1862: Charles Henry Irvin to Isabella Anne (Harradin) Irvin

This letter was written by Charles Henry Irvin (1832-1906), a native of England, who enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant & Quartermaster of the 9th Michigan Infantry on 12 October 1861. At the time of his enlistment, Charles was working as a civil engineer in Detroit and residing in the 9th Ward with his wife Isabella Anne (Harradin) Irvin (1835-1909) and daughter Fanny Marie Irvin (1854-1929).

An obituary for Charles posted in the Idaho Daily Statesman (Boise, Idaho) on 23 November 1906 says of him:

Colonel Irvin holds a wonderful record both as a military man and in his chosen profession, that of civil engineer. He was born in Thornton, parish of Pickering, county of York, England, in 1832…He was a graduate of King’s college, London, afterwards studying engineering under the most famous of the English engineers of that period.

He came to America in 1860, locating at New York. One of his first positions was that of consulting engineer of the New York Central road. His career as an engineer has been most remarkable. He was one of the inspecting engineers with E. R. Blackwell and Albert C. Tracy during the building of the Niagara suspension bridge. He was assistant chief engineer for the Denver & Rio Grande at the time of the building of the famous hanging bridge over the Royal Gorge and he also ran the line for the Toltec tunnel in the Toltec Gorge. He made the survey of the Canadian government for the improvement of the Ottawa river 50 years ago. This survey was not used until five years ago, when it was remarked by the press of that date that the survey was used without a single deviation from the original survey. He was also city engineer of Buffalo.

In ’61 he enlisted in the Ninth Michigan as first lieutenant of the army. Within three months he was made brigade quartermaster with General Swords [?] under General Buell, and later was made United States quartermaster with the rank of captain on General Thomas’ staff. Owing to the illness of General Morton, he was given entire charge of the fortifications before Nashville, arranging for this besides attending to his regular duties as quartermaster. For this work he was made a colonel. At the close of the war he was chief quartermaster of the transportation and his duties did not cease until three years after the close of the war.

He went to Colorado in 1879 where he was engaged in very important engineering work and in 1890 came to Idaho to represent the interests of W. C. Bradbury in the New York canal. In ’92 he built the Payette canal and later was manager and engineer of the Phyllis canal. In 1898 he was stricken with paralysis and while he recovered very quickly, he never enjoyed perfect health afterwards.

He was city engineer for a number of years and the last assistance which he renedered the city was in preparing the report of engineers on the gravity water system, which was presented to the council a few meetings since.

Colonel Irvin was a man of broad education who had traveled almost all over the world. When but a boy of 14 his grandfather took him to Algiers and on a long voyage to other foreign countries. He was a natural linguist and spoke and read seven languages. His mind, up to th very last was very clear and it was only the day before his death that he was telling his children his impressions on witnessing the coronation of Queen Victoria, when, as a boy, he was taken to parliament by this father on that occasion. He was a delightful racanteur, a man of the courtly manners of the early days, with a heart as simple as a child’s. He was liberal to a fault and literally gave a way a fortune to friends in need. 

Nashville, Tennessee, in 1862 (Harper’s Weekly)


A. A. Quarter Master’s Office
Nashville, Tennessee
November 9, 1862

To Mrs. Isabella A. Irvin
My dearest Bell,

At last I have a chance of writing to you without fear of my communication to you being intercepted. This letter will be sent by a special messenger who will be accompanied by a sufficiently heavy escort to make sure that my letter will not be read by the Confederates and stopped for containing information contraband of war.

The first news I have heard of you since the 22nd of July I got today by Lt. H. C. Gilson who said he had seen Henry who told him to tell me not to get the Blues as you were all right and even this small piece of information has relieved my mind immensely. I made five attempts to get money to you send my you 4 times fifty dollars each time all of which I am informed was captured by the enemy but the last. I sent $200 I have no doubt will arrive to you before this letter.

We have since the middle of August been completely hemmed in by the enemy so that we have had no communication with the outer world and for some weeks have been in daily expectation of an attack by an overpowering force of the enemy but thank God they have put off the attack too long for them to succeed. I have no idea when you heard from me last but I suppose from what I heard the other day it must be a long time for I met a gentleman a day or two ago with whom I was slightly acquainted in Michigan who seemed as much astonished to see me as though he had seen a ghost and told me he had understood that I was killed at Clarksville. 1 Fortunately for me I left Clarksville about hours before it was attacked with a large boatload of horses and got away clear with the clothes I stood up in and positively nothing more—not even an extra pocket handkerchief. I did not intend to come up the river from Clarksville more than thirty miles but hearing the fury at Clarksville and having no other way of getting back except on horseback through woods infested with guerrillas, I thought it prudent to come to Nashville and did so and on arriving at Nashville almost the first news I heard was that Clarksville had been captured and sent up congratulations on what they learned my good luck.

I laid round Nashville for about two weeks waiting for orders & was ordered to take charge of the government manufacturing establishment at this point and was attending to that when Captain R. Stevenson was taken sick and at his request I took charge of his business for him and at his death [on 3 October 1862], I was detailed to take his place and am now at the head of one of the largest Quartermaster establishments in the U. S. I have been fortunately called upon to act here at a time when my knowledge of engineering was of particular value to the government and have succeeded in getting quite a reputation as an office as the old woman says, “although I say it as I oughn’tnoto.”

We expect to have railroad communication here in about fifteen days & then you shall hear regularly from me and as soon as possible I will have you here. You have no idea what straits we have been put here for weeks past. No tea, sugar or coffee & nothing but bread and fresh beef, often not having enough beef even to supply the hospitals which you know are always supplied first. We have not received a mail from the North since the 16th of August & I have paid as high as one dollar for a Louisville paper and never during this time less than twenty-five cents and mighty scarce at that.

I am still wearing my summer clothes from the very fact that there is not blue cloth enough in town to make a suit of clothes & I assume am beginning to look magnificently shabby. The ladies in town are about as strong secesh as ever and I have not the pleasure of making the acquaintance of any of them except officially when they come in to get paid for something that the army has taken from them. We have living by taking whatever we could find within twenty miles of this place without having any reference to whether the original owners thereof wished us to take it or not. The beautiful groves round Nashville are rapidly disappearing under our axes so s to give free sweep to our artillery and many fine residences are sharing the same fate.

You have no idea with what joy we greeted the appearance of the advance guard of General [William S.] Rosecrans’ Army. Only one thousand men arrived on Thursday but it provides the assurance that more were coming & that at least we were safe. On Wednesday the enemy had attacked the town at three different points and though none of the attacks were very heavy, nevertheless created quite an excitement among us. Captain [Charles M.] Lum is here in command of the 10th Michigan Regiment and is well.

I don’t know what to tell you about myself that is interesting except that as usual I work early and late and take but little rest and that I think when you come here you will find me decidedly both much fatter and much grayer than when we last saw each other which will form an admirable excuse for your being disgusted with my personal appearance and falling in love with someone else for I suppose you feel as young as ever. I do not even know where you are. Till I hear from you, shall continue to direct my letters to you to the care of Col. W[illiam] W[ard] Duffield as usual. The last money I sent to you I sent to the care of D. Bethune Duffield fearing that the Colonel might be in the field & some delay be occasioned thereby in the arrival of the money to you.

Now do write to me as soon as you can, enclosing letter to me to Capt. W. F. Harris and write to him requesting him to send it to me by private hand. Read this letter to Fanny. Tell her how dearly I love her & let her know that I expect soon to see her & miss her again & kiss her ten thousand times for me. When you see Father & Mother or write to them, give them my love. Ask George if he wants to come and work for me as copying clerk. If he does, as soon as communication is open, I will give him a good chance.

When you come here we will go to housekeeping taking the house and furniture of someone who has gone away down in Dixie land. Now my dearest little wife that I now and always shall be yours, most loving husband, — Charles H. Irvin


Lt. Charles H. Irvin
A. A. Quartermaster
Nashville, Tennessee

1 The Union-occupied garrison came under attack on 18 August 1862. See Recapture of Clarksville.

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