Description

    A letter archive by a twice wounded Union soldier who served through most of the war

    Civil War Union Soldier's Letter Archive of Samuel Cotter Kirkpatrick of the 11th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Approximately 95 letters dating from September 30, 1861 to July 17, 1865, a carte de visite of Kirkpatrick, and additional post-war correspondence. A typescript of Kirkpatrick's itinerary during the Civil War and copies of typescript transcriptions of many of the letters are also included. Samuel Cotter Kirkpatrick (1841-1911), the oldest of six children of James Gilliam and Caroline Newman Kirkpatrick, was born and died in Grant County, Wisconsin. He served during the Civil War in the 11th Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. On September 11, 1861, the nineteen-year-old Kirkpatrick enrolled in the regiment at Mineral Point, Wisconsin. He was discharged at Indianola, Texas, on February 13, 1864 at the rank of sergeant. That same day Kirkpatrick reenlisted and served until September 4, 1865, when he was discharged at Mobile, Alabama. He suffered two wounds during the war: in the left ear at Port Gibson, Mississippi, about May 1, 1863, and in the left breast by shrapnel at Big Black River, Mississippi, on May 17, 1863. Kirkpatrick married Caroline Mary Ritchey (1843-1926) on April 4, 1864 and together they had five children.

    Kirkpatrick's letters range in size from 7.50" x 9.50" two-page letters to 4.50" x 7.50" 4-page bifolium letters. Six are on patriotic letterhead with patriotic cancelled envelopes, and all are written to members of his family in Grant County, Wisconsin, describing his life as a soldier, his health, descriptions of the various locations of his camp, and military news. Several examples are presented below, and represent only a small percentage of the excellent content contained in this extensive archive.

    The first letter in the collection, dated September 30, 1861, Kirkpatrick wrote a cousin from Camp Cairo [Defiance?], Illinois, exhibiting bravado of a young soldier lacking experience in battle. "There is a bout five thousand soldiers hear now. Up the Ohio River about forty miles, there is twenty thousand more and acrost the river there is four thousand more and down the mississippi at norfork there is eight thousand more. We defy old jeff davis to come up hear and we will give him hell."

    A few months later on December 11, 1861, Kirkpatrick writes from Sulphur Springs, Missouri, Camp Curtis, in part: "...I was corporal of the guard last night at 10 o'clock the picket guard was fired upon. One of them came in to camp and gave the alarm. The adjutant...gave the captains the...order for the men to fall in with musket, arm[s] and equipment. The boys fell in very quick, but some of them was scared so bad that they tuck the back ague. It was a false alarm. The cavalry [had] been out on a scout and fired on the pickets for fun. There is 300 cavalry from Wis., Milw. here now and Larabee [?] is with them. He is in our tent now...he had been in the service 4 months. He is the same old Laraby. 3 of our companies has gone 60 miles down the river to the Burnt Bridge. I was down to the banks of the river and I saw lots of the boys in a swimming. That was the 7 of this month...we rip around here in our shirt sleeves. There was a squad of us went out three or four miles...we saw sum purty rough co[untry] and sum ruff gals...things was sober here last Sunday. The flag hung at half mast all day. One of our boys died on Saturday night. He was one of the Mineral Point boys. His name was Mike Bender. We buried him about three hundred yards from the camp..." The original stamped patriotic transmittal cover is included.

    The 11th Wisconsin soon finds themselves facing Confederate marauders. In a four page letter dated January 11, 1862, he reports: "We left Sulpher Springs the 10[th] for Victoria 20 miles down the river...it is 25 miles...back of the river further west. There is only 2 companies left in Camp Curtis...the Eight Regiment is all ...at Sulpher Springs. They are going on a march...northwest...to...guard the bridges. Capt. [Jesse] Miller and his company is here with us and the rest of the regiment is along the road... to watch bridges. Victoria is a very nice place. It is on the railroad. The cars run from St. Louis to Pilot Knob every day and they make it a very lively little place. Victoria...is the nicest place that I see[n] in Mo...I was down the railroad...to a bridge with 3 men...a big red fox crossed the creek which frightened us...we have 3 of Jeff Tomsons [Thompson's] men in our camp...that Capt. Miller has taken. They have taken the oath and have to report themselves here ever Saturday. They was here today. One of them is a boy 18 years old. It looks hard to see them. They are about skeered to death. One of them had his father with him. They said they was forced in it. They was told that they would get $24 dollars a month but they did not get anything not even their cloths. They say that Jeff Thompson's army is more like indians than anything else. One day there will be a lot of them together and the next...there will they will be disbanded... [Victoria Station, Jan. 12, 1861] ...we had a Devel of a time yesterday. Our first lieutenant and orderly sergeant went out to a little town to get one of their boats mended and...they was surrounded. They drew...their revolvers and told them to stand off. They kept backing off and soon fell back to a bridge where some of our men was and then they was safe...we sent of 20 men. They went...to the town under the command of the first lieutenant. We marched up to the saloon and [they] began to run out...we [?] out around town and commanded halt which they did. We took 4 horses and seven men and the rest got away. One horse...we took is supposed to be a captain's horse. He is a fine dark iron gray. The rest are scrub horses. It is supposed that there was about 30 of them..." The original George B. McClellan stamped patriotic transmittal cover is included. A bit of damp stains, else very good.

    The 11th Wisconsin settles in Missouri, and two months later, Kirkpatrick sends news regarding mid-term elections: "[March 2, 1862] ...it is lection day tomorrow down here and we started 20 men out this morning abbot 20 miles from the camp. They are to see that every man takes the oath before he comes to the poles to vote. There is another squad...and the orderly sergeant going out to a little town called Hillsbur [Hillsboro], the county seat tomorrow... [for] the same business...there was 30 of our men went down the road last thursday to relieve some of the Illinois troops. It is 20 miles from this place...is called Politte [Potosi]. There is three blockhouses to build where they are and it is impossible for 30 men to go all that work and stand guard...the major [Arthur Platt] thinks that the rest of our Co. had better go down there...so after we all get back from the elction we will go...Col. Carland at Pilot Knob is getting up a brigade. We thought...we would be put in that brigade...tuesday I seen the most mules that I ever seen. They passed a going to the Knob. There 40 cars and 18 mules in a car. They was a splendid lot of mules. Yesterday...there was fifteen h[un]dred cavalrymen and horses...they are a going to join Col. Carland's Brigade. This brigade is going out into Arkansas after Old [Sterling] Price..." The original transmittal cover is included. Minor toning, negligible paper loss resulting from a repair made with archival tape affecting very little text, else very good.

    In a letter an August 17, 1862 letter to his father, Kirkpatrick wrote from camp in Old Town, Arkansas, sending news about his regiment and describing the presence of escaped slaves following his regiment and seeking work: "...7 Co. out of [our] Regiment and sum of the 33 Ill. Reg gone down the river with the fleet of gunboats. Our troops is in Little Rock at last and the report is that General Hindman is a coming down White River to get Vicksburg...as our men got in 15 miles of Little Rock the rebels left and...the boats left this morning with 5 days rations...Sample Scrogen [James Simple Scoggin] died nite before last and was buried yesterday morning. He had the brain fever and was a getting along very well... we was very sorry to lose him for he has proved to be a good soldier and a good boy ...we have a darkey to do all fatigue duty such as cooking, loading the wagons and cutting new roads...the negroes has meeting every Sunday. Oh Lord how they dress nice with white silk stockings. [If] one see[n] the legs of them [they] would think it was somebody. Oh golly how they strut. The officers don't let any stay in camp without [being] employed. Some of them comes to the general and swear that they have worked on fortifications that beaver seen a fortification. John Carpenter is a gaining Holy cicapoo [he] is got the ager. He looks ruff..." The original stamped transmittal cover is included. One crease with archival tape repair, else very good.

    Still stationed in Old Town, Arkansas, he writes on Sept. 11, 1862: "...we have been down the river on another cotton expedition...to Laconia...it is on the Arkansas side there was 7 Cos out of our Reg and 6...of the 33 Ill Reg. We went down on the Emma and the 33 went on the Starr. Our Co. and Co. K tuck the hurricane deck...we found 3 acres of watermelon...2 Cos. of cavalry...found them and the officers...put a guard over them...the Captain of the Cavalry came to Col. Hoag and told...it was impossible to keep the boys out of the patch. The Col. went and seen the man that owned the melons and the Col. told him to let the boys have the melons and he would guard his property...we was here thursday a hunting cotton. They had burned the most of it. We only got about 100 bales...we was at several splendid plantations. One in particular it was a very large plantation and splendid buildings and about 200 blacks. The yard was most like the yard around the academy in Plattsville... [Sept. 12] ... things look very dark on our side... [referring to the Antietam campaign] ... if the rebels gets into Washington it will make Old Abe prick up his ears... the report is that they have had another fite at Bull Run and licked us... a very bloody battles. A great many lives lost...there was 4 boats went down... loaded with prisoners for Vicksburg to be exchanged. As they passed they hollered for Bull Run No. 2 and for Jeff Thompson..." Accompanied by he original stamped transmittal cover. Some toning, else very good.

    In a letter dated September 24, 1862, Kirkpatrick describes a skirmish in which two contrabands are killed: "Camped in 6 miles of Helena, Ark... we have moved our camp again.. it is a flat country... on the bank of the river in an old field...six Cos of the 33 Ill. Reg was down the river...after cotton. They did not come out so well... as they was coming back the rebels... got a battery... planted... back of the levy and as our boat came up they fired into her several times and would have captured our boat if it had not been for a Ram that was ahead. It heard the firing and came back. We fired into them several times...we must have killed several as...our men [that] could see them thought there was about 2500. They outnumbered us...our loss was 2 men out of the battery and 4 men out of the 33 Ill and 2 negroes. Good joke on the negroes... the fleet...is just returning from Vicksburg...Old McClellan's clan was giving the rebels gas in Vir... got a letter from A. F. Niles and he rote that he was afraid of being drafted...such men as that helped bring on this war and now they are the last to take hold and help squash it. We are under marching orders...we are ordered to Memphis..." The original transmittal cover is included. Minor mouse chew, toning, else very good.

    By 1863, Kirkpatrick's confidence in Union victory had dimmed considerably. A long letter describes foraging campaigns, an ambush and an amputation: "Camp on the Current River, Mo., Jan. 1, 1863... General Daverson [Union Brig. Gen. John Wynn Davidson] came here and when he came into camp we fired a general's salute ...we have the pontoon bridge laid across the river...and we send out a train everyday a foraging ...last Sabbath...we started out to forage...from the 11th and 33 Ill. under command of Lieutenant [Eli H.] Mix of our Reg and the other in command of Lieutenant [Spencer P.] Wright...of the 24 Mo. Reg. They went out from the river some 9 miles. Mix got his train loaded and started for camp. There was not corn enough in that field to load both trains. There was another field close by so Lieutenant Wright took the remainder... intu the other field and Mix went to camp. He had not gone very far when he heard considerable firing...he sent into camp for reinforcements which was sent out on the double quick...our Co had to go and Co. G...and 2 companies out of the 33 Ill...and one Co. of the first Wisconsin and 2 parts...of 13 Ill. Cavalry...the Secesh had out numbered them and taken them all prisoners, Lieutenant Wright and 21 privates and 7 wagons and all the teamsters...the cavalry pressed them and when they got up to them the rebels was too strong for our men. They numbered between 8 and 9 hundred so they got away with all when the scrimage tuck place. We found 2 men dead of the rebels and they wounded 4 of our men, one so bad that they had to take his leg off. I seen the doctor take it off. It looked pretty rough. We went to camp for an ambulance to haul the wounded... we got started... at 8 o'clock. It was pretty dark and a awful road, lots of streams... we got into camp at 11... there is 9 thousand rebels at Pokahontas... the rebels is three times as thick now as they was when we went through leer last spring...our force is as follows. The 11 Wis. and the 33 Ill and 8 Indiana...18 and the 24 and several other regiments enough to make eight regiments of infantry and we have part of the first Wis. Cavalry and...13 Ill...Cavalry...we have four batteries. The largest piece of cannon... is a 18 pounder... we do not let... citizens in camp... without particular business and then they are blindfolded and taken to head quarters and taken out the same way... this war is not turned out as I thought... I believe that the Southern Confederacy will be established before 2 years... we never hear the Union mentioned now days... the minds of the private soldier is changed considerable in the last six months..." The original transmittal cover is included.

    His mood had improved immensely by July 5, 1863, when he wrote from a camp outside Vicksburg and informed his parents of the fall of city. "I sit down this fine afternoon to let you now that I am alive and the best of all to let you now that Vicksburg is ours. the morning of the third at 8 oclock in the morning the Rebels came over to our lines with a flag of Truce and wanted to make a compromise but Grant said no. I will have it in a few days without so he sent the flag back and comenced firing again and at 3 oclock it came out again and the firing was stopped all along the line and we did not now what was up but we thought they had surrended but did not now it till next morning at 8 oclock and therr was a white flag run up over the fort....Dear parents it would do you good to hear us cheer. it was the best feeling fourth to me that I ever injoyed."

    Condition: Varying condition with most good; some dampstaining present. A handful of letters have tears and paper loss affecting several lines of text.


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