This letter was written by 23 year-old John Compton (1838-1862) of Delevan, Tazewell county, Illinois. According to muster records, John enlisted at Joliet in Co. C, 17th Illinois on 25 May 1861. At the time of muster, he was described as a single, 22 year-old farmer with light hair, sandy complexion, and grey eyes. He stood a little over five and a half feet tall. He claimed Hillsboro, Fountain county, Indiana as his place of birth.
He died of consumption on 11 May 1862 near Shiloh, Tennessee, just after he was discharged for disability.
John wrote this letter to his father, Terrick Timbrook Compton (1812-1897) of Fountain county, Indiana. After Terrick’s first wife, Mary Ann Barshier (1821-1846) died in 1845, he married Mary Ann Neal in 1846, and then Ruth Herrel in 1849.
The regiment’s history, from the time of organization up until the time of this letter is as follows:
After spending about one month at Peoria, engaged in drilling and making preparation for service, we were moved by steamboats to Alton, Illinois, where we went into camp and spent another month in drilling. About the middle of July we were transported by steamers to St. Charles, Missouri, thence by railroad to Warrenton, where we spent a week. The regiment was then ordered to St. Louis, where it became a part of the command of Gen. Fremont; and accompanied him August 1 on his expedition to Cairo via steamers. August 3 it went into camp at Bird’s Point, Missouri, and was engaged for about two weeks in building fortifications; was then ordered up the Mississippi to a landing about thirty miles below St. Louis, known as “Sulphur Springs”; thence by railroad to Ironton, Missouri, where the regiment was encamped for a short time. While here the officers of the regiment, about August 20, had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Brig. Gen. U. S. Grant, who had recently received his commission as brigadier general. From Ironton the regiment was ordered to move to Fredericktown, Missouri, and garrison the place, where it remained about a week; when, being attached to the command of Gen. Prentiss, moved under that officer to Jackson; thence to Cape Girardeau, reaching the latter place September 2, 1861. About September 10 the regiment was removed to the Kentucky shore opposite Cairo and aided in constructing Fort Holt. By this time Gen. Grant had established his headquarters at Cairo. From him came orders to Col. Ross to take his regiment, the 17th, the 19th, Col. Turchin, and the 7th Iowa, Col. Lawman, and a section of artillery and occupy Elliott’s Mills, a place about half way between Fort Holt and Columbus, Kentucky. This place, about twelve miles from Columbus, was named Camp Crittenden, and was held only four days when the brigade was ordered to fall back to old Fort Jefferson and soon after to Fort Holt, where work was resumed on the fortifications. This proved a very unhealthy location, and a large portion of being attached the regiment was very soon in the hospital.
[Note: This letter was found in the Pension Files of the National Archives and brought to my attention by Anthony Meeks.]
May 27, 1861
I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and hope these few lines may find you all in the same health. I have neglected to write until now. There is a regiment of us at this place all sworn in service under the United States. We are in camp at this place & ready for service at any time we may be called upon. I like soldiering very well. Peoria is a nice place. I wish you would come out to Peoria and see me. It would be a nice visit for you. If you can’t come, let William come. We may be [here] some months. we can’t tell how long. If you can come, do so. If you come, enquire for John Compton, a member of Captain Rose’s company. Please write soon as possible and let me know how things are going.
Direct your lettres to Peoria in care of A. D. Rose by this means our captain get s the letter for the company/
Your affectionate son, — John Compton
to T. T. Compton
Camp Mather 1
June 6, 1861
Dear Brother [William],
I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well. I like to be a soldier very well. We have very comfortable quarters at Camp Mather. Discipline is very strict. We drill 3 hours in the morning, 3 in the afternoon. Tattoo is at nine o’clock—that means go to bed. Reveille is beat five o’clock in the morning—that is to get up. I don’t care about leaving this place until we get drilled some more and then let us speedily march to the enemy and wipe them from the face of the earth. Let the American flag never be hauled down by a set of rebels.
[Stephen A.] Douglas’ funeral will take place tomorrow and we will have a grand parade to be expected. 2
Francis or William, if you can come out and see me drill, [I would] be glad. Or any of you. We will not be apt to leave this place soon so try and come and see me. Please write anyhow and let me know how you all are getting along. You might write to me as well as not once a week.
Direct your letters in care of A[llen] D. Rose, Captain Company C. No more at present but remain your brother, — John Compton
to William Compton
1 Camp Mather was a temporary Civil War encampment established on Peoria’s Fairgrounds in 1861, Camp Mather was most probably named for Thomas S. Mather, the Illinois adjutant general.
2 Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois died on 3 June 1861.
Ballard County, Kentucky
September 21, 1861
Dear Father & Mother
I once more take the pleasure of writing you a few lines to inform you that I am well and enjoying myself as well as could be expected. I received your letter of the 1st of September and was glad to hear from you all. I think you might write to me as often as once a week. I should like to write oftener but we are moving so much that I have not had much chance. The last time I wrote, I was on Bird Point but since then we have has a long and tiresome march through the State of Missouri and did not accomplish much. We are now in Old Kentuck within twelve miles of Columbus where there is a large rebel force and we expect to see actual service at any time. We will give them the best turn we can. I have no fear of getting killed although it may be my lot to be the first one. But if so, the cause is good.
You stated that William has enlisted to fight for his country if needed. I think it is the duty of everyone that can to go forth and fight for liberty. You spoke of someone going to bring the name I could not make out. I want you to write and tell me what regiment and the letter of his company he belongs to. We have had plenty of peaches to eat this season. We have always enough to eat when it can be had.
I have to go on guard so I will close my scribbling hoping you will write soon. Your son — John Compton
[to] T. T. Compton
Direct your letters to John Compton, Cairo Illinois, in care of A. D. Rose, Captain of Co. C, 17th Reg. of Illinois Volunteers