1861: John Marshall White to Brother & Sister

Uniform of the

Uniform of trooper in the “Merrill Horse” — a miniature by Fernando Ruiz

This letter was written by John Marshall White (1835-1917) from Benton Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. We learn from the letter that he and other members of his company left Battle Creek, Michigan in early August and traveled to St. Louis. There were two companies of cavalry recruited in Michigan — Troops H & I — that were incorporated into the Second Missouri Cavalry (“Merrill Horse”) in September 1861. John was a member of “Troop I” commanded by 19 year-old Capt. James B. Mason of Battle Creek. [See Roster]

John Marshall White was the son of Marshall White (1810-1893) and Marysylvia Winship (1807-1899) of Westminster, Worcester County, Massachusetts. In 1868, he married Caroline P (“Carrie”) Carpenter (1841-1930) in Fenton, Genessee, Michigan.


St Louis [Missouri]
August 9th 1861

Dear Brother & Sister,

We have arrived in camp at last at the City of St Louis as you will see by the above date. We came in last night and stayed in the City until morning but am now in quarters at Camp Benton. The quarters are framed buildings and not tents as we supposed. None are furnished tents. None have them except those furnished by their state. There are now in camp fifty regiments — about fifty thousand men. All quiet here. No prospect of a fight at present. In these parts it is comfortably warm, not seriously.

You would like to know how I like camp life. I cannot tell yet. There are a large quantity of horses in and about the camp. I do not know how many — several thousand I believe.

As the country is under marshall law, there is little to be heard from secessionists so we could not give an opinion as to the quantity now in these parts. All seem to be in fine spirits in and around the encampment. All seem quite confident in [Charles C.] Fremont. He is in the city. I have not seen him yet.

I will tell you about coming down. If not interesting — why, don’t read it. Well we left Battle Creek the next day after coming back from home. There was about five thousand people turned out to see us leave. We left at twenty-five minutes after twelve among the cheers, tears, and smiles of many a fair lady present to witness the leaving. We got underway at last and at every station and house along the road hands, handkerchiefs, hats, and every available article was brought in requisition to cheer us along. All seemed willing [to] give us their good will from the delicate hand of the aristocrat down to the brood paw of the Irish washerwoman. You may conclude we felt somewhat conipopperrosious to see such a display of feeling all along the line of the road until dark put an end to the farther distress.

This city is a large place and built mostly of brick and stone — very few wooden buildings. I was up into the top of the courthouse cupola this morning. It is 280 feet hight. It gives a commanding view of the entire city. It was a splendid sight stretching in a western direction about five miles — eastward about the same distance — and north about three miles. The camp is in the north part of the city on a handsome plain. Good water and plenty of good fruit — the best peaches I ever saw are sold here for five cents the peck.

No more at present. I will write again as soon as we get regulated so goodbye. — J. M. White

Headquarters of Major-General Fremont's Bodyguard at St. Louis (1861). Possible courthouse cupola in background?

Headquarters of Major-General Fremont’s Bodyguard at St. Louis (1861). Possible courthouse cupola in background?


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