1862: Charles Henry Morrell to William Henry Taft

How Charles might have looked (W. Griffing Collection)

This letter was written by Charles Henry Morrell (1839-1907), the 23 year-old son of Henry K. and Mary G. (Carter) Morrell of Caroline Centre, Tompkins county, New York. Less than two months previous to the date of this letter, Charles was married to Susan F. Speed and came to Augusta, Hancock county, Illinois. In the 1870 US Census, Charles was identified as a farmer. In the 1880 Census he was identified as a fire insurance agent. In the 1900 Census, he was a life insurance agent.

Charles wrote the letter to his boyhood friend, William Henry Taft (1827-1862)—a carriage maker from Caroline Centre, Tompkins county, New York. William enlisted in September 1862 and was made 2nd Lt. of Co. K, 137th New York Infantry but his military career was incredibly brief. He died of typhoid fever on 30 October 1862 at Knoxville, Maryland. There is little doubt that William never had the opportunity to read this letter before his death.

Much of Charles’ letter pertains to the reception at Augusta, Illinois, given to Brig. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss after his release from captivity in October 1862. It was Prentiss’s Division that was first attacked at Shiloh and which suffered greatly during the opening hours of that battle. Though he was able to reform his command with reinforcements from Gen. Lew Wallace and put up a spirited fight in the “Hornet’s Nest,” he eventually surrendered with 2,200 other soldiers. After the battle he was considered a hero, having held off the rebel army long enough to allow General Grant to organize a counterattack and win the battle.

The substance of Gen. Prentiss’s speech given in Augusta, IL, and elsewhere in October 1862 (Wooster Republican, 23 October 1862)


Augusta [Illinois]
October 25th 1862

Friend William,

Susan and I have just returned from church and thinking of you, I thought I would write wishing you all the success in the world. I would ask you how you like it in the army. Bill, you are aware that we thought there was a great deal of excitement in New York but we knew nothing about it. Where I am in Illinois—about 80 miles from the [State] line—people are in the greatest state of excitement. There is hardly a night but there is horses, cattle or hogs or something of the kind stolen and run over the line. There is any quantity of men here that have been run out of Missouri by the rebels. We have lots of rebels among us but can assure you that they are very quiet as the people here have run some of them off to St. Louis to be placed in the ranks. Illinois has the honor of saying that she has filled out her quota. Hancock county cannot fill out another call as there is not men enough left to guard their houses.

Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss-“I would to God that all of our generals were possessed of the same grit.”

General [Benjamin Mayberry] Prentiss passed through here this week. I went to the depot to see him. All Augusta turned out to greet him. The town was decorated with the Stars & Stripes. Men, women & children all seemed as anxious to shake hands with him as a son would with a father. All Illinois seem to worship him. He made us a short speech. Will, it made me feel as though I would like to take a turn with some of those black-hearted rebels. He gave us a short history of his hardships while in the hands of the rebels. He said [at Shiloh] he went from Sunday morning until Tuesday without a mouthful to eat. There was a great many of his men with him. His men on Tuesday were nearly worn out in the boat that they were confined in. There was an image of the Goddess of Liberty [and] he (Prentiss) jumped upon a box by the image and made his men a Union speech and bade his men sing the Star Spangled Banner and several other national airs which they did with renewed strength. While he was speaking, there was three rebel guns pointed at him and threatened to fire if he did not stop his damned Union speech. He bid them to fire and told them that he was a Union men and should speak when and where he pleased. Bully for Prentiss! I would to God that all of our general were possessed of the same grit.

Give my respects to all of the boys and tell them I should be glad to hear from any of them them.

Well since I have been here, I have been to a little lake about twenty miles from here hunting geese and ducks. Such fun you never saw. It was shooting from morning until night. There was a great many pelicans and swans on the lake. Will, I imagine in ten miles square black with ducks and geese dotted here and there with a flock of swan. They look to be about the height of a man as they sit on the water as white as snow. We went up on Monday and came back on Saturday. We camped in the woods ten miles from any house. Such fishing as would make a York boys eyes stick out. We caught catfish that would weigh from ten to fifty pounds. They say that it is no uncommon thing to catch them that will weigh one hundred & fifty. I can go out on the prairie most any frosty morning and shoot all the game that I can bring in on my back.

Bill, what the devil are people thinking about to stay in New York among the hills and rocks when three is such a vast extent of western country unsettled and far richer than the best garden in New York and as level as a house floor and free from stone. I am only surprised that you ever went back to New York after your visit West. If I can persuade my wife to stay here, you will never see me back to Caroline [Centre, Tompkins county, NY] again.

Will, write to me. I should be very glad to hear from you. Tell me all the news, how you are getting along, and how the boys like it, and what you are all doing. Tell John Cantine to write to me.

From your most affectionate friend, — C. H Merrill

P. S. Direct to Augusta, Hancock county, Illinois

[to] W. H. Taft

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