We hear many personal stories from our veterans and their families from current day back to World War II, but I thought this weekend as we honor those who have given their lives for our freedom that I’d share a bit of a rare gem from my family. My Grandpa preserved letters from some of our distant relatives that they wrote home during the Civil War. This is something we most often only read about in history books, yet these letters give quite a personal look at what life was like for those fighting the Civil War. Years ago, my Grandpa took these letters (there was a quite a stack of them) and summarized them for me.
Michael Rex was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania on May 1, 1818. Daniel Rex was born in Ohio, but the date is unknown. Michael Rex enlisted in the Civil War on August 12, 1862 in an Ohio Infantry. He enlisted to serve three years or until the finish of the war.
Daniel Rex enlisted June 17, 1862. He was captured at Knoxville, TN and served six months in Libby and Belle Isle as a prisoner of war. He nearly starved to death. When he was released, he was sent to the USA General Hospital in Annapolis, MD on April 9, 1864. He was ordered to soldier’s rest on May 28, 1864.
Twenty-six letters were preserved from Michael, and his sons Daniel, William, and Simon.
In a letter dated October 19, 1863 at Loudon East Tennessee, Michael, Daniel and William were side by side in battle. They were told, “It is not often seen father and son standing side by side in line of battle.” on Sunday, October 25 he writes, “We done a heap of fighting, and we aint done yet. Wednesday the rebels surrounded our Calvary and mounted infintry at Philadelphia, Tennessee six miles from here and they had to cut their way out. We lost 148 men killed wounded and missing, but thank God, Dan and Will came out safe. Last week one night, we all three slept together under a oak tree under one blanket in hearing of the cursed Rebs.” Also from the same letter Michael states, “We have lots of wet and cold weather. We nearly freeze some nights and we have poor grub and little of that but still live in hopes of better times. ” He writes in another letter of how they talk to the rebels on the other side of the river. “We don’t shoot at each other. We talk to them every day. They say if we quit fighting and go home they will quit fighting and go home too.”
In one letter from Simon from Chattanooga on October 10, 1863 he says, “I think the last battle of this war will be fought within six weeks. Near this place we have got thirty thousand men from the eastern army and a good many from Grant’s army to help us. I think we can whip them. We can see the rebels all the time. We lost very many men, about 20,000 killed and wounded.”
A letter from Michael on September 8, 1863 from camp Loudon, TN says, “We have captured over 6,000 bushels of wheat from the rebels and 80 sacks of salt, and over 100 army tents and a rebel steam mill. They started to grind this morning for our own use. I just know there was some of the 45th Reg. taken prisoner, but I don’t know who.”
August 23, 1863 in Kentucky, while camped in an orchard, Michael writes, “We die on the way. I don’t believe that ever I will again see home, but God only knows. We have to carry our blankets and rations for one day – one canteen full of water and 40 rounds of cartrages (bullets). We will soon be in Tennessee and then in Georgia. So may God bless us all is the prayer of your unworthy husband and father, Michael Rex.”
I wanted to tell you how hard army life was in the Civil War. They hardly had enough to eat and marched everywhere they went. These were religious men and prayed often. They were common men. Michael was a blacksmith and farmer and Daniel was a farmer. Yet these common people fought for the unity of our nation.