1861: Abiathar Webster Sutliff to Luna C. Silliman

Camp photograph of the 13th Illinois Infantry, also known as “Fremont’s Grey Hounds,” at Helena, Arkansas; while the photograph is undated, the 13th Illinois was camped at Helena from July through December 1862. The trees in the background indicate the photograph may have been taken that fall. The 13th Illinois left Helena to participate in the attack on Chickasaw Bayou, north of Vicksburg, Mississippi that December. The unsuccessful assault resulted in heavy losses, including the regiment’s colonel, John B. Wyman. Image Courtesy Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.

Camp photograph of the 13th Illinois Infantry at Helena, Arkansas (probably fall 1862). The 13th Illinois left Helena to participate in the attack on Chickasaw Bayou, north of Vicksburg, Mississippi that December. Image Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

This letter was written by Pvt. Abiathar Webster Sutliff (1837-1863) of Co. B, 13th Illinois Infantry from Rolla, Missouri in August 1861. [The Database of Illinois Veterans, 1775-1995, has his name as Abiathur Sutliff.] When Sutliff entered the service at Dixon, Illinois, on 24 May 1861, he stood 5 feet, 5 inches tall, had brown hair and brown eyes, and gave his occupation as “Farmer.” He have his birthplace as Youngstown, Susquehanna County, Ohio. He gave his current residence as Como, Whiteside County, Illinois. According to this source, Sutliff died on 8 August 1863 at Vicksburg, Mississippi — a victim of chronic diarrhea. The U.S. Register of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861-1865, has his name as Abaither Sutliff and records his death on 9 August 1863 at General Hospital No. 1 in Vicksburg.

Abiathar was the oldest child of Joel Sutliff (1812-1886) and Polly Silliman (1818-1885) who came to Whiteside County, Illinois, just prior to the Civil War.

Sutliff wrote the letter to his cousin, Luna C. Silliman (1847-1914) of Como, Whiteside County, Illinois. Luna was the daughter of stonemason Ira Silliman (1813-1872) and Melssa Brooks (1817-1872).

The 13th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry — nicknamed “Fremont’s Grey Hounds,” — was one of the regiments organized under the act known as the Ten Regiment Bill. The 13th Illinois Infantry was mustered into state service by Captain John Pope, at Camp Dement, Dixon, Illinois on April 21, 1861 and summoned into Federal service on May 24, 1861 for a three-year term. In June, the regiment was ordered to Caseyville, 10 miles east of St. Louis, and by July 5th, had arrived at Rolla, Missouri where it remained until the spring of 1862. While stationed at Rolla, the regiment was deployed to guard the supply trains to and from General Lyon’s army, from guerrilla bands in that part of the state. The Thirteenth was also part of General Fremont’s force that went to Springfield, Missouri in the fall of 1861. In 1862 the regiment joined General Curtis’ army at Pea Ridge, Missouri, 250 miles southwest of Rolla, in his march from Pea Ridge to Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River. The regiment was part of General Sherman’s army in his attack on Chickasaw Bayou. The Thirteenth was also present at the capture ofArkansas Post, and was successful in a raid in Greenville, Mississippi. The regiment was mustered out on June 18, 1864. The regiment suffered 6 officers and 61 enlisted men who were killed in action or who died of their wounds and 5 officers and 123 enlisted men who died of disease, for a total of 192 fatalities.

1861 Letter

1861 Letter

Addressed to Miss Luna Silliman, Como, Whiteside County, Illinois

Camp Rolla [Missouri]
August 8 [1861]

Dear Cousin and sister Clara,

I write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines may find you enjoying the same blessing.

I received Sister Pet’s letter tonight and was glad to hear from her and the rest of you. I also received one from [cousin] Rothmer [Silliman] and Aunt M[elissa] and was much pleased to hear from them.

We are in Rolla yet and expect to stay here awhile. We have another regiment here — the Missouri 7th [Infantry], Col. Stephenson, Commander. We expect three more regiments this week. We are looking for an attack here before many days. They was a man in camp today. He said that a secesh neighbor of his had been to the secesh camp and they said that they was going to take Rolla before next Sunday. Let them come. They will meet with a warm reception. But never mind this — it may be camp talk such as we have everyday.

It is very warm here as usual. The health of this regiment is good. There are not more than eight in the hospital now.

They had a little fight at Springfield last week. Twenty of [Gen.] Lyon’s cavalrymen killed forty and wounded several secesh with the loss of three and five wounded. We have had no trouble here lately.

I wish you could have been here to tea with us tonight. Oh what a nice mess of string beans and potatoes we had — also cabbage for dinner. How delicious they were. The farmers fetch in vegetables and we trade coffee and bacon for them. Coffee 20 cts, bacon &c.

Nothing more. From your cousin, — A. W. Sutliff

Camp Rolla — August 8th

I wrote a letter to some of our Chi__ Cousins and received and answer which I sent to Pet last night in a letter to Deb’s.

Camp life in the way of soldiering is not very agreeable but we don’t let that trouble us. We expect to see better times when our old flag gets revenge. It’s thundering and lightning tonight — more than it has before in three weeks and looks very much like rain.

Homer ¹ is well and send his love to you. Excuse mistakes, haste and a poor pen. My love to you all, from your cousin, — A. W. Sutliff

¹ Homer B. Silliman joined Co. B, 13th Illinois Infantry with his cousin A. W. Sutliff in May 1861. He died of typhoid fever on 16 September 1861 in Smithland, Kentucky.


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