1863-4: John Elliott to Family


How John might have looked

These two letters were written by John Elliott (1840-1924), the son of Gardner G. Elliott (1801-1870) and Maria Elliott (1810-1878) of Dale, Spencer County, Indiana. John served in Co. E, 25th Indiana Infantry. He was with the regiment from the time of their enlistment in August 1861 until they were mustered out three years later in August 1864.

The 25th Indiana Regiment was organized at Evansville on 17 July 1861 and was mustered into three years service in August. It left the state Aug. 26, and was in camp at St. Louis until Sept. 14, moving from there to Jefferson City and thence to Georgetown. It marched to Springfield with Fremont’s forces and back to Otterville, 240 miles, in 16 days. It remained in the vicinity of Otterville until December, when it moved with Pope’s division south of Warrensburg, forming part of the force that captured 1,300 of the enemy at Blackwater. The 25th guarded the prisoners to St. Louis and went into Benton Barracks until Feb. 2, 1862. It was sent with the expedition against Fort Donelson and joined in the first attack, losing 16 killed and 80 wounded. It was part of the force which stormed and captured the outer works the next day and occupied the fort after its surrender. It left for Pittsburg landing on Mar. 5, reaching there on the 18th, and in the battle of Shiloh, lost 27 killed and 122 wounded.

For a good history of the remainder of the regiment’s service, see This Mighty Scourge by Michael Noirot. See also the Biography and Letters of Private Joseph Saverton of Co. C, 25th Indiana Infantry. See also 1861: John W. Ingram to Nancy Ingram — a letter  written by John W. Ingram of Ohio, Spencer County, Indiana who served in Co. K, 25th Indiana Infantry.


Addressed to Mrs. Mariah Elliott, Dale, Spencer County, Indiana
Postmarked Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee
September the 12th, 1863

Dear Mother,

Your letter was rather short but right to the point. It gives me the greatest pleasure imaginable to receive a letter from you couched in such words as the one I received today. It breaths words of affection for me such as mothers can only feel for their sons in the army. I am now separated from you by a distance of fifteen or two thousand miles surrounded by temptations of all description which you think I would not heed or turn from the path of duty I have laid down as the only one I can follow with the consciousness of being in the way my mother should wish me to go.

You ask me to forgive you for asking if I gambles. You only acted as a mother should and I would be more than a brute to be offended at my mother for telling me my duty. No, I thank you for it and shall be happy to receive all the advice you wish to give, and if within my power, I will follow it to the best of my knowledge. You can rest assured that I shall never do anything I would be ashamed for you to hear. On the contrary, I will be faithful to the trust you have reposed in me and when I get home, you will see the same John with the exception of being a little more sober than I used to be. When I was at home, I was always full of fun. Don’t you recall how I used to pinch you just for fun. I can always see you sitting by the window serving while the devilish John slips up behind your chair and pinches you on the arm. “You John, just quit yourself! You almost pinched a piece out of my arm.”

I recollect all about my mischievous tricks how mad Ann used to get at me and wish I was dead. But she could not be blamed; it was indeed aggravating to be pinched and pulled around the room. You need not expect anymore pinching from me. I am a getting too old to indulge in any of my favorite amusements that I followed at home. Not very amusing to me, you will say to yourself. Perhaps you thought I was offended at Ann. Not a bit of it. She could not offend me by writing anything she chose to me. I admire her noble heart and wish I was like in action, deed, and worth. I would, perhaps, had a good education and been occupying a position that would [have] enabled me to procure a home for you all and you would not of had to work and drudge as you do now. But I can but home that time will rectify all past suffering and you will be enabled to raise a good crop of tobacco and live happy and contented till I get home. The labor of the poor and honest will be rewarded, I am sure.

Life to me since I have been in the army at one time at least was very bitter and that was the time I was sick so long. Shoulder straps compelled me to help throw up breastworks on our advance onto Corinth when I was so weak I could not throw a shovel full of dirt six feet high to save my life. At the same time I had an excuse from the doctor excusing me from doing all duty, [yet] the hard-hearted devil — I can call him nothing else — compelled me to march with me knapsack from Shiloh to La Grange [and] from there to Holly Springs and back. I wished while on that march that death would end my sufferings but it was not granted. He undertook to make me march from La Grange to Holly Springs  after that I started and went about one hundred yards and give out. The doctor came along and asked me what was the matter. I told him I was sick. He told me to put my things in the ambulance till we got to town and he would send me to the hospital. The regiment stopped to rest in the edge of La Grange and I walked up to where the Captain was standing. He spoke to me in this fashion, “What are you straggling along behind for? Why don’t you stay in the ranks?” I told him I was sick. “Hell and damnation!” says he, “You are always playing off.” I could hardly resist the impulse to tell him just what I thought of him. The doctor came up and spoke to him and told him it was no use to try to make me keep up. He said I was too weak as my thin and cadaverous looks fully testified. “Well,” says he, “you know best.” And without more ado, he strutted off. ¹

I went to the hospital at La Grange [November 1862] and I will never forget the kind old doctor. He is now major of the regiment. I refrain from giving the officer’s name. He is not with the company now. I will tell you sometime.

Since he left, I have enjoyed myself as well as I would wish to. We all have our trials in this world and we should never despair. The darkest hour is just before day, as it has proven in my case and may be so in yours. We soldiers could tell things that you would hardly believe — nevertheless true.

Well, I will close. Write soon. From your affectionate son, — John Elliott

¹ Pvt. Elliott does not name the “hard-hearted devil” who served as his captain but the captain of Co. E at the time was William N. Walker (1831-1876) of Rockport, Indiana. He was the captain from 23 October 1861 until he reigned 23 January 1864.


Decatur, Alabama
June the 20th, 1864

Dear Sister [Samantha],

As I had nothing to do, I concluded after studying all the forenoon about it to occupy the remainder of the day in the pleasant task of writing you a few lines. We have very gratifying new from Grant’s army but it all comes from these newspaper correspondents and they lie so often I don’t know hardly whether to believe it or not. They report Grant’s army across the James River and in possession of Petersburg. I don’t believe much I see in the papers unless Grant’s or Secretary Stanton’s names is signed at the bottom of it.Germany has been taken by the Dutch, Paris by the French all robbed without a fight and expect some stirring news from Ganderville and Snakeville on the Tollapoosa River where the tadpoles and alligators had a fight a few days ago. The tadpoles fought to keep from being devoured by their hungry assailants and succeeded after losing three or four thousand tads in repulsing the enemy with great slaughter — enough to make them laugh, wasn’t it, see how the bloodthirsty alligators got up and skedaddled for their homes in the lake. I have written all I know about the tadpole affair. I will try and write something sensible.

When I received your letters I thought perhaps I could [   ] all of them in one letter but found after trying it to be a fruitless attempt. If you want a black ring, I can make you one. I have an old pair of boots on hand. I can take a piece of one and make you one but I fear it won’t answer the purpose as well as kennel coal. I won’t make it. There is none of the latter article here. You needn’t think I am joking about it. I am very serious. Get that way by spells when one of the boys tells a hard tale on anyone, he generally asks him if he is in earnest about it. If he says yes, well I am glad of it. I don’ take any such jokes.

The most of the boys [in the company] are nicknamed. Mine is Pointer [     ] because I was the best rabbit hunter in the company. There at Grand Junction, me and two or three others — Jarvis Taylor was one of them — killed as many rabbits as our mess could eat. I would like to have a horse very well but you haven’t told me what kind of a one you wanted. Is it a hobby horse, showing horse, or such a horse as they generally use about a farm for plowing. Please write and let me know if it is the latter. I guess I can accommodate you. The government has a lot of condemned horses for sale at Nashville but I would have to prop them up to keep them on their feet. When you hear I am on my way home, send a good team to Grandview to haul the horse and I will be there to help put him in the wagon.

Joe is someone I don’t know but presume he is some new comer from the loyal states of dixie. There is plenty of them comes into our lines. Two or three came in this morning and not a day passes but three or four comes in direct from the reb’s army and sometimes as high as 25 come in one squad. They are generally very ignorant. Once in awhile one comes in that has brains enough to know to which side he belongs and what he was fighting for [but] he is an exception that is rarely met with. You know the old saying it seems to be the sole aim of women from the cradle till they get to be old maids to secure a husband and when they get him grumble because he is not as perfect as they hoped but if you wish to get married the quicker the better. You are just the age to think about nothing else but marrying. Get Sinclair if you can. If you can’t, get some other numskull. I ask your pardon. I think Benny is a very nice little fellow and looked splendid when I saw him in Missouri in his brass coat and blue buttons. He has got assurance enough to succeed in anything he undertakes and will make a capital husband for the school marm. Not telling he may be a Lieutenant General before this war is over and supersede Grant. For my part, I expect to dance in the hog trough and keep bachelor’s hall for my own benefit till the boys get home. I don’t like to take advantage of anyone in the army. Find taking their girl from them unless he was present and opposed me. Then the biggest and best man could take the prize. So you see if I wait till they get home, I am doomed to live a bachelor the remainder of my life. There are some so much better looking than I am that my chance will be rather slim.

I have talked my brain considerable in writing this. If it pleases you, my object in writing it will be accomplished. On praying grounds and in love with solemn [  ], you meant 19 is old enough for anyone that wishes to marry, but if I can get married, I want to marry a rich widow with plenty of gold — whether in teeth or not. No difference — gold is gold. So did and cold hard to get and hard to hold. I shall certainly gold your wedding provided all parties are willing and no celestial hindrance. I never knew what is wasted go up the flue till one day on board of a steamer boat bound for New Albany with Bickner and staff, George Whitaker had was sucked into the flue of his pipe and went up and come out at the top and went into the river that gave me some idea of what was meant by going up disappear entirely or kick the bucket.

I will be at home in less than three weeks if all reports are true. I can then tell you all about army slang and everything else I know when I get in a taking humor. I can write answers to your letters from now till my time is out but shall request you to answer them. If you don’t, I never will for you as long as I stay in the army. Give my love to all and tell Aunt I haven’t received a letter from her in answer to one I wrote some time ago. Write soon.

Your affectionate brother, — John Elliott

Don’t forget to give Will and Mary my love and best respects and also Little John for me…


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