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    George W. Shinn, 17th Illinois Infantry, Archive of Letters. A group of over 40 letters by George W. Shinn, who was mortally wounded at Fort Donelson and died approximately a month and a half after the battle. Shinn had been a druggist before he enlisted on May 25, 1861 as a private and was mustered into Company H of the 17th Illinois Infantry. The letters to his family date from May 12, 1861 to February 2, 1862, with content on general camp life and details of the Battle of Fredericktown.

    Soon after Shinn was mustered into the 17th Illinois, he wrote home with descriptions of all the new experiences he was having. He was clearly eager to jump into the military life, as his May 12, 1861 letter from Camp at Peoria, Illinois details: "We have arrived at our Camp at last and enjoy camp life very much so far. We left Lewiston about 10 o'clock Friday morning in wagons for Havanna we arrived there about 1 and took dinner at the Walker 3 we took cars for pekin arrived there about five took steamer Nebraska for Peoria got in about ½ past six...We marched all the way got into camp and selected our quarters. Got a stall right next to the Officers quarters, by the way we are quartered in the stalls for Battle Horses. We have got plenty of hay to sleep on. We had a great time yesterday getting our camp utensils and rations for the first time...we are going to have our uniform & arms soon..."

    Shinn was soon on his way to Fredericktown, where he hoped to engage with the enemy and stamp out the secessionist sympathizers. On August 19, 1861 he wrote: "We are to leave here in the morning on foot to start on a march for the first time. We are to go to Fredricktown Madison Co I understand but how far we will go I cannot tell. But I guess we will keep on until we have cleared out all the secessionists in the state. It is thought that the rebels will make a stand at Greenville about 40 miles south of Fredricktown...Two of our companies have rec'd Minnie Muskets and the rest will get them in a few days..."

    As the Union forces amassed, Shinn was growing impatient with the lack of action by his regiment. His September 6, 1861 letter reads: "We are getting down toward the enemy. We are waiting for more troops then we will move on again, that will be in a very few days nearer to them. I expect we will march on to New Madrid & attack Pillow. He is said to have 12 or 15000 men. We have got about 7 or 8000 now. I do not know wether they will stand us a fight or not. I hope they will. It is pretty generally believed that Jeff Davis is dead. I hope that is so. I hope this war will not last much longer we are all getting tired of it and want to come home very bad. But we are bound to stick it through as long as it lasts and the old Stars & Stripes waves again over the whole Union... " Six days later, on September 12, he wrote: "Col. Ross is to have command of this point. He has just got here. He left us at Jackson & went to St. Louis, got as far as Jacksonville, Ills where he turned around & came down here. We were all very glad to see him as everything appears to go off better when he is with us then when he is not. They have erected a very heavy battery here of 4 guns 32 & 24 pounders. They are building entrenchments. There is some 150 or 200 Irish at work on them & clearing out the grounds..."

    At the Battle of Fredericktown, the 17th Illinois was finally sent into the field and would lose 11 in killed and wounded. Shinn was immensely proud of his regiment, writing on October 27, 1861: "I suppose you have herd or will hear before you get this about the 17th having a fight with the full particulars. It is a fact after so long a time after tramping around all over two or three states after a fight at last she has had one and like everything she has done before she came out of it crowned with victory. Truly she is the first Regiment in Illinois. And maybe we are not proud of her & the 4th Congressional District may well be proud of her too for she has done deeds & won honor & laurels within the last few days that will never be forgotten by her country...Col Ross on the battle field as well as everywhere else done his duty like a soldier, a gentleman, & a brave man...The 17th done the greater part of the work, she received a great deal of praise from different sources. Gen. Grant sent up a letter of commendation to us from Cairo praising their gallant conduct. I was not in the fight though I should have liked to have been very much...

    As the war progressed, Shinn's views on the war began to change. In a manuscript entitled "Change", he writes a heartbreaking personal essay about war and loss. The essay reads in part, "Change it is but a little word but what a fearful meaning is contained in it. It speaks of broken hearts of ruined hopes of blighted affection...We are all anxiously...Waiting to play our part in the great drama of the world to battle with the stern realities of life. But we will all wish to take our places back again within these walls could we do so with our characters pure and unspotted unsullied by contact with the world. Change go ask that poor woman if she knows the meaning of the word change...She remembers when she stood at the altar with her young hearts first love. Since then sorrow has thrown its bitter mantel over those days which she hoped would be filled with happiness she has seen one by one those that she loved with a mother's warmest affection laid in the cold damp grave...And she is left alone dependent upon the charities of a cold hearted world for a sustenance. Is it a wonder then she wishes to make her bed with the loved ones that have gone before to lie down in the silent grave free from sorrow and affliction...Yes she too knows the meaning of the world Change...Then why does she appear so bright and joyous among her companions. She knows there is but little sympathy in the world and she had rather keep her secret locked within her own bosom...soon she will be laid among the dead...truly every heart knoweth its own bitterness..." It is possible that this essay was written while Shinn was in the hospital.

    Shinn was severely wounded at the Battle of Fort Donelson on February 2, 1862. Just two weeks prior to his injury, he wrote home to his sister: "I was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you are enjoying yourself so well. I wish I was there to enjoy the sleigh rides with you. I am glad to hear that you do not forget us while you have so much enjoyment and we have none but I am sure I don't envy you as I am not mean enough for that. I would like very much to be home to enjoy myself with you yet as I cannot you must do your best and have all the fun you can without me...Sam Nutt & Bill Stockdale are Sergeant Majors, one of the 7th Cavalry & the other of the 17th Regt. Little did we think when we were school boys together years ago that we would ever be called upon to defend our Countrys Flag or that any of us should wear the shoulder straps in her service..."

    Shinn wrote to his father on February 26, 1862: "I thought I would write & tell you that I am here in the hospital. I am very anxious to come home, I shall need somebody to take care of me...I wish you would come down in a few days to take me home my wound is pretty bad I cannot write more." Shinn would be dead about a month later, succumbing to his wounds on April 4, 1862. The archive includes Shinn's furlough document, which approved his leave to recuperate at home. There are also a few letters by his brother, William B. Shinn who served with the 132nd Illinois Infantry.

    Condition: Letters are in very good condition with legible handwriting, most with original covers. Usual mail folds present, with varying degrees of toning, soiling, and foxing. There may be a few tears or separations present at the edges and folds where weakness occurred. Shinn's furlough document is darkly toned and has separated completely along the top fold.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
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