1863-64: Frank Filer to Watson Filer

image016This letter was written by Pvt. Frank Filer (1833-1912) of Co. F, 105th Illinois Infantry. Frank was the son of abolitionist and underground railroad conductor Thomas Filer (1804-1879) and Pamela Barnes (1809-1905). Frank was married to Rhoda N. Eldridge (1837-18xx) and had two children: Edward Filer (b. 1856) and Florence Filer (b. 1863).

Frank mustered into the service at Dixon, Illinois on 2 September 1862 for a term of three years. He mustered out of the service on 7 June 1865 at Washington D. C. He was hospitalized for several months at Chattanooga, Tennessee beginning in May 1864. After the war, he resided in Downers Grove, DuPage County, Illinois.

Frank wrote the letters to his younger brother Watson Filer (b. 1835) who married Sarah E. French (b. 1838) in 1858. Frank’s father also served in the Civil War, joining Co. H of the 17th Illinois Cavalry as a quartermaster sergeant. He enlisted at York, Illinois on 23 December 1863 and was mustered into the service at St. Charles on 22 January 1864. He mustered out of the service on 22 June 1865 at Quincy.

The second letter contains an interesting description of camp life but sadly, the end of the letter is missing.


Lavergne [Tennessee]
Sunday, June 4th A. D. 1863

Dear brother,

I received yours of the fifth yesterday forenoon while on regimental inspection & I must confess I was greatly surprised for I did not expect you ever calculated to write me again. I believe the last letter I received from you was brought to me by Lieut. Warner, but to say I was not glad to get a letter from you yesterday would not be within a gunshot of the truth, for I was glad to hear from you & Sarah & also as glad to get a few lines from mother. I thank you all very much.

Frank's mother, Pamela Barnes Filer

Frank’s mother, Pamela Barnes Filer

You wanted to know how I liked your last business transaction. Well I think it just the thing. You paid it seems to me a pretty good price for that farm, but considering the difference the improvements between the two places you got a better price for your little place than you paid for the one you now own. There now, you have my opinion in full. Dies it suit you?

You are now so much nearer where my wife & babies are. You & the rest of the folks can go down to see them pretty often & it will do them lots of good too. I want you to go down once in a while Saturday nights & take Rhoda up there & let her stay with you all the week. See to it she takes knitting work along to keep her out of mischief. Now, this is said in a joking sort of way, but I tell you I mean it. Do all you can to keep her in good courage.

You have, of course, heard before this time that we are not at Gallatin anymore. We left that pretty place the first day of June & arrived here at Lavergne (pronounced Laverne) the same day at 9 o’clock P.M. Lavergne was until after the Battle of Stone River quite a nice place but now if you wish to find the town, you must look around in the ashes, for that is about all there is left of it. The Battle of Stone River commenced here & if I had you here, I could show you the effects of cannon balls, shells, grape & canister & also some of the effects of rifle & musket balls. There are any amount of dead horses lying around here now that were killed at that time. There is one lying now not more than 20 from where I am seated writing to you.

Well, I suppose I ought to tell you that I am not in camp. I am on picket. I am sitting on a couple of knapsacks, one top of the other, & am using a board lying on a block of wood for a table. It does very well too. I have my cartridge box on & the little thing has forty rounds in it too. We have to carry forty rounds all the time. We are not allowed to have our accouterments off a minute in the whole 24 hours that we are on picket duty. We are now pretty near the front. We are only 15 miles from Murfreesboro.

You probably had an account of the Rebs making an attack on Franklin a short time ago. We we could hear the cannonading at that time perfectly plain. We went to bed that night with orders to have everything ready so we could lay our hands right upon them at a moment’s warning in the dark & be ready to shoot at them if they should venture to come near enough to be shot at, but they did not come. But last Tuesday night, we were got up in a hurry. The pickets got to firing at something & alarmed the camp & we had to stand in line of battle for about two hours I guess. It was about one o’clock when we went back to our quarters & went to bed.

Lieut. Adams has just come to our post & he says there are no more furloughs granted at all unless it may be sick furloughs. There are three fields of wheat in sight of our picket post that are ripe enough to cut. There are three or four acres in one field already in the shock. Wheat does not do near as well here as it does up North, but they raise some pretty big corn down here.

The Rebs captured a train of cars yesterday loaded with mules & horses away up in Kentucky. It does be thunder how the cusses do hang behind us. Now that train was captured according to report not more than forty miles this side of Louisville by a band of guerrillas but I think we shall give them thunder after awhile. I think that a month or six weeks now will tell a bog story for one side or the other & certainly think that the good part of the story will be for our side. Hurrah for our side, I say. I am bound to live in hopes if I die in despair.

Have you heard of Charley Trumbull  for some time. If so, how is he &c? His regiment is at Vicksburg & I wrote to him three or four days ago. I suppose you know his Captain is dead & by regular promotion, Charley is now First Lieutenant. We get no news from Vicksburg today but from all accounts, Grant has got them fast there. I hope he has for if he is successful there, I tell you it will have a great effect upon the war.

Sarah wrote that Alice said if Frank would make her a ring, she would hug him as hard as she could. Well, I have no more shells. I had just got a fine lot of them before we left Gallatin but we expected to go right into actual service & so I left all my shells, so I cannot accommodate her, but I should like her hug first rate if I could come home. Maybe if I come home, she will conclude to give me a good hug anyway. Well, you have all of you written me except father & it does seem to me he might find time to sit down & write me a short letter once in six months. I should like to have him write me what he thinks of the way the war is now being carried on & what he thinks will be the final results of the great struggle now going on between freedom & slavery &c.

We are living pretty pretty now about as well as I ever lived. We have plenty of the best of bread & are now having plenty of green apple sauce. We furnish the apple sauce ourselves. We get them off of regular secesh trees, but we make regular Union sauce of them. We get considerable butter. The way we get this, we trade coffee for it. We trade them coffee for 40 cts. per pound & take their butter at 30 cts. per pound. They bring in lots of nice young onions, radishes, lettuce, &c.

The weather is pretty warm day times but is generally pretty cold at night. There has only been two nights since we have been here but that we needed two blankets over us in order to sleep warm. I am afraid we shall get a wetting tonight. It looks as though we were going to have a shower. Well, it is getting about time to go on guard & it is also getting pretty near dark & that ain’t all — you see my paper is about all written over & what is not written over is perhaps still better. I believe I will wind up by telling you to give my love to all the rest of the folks. I don’t care whether you accept one for yourself or not. I am not going to ask you to answer for I don’t expect it will do any good or hurt.

Yours &c. — Frank Filer

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Monday, April 25th 1864

Dear Father,

I received yours of April 18th this morning and I need not say that it gave me a great deal of pleasure to read it. I am glad that you have recovered your health sufficiently to think of going back to your regiment. But you will have to take the very best care of yourself or I fear you will get sick again. I have been in the army long enough to find out that if a man does not take care of himself, no one else will. It is “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.”

It was a little singular that you got the idea that I was at home on furlough. I have never yet made an application for a furlough and I think it very doubtful if I ever do — unless I get down sick, and homesick, into the bargain. I don’t suppose you lost any great deal when you lost that letter. But it was a long one if it was not a good one. I suppose our folks could tell you something about what was in it. I believe I directed it in such a manner on purpose. But it was so long ago, I have almost forgotten about it.

I had heard that John Mercer was at home sick with the chronic diarrhea. But it was thought he was getting better. I believe that is the meanest disease known in the army. I know I would rather have any other get hold of me although, when taken in time, it readily yields to treatment. I came pretty near saying medicine, but diet has more to do with it than medicine does. I came very near getting it onto me winter before last when we were at the Tunnel. But I literally starved it off. Since that time I have not been troubled at all in that way.

I am glad to hear that Oliver Fowler has got home and is no worse that he is. I have always thought a great deal of him. If you should happen to see him, give him my best respects and tell him I hope to get home and have one good talk with him at least. You say he is just comfortably sick. I am now what I should call comfortably sick if I was at home. But I don’t know of any such kind of sickness in the army. I have got a kind of dumb ague. I had a chill of it last night — about in the center of it too. I have been excused from duty for the last three days. But I have done so for all that. Not because I was called on to do it, but because I rather do it than not.

It was rather amusing the manner in which you came to enlist. But I believe you will not find as much fun in enlisting to get rid of them as the girl did in getting married to get rid of them. I had to stop right here to eat my dinner, or rather, to cook it, or a part of it. We have company cooks but we have our meat dealt out to us raw. And many of us find a good deal of trouble in cooking it on account of a scarcity of cooking utensils. We have not a single cooking utensil in the mess that I belong to but we manage by getting a frying pan sometimes before it is really time to get a meal ready, or at other [times}, wait until those who have them are through with them.

Now, a word about our quarters. Perhaps it might be somewhat interesting to you to know something about our houses — homes, if you please. I suppose you know that we have only what we call pup tents furnished us. But as sure as you live, I would rather have them than any tent I ever saw. We have got them fixed up in good style. We just put four stakes, or posts, into the ground so as to form a square 7½ by 10 feet. We leave these posts four feet high. Then we put in the plates, rafters, and ridge pole. Then, side with shakes which we have rived out of Secesh timber for that purpose. I tell you, Secesh timber does split most splendidly. Almost as well as Secesh rails burn, or rather, used to burn, for they have about all long since played out. We set shakes up end-wise around the frame. And happy he who can get a few nails to fasten the upper ends of them to the rigging. But we manage it in some way whether we have nails or not. Precious few did we have, but we have got a good shanty. Now all that is lacking is the roof. But in less time than it takes to tell it, our pup tent is stretched over the ridge pole and made fast to the plate and end rafters and the house, with the exception of a door, is done. That is soon made by taking a couple of small poles and laying them down on the ground and tacking on some cracker box boards. A par of old shoes, broken down in the service, furnish hinges and our new door is soon on the swing.

A fire place is the next thing needful. That is soon constructed for stone is plenty and so is mud. Sticks & mud are the material of which the chimney is formed. Next comes the bunks. But this is not a very long job. But one has to get an axe and start for the timber to cut four forked sticks which….


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