1863: Nathaniel Prime to Mary Jane (Morrison) Prime

How Nathaniel might have looked

How Nathaniel might have looked

This letter was written by 35 year-old Nathaniel Prime (1828-1879), the son of John Prime (1785-1869) and Rebecca Hutto (1802-1850) of Howard County, Indiana. Nathaniel was married to Mary Jane Morrison in December 1851. He served as the First Sergeant of Company D of the 89th Indiana infantry from August 1862 to May 1863. Upon his return to Kokomo, Nathaniel became the first sheriff of Howard County for two, two-year terms. During the war, Nathaniel’s company had to march for several days through swampland. Later, he and his men were captured by the Confederates at the Battle of Munfordville, Kentucky, and held as prisoners of war. These circumstances probably contributed to his untimely death from lung fever at the age of 48. Perhaps that is the reason his daughter Arabelle had the words, “died that their children might live” engraved on her parents’ tombstone.

This letter was written while the 89th Indiana was attached to the District of Memphis in the 16th Army Corps. The 89th Indiana performed guard and fatigue duty at Fort Pickering located just south of Memphis, Tennessee.


Quarter Master’s Office
Fort Pickering, Tennessee
February 9th 1863

Dear Mary Jane and children,

This morning I am glad to inform you that I am still on the mend and in the Quarter Master’s Office assisting to make a monthly report, but I don’t think I will remain here long for I would much rather be with my company for I have become so much attached to them while I stay in the service for we have a jolly a set of boys as ever trod the soil of Tennessee. [John W.] Pool ¹ is the company’s favorite. He is always lively and if any of the boys becomes homesick or down-heartened, Pool will have a good joke to tell or make it interesting is some way.

Yours of the first of this month is the latest news that I have from you. I hope [2d Lt. William] Styer will [return from Kokomo] tomorrow and bring me some good news. If he don’t, I hope the mail will. I must confess that I have been uneasy about you. But from the way you write, I am satisfied for the time being. But if things don’t go on to suit you, I want you to let me know it and I will have a friend there that will attend to it.

Our regiment’s health is improving and the weather is turning warmer. All is quiet here. I haven’t heard a word said about a rebel being near here for the last four weeks. All the talk is Vicksburg & peace, and a war in Indiana. There are several Illinois regiments in this fort and they are dying very fast. The Hundred and Ninth Illinois Regiment ² (the ones that disgraced the state of Illinois) that laid down their arms are here inside the fort and their men are dying from one to three and four a day. While I am writing, I hear the firing of guns which is over the remains of one of their men. It looks like a great piece of nonsense but is practiced by a great many of the soldiers here. We have only had to bury one of our boys (L. Long) ³ and we took him to the grave quietly and there we had our chaplain to make a nice prayer & sung a beautiful song and in the absence of his relations (but not in the absence of friends) we buried him without the firing of any guns. And here let me say I never witnessed a more solemn time in all my life. But this is not the case with many that die. It appears like their officers want them out of sight in the quickest way possible.

Now I must close. I have wrote much more than I thought of doing when I began. The boys are all on the mend and I think if the weather remains anything like good, we will all be well before long. Now I must close.

I want you to take care of yourselves the best you can. Prospects are quite flattering for me here at present. I think it won’t be but a few days until I will be all all right.

Write soon & often. Affectionately yours, — N. Prime

¹ Pvt. John W. Pool was from Kokomo, Indiana. He served in Co. D, 89th Indiana Infantry from August 1862 to July 1865.

² The 109th Illinois Infantry was formed of men from Union County, Illinois, Alexander County, Illinois, Jackson County, Illinois, Johnson County, Illinois, and Pulaski County, Illinois. The men were organized at Camp Anna near Anna, Illinois and were mustered into service on September 11, 1862. From the beginning the regiment suffered from low morale, which was exacerbated by being issued “inferior” weapons. The regiment joined the Army of the Tennessee commanded by Major General Ulysses S. Grant and spent most of the fall guarding railroads and supplies around in west Tennessee. Due to poor organization and the dismal state of their weapons they were deemed unfit for combat and spent most of the rest of the winter at Holly Springs, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. Traveling with the rest of the Army of the Tennessee down the Mississippi River in preparation for the assault on Vicksburg. Morale continued to plunge while the 109th was at Lake Providence, Louisiana and the number of deserters climbed to 237. High command decided that the regiment would be better if it was disbanded and broken up. Most of the officers were sent home or to other commands, and the remaining men were transferred to the 11th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. During the short-term of service for the 109th Illinois, they never saw combat and lost 2 officers and 92 men died by disease. These losses were augmented by the desertion of at least 237 men.

³ Sgt. Lewis Long was from Oakford, Indiana. He served in Co. D, 89th Indiana Infantry from August 1862 until his death at Memphis on 16 December 1862.


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