1861: “Johnnie” Reb to Sweetheart “Lizzie”

How Johnnie might have looked

How Johnnie might have looked

This letter was written by a member of the Missouri militia organized by the Confederate-sympathizing Missouri governor, Claiborne Jackson. There is no envelope and except for a reference to Gen. Thomas A. Harris, the only names contained in the letter are first names, making further identifications extremely difficult. The author signed his name “Johnnie” and he wrote the letter to his “Dear Lizzie.” It was written from Fayette — a village a few miles north of Boonville, Missouri, and within ten miles of the Missouri River. The author informs us that he has been ordered by Gen. Harris to report to Troy in Lincoln County (north of St. Louis) to drill pro-secession recruits there. We also learn he will be given the rank of captain and that he will be the “Drill Officer” at the camp in Lincoln County.


Fayette, Howard County, Mo.
August 28th 1861

My Dear Lizzie,

Imagine my disappointment when Richard arrived here some days ago and told me he had no letter for me, but the frown of disappointment soon lit up into a smile of joy when I saw “that roguish smile” playing upon his face and saw him draw from his pocket that precious little letter from you. I shall not attempt to describe the truly welcome reception it met. I  — unlike you — was not only glad to receive one more but was truly glad to receive even one for I had come to the conclusion that you were going to let all of my letters go unanswered. You know, Lizzie, it would have given me the greatest pleasure to have written to you more frequently than I have done even though they went unanswered, but I think the reasons I gave you in my last for not doing so were very good. I received your letter last Friday — some five days ago — and I know you were not more impatient to receive this than I was to write it.

The reason why I did not answer immediately was that I was waiting to hear from Gen. [Thomas Alexander] Harris of the 2nd Military District in whose service I have been engaged since I left home. Dick, Ed, B. Gene, and Bob E. all arrived here safely with Richard and were very anxious for me to go out southwest with them, but I could not leave without hearing from General Harris and did not like to write to you until I could let you know where I was going and what I was going to do. I received a letter last night from the general and he says he can not let me go and has ordered me into Lincoln County on active duty. My position is Drill Officer with rank of Captain. As I am ordered on immediate duty, I will have to take my line of march early in the morning so I will have to go it alone again. I have not the first solitary acquaintance where I am going and will have quite a long ride with no better company than myself. I know I shall be very lonesome and will have the “blues” most terribly for awhile after leaving all the boys.

I should like very much to have the pleasure of taking that ring off for you and also witness the breaking of that seal but you know you were at liberty to take off the ring or break the seal after the 9th last. I should not like to bind you longer so keep the ring on. However, if you will keep it on, it will afford me the greatest pleasure to take it off and I do sincerely hope it will not be long until I have the opportunity of doing so.

No, Lizzie, I do not think you are such a “wicked creature” as you represent yourself to be and I feel truly thankful to know that I am remembered in your prayers. I know, Lizzie, that I have wandered far away from the path of rectitude and am totally unworthy of the many blessings the Good Being has conferred upon me, yet Lizzie, I feel that I should be too ungrateful were I not to daily thank Him for His kindness towards me and to ask His blessings daily upon your head and that peace, security, and happiness may be yours on these times of trouble. Let our prayers be continued at the “throne of Grace” for each other, Lizzie, and I know our Heavenly Father will not turn a deaf ear to us.

Do not give yourself any needless anxiety about me, Lizzie, for though I shall always try to do my whole duty, I shall not recklessly throw myself into danger.

Although you are well supplied with reading matter, it would afford me a very great pleasure to send the [Godey’s] Lady’s Book to you regularly, but it is impossible for me to get it up here by the November [?] so I shall have to forego that pleasure for the present.

The “boys” are all well and will start for the army in a few days more. Gene seems to be in fine spirits yet and looks quite hearty. Tell Cousin Ginnie not to be at all uneasy about him.

I will have to take this letter into Glasgow to mail it this evening and have not much time left to do it in so I can not write much longer though I would gladly do so for it seems as though I were closer to you whenever I am writing to you. Now “be a good girl,” Lizzie, and write to me very often, won’t you? for I shall be so lonesome with none but strangers. Don’t have the “blues” anymore please for I am getting along finely now and not near “starved out” yet.

Though we are in more danger here of being taken prisoners than we would be out with the main army, yet we fare much better because there are not so many of us. Give my kindest regards to Ma, Cousin Ginnie, and Aunty Scott. Tell your Ma that I am very thankful for her kind thoughts and sympathies in my behalf and that when we plant the glorious old “Stars and Bars” on the blood washed and insulted fields of “Camp Jackson,” ¹ I will give her full permission to fill out my lean jaws with as many “nice things” as she wishes to. I feel as if I can not quit writing but I must.

Now please write to me Lizzie. If you will write to me as soon as you get, I will get your answer as soon as I get down to Lincoln County. Direct to Troy, Lincoln County, Mo.

Goodbye. That we may meet again is my consuming hope. — Johnnie

Give my love to Alice. I have not heard from her for a long time. — J


¹ Camp Jackson — named after the pro-secession Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson — was located about 4½ miles northwest of the US Arsenal at St. Louis. It was occupied by nearly 700 pro-secession military men who had smuggled arms from the US arsenal at Baton Rouge and who planned to storm the US Arsenal at St. Louis but were foiled by Capt. Nathaniel Lyon who suspected their intentions and surrounded them before they could get organized. Forcing their surrender on 10 May 1861, Lyon had the prisoners marched to the arsenal, subjecting them to humiliation, and eventually to bloodshed as riots broke out in the St. Louis suburbs.


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