart says but you [illegible] everything that he tells for there is no man in the company showed more fear or tried harder to escape being hurt, & you cannot believe what he says for he blows awful & the whole company is down on him. This days work may be yet go down as a battle, but in our past, it was only heavy skirmishing which is a kind of Indian style of fighting. We fight under cover or to get round [illegible] trees, fences, stumps, or anything that we can hide behind & shoot as you go. The skirmishers go in advance of the main force to find out where the enemy is & is [illegible] keep falling back [illegible] and no general engagement [illegible]. If they are strongly posted & make a stand, then the skirmishers fall back on the main force & they advance or not, just as is thought advisable.

(July 5th) About 8 o’clock we were ordered to fall in which Amos & I did, but the company were ordered to leave their knapsacks behind & Capt. W ordered Amos & I to stay behind to guard them. The brigade advanced followed by other troops — our regiment in advance. We soon heard firing, then yelling, then…

[portion of letter missing]

…will turn up next. I wish we might be spared the necessity of going towards Atlanta again for there is nothing attractive in that direction. I don’t see what we can do there anyhow for we can’t advance any further & our distance is so great from our base we are in danger of having our supplies cut off any time & they hold our pay back because there would be no safety in sending it home from there. I know that you need the money to the the children some fall & winter clothing & I am perplexed to know what to write. If I only knew what way we would go from here, I might tell better what to depend on.

Well I was doing well enough at home & should have staid there to take care of my charge but I got it into my head that there would be something grand in going off big musician. Mind it was not to fight, & I trusted the promises of a set of whiskey drinking officers & am now paying the penalty. But enough of this. I have always got out of bad scrapes sometime & think I will out of this sometime before many years.

I must stop for I will have to send it out soon & I will write again as soon as I get a chance. Having charge of the regimental mail bothers me so I have no time to write more at present. You asked about what I wore on my feet. I have a pair of shoes that I drew that I have marched over 200 miles besides everyday wear besides & they are good yet & easy on my feet, so you need not worry about me for I shall not suffer for clothes. You will not get the old pants I sent you for, for the nigger was snailed at Louisville, Kentucky, & put into the government service. Goodbye all of you at present & here is hoping for something better in future. Goodbye dear wife. — C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie,

I tried to make a picture of Kennesaw mountain for you & it looks something like it did on the side that we seen it most from. You must be a good boy & I will try & make you another picture some day. Good bye dear Willie. Tell Jim, uncle Clem wants some stamps. He forgot to write it himself. Goodbye. Be a good boy. From Pa.

Dear Fannie,

I must say a word to you and I would send you a picture but I have not time to make one. I will make you one next time. Willie must show you his. Be a good girl & I will write to you all again as soon as I can. From Papa.

¹ Regimental records indicate that Perry M. Gephart [or Gebhard] was wounded at Nickajack Creek.

² Regimental records indicate that William Watson was wounded at Kennesaw Mountain.

³ Capt. Robert H. Whitenack.


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