1864: John W. James to Sarah Arnow

I could not find an image of Corp. James but here is a tintype of a member of the 8th Ohio Infantry with his lady. (Kevin Canberg Collection)

This letter was written by 28 year-old Corp. John W. James of Co. G, 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a member of the Gibraltar Brigade of the Army of the Potomac. John enlisted on 7 June 1861 and was mustered out after three years service on 13 July 1864.

“Following President Lincoln’s call for regiments of 3 years’ duration, the 3 month regiment reenlisted on 22 June. It participated in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign against the forces of General “Stonewall” Jackson, and gained distinction at the Battle of Antietam with their fighting at the Sunken Road. They also served at the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The 8th became well-known after its service at Gettysburg, due to its repulse of Confederate troops during “Pickett’s Charge.”

After Gettysburg, the regiment was sent to quell the New York City draft riots. Following its return to the Army of the Potomac, the 8th participated in Grant’s Overland Campaign from the Wilderness to the siege of Petersburg. At Spotsylvania Court House, they were engaged in the fighting at the “Bloody Angle,” where hand-to-hand combat raged for 22 hours. Just 3 weeks before their enlistment expired, on 1 June 1864, they took part in the ill-fated attacks at the battle of Cold Harbor. This constant, intense fighting throughout the war gained the 8th a dubious honor: more of its men died from hostile action than of disease.

The regiment was officially mustered out of service on 13 July 1864. Veterans who wished to continue the fight, along with new recruits, formed two companies and were attached to the 4th Ohio Infantry Battalion on 25 June 1864. A total of 205 members of the 8th Ohio Regiment died during its term of service, including 8 officers and 124 enlisted men in battle and 1 officer and 72 enlisted men from disease.” [Encyclopedia of Cleveland History]

John wrote the letter to his aunt, Sarah R. Arnow (1811-1892), the wife of William H. Arnow (b. 1808), a carpenter in Westchester, New York.


Addressed to Mrs. Sarah Arnow, Westchester, Westchester county, New York

Camp of the 8th Regt. O. V. Infantry
Near Stevensburg, Virginia
April 17th, 1864

Dear Aunt,

With haste I embrace the opportunity of addressing you as I learn from a reliable source that after today, no mail will be permitted to leave the army during the spring campaign. I presume the object of this is to prevent any news going North as regards the movements of this army. Therefore, undoubtedly this will be the last letter you will receive from me while in the service of the United States. But if I live, I hope to be enabled to write to you before long as I have but sixty-seven more days to serve in this cruel war. All mail sent to the army will be received as in the future. Therefore, I trust you will write to me often and if I get an opportunity of writing sooner than I expect to, I will improve it. I shall endeavor to write a line to each of my very numerous correspondents today to inform them of the stoppage of the mail.

“The season on inaction is past, and with the opening of Spring comes the beginning of that portentous struggle which as we finally believe will end this unnatural revolt…

—Corp. John James, 8th OVI, 17 April 1864

The season of inaction is past, and with the opening of Spring comes the beginning of that portentous struggle which as we finally believe will end this unnatural revolt that has annoyed the Sons of the South against the government of their fathers. During the past few months, neither side has been idle. The thinned ranks of our veterans has been largely reinforced. Liberal bounties have enlisted many a sturdy recruit and thus far spared the necessity of a draft. The heroes of many a well fought field have renewed their vows of devotion to the country for which they have imperiled life and limb and have reenlisted for 3 years more. Our armies have been reorganized under new, yet tired and faithful leaders who inspire the confidence and kindle the enthusiasm of their followers, and soldiers of the Republic enter on another campaign amply equipped and full of hope. And they only need good leadership to march to battle and to victory. The great captain who eagles have never fled before the enemy is now in chief command. Gen. Grant has made the 4th of July 1863 historic. We fondly hope that he will make the 4th of July 1864 even more renowned as the National Anniversary of a once more united and regenerated Republic.

I wil now close as my time for writing is but limited. Therefore, I must use it to the best advantage. Father, mother, brothers and sister were enjoying good health at last accounts. These lines [leave] me well. May htey find you and family the same. Give my love to all. I will now bid you a kind adieu, hoping to hear from you soon.

I remain as ever your nephew, — John W. James

Address all letters to me as follows: John W. James, Co. G, 8th Regt. O. V. Infantry, Carroll’s Brigade, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac

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