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    John William Peck, 4th Indiana Cavalry, Archive of Letters. A fantastic group of over 100 war-dated letters by 2nd Lieutenant John W. Peck. Dating from August 13, 1862 to June 22, 1865, most are written to his mother and sister. Peck enlisted as a corporal on August 7, 1862, and was soon mustered into Company F of the 4th Indiana Cavalry. Peck saw action in the war very soon after joining the army, and later participated at battles at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Resaca, and Kennesaw Mountain. His letters describe his regiment's daring attacks, from chasing General Morgan throughout the state of Kentucky to raids on secessionist sympathizers, and even an unfortunate friendly fire incident. Throughout his service, he was promoted to sergeant and later to second lieutenant. He was mustered out at the end of the war on June 29, 1865 in Tennessee. The majority of the letters are four pages, measuring 5" x 8". There are noticeable spelling and grammar errors. Many of the letters include their transmittal covers.

    In the early days of his service, Peck was confronted with secessionist civilians, and writes of how the men were encouraged the raid the local Confederate sympathizers. His letter dated August 23, 1862 to his mother and sister reads in part: "We are in dixey land now Louisville is a pretty large place larger than Indianapolies. I believe tere is plenty of darkeys here. We made them all hollor hurrah for the Union as we passed through town...Some of the men looked like they was secesh enough they looked like they would rather hollor for Jef Davis. When we got here the officers told us to confiscate any thing we wanted so we got peaches and apples and oats for our horses from an old man that they say is secesh..." These activities continued, as a few days later, on August 28, he writes, "We had nothing to eat but what we pressed. When we got hungry we broke ranks and went up to the house and told them to bring out something and if the refused, we went in and tooke it. We took about fifty prisners, some took the oath and some we took along. We captured four good horses, one revolver..."

    As General John Hunt Morgan was riding through Kentucky conducting numerous raids, the 4th Indiana Cavalry was tasked with pursuing him. While chasing General Morgan, the Union army was also keen to stamp out any secessionist sympathies in neutral Kentucky. On September 2, 1862, Peck wrote: "myself and John Urie went to an old secesh house and told him we wanted his team. He said we could not have it. John told me to take care of him and we went and harnessed the team and took a darkey to drive. I thought I would have one too so I made another one get in the wagon to clean my horse...I expect we will have a fight in a short time I hope so any how for I am tired of riding after old Morgan. We are taking horses and n****** every day and night. The Rebels are pretty thick out here. Me and another fellow took a fellow and he said he was a Rebel and he had a good revolver. We took it and took him to head quarters. I paid him seven dollars for his share of the revolver and took it. I want to kill about a dozen Rebels with it. The captain says for us to take any thing we want..."

    On September 7, 1862, Peck describes a tragic case of friendly fire incident when a Union soldier was mistakenly killed: "about ten oclock we heard thare was six thousand Rebels within 8 miles of here and we started double quick for to meet them at the junction. You ought to have seen the boys get sick and say they could not keep up. They was afraid they would smell powder. Some fell off their horses and hurt themselves prety bad. I was out on a scout fifty five hours. I took four men out of Co B. They told me to go and find all the secesh I could and so I went where ever I could hear of them. We got several and brought them to the general. He let them all but one take the oath. He was one of Morgan's Men. I was gone so long the boys all thought I was dead or taken prisner, but I got thare just in time to go with the rest...thare was a report came in the camp the Rebels was coming on to us. The colonel said to be ready in three minutes. So we got ready and started. We got about six miles. The advance guard came back and said they was right close. We started in post haste and comenced firing into them and killd one man and one horse, but when we found out it was a NY squad of Union boys..."

    Prior to the Battle of Perryville, the 4th Indiana Cavalry was engaged in a fight near Louisville. In his letter written on October 3, 1862, Peck describes a "grand fight" that the unit had, in part: "We was going along double quick and run in to them and we went at it hot and heavy. They shot our colonel and several of the boys but killed only two. The colonel was shot in the head but did not kill him. I tell you the bullets flew thick and fast. Thare was horses shot under the boys and they had to go on foot. Thare was about four to one of us, we killed 7 or 8 of the Rebels and wonded 10 or 12 but we had to retreat back to load and then we made them cut dirt yesterday. We run them about 8 miles. We had heavy fire to stand under that had 2 canon and shelled us. They burned close to us and they pieces flew all around us. We sent for our cannons and placed them and shot about 9 shots and they took to a leaving and sent a white flag. It was at a town by the name of Mount Washington. One of the shells went through an old house and ridled it prety good. The people in town was prety badly scared. We followed them and had another round with them. We fought about half on our and killed about a dozen of them. We had two horses shot right close to me. Thare was two holes shot in the blanket that was traped behind my sadle and never touched me, nor none of our company got hurt. Thare was not more than half of our Co with us. We had just turned our horses over. They was run down. Thare was a good many sick boys they was afraid they might shoot bullets. They said last night we could not see them and they kept shooting at us and our captain said to make a charge so we drawed our sabres and put spurs and yelled like wild boys but they would not stand, they run like white heads till they got to their cannons and we could not get over the river. Thare was seventeen hundred of them. Our whole army is moving on to them at Bardstown..."

    Still on the hunt for the elusive General Morgan, Peck writes of an encounter when the Confederate cavalryman was almost captured. His October 24, 1862 letter reads in part: "I had just got back from a force march of six days. We have been after Morgan and had a little brush with him. We fired on his pickets and killed 3 or 4 and taken seventeen prisners, then a Illanois general orderd the artilery to fire on them like fool instead of letting some of us surround him and the others make a charge. It was old gen Dumouts arrangements for some of us to start him and then flank him on the right as we knew he would make for Bardstown. He passed the road just a half hour before our men got thare and I expect he is out of Kentucky by this time... "

    Travelling through Tennessee, the unit ran into trouble with guerilla fighters who attacked the fringes of their regiment. In the January 8, 1863, Peck describes to his cousin in part: "Our division is scattered along the Memphis and Charleston r. road our reg occupies 3 miles of the road our division occupies 39 miles of the road from Memphis to Calliersville. The gurrllas runns in to us ever now and then a travling from Warterford Missisippi to Memphis. We had to guard a train of wagons through to Memphis and as we crosed coal warter 25 miles from Memphis. Our rear guard was runin to and some straglers that was stragling behind there rigments, the gurrillars shot some 3 of them so bad so they could not get off the ground and paroled the rest. They are all ways a trying to catch a few men in a squad and make a rade and then shoot in to them and kill as many of them as they see fit and paroll the rest. There was 4000 of VanDorns cavalry run in to our force at Holly Springs and captured the town. The infantry did not make any resistance what ever there was, two co of cavalry there of the 2 Ill, they fought them six best out of eleven. They was surrounded 4 times and cut there way out ever time. There close was 23 killed wounded taken prisioners. The reason was that the commander of the port was a traitor. Grant warned him that they was a going to make a rade on the town and if he wanted any more men he could have them No he did not want any more, he could hold the place withe what force he had that is all true enough, but he did not git his men out in line. The cavalry was up in line during the night 3 times and went and warned old Collonel Murphy, the commander of the post, that the Rebels was a going to attacked the town. He says go a long away an put your horses in the stable and I will let you know when to get out. They parolled thirteen hundred and 50 prisioners. They went up in to the hospital and got the rool book and parrolled ever name was on it wether they saw them or not and destroyed a half of a million worth of property for Uncle Sam..."

    In a letter dated August 24, 1864, Peck details a raid led by General Hobson near Canton, Kentucky, "Well I must tell you about the Rebs. Old Johnston, the men that commanded the Southern part of KY was going up the Cumberland with 6 or 7 hundred men and if it had not of been for the fog raising so we could not run they would of taken us out of the wet, we not knowing thay were thare. We knew it was a bad place. The Lt. sent 25 of us on foot to come in on the rear of the town, when we got around we saw the town full of cavelry. Some of them thought we was gone up shure, but we soon saw the Blue Pants and we knew they were our men. They had run in on the Rebs at daylight and killed old Johnston, 2 Majors, and the Adjutant and capturd about 100 prisoners. They were a hard looking lot of men. We may thank our stars that we did not go thare before our cavelry did but the Rebs are not in a bad snap now. Our boys are after them from every direction and General Payne ishued orders to them to take anything they wanted and last night one regment came in here mounted on horses, mules, and some in buggies. They had four buggies and about half of them had women sadles..."

    In the spring of 1865, Peck recounts Union General James Wilson's Raid, which saw the destruction of multiple arms factories in Alabama. The letter dated May 10, 1865, reads: "We have had quite a big raid, shure had plenty of fighting, but none of our co. got hurt. We captured about 9 or ten thousand prisners, four or five hundred pieces of artillery & a great many other articles two worthless to mention. I expect you will know more about it than I do. The papers will give a detail of the big cavelry raid under Major General Wilson. You can tell witch division done the work. Ours is the 1st Division, Second Brigade. It has the honor of taking Montgomery Ala. & Fort Taylor at West Point Georgia & taking quite a number of prisners at this place. Some of our brigade is after old Jef Davis now. Thare is a big reward offerd for him & I hope they will get him. PS I think the war is about played out for all the soldiers are captures out in this country. I hope I shall get home to help you get the Harvest in this summer..."

    In one of his last letters in the archive, on May 15, 1865, Peck writes of seeing the recently captured Jefferson Davis, "I must tell you we had the honor of a visit from old Jefferson C Davis in the city the other day. I did not see the old cuss, but several of the boys of the co. saw him. They say he looks rather down in the mouth. I feel for him but cannot reach him. I hope they will hang him & all others of his stamp & that will keep them out of all other mischief..." In addition to the numerous letters, Peck's archive includes what appears to be an original poem entitled "The Old Union Waggon", which is seven stanzas long, dated only with the year 1864. There is also an undated song entitled, "Weeping Sad and Lonely" that was sent to Peck by his friend James J. Aplin. The song was published in 1863 by Charles Carroll Sawyer and was a popular song with soldiers on both sides of the war. There are a few letters from other friends and family members pre-war, and a couple of post-war documents and receipts.

    Condition: Letters are legible, written in pen and pencil, with usual mail folds. Varying degrees of creasing, soiling, foxing, and toning. There are a few small tears at the edges of some letters and at the folds where paper has weakened. The transmittal covers have usual wear, soiling, and tears from being opened.


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    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
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