1862: Reuben J. Wolfe to James Edward Clifford

How Reuben might have looked

How Reuben might have looked

Though unsigned, this letter was most likely authored by Pvt. Reuben J. Wolfe of Co. D, 8th Illinois Infantry. Reuben enlisted in the 8th Illinois at Cairo on 26 July 1861. He was discharged on 26 July 1864 from Company C, 4th Invalid Corps (to which he transferred on 22 October 1863). He resided in Des Moines, Iowa before taking residence in a Veteran’s Home for Disabled Soldiers in Milwaukee in 1867. The conjecture on Wolfe’s identity is based primarily upon the fact that the Misouri History Museum in St Louis has a letter in their collection that was signed by R. J. Wolfe of the 8th Illinois from Jackson, Tennessee and also addressed to J. Ed. Clifford of Phillipstown, Illinois. That letter (undated) briefly describes the town of Jackson, Tennessee.

This letter was written to James Edward Clifford (1834-1908), the son of Caleb Clifford (1803-1866) and Hepsibah Barlow (1804-1876) who were among the first settlers of Phillipstown, White County, Illinois. — just across the Wabash River from Indiana. He was admitted to the Western Military Institute in Nashville, Tennessee in September 1853. In 1858 he was married to Ann Susan Charles (1841-1877). In the 1860 census he was enumerated as a farmer in White County, Illinois. In 1863, he served as the postmaster of Phillipstown.


Jackson, Tennessee
July 2nd 1862

J. Ed Clifford, Esq.
Respected friend,

I have arrived safely and sound after repeated stoppages (I am not certain whether that word has two p’s or not but I have no dictionary) composed chiefly if breakdowns, blow-ups, &c. Starting June 18th for Mt. Vernon, Ind., the first snag I encountered was the fact that I had to lay over two days on account of a packet going down. I went to Cairo where, after three days of indefatigable exertions, I induced the Quarter Master to give me transportation to Memphis. I could not go up the Tennessee and the railroad was not in running order from Columbus, Ky. so my only chance to get into this fight was to go to — what is the patent name for Memphis? It isn’t Crescent City for that is New Orleans. I missed the evening train [on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad going] to Grand Junction [Tennessee by] three hours, but it was fortunate for me very [much] for the same train was attacked by a part of 150 guerrilla’s who threw the train off the track and then in the confusion of the moment, killed 21 and captured 80 or 90. Only three men escaped to tell the sad tale. Two of them belonged to the old 8th [Illinois] Regiment. I was fortunate indeed in missing the unfortunate train.

Of course I could proceed no further in that direction so I turned “about face” and went to Columbus [Ky.] and took the first train for Jackson that ran through. The rebels had taken the precaution to destroy all the water tanks along the road and the consequence was that the water in the boiler gave out and she blew up, smashed up, blowed out, went under, backed down, Rerflumixed &c. But at length — after repeated delays — I once more gained a safe footing on the sacred (secesh) soil of Jackson in twelve days from the time I left White County [Indiana]. For the delay of the train, of course, nobody is responsible, or at least the “responsible person” wasn’t along; if he had been and heard the long, endless and universal execrations which were heaped upon his head, he would have come to the patriotic conclusion that the railroad business did not pay — particularly slow institutions.

On my somewhat extensive journey I passed all those famous places on the Mississippi River which America’s historians have been pleased to record on the catalogue of treacheries deeds. Columbus has been a strongly fortified place. New Madrid is just no place at all. Ft. Pillow has been a fearful place indeed. The frowning bluffs, the high ledge of rock & look like — well, I don’t know, but it appears to me that the famous “charnel house” is built not far from here. Nevertheless, the place looks romantic and the poetic enthusiast or novelist might find a theme there worthy of his nocturnal labors. All along the shore and on every Island, wrecks of ill-fated steamers, tugs, and “rams” may be seen. Rebellion was the cause, but I will not diverge.

Fort Randolph farther down is a humbug — a glorious, splendid, magnificent, enormous humbug. And when Southern papers and politicians boasted and blowed about the formidableness of Ft. Randolph, verily I say unto you, they had their designs for the thing of itself and on its own merits will not stand the test; and when the Southern Gents boasted of the frowning, death-dealing instruments that lay silently and sullenly behind the formidable walls of Randolph, they either willfully misrepresented the thing or possessed a very elastic imagination. But I don’t wish to cast any reflection on “Southern Chivalry.” That same chivalry is a great institution. Brave, patriotic, heaven-born chivalry; may heaven preserve ye; And when the angelic choristers shall waft their lovely strains upon heaven’s pure zephyrs, may they pay a passing tribute of respect to the memory of departed chivalry.

Well, Island No. 10 just above New Madrid deserves notice but just as I passed there twilight was gathering her dark folds around her and at a very critical juncture, the curtain fell — or rather a hell of a storm came up which might have induced me to grow warm with enthusiasm and dwell with delight upon a place whose name has gained a spot in historic renown — and the dim outlines of the Island appeared “Mountain in imagination.”

Ho for Memphis. Slowly we wended our way down the father of waters. Dimly the distant spires of churches and Court House struck our vision, but presently our anxious minds were struck with consternation unaccountable. Memphis is a city. Who’d a thunk it. Not a city in the ordinary sense of the word — a place of 5,000 people, Mayor, Policemen &c. — but a genuine city whose architects deserve credit for art and science and whose people deserve praise for taste, refinement, and cultivation. Not being provided with the necessary statistics, I will say that Memphis is larger than Indianapolis and built in beautiful style. Nature did a noble work there in the first place, and, and what? The Yankee did the balance. As I said before, taste and refinement are displayed on all hands and for beauty of locality and artistic design, no city in the West can surpass it. But I will let future sojourners expatiate on its merits and beauty, and content myself for a brief period in looking into the business aspect of the city. About three fourths of the business houses have been opened and are doing a heavy business. The principal exports are sugar, molasses, cotton, and tobacco. That same cotton that was to have been burned and destroyed in the event of the occupation of Memphis by the “invaders of our sacred soil” is being pulled oit of cellars, dug out of the ground, &c. and on the banks of the river. At every plantation was to be seen huge piles of the “King” and a “nigger” standing by ready to hail the first boat Northern bound. Cairo is suffocating with cotton. Memphis is and will be the Commercial Emporium of the South and the Almighty dollar is bringing about a result which the force of arms never can. The people of Memphis will soon be as loyal as St Louis or Cincinnati when once that “King Cotton” illusion is dispelled.


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