Thomas served in Capt. William E. Standart’s Battery B, 1st Ohio Light Artillery. “Private Potter’s remarkable affinity for writing and telling a story in vivid detail is clearly apparent [in his letters]. Yet this attribute ended with Potter’s death by the accidental premature discharge of his cannon at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863. Fortunately many of Potter’s letters have survived, providing a graphic insight to the wartime experiences of a soldier who was present amid some of the most dramatic events of the war.” [Source: Wiley’s Sword’s, War Letters Series, …Battle of Stones River]
Addressed to Mrs. R. S. Robinson, Tekonsha, [Calhoun County] Michigan
Camp Mitchell, Rogersville, Alabama
June 16, 1862
Again [William E.] Standart’s Battery [B] is a wandering to the tune of — get out of the wilderness. At the last accounts, the center section — the Captain [Standart] in command — was on the road from Columbia to Murfreesboro, and the left section — Lieutenant [John H.] Sypher commanding — was at Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the right section — Lieutenant [John A.] Bennett — is lying here at [text obliterated] in this state about two weeks. We are 75 miles south of Columbia and 20 south of the Alabama and Tennessee line, about three north of Lamb’s Ferry which is situated on [the] Tennessee River at the head of Mussel Shoals and 30 miles above Florence two miles below the mouth of Elk River. I would have written to you sooner but all letters have to be sent to Columbia by carrier as that is the nearest P. O.
We left ______ ______ near LaLeache [Pulaski?] 10 miles from Columbia on Saturday the 31st of May escorted by two companies of the 1st Wisconsin [Infantry]. Made a forced march to this place. We arrived here Sunday evening June 1st, making 70 miles within 30 hours.
Monday we proceeded to the river accompanied by the 78th Pennsylvania [Infantry], Col. [William] Sirwell acting Brigadier General. The Rebels had a very good position in some log buildings on the west side of the river which they had loopholed for riflemen. Our sharpshooters and theirs were soon exchanging their compliments. The rascals have a number of Belgium rifles carrying a two-ounce ball. They made pretty good shots but rather high, doing no damage farther than killing a horse, but they could not stand our shenkle shells. We riddled every one of the buildings through and through, burning five of them to the ground. ¹
We returned to camp about 4 P.M. and took up our quarters in a large church having left our tents behind and here we have lain ever since pursuing the usual avocations of camp life, eating and sleeping.
Last Friday our camp equipage arrived and we pitched our tents (three in number) in the yard in front of the church in a pleasant grove of young oaks. We pick any amount of dewberries and blackberries and wild plumbs and cherries. Mulberries, and strawberries are all gone. Peaches will soon be ripe. Harvest is nearly over here. People here are miserably poor — even those that were counted wealthy before the war broke out are in a sad plight now. Salt is worth 10 dollars per sack and other things in proportion.
Last week a party of Rebel surgeons and citizens came across the river under a flag of truce bringing a prisoner along one of our men belonging to the 37th Indiana who had been wounded and taken prisoner at Athens (about 14 miles from here) about 6 [?] weeks ago by a guerrilla band. There were some 40 captured at the same time but they have all been paroled. The party came up to the church — the upper part being used for a hospital. He was placed in charge of our doctors and is doing well. They stayed to dinner, had quite a gay time of it, when they were escorted to the river by the Col. and staff.
Well, here we are — as it were — set off from the world. It is next to impossible to get any mail matter here without even the salutation of a picket, skirmish, or a daily to while away the time. There is known to be over 4,000 Rebel cavalry on this side of the river but we will not be attacked even by this force in the daytime. They may perhaps pay us a visit some dark night but they will be heartily welcome at any time they choose to come. I thin that we will be sent to Chattanooga when we leave here. I understand that General Buell’s Division is near here following up the Memphis and Charleston Railroad which runs within 7 miles of the river (on the west side). It is supposed that he is to head the Rebel Army if they make a break from Virginia toward Tennessee. I hope that we will be sent up with them. There is strong prospects of this rebellion coming to a close soon. The Rebel States are all suffering and if we let them alone, they will soon starve out.
But I must close. Do not write to me again until you hear from me again for there is no possibility of my ever receiving them here. I will write to you as often as I can. Do not be uneasy about my welfare. Remember that there is many other men for bullets to strike besides me — many who have left find wives and helpless children to mourn for them (and bullets are very apt to sing very close to a man’s ears without touching)…
The health of our troops despite the warm weather is better now than it had been yet. Our Rebel friends keep up their hopes that our troops cannot stand their climate but they are as much mistaken as they were when they boasted that the Yankees would not fight.
Well enough of this. Give my best regards to all.
Your brother, — T. C. Potter
¹ The following is an account of the engagement: “In half an hour from the command “fall in,” the boys were on the bank of the Tennessee, four miles distant from camp. To their great disappointment, however, the enemy had fled across the river, which at this place is seven hundred yards wide and not fordable. Several volleys were fired, but with what effect is not known. The artillery was brought into action at once, and did splendid execution. Two shells were fired into a house from which the enemy had been firing musketry; two balls were shot into the ferry-boat, and about twenty shells into the woods. At one point General [J. S.] Negley directed the attention of the Lieutenant [Sypher] to some teams passing behind the bushes; a shell was at once directed to the spot, and so remarkable was the precision of the gunner, that the shell exploded exactly among the reams, blowing mules, wagon, and load into fragments.” [From the 21 May 1862 Daily Evening Express]
Camp at Columbia, Tennessee
June 25th 1862
I am happy to acknowledge the receipt of one more letter from you. Yours of the 1st (June) was handed to me day before yesterday while on the march to this place and as you are so fond of long letters, I will send you the outlines of our march to this point.
Well, last Sunday at 6 o’clock a.m., our piece, three companies of the 75th Pennsylvania Infantry, and a squad of Wolford’s Kentucky Cavalry took up their line of march for Pulaski, all under the command of Captain Jordan of the 75th Pa. and without regret left the town of Rogersville in the hands of the citizens (the balance of the troops having left several days before). Nothing worthy [of notice] occurred on our route to Pulaski where we arrived Monday morning. There we had to lay until the captain telegraphed and received an answer from General [James Scott] Negley at Columbia. The order was for us to come on to Columbia and accordingly we resumed our march Reynold’s Station — 8 miles from Pulaski and 24 from Columbia. Went into camp for the night about dark We got our supper and were cheered by the arrival of Lieutenant Bennett from Columbia with a bundle of letters for us. Besides yours, I received one from Charlotte bearing the same date as yours and one from Cousin Ann Elize dated June 8th. All well as far as I heard from.
Dwight Hagard is dead. Was wounded in the lungs and died soon after. I did not learn what regiment he was in or where the skirmish took place.
Well yesterday morning we left our company at the station and proceeded on to Columbia. Had several heavy showers — got a god wetting — but it was warm and pleasant. Came into camp here about 2 p.m. Found here the centre section here — had just returned from an expedition to East Tennessee — and No. 2 piece was here in camp. They had pitched our tents, had our picket rope up, and it was very lucky for us it was raining so hard that a man could hardly tell the truth.
Well I found another letter here for me from Homer dated June 13th. They were all well — so were William’s.
We are camped on the north side of the Duck River in the suburbs of town. The main part of the town lies south of the river. How long we will lay here or where we will go, I cannot tell. The left section (Lieut. [John H.] Sypher) is at Shelbyville, Tennessee. It is rumored that we are to be sent to East Tennessee toward Knoxville. I hope it may be so. There is nothing like active service to pass away time.
You say you will tell me all the news if I will call, I think I will do so this fall sometime when this war is over — which God grant may not be long. It seems to me that you are rather nervous to be frightened so at a strange hand writing on an envelope. The hard times you mention is not so bad as you seem to think. For my part, I can say that I get along very well being blessed with good health and having been pretty well inured to hardships off soundings on blue water. I get along very well.
You wish to have our bill of fare. Well, for breakfast we have coffee, hard bread, pork or bacon, and I will add a little sugar and you have our morning’s meal. And for dinner ditto — perhaps add a few beans or rice. And for supper the same minus the beans and rice. But we have plenty of it at all times. Butter is worth her 20 cts per pound and other things in accordance. At Rogersville, butter was worth 40 cts, sugar 80 cts, coffee one dollar, tea $5.00, salt $16.00 per sack and other things accordingly.
I am very happy to hear that you are getting along so well. I sincerely hope that I will see the day that you will not be obliged to take in work to make a living. I received the letter from Charlotte containing the death of Cousin Helen that you mentioned in yours. The letter enclosed to me in yours written by those little nieces of mine is very interesting and no doubt contains much news. I will try and comply with their request to send them a flower if I can get one here so near town.
I suppose a battlefield to the eye of a spectator is indeed an awful sight but it works different on the feelings of a soldier with his passion raised to its highest pitch. He does not feel the least compunction about seeing his friends fall around him. As for me, at Mill Springs where we stood for half an hour within fifteen paces of the rebel line with the bullets flying all around — above, below — and my fellow soldiers falling to rise no more on all sides, it did not seem real to see a strong, healthy man suddenly and without a groan, drop his gun and sink to the ground — perhaps without a struggle — lose his eyes forever. It did not seem real. But I think that I have seen my last battlefield.
But I must close for the present. write to me as often as possible and I will improve every opportunity to let you know of my whereabouts. Do not be uneasy about me, All will be for the best yet.
Thursday the 26th
All is quiet here today. No signs of a movement. I have just returned from town, Had two daguerreotypes taken. Will send one to William; the other to Father. I would like to send one to you but as you have one, I thought I would postpone it for the present. I think it will not be many months until I can take it to you myself if nothing happens.
The weather is warm and showery. But I must close. I want to write two more letters this evening. write to me as often as possible, Letters will come from there to this place within four days if not miscarried. You can not imagine how it cheers me to get a letter from you. Write often.
This from your brother, — T. C. Potter
Direct to T. C. Potter, Columbia, Tenn., Care of Lieutenant Bennett, 2nd Battery, 1st Regt. Ohio Light Artillery.
Give my best regards to all the friends.
In Camp at Stone’s River Crossroads
Saturday, July 26th 1862
After so long a silence (occasioned by the retaking of Murfreesboro by the enemy & their cutting off our mail facilities with the North), I improve this my first opportunity for several weeks to assure you that I am still alive and enjoying good health. Since my last to you from Columbia, we have been almost constantly on the road are marching now on the Murfreesboro Lebanon Pike 6 miles north and east of the former town at a point where the Nashville & McMinnville Turnpike crosses the Lebanon Road.
Well we left Columbia July the ninth, found the left section at Shelbyville, left there the same day with ours to report to Colonel [Henry A.] Hambright (79th Pennsylvania) at Wartrace 8 miles west of Shelbyville — a point on the Chattanooga Railroad. Here we lay in camp the night before and day of the skirmish and disgraceful surrender of our troops at Murfreesboro. There we lay only twenty miles by railroad from the scene of action with two trains of cars large enough to have transported us there in two hours from early dawn until two o’clock p.m. (Sunday the 12th). The boom of distant artillery was incessantly and plainly heard by us. Could we have been permitted to have went to their assistance that disgraceful surrender of the Minnesota Third would never have taken place and the brave and gallant [John M.] Hewitt would not have been obliged to surrender his [1st Kentucky Light Artillery] battery for the want of support. Well, it is of no use mourning about it now. It provokes me to think of it even now. ¹
Well, not being attacked there as was expected, Thursday we were ordered to Tullahoma 15 miles south on the railroad where the McMinnville Railroad leaves the Chattanooga Road & to join General Smith. Here we lay expecting a general attack until the 19th when we were ordered back to Murfreesboro via Shelbyville to join the command of General [“Bull”] Nelson. Arriving at Murfreesboro, we found Nelson with a part of his division. The next night when we were camped in the field where the skirmish took place, the enemy made a dash on some point between here and Nashville capturing a train of cars and burning a bridge. The next morning General Nelson marched toward Nashville with four battalions of cavalry, 6 regiments of infantry, and three batteries of artillery, leaving the 8th Kentucky, 34th Indiana, a battalion of Kentucky cavalry, and our battery to hold the city.
We moved our company to an eminence on the west side of town and before noon, Colonel [Sidney M.] Barnes (of the 8th Kentucky, acting brigadier and in command of our brigade) had pressed in 300 slaves from adjoining plantations and had them busy throwing up fortifications. Well, to crown all rebel impudence that I ever saw, about four o’clock on the same evening, a round of rebel cavalry (the far-famed Texas Rangers) passed our pickets under a flag of truce bearing a demand from the guerrilla chief Stearns to Colonel Barnes for an unconditional surrender of the place. His reply was that if he wanted the place, why come and take it. Every man was at his post that night but about midnight a courier arrived from Nelson ordering our brigade to proceed to Lebanon (about 30 miles northeast of here) as soon as possible. When within ten miles of Lebanon, we were ordered back to this place where we arrived about 10 o’clock the morning of the 22nd and here we have lain ever since with nothing to interest us but the occasional clash of a squad of rebel cavalry on our picket lines.
We have captured several of these gentries here yesterday. We had a general review attended in person by General Nelson. Well, Ruby, I must close. The cars will be through from Nashville today for the first time since we came to Murfreesboro. I want to send this by today’s mail. Please excuse my haste. I will try and write more next time. Give my love to all.
This from your brother, — T. C. Potter
Direct to T. C. Potter via Nashville, Tennessee, care of Captain Standart, 2nd Battery, 1st Regiment, Ohio Light Artillery
¹ While guarding the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Third Minnesota and other units of its brigade were attacked by Confederate Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest in the early morning hours of July 13. Leaving a small force to guard its camp, the Third marched a short distance toward the sound of the fighting, then halted. Part of Forrest’s force attacked the Third’s camp guard consisting of about thirty men. This small detachment put up a stubborn fight, finally becoming overwhelmed with the Confederates’ third attack. Meanwhile, the balance of the Third Minnesota remained idle. The vast majority of the regiment believed that they should go to the aid of their comrades and could defeat Forrest’s relatively small force. Instead, Col. Lester decided to surrender the regiment. This caused the officers and men great shame and embarrassment. Lester and the officers who voted for surrender were eventually dismissed from the service.
Camp at McMinnville, Tennessee
Friday, August 22, 1862
Your very kind and very welcome favor of the 17th July came to hand last evening. I was very happy to hear from you again. I still enjoy good health and sincerely hope this will find you enjoying the same blessings. Far from my thinking hard of you, sister, for not writing me sooner, would that it were within my power to help you along, that you did not have so much to do. It is hard, I know, for you to battle along, provide for yourself and children, but all that I can do is to hope that we will all see better days.
There is an abundance of fruit here. The country is flooded with peaches and apples. There has been more corn raised here this year than ever was before. It is getting ripe now.
You to know how I spent the Fourth [of July]. Doubtless ere this you have received a letter from me written at Columbia soon after the Fourth giving a full account of our celebration.
Now sister, I am getting quite interested about that Sunday ride of yours with a gentleman. Pray explain in your next what is his name. Perhaps the manner in which you sign your name accounts for all. Well I cannot see through it yet. When you write again (which I hope will not be long hence), please explain a little clearer about the wedding &c. &c. I do remember something about the Ladies you mention — Paulina and Charity — but I hardly think that I should recognize them now — it has been so long since I have seen them. By the way [I consider myself a] very clever gentleman, [but] I am completely lost in the fog.
I received a letter yesterday from Homer dated July 20th. All were well. Also received one from Charlotte under date August 4th. Charlotte says she received a letter the night before from W. M. Potter. He had enlisted. Now I am at a loss to know who she means. I cannot imagine who it is. I have not heard from Flora since I left Michigan — that is directly.
Father is getting along as well as could be expected. By the way, cousin Jerome Potter has shipped again for a voyage of life in the holy state of matrimony. He was married to Miss Mary Haynes — sister to his former wife — on Sunday, August the 3rd. May their voyage be a happy one says I. He has enlisted again. He goes out this time as Orderly Sergeant of a company that is being raised in and about Troy.
You may be assured that you will see me about as soon as any of our folks but it must be some months to come yet. It will not take long to settle this affair when the new Love of Troys are brought into the field. Now sister, do not let your fears run away with your better judgement. Remember that I am but one among one million who have or are to hold themselves in readiness to be shot at by the rebels and a great proportion of these men have families who are in a great measure dependent on them for a livelihood and as for the hard times that you mention, I have been long inured to hardships and privations and peril. You know my wild, roving disposition. It has clung to me since my early childhood. It is true, this life of subordination does not exactly agree with my hot-headed disposition, yet I can truly say never for a moment have I regretted that I am, or that I entered into, the service of my country. Still there is none who will be more happy to hear of peace being restored to this unhappy country than your humble servant.
I wish that I could send Phene and doll both a flower but it is too late in the season for that now. You can just keep that brood of chickens until I come out there on a visit. They will be good eating by that time. Do not worry about Homer or William being drafted. They stand a chance but then if they do, it cannot be helped.
As for the rebels carrying the day, ’tis out of the question. We have been playing war so far trying to recall them by kind words but to no effect. Let us commence a vigorous warfare with them just as if we were warring with a foreign power and this rebellion will be run into the ground within two months.
I did not receive the letter that you mention from you at Union City. This is the first I have received from you since we left Columbia.
Well Sister, I have just finished my dinner and having touched on all of the leading subjects of your letter, I will finish by explaining our present position. We are camped at the town of McMinnville situated at the foot of Cumberland Mountain, 12 miles southeast of Murfreesboro. This is the key of Middle Tennessee as the only two routes across the mountain is here and at Sparta 28 miles east of here being the direct route from Chattanooga to Nashville. It is 60 miles from this town to the former and as it is now occupied by the rebel forces under Generals Beauregard and Bragg, said to number from 60,000 to 70,000, you will see that it is of some importance to us. General [William “Bull”] Nelson has been sent to Louisville to take charge of the new troops and his division is commanded by Brigadier [Jacob] Ammen.
Day before yesterday, Major General [George Henry] Thomas arrived and assumed command. General [Thomas J.] Wood is expected here tomorrow. It will not be proper for me to state how many troops we have or may have here within a few days. It is enough to say that if the rebel chieftain sees fit to advance on us, we have force enough to throw him up a pretty hot dish before he reaches Nashville by this route.
I had forgotten to say that cousin Addison Potter is here, is a member of the 24th Ohio, but for the present is detached from duty with three others from the same regiment to fill up Captain [John] Mendenhall‘s regular battery, is well [and] looks hearty. I have not seen cousin Jesse for some time but expect to soon. Are looking for his regiment every day. But I must close as I have to go on guard. Excuse my haste. Write soon and often. Give my love to the little ones. Remember me to all inquiring friends.
Your brother, T. C. Potter
Camp at Silver Springs, Tennessee
Sunday evening, November 16, 1862
It is hardly an hour since I mailed a letter to you and within fifteen minutes of that time I received your next kind favor of the 13th August. It had been miscarried and was marked on the back, received at Cairo, Illinois August 22nd, and I will improve this favorable opportunity of answering your ever kind letter. I had almost forgotten the little dew drop that I sent you. I received the letter that you speak of while we lay at McMinnville.
You wish to know what the term of unlimbering guns means and I will try and explain. A gun carriage is composed of two parts — the limber and gun carriage. The forward wheels on which the ammunition chest are mounted and to which the horses are hitched is called the limber. The rear, or hinder parts, are the gun carriage on which the cannon is placed and when prepared for action, the stock — or trailer, as you would say — the breach (which is hooked on to a large hook on the limner is unhooked and dropped to the ground). The gun is then ready for action. That is what is called unlimbering a gun, and to “limber up” is the contrary and is done by two men taking up the trail and hooking it in to the pintle hook — as it is called — and then the gun is ready to be moved to another position.
You wish to know what the term Tiger means. Well when a lot of soldiers are giving three cheers, after the third cheer is given, one and all shout “Tiger” with a vengeance. This — when shouted by a large crowd — gives a very peculiar sound that cannot be imitated by any other.
You speak of wanting to send dried fruit & to soldiers but take my advice, never send anything to a soldier that you cannot send in a letter for there is no certainty of their ever getting anything by mail. Now sister dear, do not be uneasy about William and Homer. To be sure, they have their risks to run, but it will not help the matter and if all of us should get killed or die naturally, you must consider that there is hundreds of such mourners every day and only think of the many families in the border states that are divided — some of the family in one army and others of the family circle in the ranks of the others. But I am perfectly willing to run my chances for life or death in this national race…
Well Ruby, you will see several drops of water on the paper. It is raining and the tent leaks some but I must get another sheet.
… and the fear that that you entertain of William’s not being able to live south of Mason & Dixon’s Line is entirely unfounded. He may go south and enjoy good health as he would north and again his regiment may not be sent south at all — at least in warm weather. Charlotte wrote me that he and Homer were in the 107th Michigan Regiment. I have been unable to learn where the regiment is. You may rest assured that Mary will not accompany him and if I was in his place, I would rather see her grave than to drag her after me in the service. The army is no place for a woman.
We received papers in camp this evening stating that England & France have recognized the Southern Confederacy and sent our ministers home. Well if they will have it, so let it be. We will make it pretty lively times for them all, We have a powerful army and navy and will not fumble ourselves to the combined powers of the earth. There has been a great deal of bloodshed already but if England and France come into the game, blood will flow in earnest. That is right, hold onto your helpmeet if he is the right sort of a man. Keep him out of the service as long as possible, and when you are obliged to give him, why keep up your spirits. But I do not apprehend any such thing. Yes, I suppose that Charlotte would like to send out her man and have him shot. Few would be the tears shed if he would.
Your nicely cooked chicken would be very acceptable to almost any soldier. I guess I will have to postpone the expected visit until spring. When you see me coming, then you may prepare the dinner, but until that period, do not worry about my coming.
I am happy to hear you speak of your any comforts and to be assured that are so well provided for. I am sorry that you lost your garden stuff but it will soon be time to commence with it again. You may have better luck next.
If we had the horse that you speak of, we could soon subdue him. We kill a great many fine horses. Artillery service is very hard on horses.
Do not pay any attention to the prophecy of the mediums. What have the spirits to do with our affairs here in Dixie but it must go on. Let it last for two years are good for it. At least we feel so and will continue to do so until the last.
I guess when you have deciphered this letter you will not say anything about short letters but if you cannot read it, just get some boys to translate it or a little of it everyday in the English language and it will last you several weeks.
Well sister, do not look for letters from me very often for when we move from here I may not have an opportunity to write you again for some time and if you do not hear from me for months to a time, do not be uneasy. Our mail is frequently intercepted by the guerrillas. Write as often as possible. In the letter that I mailed to you this afternoon you will find three rebel postage stamps — a two cent and the other of ten cents. Perhaps you have not seen any of them. Well it is bedtime and I will bid you good night. remember me to all the friends, Write soon. From your brother, T. C. Potter
You will perceive that I have skipped this page in my hurry.
Monday morning after breakfast and all is well.
It is raining some this morning with fair prospects of a wet day. There is as yet no prospects of a movement. I have just perused the long letter that you sent me. It is a very popular Negro melody here in Dixie. Well sister, I will close as I am detailed to go with a squad after forage this morning. So goodbye. Write often. Your brother, — T. C. P.
My hand is very unsteady this morning.