1863: Lizzie (Wilson) Rice to John Birchard Rice

Lizzie (Wilson) Rice

This letter was written by Sarah Eliza (Wilson) Rice (1842-1928), the daughter of James William Wilson (1816-1904) and Nancy E. Justice (1821-1904) of Fremont, Sandusky county, Ohio. Sarah—who went by “Lizzie”—was only 19 years old when she married John Birchard Rice (1832-1893), an 1857 graduate of the medical department at the University of Michigan, in December 1861.

During the Civil War, Lizzie’s husband served on the medical staff as assistant surgeon of the Tenth and then as surgeon of the Seventy-second regiments of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was also surgeon in chief of a division in the Fifteenth Army Corps and of the District of Memphis. Following the Battle of Shiloh, Gen. W. T. Sherman went out of of his way to praise Rice in his after action brigade report: “I take the liberty to refer to the important services of Surgeon John B. Rice and the assistant surgeons of the 48th, 70th, and 72nd [Ohio] Regiments. They have labored at the landing among the wounded almost incessantly night and day, taking no sleep for two days and nights.”

In this letter, Lizzie shares home-front information with her husband including the excitement raised between Union loyalists and secession sympathizers who were derisively called “Butternuts” or “Copperheads.” Her youthful exuberance relating social activity and local courtships is on full display as her husband is about to embark on an expedition down the Mississippi from Memphis to Young’s Point, opposite Vicksburg.

More on Surgeon John B. Rice:

Five of John’s Civil War letters are on-line, graciously made available to researchers at the Ohio History Connection where they are housed under the title, John Birchard Rice Civil War Letters. The Auburn University Digital Library also has a letter from Surgeon Rice to his wife dated 24 October 1864 on-line.

For an excellent article mentioning Surgeon Rice, see—“Skinned out for Memphis like Tom O’ Shanter with the devil after him,” General Samuel Sturgis, the 72nd Ohio, and the Guntown Disaster, Dan Masters’ Civil War Chronicles, published 8 June 2019.


March 28th 1863

My Own Darling Husband,

I wrote you a long letter day before yesterday, but having nothing in particular to do this evening will write you again. There is nothing going on worth writing about. It is as dull as can be here. Was out to an exhibition last evening which was as good as such exhibitions generally are. Saw Mr. Willard there and he inquired about you as he always does when he sees me.

Surgeon John B. Rice, 72nd OVI

There was a “Union Supper” over at Hocke’s Hotel 1 last evening. The way they come to have it there was this. One evening last week a number of these butternuts about town (Frinefrock 2, [Bruce] Lindsay, and others) went over there to hold one of their meetings. They abused Lincoln and the soldiers and talked “secesh” so strong that Hocke ordered them out of his house. They remonstrated, but he told them to go. They then told him that they would get their horses and go and that it would ruin him. He told the hostler to get their horses ready as soon as he could and let them go. Said there was something in his heart that told him he ought not to let them do so and he would not have it. The Union men were so pleased when they heard it that about one hundred of them went over there last night and got their supper. Do not know whether [Benjamin] Brundage & Owen were there the night they were ordered away or not.

Owen is very much taken with Live [Olivia] Bartlett. 3 Thinks she is perfection. He pays here a great deal of attention and would not be surprised if he cut out Oakley. 4 She would do a great deal better to take him, if he was not a butternut. That is the only thing I know against him. He is smarter than Oak and has a profession while Oak has no trade, profession, or anything else. The most he has ever done towards making a living is teaching school and clerking.

I received yours of the 14th day before yesterday. I cannot tell you how glad I was to hear that you had been promised a “leave of absence” when this expedition was ended. Hope it will not be very long. You had better take good care of your new clothes for I want you to present as fine an appearance as possible when you come home. I want folks to see that I have reason to be proud of you. I will not tell you how many compliments Mr. Glenn paid you, nor what they were for fear it would make you vain if I did. Amos Word has returned to his regiment. Charlie Norton has been promoted. Have almost forgotten what he is now but think it is Captain. You wrote that the weather was very pleasant. Do you have much rain? It rained here all this week until yesterday when it was very warm and pleasant. Tonight the ground is covered with snow.

Your brother Rob is expected home in a few days. He has got his “sheepskin.” Did I ever tell you that Lou Gessner 5 had gone back into the army? They are going to have a “Continental Tea Party” 6 out to Clyde next Thursday evening. Have heard a number of ladies say that they thought of going out. Ella Watson called here yesterday but I was not at home. She told me when I called on her that she was very anxious to see your picture. Said she had not seen you since you was a little fellow. That was the time I suppose when you was so much in love with her. I heard the other day that one of my schoolmates (a girl about my age) was married to a widower who had ten children. I think she is a goose to marry a man with children. She is now living in Springfield, Mass.

It is very late and will have to stop writing and go to bed. Suppose I have made about fifty mistakes in this letter. Have been talking and writing at the same time. Is Gen. [James William] Denver going down the river with you? Remember me to all friends. Suppose Owen has told you all the news that I have written, hasn’t he? He must have a special correspondent here at home who keeps him posted in regard to what is going on. But no more tonight. Did Gen. [Ralph Pomeroy] Buckland give you that kiss I sent by him?

Write often to your darling wife, — Lizzie S. Rice

All send love

Monday, March 30

Did not get this letter in the [Post] Office yesterday and it will not go out until tomorrow morning. I suppose you will get it as soon as if it had gone out this morning. Have no doubt but it will lay in the office at Cairo or perhaps travel around two or three weeks before you get it. Do not forget to write often. Affectionately your wife, — Lizzie

1 Christian F. Hocke, (1820-1863) a native of Germany, operated the hotel in Fremont, Ohio. I note that Christian died on 10 June 1863, just two and a half months after this letter was written. His 17 year-old son who was also named Christian, took over the operation of his father’s hotel and was identified as the proprietor in 1870.

2 Judge Thomas Peter Finefrock (1826-1909) practiced law in Sandusky county. He ws married to Emma Ellen Carter (1835-1910) at Fremont, Ohio. Finefrock was a life-long Democrat who took a very active role in leading the ultra-Democratic Party in an anti-Administration campaign.

3 Olivia Jane Bartlett (1842-1879) was the 21 year-old daughter of Brice J. Bartlett—a lawyer and former mayor in Fremont, Ohio. Olivia married Israel Oakley Totten on 29 March 1864. When he died two years later, she married Capt. John George Nuhfer.

4 Israel “Oakley” Totten (1841-1866) enlisted in August 1861 in Co. F, 49th OVI. He was wounded in the Battle of Stones River and discharged in August 1863. His father, William Oakley Totten, was a shipbuilder in Fremont.

5 Dr. Louis S. J. Gessner was an Asst. Surgeon on the 37th OVI. He later served briefly as the surgeon at Camp Chase, Confederate POW Camp in Columbus, and then was sent to Nashville where he was Chief Surgeon at Hospital No. 11, Army of the Cumberland, 1863-65.

6 A “Continental Tea Party” seems to have been an event designed to inspire patriotism during the war, conjuring up images of the Spirit of ’76. Some newspaper accounts of such events indicate attendees may have worn continental clothing.

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