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    Description

    Civil War Archive of Charles Augustus Hill, Company F, 8th Illinois Cavalry, and 1st Regiment United States Colored Troops.
    An archive comprised of 27 letters by Hill to his wife Lydia Hill, various sizes and lengths (mostly 4-page bifolia) and from various locations, dating from September 1, 1862 to August 13, 1865. Also includes 14 canceled postal covers (5 with stamps missing). Approximately 29 letters in total.

    Hill's letters to his wife cover a variety of topics, including his health, activities in camp, and military news. His first letter in the archive, dated September 1, 1862 was written from Alexandria, Virginia, where they were attached to the 1st Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. In this letter to his wife, Hill conveys news of the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, which occurred on August 28-30. "The reliable news of the fight is scarce and we probably know little if any more of how the matter stands...but the air is full of rumors of all kinds. Our army retreated from the Battle field to Centerville Sat night no doubt, And I have little doubt but the contest is resumed again to day. Troops are rushing forward with great rapidity and I doubt not many thousands were added yesterday." Hill later referred to seeing many wounded soldiers, his "first sight of the horrors of Battle....Poor fellows-they bore them with fortitude...most of them could talk of the fight and of their wounds calmly....Another was badly wounded near the knee-the Surgeons tho't his leg must come off. Said he to me 'My leg shall never come off-it shall go with me wherever I go.'" Writing from Frederick City, Maryland on September 13, days before the Battle of Antietam, Hill informs his wife that "large forces were sent to Rockvill along up the River-what for but to get in Jackson's [Stonewall Jackson] rear? That a week ago the Rebels held this city in strong force and that they have been forced westward in the direction of the Ferry, while this city is now held by tens of thousands of Union Bayonets. Old Jackson has been trapped so many times I have but little confidence in catching him now-he will find some way of getting out of the meshes I fear." Writing to his wife on September 21, several days after the bloody engagement at Antietam, Hill describes the battle and its effect on the town of Sharpsburg. "There is hardly a house but has been riddled with shot and shell-the people all had to live down cellar during the Battle. The enemys batteries were planted on the hills ½ a mile or so north of the town-our shots passing over their batteries and through the village....I can give you but little idea of the fight except what I saw and that was limited. We were stationed on the left of the center behind the crest of a hill, the shot and shell flying over us both ways in a very carless way. On our right were stationed the 3rd Ind[iana] Cav-behind us the Lancers-both fine looking Regts. The enemys shell seemed to have a particular spite against the Antietam Creek a few rods in our rear, sending lots of missiles plump into it, others against its opposite bank and still others screaming through the tree tops at the top on their errands of destruction-while still others burst in mid air and sent forward a right smart little shower of iron hail....We staid [sic] on the Battle ground till about 2 ½ PM-in passing off we were again exposed to the shot and shell. We were the last Co of our Regt." In an October 2, 1862 letter to his wife, Hill recounts an incident that occurred as his regiment was moving from Martinsburg [West Virginia] back to Sharpsburg. In a skirmish with Confederate troops, Hill got his first chance to fire a gun in battle. "I had begun to cock my gun when whang went one of the boys carbines, followed by a whole volley along the line and my horse began to wheel and jump-and I had all I could do to take care of him for a minute. After...I got him quieted and supposing my gun to be ready cocked I took as good aim as I could at a dusky figure off across the field and pulled away-but no go. Again I aimed...and pulled away again as hard as I could at the trigger, with the same result. I then looked up and found it was only half cocked. I soon remedied that and that time the cap snapped but the gun did not go. I began to think the fates were against me but I capped in again and that time off she went."

    Hill's regiment was involved in the Battle of Brandy Station, which occurred on June 9, 1863. The next day, June 10, Hill wrote his wife about the battle. "I passed unscathed thro' it all-the greatest cavalry fight of the war or the Continent....Crossed at Beverlys Ford before sun rise. Found the Rebs in strong force....We had a hard fight-a regular stand up and knock down fight. The Rebs never fought better. We drove them about 2 miles-fought nearly all day-and retired PM 'in good order.'...Some splendid fighting was done....We acted skirmishers, mounted & dismounted. We were under fire-almost constantly exposed to shot, shell and bullets....The Rebs had splendid artillery-better served than ours....We had many narrow escapes." In July the 8th Illinois Cavalry participated in the Battle of Gettysburg, followed by marching into Virginia with Richmond the ultimate destination. On September 22, Hill resigned his post to accept a commission as a first lieutenant in the 1st Regiment, Unites Sates Colored Troops Infantry, which had been established in May 1863.

    In a letter to his wife, dated December 12, 1863, Hill writes of his black soldiers hatred of Confederates, "If you could only see the intense hatred these Soldiers manifest for anything that looks like a Reb or any ear mark, like an overseers house, or the Bell in the yard, of their former state, you would then realize how well they liked the Divine Institution [slavery]. The most of 'em would shoot a Reb as a chicken-yes a good deal quicker if there was nothing to prevent him." The 1st Regiment saw action at the Union victory at Wilson's Landing or Wharf on May 24, 1864, which Hill describes briefly in a letter dated that day [possibly written the next day, May 25]. "At last we have had a chance of doing our humble part-defending the line of supplies for [General Benjamin] Butler's Army....About noon the Rebs made their appearance. We fell rapidly back from the advance posts-the Rebel Cavalry charging hard after us. About half way to camp we ambushed the enemy as they came charging thro' a piece of wood, emptied several saddles and sent them to the 'right about' faster than they came. I had the honor of organizing and leading the ambush party....It is supposed their killed & wounded must number 150 or 200. Our loss was 2 killed about 20 wounded....Before the main attack the Rebels sent in a Flag of Truce demanding the surrender of the place signed by Fitz Hugh Lee....Our men did well....The men are very jubilant today over their exploit. In spite of 'Fort Pillow' [Fort Pillow massacre in which black Union prisoners were killed by Confederate soldiers] we took a number of prisoners, who were all well treated." In a September 24, 1864 letter to his wife, Hill writes from a hospital, where he was recovering from a wound or accident. He mentioned that almost all of the patients were supporting Abraham Lincoln for reelection over former General McClellan. By the end of 1864, the 1st Regiment was participating in the Fort Fisher expedition in North Carolina. In a December 27 letter to his wife, Hill describes a bombardment of Fort Fisher two days before. "Fort Fisher was the grand focus of the awful fire and it must have been perfect Hell-and the only wonder was how they could stand it at all. Indeed they made little show of resistance....I cannot tell you of the varying phases of the bombardment, nor picture the intense interest with which it was watched...making the Christmas celebration of this year ever memorable....About 2 PM a long line of small boats & barges was formed, filled with men-soon the word was given and they pulled rapidly for the shore. Not a shot assailed them and soon the Old Flag was planted in the sand....Almost at the moment the foremost man touched the beach a white flag was displayed from the Fort." Fort Fisher was finally taken on January 15, 1865.

    In a January 31, 1865 letter, Hill spoke of the fear of Confederate torpedoes that were planted of the coast of North Carolina, around Fort Fisher, New Inlet, and the Cape Fear River. "The whole Navy have a mortal fear of them-even now they dare not advance one step without first dragging the channel for them. Most of them hold 40 to 50 lbs of Powder but it is said there is one large one in New Inlet...that holds 1400 lbs & another 800. They are exploded from the shore by means of a Battery-the electric spark being conveyed...by means of one of those wires at the precise moment that the vessel is over it." On February 22, 1865, Wilmington, North Carolina, fell to Union forces, including the 1st Regiment of USCT. The next day, February 23, Hill wrote to his wife, "Wilmington must have 15 or 20000 people, but the most we saw were colored. The darkies were indeed jubilant-they lined the streets giving Tobacco to our men & utterance to the strongest expressions of delight-such as 'tank God, you uns has come; we's been waiting long time for you.'" In a February 27 letter written from North Carolina, Hill writes of observing Union prisoners who had been released for exchange from various Confederate prison camps, such as Andersonville and Florence, South Carolina. "Sadly and silently they plodded along, some of them bare-headed, many of them barefoot, their feet frosted and swollen, dirty, ragged and, of course, lousy. Many were the merest skeletons-wrecks of their former selves.....Most of them were dressed-No, not dressed-they had on old Rebel rags which with their dirt, long hair & sallow, sunken cheeks made them look very much like Johnies." Hill wrote a letter to his wife from Goldsboro, North Carolina, dated May 20, 1865, in which he celebrates the capture of Confederate president Jefferson Davis by Union troops. "Day before yesterday, or rather night before last we recd news of the capture of the great little Jeff and his rebel crew. Tragedy-the greatest tragedy the world ever saw, has most certainly turned into the most laughter-moving comedy. The last scene but one...is strangely comic. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America...caught in his wife's dress, at early morning while fleeing to the woods....Imagine the great Jeff in one of his wife's dresses...hanging just below the knee, Bloomer Costume, and fitting like a shirt on a bean pole, the waist close up under his armpits...now I hope he will suffer the penalty of his manifold crimes upon the scaffold-let him die the death of a common felon, and may God show that mercy which I for one am not willing to here. He has been one of the main instruments in causing the bloody death of hundreds of thousands of lives...and of helping ruin his own country....I know not if he had a hand in the assassination of our good President...but it needs not that added guilt to justify the forfeit of his life." Hill's last three letters in the archive, all written in North Carolina, relate to his policing activities and his thoughts of returning home.

    Charles Augustus Hill (1833-1902) was born in Truxton, Cortland County, New York, and attended common schools and a select school in the area. He taught school in Hamburg, Erie County, New York, and in Will County, Illinois for a while before attending Bell's Commercial College in Chicago. Hill later studied law and was admitted to the bar in Indianapolis, Indiana, after which time he returned to Will County, Illinois in 1860 and set up a legal practice. In August 1862, Hill enlisted as a private in Company F, 8th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. He resigned on September 22, 1863 to accept a commission from President Abraham Lincoln as first lieutenant in the 1st Regiment, United States Colored Troops Infantry. Hill was appointed commanding officer of Company C on June 20, 1864, and was promoted to the rank of captain on May 22, 1865. After the war, he returned to Will County, Illinois, and resumed the practice of law in Joliet. Hill was elected prosecuting attorney in 1868 for the counties of Will and Grundy and served four years, and was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-first U.S. Congress (March 4, 1889-March 3, 1891). After serving one term, Hill resumed the practice of law in Joliet, and later served as assistant attorney general of Illinois (1897-1900). In 1860, he married Lydia Wood and together they had seven children. Hill died in Joliet, Illinois.

    All of the letters in the archive are accompanied by typed transcriptions.

    Condition: Letters have the usual folds; some show weakening around the intersections of the folds and toning; overall good.


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    October, 2019
    26th Saturday
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