1864: John Hawthorn to his Niece

This incredible letter was written by 2nd Lt. John Hawthorn (1817-1882) of Fayette county, Iowa, who enlisted on 5 September 1861 as a sergeant in Co. F, 9th Iowa Infantry. He was promoted to 1st Sergeant on 11 March 1862, and finally to 2nd Lieutenant on 6 February 1863. He survived the war and mustered out on 31 December 1864 after making the march to Savannah, Georgia—a proud veteran of the Bloody 9th whose record of service was arguably unmatched by that of any other regiment in the state.

I could not find an image of John Hawthorn but here is one of John W. Niles who served with him in the 9th Iowa, first as a sergeant and then as captain of Co. B. (Photo Sleuth)

John was married to Hannah White (1825-1880) in Wiscassett, Maine, on 9 May 1848. In the 1850 US Census, he was enumerated as a farmer in Bloomingdale, Dupage county, Illinois. In 1860, John & Hannah had relocated to Westfield township, Fayette county, Iowa. In 1870, John and Hannah were living in Lodi (Maple Park), Kane county, Illinois, where he was employed as agent for the gas works. They were enumerated in the household of his father-in-law, Solomon White (1801-1879), a local merchant.

Hannah died in 1880 and John died in 1882; both are buried in Springfield Cemetery, Garnet, Kansas. Her grave marker bears the name, “Hawthorne” though the name has been found in records as Hawthorn, Hathorn, and Hawthorne.


Camp 9th Iowa
East Point, Georgia
September 26th 1864

Dear Niece Susie,

I have waited & waited for a letter from you ever since I was at Woodville [Alabama] last spring but no letter comes. I have written you three since receiving your last. What is the matter? Have I offended or are you like the girl that got married & didn’t live anywhere now? But soberly, every mail for five months & now I have thought now I’ll hear from Susie—but no letter yet.

I am well except rheumatism which for a month or over past has [been] troubling me considerable so that I have had hard work to perform the duties devolving upon me during the last of this campaign which has been a long and fatiguing one. Our regiment & Army Corps has been on the move 133 days out of which we have been in the front line & under fire of the Rebs 81 days and have helped fight 13 different and distinct battles from one to 25 days long.

We started the first of May from Woodville 589 strong and when we came into camp here on 10th of September, we numbered but 331. We have as a regiment lost 1 officer killed, 3 wounded—our Colonel [being] one, badly [wounded] in head [by a] bullet; over 100 men killed and wounded, 13 taken prisoners on 27th May at Dallas, Georgia. Over 30 have died of disease—2 of sun stroke, and lots of others sick in hospitals. Most of those that have died of disease were new recruits who came back with us when home on Veteran’s furlough & most of those sick since starting out & now in hospitals are all new recruits. Some of them are coming up to us now & will be ready for the fall campaign. Yesterday, 112 non-veterans mustered out—expiration of three years on 23rd—so now we are very much reduced indeed. But what we have left are good grit.

An unidentified member of Co. E, 9th Iowa Infantry—a regiment much reduced after the Atlanta Campaign but those left were of “good grit.” (Dale Niesen Collection)

In every fight, siege, &c. have we—the [9th]—come off best, fought the Rebs day by day, driving them inch by inch as it were from Tunnel Hill near Ringgold, through all their various deviations & wanderings to Dalton, Resaca, Calhoun Ferry, Allatoona Pass, Adairsville, Kingston, Dallas, New Hope Church, Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain, Big Shanty, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Nick-A-Jack Creek, Chattahoochie River at RR Bridge, and at Roswell. Then at Stone Mountain, Decatur & towards Atlanta on east 20, 21, 22 Peach Orchard & Creek, on west and north by Hooker on 20 & 21st too, then at Eutaw Church on 28th July from which time to 26th August we fought, dug, and sharpshot with [the Rebels] every day, every day almost getting someone in [our] regiment killed or wounded.

Then we made the flank move to the right, cut the Montgomery Railroad near Fairburn, then on 30th drove the Rebs 6 miles with three sharp little fights & at night had them in their works near Jonesboro 22 miles south of Atlanta 31st & September 1st were two days of hard fighting but we broke their army in two, 8 miles above Jonesboro near Rough & Ready Station, taking over 2,000 prisoners, 14 guns, and on the eve of September 1st, drove them through Jonesboro. [On the] 2nd, [we] followed them to near Lovejoy Station & held them there till all our teams could collect & get within the fortifications of Atlanta when on the 7th we began to fall back slowly & on the 10th, we brought up here and have been resting & fortifying &c. as best we could & enjoying ourselves hugely on hard tack and bacon. No fresh beef.

We have given the Rebs several good killings & they say that one more good large killing, or two small ones, would be all they could stand. Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley is doing glorious work too. Old Farragut has acted well his part. Grant has fought some heavy and bloody battles though not with that success we had hoped for but we do not despair for him. He will hoe his row out yet, we believe, and compel Lee to cut bait or fish.

Gen. John “Black Jack” Logan, “Hold your fire till they come up snug & then kill them all, damn them!”

We got a report last night that Grant had had a blood fight & taken Petersburg but we hardly credit it as Grant was, the last we heard of him, looking after matters about Harpers Ferry. But we hope he may have [taken] Petersburg though we hope the loss as reported on our side may not be true of 30,000 killed, wounded, & missing & that Grant himself was mortally wounded. That would be an awful blow to the army. We would in that case fear you would be for taking our general away from us. We could illy afford to lose Grant, but to lose Sherman would cut us up bad, though we have a Thomas, a Howard, & then our Gen. John A. Logan who is a trump & loves to tread on secesh snakes of all varieties & says the best way to end the rebellion is to kill every Reb—North or South— we can get at as on the 28th July when the Rebs were charging our lines, charge after charge, & riding along our lines he [Logan] said, “They come, hold your fire till they get up snug & then kill them all, damn them! Kill every mother’s son of them! That’s the way to end the rebellion & take you home.

Now Sis, you have our moves &c. in a nut shell & soon we hope to crack the secesh shell & if extermination or the acknowledgement of their independence alone will secure peace, we hope to enrich their soil with their carcasses as at Decatur & Eutaw Church where we buried ourselves in front of our own Army Corps over 2400. In front of the 55th Illinois they buried 209 in two trenches—98 and 111. In our front we buried 97—one colonel, one major, 6 captains, and 11 lieutenants. They seemed determined on death or whipping us as Hood told them the 15th Army Corps was never whipped & it remained for them to do it or all was lost. But the 15th Army Corps still remains unwhipped & long may it remain.

We are having fine weather. All is cheerful and bright. Everything is being done that can be to put the army in fighting trim for a speedy campaign & vigorous one. The Rebs are playing hob with our hard tack line. Night before last they entered Marietta, tore up track, burned lots of supplies &c. carrying off report says quite a lot of our sick boys in hospital there & some few guards. They have been doing that kind of business for some time & this morning one division of our Corps & one battery have gone out there to attend to their cases.

I expect by & by to go home. Business calls for me loudly & I feel that I must go and I shall resign if I cannot get a furlough or leave of absence. So when you write me again, direct to Fayette, Fayette county, Iowa. I would I could go East this fall & see you all & father and mother J. but I will have to content myself with matters at home for awhile. Write me a long letter & tell me if you have been down to see the Dresden folks & how you are all going for President. I see you did nobly for Governor. May the whole Union follow your lead & put Lincoln & Johnson in the Chairs of State, that Rebels may howl & gnash their teeth for the tightening of Union measures & the downfall of their arrogant pride that “Lincoln should never rule over them, &c.”

Where is John &c. now all your good friends in your neighborhood. My love & regards to all who inquire after me so deal it as will suit best saving a good share of the first for yourself & tell Uncle G & Aunt I never got any letter from them yet & I would be right glad of a letter from your Aunt Elizabeth & will answer. Love to Aunt Baily & girls. Where is Uncle B. now? Are the Richmond folks & Aunt Polly? Do you go and see her often? I got a letter from Han & Sallie on inst. date, were well and very urgent for me to come now and stay there this winter and then I might come back but I feel that I am getting [too] old to sleep in mud and wet and cold, though I have stood it for over three years now & have not seen a day for the whole time but what I could do my duty though I have several times been somewhat under the weather.

Now dear Susie, if you wish to keep up correspondence all right & I’ll try to act my part & when I get home, I’ll get help now and then, but if other engagements take up your time & cannot afford your Old Uncle a little time to keep youth bright & life cheerful, all right. So do your best for self & I’ll try & live as long as I can see anybody & when we go under, may Jordan be crossed safely & by and by all meet where there is fullness of joy & pleasures forever more. And now goodbye. Ever be true to yourself, your country, and your God. Your uncle, — John

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