Description

    [Civil War]. Union Lieutenant David McKinney Archive of 10 Personal Letters and 1 Letter of Recommendation signed by Major Walter B. Scates. All are dated between October 1862 and June 1863 and narrate the life of the lieutenant as he travels with the Illinois 77th Infantry from Kentucky through Tennessee on to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

    McKinney (1829-1903), a resident of Peoria, Illinois, was a thirty-three-year-old teacher when he enlisted in September 1862 as a first lieutenant. He served in the Field & Staff of the 77th Infantry. He was promoted in March 1865 to captain and assistant quartermaster. Nine of these letters are written to his sister and one to his father. Probably because he was a teacher by vocation, he writes truly insightful and fascinating letters in which he comments on significant details of camp life, troop movement and plans, and local color. With a knack for narrative writing, he also includes interesting stories, such as the one recorded in his November 3, 1862, letter regarding a "windy encounter" with a "very pretty young rebel lady, whose father is in the rebel army." As McKinney confiscated her cattle, the young lady "scolded & cried in turn." In the first letter (October 16, 1862), McKinney informs his sister that his regiment "is under marching orders for the interior of Kentucky in the direction of Cumberland Gap." In his next letter (October 24, 1862), he writes that they will soon start marching "farther south into the land of Dixie. The darkies are beginning to come into our camps pretty fast, all saying that their masters are rebel & that they want to along with us & most of our boys say come along darkey & he comes." In the four letters written from Kentucky, he often comments on the different sympathies of the important border states' citizens.

    Early in 1863, McKinney and his regiment arrived near Vicksburg. In a letter dated March 2, 1863, he notes that they did not seem "much nearer the capture of Vicksburg than we did one month ago." He often writes about "feeding off the fat of the earth" while in the South. As an example, he writes on March 2, 1863, about the expedition that he commanded "up the river . . . to procur from the enemies country along the river forage." At a cotton plantation, the owner and most everyone else had "skedadled" but he did find "an overseer & a few niggers." The Union detachment took what they needed. Near the end of this letter, McKinney tells his sister that he has included a letter that he received when he returned from this expedition "written by Col. Scates by direction of Gen. MClernand the commander of our Army Corps." This letter is signed by Walter B. Scates (dated February 28, 1863, from "Head Quarters 13th Army Corps") and addressed to Lieut. McKinney and is included in this archive. The letter offers "great gratification" for the "orderly and soldierly maneuver in which you have conducted this expedition and performed this duty." On March 23, 1863, McKinney informed his sister that "as soon as Grant gives the word of command, more than 100,000 men are within fighting distance & although V[icksburg] is one of the strongest fortifications naturally on the continent, yet I believe it must eventually fall."

    McKinney wrote a political letter in June 1863 (no day given) from "Camp in view of Vicksburg, Miss." in which he clarified that he was not "turning Republican. I still continue to be a good 'Jackson Democrat' of the old school. . . . Copperheads you may truthfully call them, are doing more harm at present to the cause of the 'Union' than fifty or even an hundred thousand openly avowed rebels." He then spends almost four pages opining about the two political parties and their leadership: "Would that we had a Jackson for our Chief Magistrate now, instead of a Lincoln." He continues in the letter reporting that General John A. McClernand, the former commander of the Army of the Mississippi, had been relieved of his duty because of "a jealousy between Grant & McClellan." This is the final letter of this archive. Vicksburg fell to Union troops on July 4, 1863.


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