This letter was written by 17 year-old Cornelia R. Marston (1847-18xx), the daughter of Charles Washington Marston (1817-1873) and Mary Goode (1824-1865). Cornelia’s brother, Cornelius A. Marston (1845-1864) was a private in Company F, 8th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War and was killed in a skirmish with the rebels on 6 June 1864 at Lake Cheat, Arkansas.
The letter was written to James Harvey Greene (1833-1890), who moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, prior to the Civil War where he was the editor of the Prairie Du Chien Leader newspaper. During the Civil War, Greene served as Captain of Co. F in the 8th Wisconsin Infantry.
In his memoirs, published after the war, Capt. Greene described the death of private Marston as follows:
On Board Steamer “Clara Belle,” Mississippi River, Sunday, June 5th— At last we are “homeward bound.” After stopping at Memphis for a few days, we go to Wisconsin on our veteran furhiugh. Our boat shakes so I can scarcely write legibly. We are now nearing the point on the river where the rebels have been firing on boats lately, with cannon. If they are still there, we shall land and give them a clatter. The whole of the division of the 16th Army Corps is along. Our entire brigade, with the exception of the 47th Illinois, has reenlisted. June 7th—On the evening of June 5th we disembarked at a bend in the river on the Arkansas shore below Greenville, where the rebels under Marmaduke were reported 7000 strong with artillery, blockading the river. The enemy’s pickets were driven away from the landing, and we remained there all night. Early in the morning of the 6th we started on the march up river, following the road along the shore. We had not gone far before we met the skirmishers of the enemy in pretty strong force, and fought and drove them before us all day. In the afternoon we came to a bayou that empties into the river, on the other side of which there was thick woods, and there the rebels were posted in force and made a determined stand. We could have crossed the bayou in the face of their fire, but it would have been at a fearful sacrifice of life, which was not necessary, as we could carry the position by flanking them. Accordingly, a part of our force was ordered to march to the left a mile or so where they could cross the bayou and then come up and attack the enemy on the flank. While this move was being made we remained near the river, lying on our faces in the grass, while the enemy on the opposite side of the bayou from behind trees poured a constant and deadly fire into us. It was a pretty hot flght, but the advantage was on their side in position. We lost 150 killed and wounded; our regiment lost 7 killed and 25 wounded One of my Company, Marston, who had been the most overjoyed of any of us at the prospect of going home to see his mother and sister—he being her only son and she a widow—poor boy, he was killed. Two others of my Company were wounded. I ran the narrowest chance that I have had yet. A little more and I would have come home minus my right arm. A solid shot carried away the greater part of my blouse sleeve. The sleeves were a world too wide for my thin arms, so I escaped, I was greatly shocked, and thought I was blown to pieces. While we were lying there, with our heads to the foe, I fell asleep—for a moment—awakened by a terrible sensation as if the earth had opened and swallowed me. A shot had struck the ground by my side, tearing away my blouse sleeve. Marston was lying by me, on my left, and at about the same time I heard the dreadful “thug,”which sound is heard when a bullet strikes any one, and he began to writhe and clapped his hands to his head A musket ball had struck him squarely on the top of his head as he was lying. I called on a couple of the men near by to carry him back to the rear, where he was placed on board the boat, but he died very soon. In a short time our flanking party who had crossed the bayou reached the rebels and they lit out; and although we continued to march the rest of the day, they disappeared and did not trouble us any more. We got all our wounded aboard the boat aud they proceeded on to Memphis. [Reminiscences of the War, pages 81-82]
Addressed to Captain J. H. Greene, Company F, 8th Wisconsin Vet. Vol.
via Cairo, Illinois
Handwritten on envelope by Greene: From Sister of Marston who was killed in skirmish while we were going up Mississippi River
August 3rd 1864
Capt. J. H. Greene
Please excuse me for penning you these few lines but the painful duty to me is to inquire some more in relation to my Dear, Dear Brother who now is no more. It seems to me too cruel. I sometimes think I cannot have it so. Why was it so?
Oh! my adored Brother. He was too good for this vile world of sin. Oh! it is too hard to bear. So young, so good, to be offered up in sacrifice for our beloved country just as he was to be clasped by fond embraces long been waiting for his return. Oh! why could not high heaven ordained it otherwise?
Oh! but for one word could it have passed his loved lips before he died and been borne away to dear ones at home to soothe our aching and almost broken hearts. My poor dear, dear Brother. Died for God and our country and home. The young man that brought us his effects was not able to give us every desired information though he promised on his return to give us many particulars but as we have received no letter as yet, I had feared he had forgotten it. And as I wished to know some more particulars before I return to my school in Illinois from which I was so sadly and so suddenly called.
Oh my Brother, my Darling Brother! My loved and adored Brother. How long after he was struck did he die? Poor dear Boy! Do you think he was sensitive of anything after he was struck? How long did he live? Did he seem to be in great pain? Did he open his eyes? or try to speak? Where was he buried and how was his grave marked? What was done with his watch and the little satchel he carried his money in around his neck?
Mr. Leland said he had a large dictionary and he said he would send it. Will you please to see to it? Had he anything in the Company chest? If you will be so kind as to give us the required information in relation to him we now so deeply mourn, you will confer a great favor upon a broken and bereaved family circle and oblige. Mother is still very sick.
Your respectfully, — Cornelia R. Marston