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    Three days before his death at the Battle of Nashville, a Union private writes, "I think that if old Hood don't make an attack soon we will have to make an attack on him"

    Union Private Hugh Bay Civil War-Dated Letters. Over one hundred letters written from various Southern locations, all dated between September 6, 1862, and December 13, 1864. Throughout, the Indiana soldier wrote affectionate letters to his wife, Cordeliann, and their young daughters. Bay, however, never made it home to them; he was killed on December 16, 1864, at the Battle of Nashville. This archive is stored in a wooden box measuring 16.5" x 3" x 11.25". One of the two hinges on the wooden lid is loose. The archive has been well-cared-for; usual toning, foxing, and stains are present.

    Hugh Bay hailed from Pleasant Mills, Indiana. He mustered into Co. K of the 89th Indiana Infantry on August 15, 1862. Though the private had only a rudimentary knowledge of grammar, he faithfully keeps his wife and young daughters apprised of his whereabouts and military duties. This archive includes approximately eight letters written by Bay in 1862, over sixty written in 1863, and over forty written in 1864. (While Bay wrote most letters in this archive to his wife, a few are included that he wrote to his sister and brother.) Bay wrote his missives from places such as Memphis, Fort Pickering, Arkansas (Camp Hopefield and Mound City), Vicksburg, Louisiana (Alexandria), and Missouri ("Jefferson Baracks").

    In his letters, the young family man complained of the conditions he was encountering as a soldier: the extreme weather, the bad (and lack of) food, his homesickness, the want of letters from home, "the diare [diarrhea]," and more. He also wrote of the deaths of comrades and, on one occasion, a skirmish from railcars. He also freely included his opinions on matters such as deserters ("I don't consider A deserter aney thing more than A rebel").

    Bay's service in the army was likely his first encounter with Southern culture, including slaves. While camped five miles south of Louisville, Kentucky, he wrote on September 6, 1862, "there is A good many slaves of rebel Masters at work here throwing up entrenchments and building forts." He doesn't appear to have developed a positive opinion of a "regiment of negroes" being raised later in 1863. On April 20, he wrote, "They are getting up A regiment of negroes there is plenty of them here but I don't want them about me for they are A nasty dirty lousy set of well I was agoing to call them people but I don't no whether I can. The wenches are more like old cows running round bulling than any thing else."

    Private Bay was one of over three million American men whose lives were disrupted by service in the military during the Civil War. Hoping for a speedy end to the conflict, Bay tried to assure his wife shortly after mustering in that he didn't "think that this war will last very long." She must have been inconsolable, so in July 1863, he tried again. "You stated in your letter that you was discouraged about the war but you must keep in good hart for I think that it will close within 4 or 5 months. Vicks Burg is ours. They made an unconditional surrender on the 4 of July General Grant took possession of Vicksburg on the 4 of July at 10 oclock. . . . Port Hudson I think will be ours in A few days and then we will have the Mississippi."

    But the war only intensified and Bay's regiment participated in several small, though sharp, battles during the spring and summer of 1864. It appears that in the early part of the war, the private served as a cook, which kept him out of many initial skirmishes and battles. "I would like to go [to battle] . . . but they won't let the cooks go. I would like to see some of the fun to for it is only fun to shoot rebels," he audaciously wrote in one early letter. He seems to have eventually lost his position as cook, though, and along with the rest of his regiment, he fought at the Battle of Fort DeRussy (Louisiana). Of the battle he wrote on March 22, 1864, from Alexandria, "We marched about 25 miles and commenced fighting the rebs about one hour and A half before sun set and it was at Fourt Ruzzy on red river and agin sun set we took posession of their fourt and captured 280 prisoners and eleven pieces of artillery our regiments only had 2 men killed and 7 wounded. . . . The balls and shells flew thick and clost the 89th was the first regt that went over their Breastworks the wood and timber was all cut to pieces with canon balls."

    By late summer 1864, the regiment was marching through northern Mississippi, damaging Rebel strongholds and helping defend Memphis against Nathan Forrest. Thus on August 31, 1864: "We was out about 15 miles on the other side of the Talley Hatchey River to A small town called Oxford we Burnt the Depo and the principal part of the town and then we was ordered Back and while we was going out old [Nathan Bedford] Forest slipped around got in our rear and made A dash on Memphis But without doing much damage."

    The 89th Indiana Infantry joined Major General George Thomas' army at Nashville at the beginning of December 1864. From there, Bay wrote his final letter on December 13, 1864, while on picket. "We can see the rebel picket from hear very plain, but we have not had any fighting hear yet. . . . I think that if old [Lieutenant General John Bell] Hood don't make an attack soon we will have to make an attack on him. But I would sooner that he would make an attack on our lines But if we have to attack him he will get himself completely whailed. . . . we only have about 8 months to spend in the survice yet and I am very glad of it." General Thomas' Federal army did attack Hood's Confederates at Nashville in a pivotal and bloody battle lasting from December 15 through the 16th. When it was over, Hood's forces were crippled, but Bay, along with 386 other Union soldiers, lost their lives.

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    December, 2010
    11th Saturday
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