1861-64: Orlando Jay Smith to J. O. Jones

How Orlando looked just before entering the 16th Indiana Infantry

These letters were written by Orlando Jay Smith (1842-1908), the son of Hiram Smith (1799-1866) and Sarah Jacobs (1804-1890) of Terre Haute, Vigo county, Indiana. Orlando first entered the service as a sergeant in Co. K, 16th Indiana Infantry on 23 April 1861. He mustered out of that regiment on 23 May 1862 at Washington D. C. He was commissioned a Lieutenant in Co. B, 71st Indiana Infantry in August 1862. The regiment was changed into a cavalry organization in February 1863 became Co. B, 6th Indiana Cavalry. He was discharged on 15 September 1865.

He was wounded and taken prisoner on 3 August 1864 at Athens, Georgia and confined at Macon, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina. He was promoted a Captain on 2 November 1862 and a Major on 16 October 1863.

After he was discharged from the service, Orlando returned to Asbury College (now De Pauw University) and completed his college course. He then entered journalism was was editor of the Terre Haute Mail, the Terre Haute Express, the Chicago Express and was the Founder of the American Press Association in 1882, whose General Office in 1910 was at 225, West 39th Street, New York. He lived at Bonneview, his estate in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

Among works by Smith were A Short View of Great Quests (1899), The Coming DemocracyBalance the Fundamental Variety (1904), The Agreement Between Science and Religion (1906) and Eternalism: A Theory Of Infinite Justice (1902).

[Note: These letters are from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and are published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Camp Wayne [near Richmond, Indiana]
June 27, 1861

My Dear Uncle,

I enclose to you a Watson bill which you will oblige me by changing into something more current in this portion of the state, if you can do so.

I am prospering as well as I could wish to. I like camp life, at least that portion which I have seen. Nothing would mar the content with which I have settled down to it but for the fact that we will never see service unless we go in for three years. I have made up my mind to go in for that term at the first favorable opportunity. I know the advice you gave me concerning enlisting for a longer period than one year was excellent, but I feel that I can never in the future feel satisfied with myself in looking back at this contest unless I was an active participant in it. I shall therefore got into it and shall make no calculation to leave the service until the battle cry of “The Union!” shall be heard upon Sumter’s torn battlements and be echoed by freemen’s voices along the Gulf to the mouth of the Rio Grande.

I may not be able to retain the position that I have obtained in my own company (2nd Sergeant) if I go into another one, or I may get some higher one. I don’t know how it will be. of course I would like to have some position but I shall go fully as cheerfully, if I do not. Please attend to changing the bill immediately. Give my love to Aunt and the little girls.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith


Letter 2

Camp near Seneca Mills
Upper Potomac
November 7, 1861

Dear Uncle,

I have neglected writing to you for a long time and I cannot improve a little leisure time in a better manner than by writing you a letter. When I wrote you last, I was sweltering under the heat of an August sun in the valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge near Harpers Ferry. Since that time we have done a considerable of marching around about in this region of the Upper Potomac though we haven’t been called on to do much fighting as yet. Gen. Banks has an army of fifty thousand scattered from Harpers Ferry to Chain Bridge. We have a number of splendid regiments in our division—such as the New York 9th, Minnesota 1st, Wisconsin 3rd, Geary’s Pennsylvania 28th, Massachusetts 2nd, 13th, and Webster’s 12th, and a host of others, but I have noticed that the General always keeps the 16th Indiana near himself and when he moves, it moves. His headquarters have been close to us in every camp yet, and when we went over into Virginia, he pitched his tent right in with us though we had the muddiest hole in the whole field. From all this and various complimentary things he has said of us, I judge he has confidence in our prowess should we be called on to exercise it.

I suppose you have heard that we were over in Virginia. At the time, we didn’t know that we were doing anything much but we learn since that the correspondent of the Associated Press reports our regiment as acting very gallantly, &c. &c. and only murmuring when the order was given to retreat instead of contesting our way inch by inch with our enemies. The Baltimore Clipper too says the advanced pickets of the 16th Indiana were rescued from the very jaws of destruction and death. So, I conclude as the papers say so, that we did gallant things over there. It is true that we marched twenty miles in six hours one very dark night to rescue the troops of the lamented Baker, that we crossed the river in the rain on Tuesday morning and took position on the bank where the mud was in no place less than half knee deep, that we participated in the skirmish in the afternoon in which Gen. [Frederick W.] Lander was wounded and in which we lost one man.

You should have seen our gallant old Colonel [Pleasant Adam Hackleman] during the time that we were expecting about ten thousand Secesh devils down upon us. He sat on his big black horse and as our batteries commenced throwing the shells thicj and fast, he lit a cigar cooly and remarked, “Well boys, this looks like business.” It rained all that day of Tuesday and all night. We had no tents and nothing to eat but sea biscuit but really we were tolerably comfortable by the fires.

Wednesday morning it still rained. At noon one half of our regiment was detailed on picket guard, our own company included. We went out on Goose Creek towards the enemy’s advance. It so happened that our company relieved the pickets which had occupied the very farthest outposts next to the rebel pickets. I had command of the relief from five o’clock till eleven. It was a bitter cold night and we dared not stir about for fear of the rebel pickets who were in the woods next to us. At 2 o’clock we commenced the retreat to the river, distant a mile and a half. we landed on the Maryland shore at daylight. I for one was not sorry to get back as I am now confident that the next day would have witnessed a repetition of the Ball’s Bluff horrors. I saw whole boatloads of wounded and dead from that action and I never want to see such a sight again unless I am confident that the enemy have suffered at least equally. It seems as though we have nothing but bad generalship here on the Potomac. A few more Bull Runs and Ball’s Bluffs and this Grand Army of the Potomac will be completely demoralized. Their influence is already too plainly felt in the general tone of discouragement with which the soldiers here talk of the result of the war. The rebels have gained such a reputation for pluck that our men have lost confidence in themselves as well as in their leaders.

It seems as though we have nothing but bad generalship here on the Potomac. A few more Bull Runs and Ball’s Bluffs and this Grand Army of the Potomac will be completely demoralized.

—Sgt. Orland Jay Smith, 16th Indiana Infantry, 7 November 1861

We are all awaiting with an anxiety too deep for utterance the result of the Great [Port Royal] Expedition. How much depends on it, no one perhaps can realize. I still have hopes that the war may be brought so near to a successful termination by the time my term of service is ended that there will be no necessity of enlisting again. I see that most everybody out in Indiana is Colonel of a regiment and I suppose only the most common people will accept captaincies and lieutenancy’s. I wish I could have the privilege of going in one of the latter positions as everyday the difference between going as officer and [enlisted] man is more plainly visible. I am now acting as Orderly Sergeant and I suppose I can retain the position if I choose but it is very hard work and poor pay. If it were not that I learn much more as Orderly, I would rather be 2nd Sergeant.

What sort of a regiment has Col. [George K.] Steel [of Rockville] got at Camp Vigo? I suppose he makes a fine officer. If I were only a Lieutenant or Adjutant in his regiment or any other regiment, I wouldn’t mind being in for three years or for ten as for that matter.

We have had extraordinary health in our regiment until of late but within the past week there has been four deaths. One of our company died yesterday in the hospital. A poor fellow was shot only an hour ago accidentally and died immediately. I am under many, many obligations to you for papers sent me. Give my love to Aunt and the little girls. I hope you will write to me soon.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith


Letter 3

Camp Dick Thompson [Terre Haute, Indiana]
December 11, 1862

My Dear Uncle,

I have read with emotions of the deepest interest your letter containing your opinions as regards my course of conduct upon the question of marriage. They most fully agree with my own. I have not engaged myself to anyone and shall not, at least until I have dissolved connection with the army and when I do, suitability of age shall be regarded.

My intimate association with a lady of Terre Haute has perhaps given rise to the fear in your mind, and in that of others of my family, that I would be rash enough to hasten myself into a matrimonial engagement in which the balance of years is decidedly on the side of the lady. Such is not the case, and she herself has been fully aware of it since the intimacy commenced.

Declaring most emphatically that I have entered into but one engagement and that is with my country, and hoping that she will never have cause to instigate a breach of promise suit, I am your nephew, — O. J. Smith


Letter 4

The following letter was written from Burnside Barracks near Indianapolis, Indiana where the paroled prisoners of the 71st Indiana Infantry were quartered and kept until they were exchanged in August 1863. The “misfortune” Smith speaks of is the being taken captive for a second time. 347 men in the 71st Indiana were taken prisoners in the Battle of Richmond, where its Lieut.-Col. Topping and Maj. Conkling were among the killed. Only 225 escaped capture. The captured were paroled, returned to Terre Haute, and were exchanged late in the fall. They returned to the field on Dec. 27, when 400 of the regiment were sent to Muldraugh’s hill to guard trestle work and the following day they were surrounded by 4,000 of Morgan’s cavalry and captured a second time.

Burnside Barracks 1
Indianapolis, Indiana
December 30, 1862

Dear Uncle,

Lt. (or Major) Orlando Jay Smith

Our regiment has met with another disaster as you probably will know. We are back safely here. It seems as though misfortune has marked the 71st out for its own. If anything tends to alleviate the intense mortification which I feel, it is the fact that my own company conducted themselves most gallantly and that there was no duty which they were not ready and eager to perform. In fact, I know that the officers commanding relied more fully upon my company than upon any other.

I was placed by Col. [Courtland C.] Matson on the morning of Sunday in command of three companies—B of our own regiment, and B & C of the 78th Illinois, and occupied heights on the right of our position, but had to move by order to within the breastworks after the action began. The fight was nothing much but a surrender though I have a shell with me that passed within a few inches of my head. John Cheek of my company was knocked down by a cannon ball and bruised a little was the only casualty among my own men.

Morgan took our side arms and the men’s blankets and overcoats which tends to keep up well his reputation as a horse thief. I sent my luggage to Louisville on Saturday so my loss is my sword.

My men brought away some twenty guns of various descriptions which we picked up as we passed by our position after being paroled and which we managed to smuggle through their lines. Morgan has ten thousand men all mounted—“Hoss infantry” they call themselves—and several pieces of artillery. I was without sleep almost entirely from Tuesday night before Christmas till Monday night in Louisville. We are at Indianapolis now but will probably move to Terre Haute.

The men are in good spirits notwithstanding the fact that we have been meanly, badly, shamefully, and outrageously treated. I am undecided what to do but presume the only line of conduct proper is to stick to the men though I feel mortified and almost entirely discouraged. I suppose my folks have not got back yet from St. Louis.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

1 Camp Burnside was located on Tinker (now 16th) Street south of Camp Morton.


Letter 5

Burnside Barracks
[Indianapolis, Indiana]
January 15, 1863

Dear Uncle,

We are getting along tolerably smoothly now. Our are surely an extraordinary set of men, else they would be entirely demoralized. We will probably not be exchanged before the 1st of March as the last General Exchange does not include us.

Indianapolis is full of Butternuts and corruption. Terre Haute is well represented in the lobby. Claypool. Bailey, and Risley and their various compatriots are on hands and apparently feel jolly. So mote it be. Perhaps the Almighty will allow treason to triumph now to work out some great good, but the Right must conquer, though it be long after the grass has grown green over our graves.

Col. [James] Biddle is still idolized by his men. He has appointed a Board of Examination of which I am a contingent member to examine the officers of the regiment upon military qualifications on the 1st of next month and all who do not pass will be requested to resign. Privates and non-commissioned officers who aspire to positions go before the board. No one is to be promoted on account of rank, but merit.

Captains [John J.] Starnes [of Co. H] and [Andrew J.] Rockwell have resigned on account of health. Also Lt. [Thomas] Cullen of Co. D. Lt. E[lijah] W. Peck is promoted Captain of Co. H, vice Starnes. A good promotion. The Colonel says he thinks I have the best company now in the regiment and I think so too. Pay day comes soon and after that interesting ordeal has been passed through, I shall get a furlough to go home.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith


Letter 6

Burnside Barracks
[Indianapolis, Indiana]
March 27, 1863

Dear Uncle,

Your letter has come to hand and I hasten to reply. I have concluded not to borrow money to make advance to recruits on Bounty.

If you think it would be best, I am willing that you should circulate a recommendation for me for the Majorship in the new organization. Yesterday I would not have consented to make an application as I would have thought it better to wait for promotion in one of my years than to hurry it up, but I have good reason to believe that if I don’t get it, Adjutant [William A.] Brown and an outside will succeed, and I would consider it an infernal outrage for Brown to be appointed over men who rank higher than he does and who are better qualified.

I speak the entire truth when I say that I would prefer to remain in the company, now much the largest one in the regiment than to be Major if competent and efficient men would probably be appointed, but having shared the fortunes of the army of the Union as enlisted man and officer since the fall of Sumter, I would feel sore to have men appointed over me who were counter hoppers and 4th rate lawyers during the first thirteen months while I was trudging with my knapsack over the mountains and valleys of Virginia.

If you can get a strong recommendation from Hon. Jno. P[almer] Usher, it would have great weight with the Governor, also Gen. [Charles] Cruft. But you understand that better than I.

My company numbers now 97 men having recruited 22 since we commenced being nearly as many as all the rest of the companies have taken in.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith


Letter 7

Burnside Barracks
[Indianapolis, Indiana]
April 4, 1863

My Dear Uncle,

I have received your letter enclosing the recommendation. I am very thankful to you for the interest you have taken, not only in this case but ever heretofore in my welfare. I trust to be able some day to repay you if in no other way than in making of myself a useful man. I will show the recommendation to Col. Biddle and shall do nothing without his sanction. I shall not push matters too much as I hardly take the interest in the promotion which I should take. I feel so well satisfied as I am in command of a full company every man of whom it is, I hope no undue self praise to say are devoted to me. If Col. Biddle objects my application for the Majorship, it will be on account of my age and nothing else.

I would like to send down some men to vote Monday but cannot. I wish though that you would ascertain whether or not some arrangement cannot be made by which the fare of soldiers of our regiment cannot be reduced or paid if they attend the City election in May. I can send 25 legal voters from my company and Co. E probably as many more.

Gen. [Henry Beebee] Carrington has issued a Special Order stating the fact of our exchange and complimenting the 71st in the highest terms. we will be reviewed on Wednesday of next week. Couldn’t you spare time to come over and see us?

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith


Letter 8

Camp near Nicholasville, Kentucky
April 26, 1864

My Dear Uncle,

I often feel very much displeased with myself for not writing to you often since I have been away from home this time. I propose to make partial amends by writing you a short letter this evening.

The Battalion to which I was attached and to the command of which I succeeded when I got my commission as Major was ordered from Knoxville the last day of March to proceed to Paris, Kentucky, to join the balance of the regiment with the cavalry corps of the Army of the Ohio which was at the latter place re-equipping for the Spring Campaign. We came via Chattanooga and Nashville by rail and had a tedious trip of it. I felt much relieved when we joined the balance of the regiment under Col. Biddle and I changed my independent for a subordinate command. I brought the Battalion through in quicker time and better order than any of the other detachments which came through but I very much prefer for awhile at least to act in a subordinate position.

Gen. Stoneman commands us and has a very fine body of cavalry under him. Our Col. Biddle commands the 2nd Division, Matson commands the Regiment, and I the 3rd Battalion consisting of companies B, F, G. and L. I am happily situated in having officers under me who are my personal friends and who are efficient also.

We are getting ready as fast as possible to go to the front, at what point I know not. We have pack mule transportation entirely—not a wheeled vehicle will be taken with the command.

My health has not been very good since I have been in Kentucky. I feel pretty well this evening though and I think will be entirely well in a few days. I applied for ten day’s furlough some time since but have heard nothing from it. suppose I will not get to go.

We are in hopes that the Indiana regiments will be allowed to veteranize in October if the war continues so we can be on hand to vote. A movement is on foot by prominent men of Putnam, Clay, and Owen [counties] and some in other portions of the district to make Major W[illiam] W. Carter of our [6th Indiana Cavalry] regiment the candidate for Congress this fall against [Daniel Wolsey] Voorhees. I would be much pleased if you are not already pledged to any candidate if you would give him your support. He is a man all over and I think would be well able to cope with Voorhees on the stump. You recollect his conduct in enlisting our regiment as a private after having been offered positions. If you can carry Vigo wholly or partially for him, I think he will be nominated. He has strong friends in the district—Hanna and Williamson of Putnam for instance. I wish you would write to me and let me know what you can do. Also who will probably be candidates for nomination. I urge it as we are likely to leave soon.

We are having tolerably gay times here in the Bluegrass region, preparatory to rough times this spring and summer. Give my love to Aunt and the little girls. I expect they are nearly big girls now though.

Your nephew, — O. J. Smith

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s