1863: Willy to Family & Friends at Home

Ethan P. Allen of the 12th OVC (Ancestry.com)

This letter was written by a soldier named “Willy” who served in Co. F, 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (OVC) while serving as a guard at Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio. Unfortunately there are many soldiers by the name of William in the company and he gives no further clues to his identity.

The 12th OVC was organized at Camp Cleveland and mustered into federal service on 24 Nov. 1863. From Dec. 1863-Feb. 1864, the 12th was on duty at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. Half of the regiment was on detached duty at Johnson’s Island near Sandusky, Ohio, during that period. In Feb.-Mar. 1864, the 12th was on duty at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Willy datelined his letter from Camp Herrick which was no doubt named after John F. Herrick, the Lt. Colonel of the 12th OVC. His letter contains a description of an attempt by two prisoners to escape the prison yard by tunneling in mid-December 1863.

Rendering of Prison at Johnson’s Island in October 1863


Camp Herrick
December 12th 1863

Dear Friends at Home,

As this is Saturday & a rainy day too, I thought that I would write a few lines home to let you know that my health is increasing rapidly. My dysentery is well & my cold is very near over. I have not coughed any for three days & my appetite is good. I believe that I could eat a raw cat if I could get hold of one although I have plenty to eat—such as it is.

There was quite an excitement here last night. There were two rebs dug out of the bull pen. The bugle blowed & you may bet there was a lot of scart officers in the 12th OVC. I [was] up and out the first [when] Lieut. came to me and said that I had better go to my tent & stay there for fear there might be a hard time & he was afraid that I could not stand it so I went to my tent, laid down, & went to sleep. I had forgotten that there was any rebs out. In about an half of an hour, the companies came to their tents [and] said there was not but two got out. One of them was caught just as he was sticking his head out of the hole. The other came back in a few minutes & gave himself up so then that great scare was over.

I have not done any duty yet and the Orderly [Charles H. Sherburne] says that I need not until I get stout although I feel as well as I ever did. But I hant got my full strength yet.

Our Captain [Merville L. Saunder] has just got back from Columbus. He went to see what he could do about our pay. What he made out I cannot tell.

As this little sheet is most full, I shall have to close. This is from your son & friend, Willy. Address to Camp Herrick, 1st Battalion, 12th O. C., Co. F, Johnson’s Island, Ohio

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