1863: Edward Alexander McConnell to Edward McConnell

This partial letter was written by Edward Alexander McConnell (1844-1867), the son of emigrants Edward McConnell (1805-1878) and Charlotte McGlashan (1813-1889) of Chicago, Cook county, Illinois. At the time of the 1860 US Census, 16 year-old Edward was working as a clerk in Chicago. After the war, Edward married Susannah Richards Colehour, who gave birth to their only child four months after Edward’s death in February 1867.

I could not find an image of Edward but here is Azel D. Hayward who also served in Co. B, 72nd Illinois Infantry (Randy Hayward Collection)

During the Civil War, Edward enlisted as a private in Co. B, 72nd Illinois Infantry (the “First Chicago Board of Trade Regiment”) in August 1862. He was promoted to corporal in June 1863 and to sergeant in September 1863.

In his letter, Edward writes a paragraph on the Black troops in Natchez in September 1863 and of the construction of a new fortification there on the north side of town. On July 13, 1863, Union troops arrived in Natchez and “established the Union Army headquarters at the Rosalie Mansion. By August of 1863, more U.S. Colored Troops began residing in Natchez. A large number of black men that enlisted were from Natchez or had left plantations in surrounding areas such as Franklin County, Jefferson County, Wilkinson County, etc. During the Fall of 1863, the soldiers began working on the construction of a fortification named for General James Birdseye McPherson. There were over 3,000 colored troop soldiers who served in the six regiments at Fort McPherson. These regiments included the sixth U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, 58th U.S. Colored Infantry, 70th U.S. Colored Infantry, 71st U.S. Colored Infantry, 63rd U.S. Colored Infantry, and the 64th U.S. Colored Infantry.” [The Story of the Natchez US Colored Troops by Inesha Jackson]

The Union Battlements of Fort McPherson, encompassed the United States Marine Hospital


Addressed to Mr. Edward McConnell, Chicago, Illinois

Natchez [Mississippi]
September 22, 1863

Dear father,

It has been over a week since we have received any mail and as I expect several letters from home, I will write you one now while I have an opportunity and so save writing so many when the mail comes.

John and I are both enjoying excellent health and we hope you are all well and in good spirits. The weather for the last three or four days has been quite chilly—very similar to our fall weather in Chicago. We have all sent in requisitions for more woolen blankets as the nights are now getting quite cool. There is not much doing here worth writing about.

All the troops except our regiment have been moved out of the city and are encamped in the timber two or three miles off. All the colored troops here numbering five or six thousand have been uniformed and equipped. They look first rate in their new clothes and are very proud of them. They are all kept at work on the fortifications which are going to be strong and extend around the city.

The rebel works at Vicksburg will bear no comparison to those that are to be built here. In the first place a ditch fourteen feet wide and ten feet deep with almost perpendicular sides (the earth being so solid that there is no danger of its caving in) is dug. The earth that is thrown out is formed into a breastwork twenty feet broad and five high. About every half mile a fort containing four heavy siege guns is to be built commanding the ditches of the breastworks. Even if a force of the enemy succeeds in getting into the ditches, they can be swept out with grape and canister before any attempt could be made to scale the works. The works are to be about six miles in length and extend entirely around the town. They will probably be finished in a couple of months as a very large force is kept at work on them.

I suppose you have seen Charles Wales of our mess sometime ago. Julius Hahn another of our company you will probably see before you get this. He went up on a special furlough from Gen. McArthur about ten days ago. He had been an employee of his for three years.

Our First Sergeant E[than] T. Montgomery is going up in a week or so on a special furlough. He will call and see you while he is in Chicago. I do not think there will be any chance for either John or I to get home this year. No more furloughs are to be granted till all who are home return which will probably be a month or more. By that time the fall campaign will probably be commenced and the granting of furloughs stopped.

I hope the war will be closed soon so that we can get a permanent furlough. All the citizens I have spoken to yet would be glad to have the state come back in the Union. There are about a hundred deserters from the rebel army. Some of them have [rest of letter missing].

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