1862: Dorcas E. Conners to Edwin G. Adams

Unfortunately I have not been able to identify the cousins who were correspondents in this letter which was penned in Livingston county, Illinois in May 1862. I was, however, able to identify some of the people whose names were mentioned within it. More time and persistence will undoubtedly reveal more information on their identities beyond just their names.

In her letter, Dorcas speaks of the enlistment of troops from Livingston county and of soldiers particularly who served in the 20th, the 39th, and the 53rd Illinois Infantry Regiments. She tells a tale of a narrow escape by two Livingston county soldiers in Co. C, 39th Illinois who ran for their lives when they were taken by surprise on picket duty. “They run to the timber. Nary one of them got hurt—the nearest either of them came getting killed. A bullet went through Seth’s hair. The secesh stopped to a house not far from the camp and said that forty horses would not catch them two Illinois boys.”

I should note that the handwriting and spelling in this letter was difficult to decipher but I believe I was able to make out most of it correctly.


[Pontiac, Illinois]
May 3rd 1862

Mr. Edwin Adams
Cousin Edwin,

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I sit down this afternoon to let you know that we are all well at the present time and hope these few lines may find you in the same health. I received your letter some time ago and have neglected to write. I have so many to write to that it takes me all the time. It has been very pretty here for the last two weeks. They are sowing wheat today. They are going to sow all this week. Next week they are going to sow ten acres of oats and they are going to plant as much corn as they can. Father can’t help plant corn very much for it will come right when he will have to be a [ ]. They put father in [ ] this year again. This will make 3 years in a succession that he has been [ ]. Father has gone to town after his book.

Mr. Donnelson is helping Dan Case sow wheat. Mr. Donnelson lived in Missouri and the secesh drove him off. You ought to be here and hear him gass. He can beat all men that I ever heard. He can beat old men to work that I ever saw. He has helped Father husk corn right smart. It is hard to get hands out here. They are all gone to the war. There is three companies gone from Pontiac and two from Fairbury. That is 5 hundred men gone out of this county that I know of and I don’t know how many more.

The first company that went from Pontiac was at the battle at Pittsburg [Landing]. There ain’t only 40 out of the whole company that is in the service. A good many of them was killed and wounded. There was a good many of the boys that got killed that I was acquainted with. There is some home on furlough that was wounded. The name of their Captain is [John A.] Hoskins. 1

Captain [Morgan L.] Payne got here about fifteen minutes after the battle was over. That was the last company [Co. G, 53rd Illinois Infantry] that went from Pontiac. They haven’t been in the service more than two months. I think they was pretty green to go in battle. I got a letter from one of the young men. He said that it was the awfullest sight that he ever saw. He found his brother there in the 20th Ohio Regiment. There was another that found his brother that went from Bloomington. They said that there was men there from all parts of the country and all sorts of men there.

I got a letter from Melvin last Monday. He said that they was all well. They got their pay. They sent 30 dollars home to father.

Cpl. Seth St. John, 39th Illinois Infantry

There is one of the 6 twin brothers sick—that is Marion Sellman. 2 They got a letter the other day and [he] was getting better. There was three went from here and two from Mr. Sellman’s and one from Mr. Saint Johns. They was all young men and they all called them[selves] the twin brothers. They was young men by the name of [John] Sellman and Seth Saint John 3—two of the twin brothers—they was on picket and there was 40 secesh came out to them before they saw them. They took after them and run them. They had fifty rods to run before they could get to the fence. All the men shot four rounds at Seth and never touched him. They come to a fence and the secesh was right onto him. Seth jumped over the fence. Marion put his hand on the fence and they shot a ball right close to his hand and broke his hold. He said that he got over the fence but did not know how. The first that they knew, he was lying on his back. One of them jumped up and shot the captain. They run to the timber. Nary one of them got hurt—the nearest either of them came getting killed. A bullet went through Seth’s hair. The secesh stopped to a house not far from the camp and said that forty horses would not catch them two Illinois boys.

You have got quite a start of children. You had better come West and buy you a large farm and go in business, If they were all boys, they could get a large farm of about two hundred acres as well as you can tend 100 hundred there in the woods. Your wife is large enough to do the work. You all write now. No more at present. Goodbye for this time. Write soon. Give my best respects to Uncle and Aunt and Anna and Perintha and John and his wife. Ed, I will send you a likeness as soon as you send me yours.

Tell John that mother is going to write a letter. Tell her that we are all well. — Dorcas E. Conners

Another picture of Corp. Seth St. John (standing third from left) with other non-commissioned officers (I presume) from the 39th Illinois when in South Carolina later in the war.

1 John A. Hoskins served as the first captain of Co. D, 20th Illinois Infantry—the first company to be raised in Pontiac, Illinois. The unit saw service at the battles of Ft. Donelson and Shiloh. They also spent time guarding bridges in Tennessee. Other actions included the siege of Vicksburg, and the Battle of Jackson, Mississippi. The 20th then joined Sherman at Kenesaw Mountain in Georgia. They later participated in Sherman’s March to Sea.

2 According to the Illinois Civil War Muster & Descriptive Rolls, Marion Sellman of Ocoya, Livingston county, Illinois, was 23 years old when he enlisted as a private in Co. C, 39th Illinois Infantry. He was described as a 5’6″, black-eyed, hazel-eyed farmer.

3 Seth Saint John (1841-1865) was a corporal on Co. C, 39th Illinois Infantry. In the 1860 census, he was living with his parents and siblings in Eppards Point Township in Livingston County, Illinois. His parents were Samuel and Margaret St. John, and his siblings living there then were William, Ada and Ruth. He died on 23 January 1865 in South Carolina. Seth’s brother, William J. St. John served in Co. G, 129th Illinois Infantry.

One thought on “1862: Dorcas E. Conners to Edwin G. Adams”

  1. This is a very interesting letter! Marion and John Sellman were 1st cousins. John Sellman is a younger brother of Ethan Allen Sellman, my great, great grandfather. Ethan Sellman lived in southern Ohio and was with the 50th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. It’s so wonderful to see this letter and to see my relatives mentioned in the letter.


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