1863: Henry Gordon to Elizabeth (Gordon) McCrea

This letter was written by Henry Gordon (1798-1886), the son of Alexander Gordon (1768-1855) and Margaret Mary Smith (1764-1826), from his farm in Monroe township, Knox county, Ohio. He wrote the letter to his sister, Elizabeth (Gordon) McCrea (1801-1884) and her husband James McCrea (1796-1875) of Antrim, Franklin county, Pennsylvania.

An unidentified Ohio Soldier of Bowman’s age (LOC)

Henry was married to Matilda (“Tilda”) Jane Bowman (1806-1857). After her death, he remarried with Hannah F. Cone (1819-1887) and had a son named Frank (b. 1861). In the 1860 US Census, 60 year-old Henry was enumerated with his 25 year-old son Henry Bowman Gordon, his 20 year-old daughter Susannah, 18 year-old son Alexander, and 16 year-old Joanna.

The sum and substance of this letter is the expression of anguish felt by a father who has lost his son in the service of his country through the careless behavior of his army surgeons. Henry’s 30 year-old son, Henry “Bowman” Gordon (1831-1863), enlisted as a private in Co. B, 4th Ohio Infantry in April 1861. After his 3 month term of enlistment expired, he reenlisted in the same regiment for three years but he did not survive the war. He succumbed to disease in an army hospital in Frederick, Maryland, in December 1862. * From a description of the dangers Bowman faced before falling ill—based on his father’s letter—it appears that Bowman was with his regiment through all of their battles up until the time he fell ill after the Battle of Antietam where they fought in the sunken road. His muster records indicate that he was promoted to Corporal on 1 November 1862.

* There is a discrepancy in the date of Bowman’s death; some records indicate December 1862 and some say December 1863. Based on the father’s description of his son’s service with his last action appearing to be at Antietam under McClellan’s command, and also the mention of Milton Hunt (also in Bowman’s company) getting a discharge in on 9 November 1862), I am confident the date was December 1862.


[Knox county, Ohio]
[January 1863]

Dear sister and brother McCrea,

I feel a duty to write to you and especially to Joseph Snively and thank him for his trouble and still continue my thanks to you all and to sister Sally for her kindness and to Jeremiah and his son for going after my carpet sack and Alexander for coming down to see my dear afflicted and brave and noble boy who spent his last days in defense of our much loved country and on the side of freedom and for the tie and love of our southern and northern states that was united in one common constitution that cost the lives and blood of our forefathers for freedom and their testimony or declaration of sentiment that there are self-evident truths that God has created all men free without respect to color or sex, with certain inalienable rights—the right of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. But this poor boy was deprived of the right of life by those corrupt Medical Board of doctors, corrupted by the slave power, and hardened to disobey the furlough law or pay no regard to the discharge law, trampling the Declaration under feet that a poor soldier that is worn out in the hard service of his country has no right to liberty or life, but hold him under the Grand Dame Slavery iron veil of oppression, corrupted by the infernal, beastly, chattalizing gospel or false teachers as the 2nd Chapter of Peter directs them to deny the Lord that brought them and proposed temporal and spiritual freedom for them and for all that believe in the blood or purchase of Christ’s blood that dies in faith and goes from troubling and where their poor weary souls are at rest, where they hear not the voice of the oppressor that won’t believe those self-evident truths that have denied many of our noble and brave sons of Mount Vernon and round about that fought and faced the cannon’s mouth, from Western Virginia where General [Robert S.] Garnett was killed—the Rebel—and took Romney twice and Blue’s Gap, and at Winchester and then to McDowell and back to Banks, and then to McClellan, and at McClellan’s right wing faced the cannon and held their ground and now must be deprived of the right of life or liberty and kept in the hospital by those hardened slavery doctors for the sake of money or for having their hearts hardened that they have no sympathy for their fellow creatures—no feeling of freedom or liberty or human rights, no mercy. The time may come to them that showed no mercy [when] no mercy will be shown to them. They may go so far that mercy may be shut forever. God may laugh when the calamity comes and [ ] when the fear comes.

Dear sister, I write to you and all. I got home safe of Saturday about 4 o’clock and found nobody at home but Susannah. My wife and the boy went to town and they hadn’t heard of the death of poor Bowman and Susannah was very much troubled. I have a bad cold and some diarrhea since I came home. They are all very much troubled here about him and the children wanted his funeral sermon preached and we had it preached at John’s. Our house wasn’t built for preaching in it. Well there was a great many of our neighbors there [and] a great many tears shed for his loss. But their loss is his gain.

When I got home, everything was out of order and I am out of heart of farming. Can’t get no hands for less than one dollar per day and corn is only 40 or 50 cents here. Pork 4 dollars cleaned. Heavy pork is 3 and the rough beef— I have two steers to sell—the butchers only give from 1.50 to 2 dollars in the rough. I told your message to Mariah to write to you and I thought I would write and let you know. I am so troubled, I can’t get the thought of Bowman and the way he was treated in holding him on there, and causing his death, and Mr. Hunt got his son [Milton Hunt] just before I went down there and he is getting well. I sometimes think if I had shot one of them doctors and took him, it wouldn’t been no more harm than shooting a rebel to get him out of his hands if he wanted to kill him right off. Those doctors killed poor Bowman by degrees. If they had let those poor boys that died of the 4th Regiment come home, then I suppose they all would have lived [judging] by these two or three that is getting well that got away before they got into the hands of those wicked doctors that attend the hospital.

I forgot to ask Joseph Snively if he should take any pay for his trouble although my money was middling scarce. But he ought to get something or his trouble and kindness. Tell him to write to me and I will try to reward him for his troubles for he was so kind to Susannah. I am now busy and worn out like an old horse or a worn out soldier, and I think I will rent or sell my farm. I am in debt some and am broke down with trouble. Farewell for this time. I thank you all for your kindness. I send my love to all and to Mr. Battry for his kindness and love. — Henry Gordon

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s