1863: Vincent Francis Lilly to his Family

The following two letters came to me for transcription from Jen Foley with the following request:

I could not find an image of Vincent but here is one of Patrick Monaghan of Co. K, 22nd Iowa Infantry. He was wounded in the same battle where Vincent was killed. [Iowa Civil War Faces]

I recently came across your page on Facebook and it’s really amazing what you are doing. Not too long ago I acquired the pension files of my great-great-granduncle, Vincent Lilly, who served in the 22nd Iowa Infantry and was killed at Vicksburg in 1863. The file included a few letters he had written to his mother and brother. I have been in the process of transcribing one letter he wrote to his mother, my great-great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Mills Lilly. The ink is mostly legible and it’s just a matter of trying to read the handwriting. But I have been at a loss as to what to do with the other letters because the handwriting is so faded that I can’t make it out in most places. This is an important piece of my family history and it’s especially important to me to honor Vincent, who was just 21 when he died. His younger brother James was my great-great-grandfather. James was too young to enlist though another brother, Charles, also served in the 22nd Iowa Infantry. Fortunately Charles survived the war and lived on until 1911.

Vincent Francis Lilly (1841-1863) was the son of Francis Lilly (1812-1872) and Frances Elizabeth Mills (1821-1898) of College, Linn county, Iowa. The Lilly family resided in Lancaster, Ohio, until sometime in the 1850s when they relocated to Iowa. Vincent and his younger brother Charles (“Charley”) E. Lilly (1844-1911), enlisted on 9 August 1862 in Co. H, 22nd Iowa Infantry. Charley survived the war, Vincent did not. He was killed on 22 May 1863 in the “suicidal frontal assault” on the Railroad Redoubt (or “Fort Beauregard”) near Vicksburg. Several members of the 22nd Iowa actually made through a ditch of the redoubt, up the side and through a hole blasted in the parapet by Union artillery fire where they fought hand to hand and planted their flag on the ramparts, but they were eventually driven back.

Both of these letters were written from the camp of the 22nd Iowa Infantry as they awaited transports to cross the Mississippi River below Vicksburg in mid-April 1863.

The 22nd Iowa National Flag that flew over Vicksburg on May 22nd, 1863 rests in the basement of the Iowa State Historical Building at  Des Moines, Iowa.  This flag is one of over 200 Civil War battle flags in the Civil War Battle Flag preservation project at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines.  Due to damage, the flag is not fully unfurled and represents only a portion of its original size.   Pictured above:  Flag preservation staff from Iowa State Historical Society (Sheila and Sarah), 24th Iowa Re-enactor, Terry Folkerts – Iowa Ghost Town Project videographer, Jeffry Burden – 22nd Iowa Infantry historian and editor of Vanishing Footprints, and Kathy Baker, Marshall County Recorder.  Lt. Nick Messenger was the Marshall County Recorder from 1872 through 1880.

Letter 1

Camp near Carthage, Louisiana
April 17th 1863

Dear brother Sam,

We have moved 20 miles below Vicksburg I do not know what we are going to do. It is supposed that we will work our way in the rear of Vicksburg. We have march through this state here. We had been within 6 miles of Vicksburg. This is the beautifulest country I ever seen. The land is level and rich. We are camped in a large cotton field. As we moved down here, the inhabitants leave everything and flee. The most of them burnt their cotton and grain. Most every plantation has a saw mill and cotton gin on. Our boys uses the saw mills to saw lumber for flat boats to cross steams in and to fix the roads with. We are within 5 or 6 miles of 4 or 5,000 rebels that is on an island and they can’t get out and yet we can’t get them for water and swamp, but we are building boats as fast as we can so that we can get at them. They are getting reinforcements from Vicksburg and I think it will make that place easier to take. They do not want to lose the island for they save all the stock that was in this county there and I guess we will fool them.

Well Sam, Charley is detached from our company to a 1st Iowa Battery. He is cannoneer of a 6-pounder. That battery is in our Brigade near the rear. A great many troops are here now. I don’t know how many there is—somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000. We have plenty of negroes to do our work. We don’t have any fatigue duty to do and are getting lazy as dogs. I seen Charley last night. He is well and likes his exchange very well. They do not have to march; they ride o the cannon [caissons]. We just come here yesterday from Richmond and cut a cross a short bend in the river.

Well, Sam, I guess you can’t get this letter til after the. battle for they have stopped the mail at present and I don’t know whether we can get any or not. They stop our mail….

Yesterday we marched 16 miles and over the prettiest country I ever seen. We are going to stay over here two or three days. A[ddison J.] Booth is well and fat as a pig. He is cook for his mess of 4. John Carmichael and Anderson Purcell is sick. They was left at Richmond. They had the mumps pretty bad but are getting better. They was walking around yesterday morning.

Sam, our regiment has some 50 nigger waiters and we find them awful handy. Sam, A[ddison] Booth commenced to write on this sheet and spill the ink on it so he tore it off. I commenced this letter the 17th. It is now the 18th. It rained last night and is awful muddy this morning. Everything is still except we send the rebels a shell once in a while. We have got them where we want them. Our troops is camped on the island and more going over to camp. There is also several gunboats watching them.

Well, Sam, I forgot to tell you that I am well and enjoying myself very well and hope you are enjoying the same blessing. The 24th [Iowa] is here. I am going to see them so I will have to close for this time by requesting you to write as soon as you get this letter.

P. S. I received the package of papers and book you sent to us. We are going to draw our pay this week and will send it home by James Shrader. No more. This from you affectionate brother, — V. F. Lilly.

Give my love to all the girls.

P. S. Sam, we have marching orders. We have to march at 2 o’clock this morning with 2 days rations in our haversacks and the boys is up cooking. I will enclose $20.00 and Charley will send $20.00 by Jim Shrader. He is coming there. I went to see Charley to get his [money] and it was dark as the devil and muddy as hell. We will have a nice time marching in the dark. No more.

Letter 2

Camp near Carthage, Louisiana
April 21st 1863

Dear Mother,

I received your kind letter last evening and was glad to hear from you. It has been a good while since I heard from you, or I thought it was. Your letter found us well and in good spirits and I hope when these few lines comes to hand, they will find you the same.

Well Mother, I was a Carthage yesterday. That is where the rebels was but they left. We burnt the town and found a great many horses and cattle that they could not take with them. Also a large quantity of cotton and you better believe we had a nice bon fire. We are going to attack Vicksburg as soon as we get in the rear. There is something like 100,000 troops to cross the river and it takes a good while. Our Division commenced crossing today. Our Brigade will cross tomorrow and as soon as we take Vicksburg, we are coming North to tend to the traitors there.

Charley was in our tent last night. He is well and like his change very well.

Well, Mother, things you sent in the box has not come yet. I guess the things that was sent will never get too Co. H. We will draw our pay tomorrow. I will send it home by James Shrader. We expected it three days ago but there is so many troops to pay that it takes a good while to get around.

Well, Mother, I have no news to tell except there is preparations for a big battle and I guess we will have a finger in the pie for we want to put down this rebellion or get whipped for we are tired of soldiering. We have to drill hard every day from daylight till dark and it is awful hard work. We have three hours [off] at noon for it is awful hot. I will tell you the drills we have to perform every day. In the morning from 6 till 8 company drill, from 8:30 till 11 Battalion drill. Brigade drill 11 till 4. Then Division drill till 6 tor 7. Then dress parade and we are willing to quit. In the morning we will cross the river and it tickles the boys considerable.

Well, Mother, I don’t know what to write for there is nothing going on in camp so I will have to close for this time by requesting you to write soon. This from your affectionate son, — V. F. Lilly

Send along love to all enquiring friends. I wrote to Sam the other day and have not had a chance to send it yet so I will put this in it.

They are calling roll for drill. Goodbye for this time. — V. F. L.

P. S. I received two months pay this afternoon but I don’t know how to get it home as James Shrader is not going home till after the battle and we don’t like to risk it by mail. There is no Express Office here so we will have to keep it till we get where we can send it. Mother, please send us some postage stamps and get them here.

Troops is crossing the river as fast as they can cross in skiffs, flatboats, coal barges, gunboats, rafts, steamboats, and everything they can get. Thy have to go by water about 6 miles down the bayou, then cross the river. It is raining now pretty hard. You use to think that Iowa mud was so sticky and hard to clean up. You should see this [mud] when we go out. It will stick to our feet and we have to kick off every step.

Well, I have no more news. Goodbye, — V. F. Lilly

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