1861: John H. McMillin to Sarah Jane McMillin

An unidentified Indiana Soldier

The following partial letter, though unsigned, was written by 32 year-old John H. McMillin of Co. B, 91st Indiana Infantry. The regiment was organized at Evansville, Indiana, in October 1862 and had duty in Kentucky until June 1863 when they joined in the pursuit of Morgan’s raiders. They were then ordered to Nashville and back to Kentucky again until January 1864 when they were sent to Cumberland Gap. They remained there until May 1864 and then participated in the Atlanta Campaign and the march through the Carolinas. John entered the service as a private and mustered out as a corporal at Salisbury, North Carolina on 26 June 1865.

I presume that John was the same farmer enumerated in the 1860 US Census in Johnson township, Gibson county, Indiana, and recorded as a Hoosier native, a farmer, and born about 1832. In the household with his was his wife, Sarah J., born in Kentucky about 1839), and their daughter Lucinda, born in Indiana in 1860. Sarah Jane’s maiden name may have been Wilkison but I haven’t confirmed that. Gibson County is adjacent to Warrick County in the toe of southwestern Indiana.

The sketch below, drawn by a member of the regiment, shows what the camp of the 91st Indiana looked like at Cumberland Gap at the time of this letter.

This view was drawn by First Lieutenant Lewis L. Spayd of Company E of the 91st Indiana Infantry, which arrived at the gap in January 1864 and remained through May before marching to join Sherman in his march through Georgia. Spayd presumably drew this view either while at the gap or from memory soon thereafter.

Transcription

Cumberland Gap, Tenn.
March 25, 1864

Mrs. Sarah J. McMillin
Dear wife & child,

It is once more with pleasure and with thankfulness to God that I seat myself to write to write to you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and I do most sincerely hope and pray that those lines may find you both well and happy. Well, Jane, it is just one year ago this evening since I was at home if I recollect right. Will it be another yet before I get to see you, my dear wife and sweet little babe. Alas, we cannot tell. God alone is able to tell. It appears like the time has been short but it looks long and gloomy ahead. Oh Jane, I would give all this work to be at home with you tonight but oh vain wish—it cannot be.

When I look back over the past year and over the many hardships with the exposure through which I have passed, it does hardly seem reasonable to think that me or anyone else could stand it. Yet I don’t know as I can say that it has injured me any. It must be that we are protected by God or else we would wear out. And now let us look back and see if we have done anything to merit His care and protection. Alas—no. You can scarcely see one good deed. And if you get a glimpse of one, it is surrounded with such evil deeds that it is with worth nothing. We are certainly of all men the most miserable yet at times I feel like as if God, for Christ’s sake, would pardon me. I try to do right but it appears that the more I try to do right, the oftener I do wrong.

And now, Jane, I know you will pity me. And I believe if I was at home, I could do better for there I could shun those who are continually trying to see how wicked they can be. There I could have the association of Christians. There I could hear the gospel proclaimed and explained. But here we are debarred from all of that and bound to mingle and to associate with wickedness in all its most heinous shapes. All this the private soldier has to encounter with temptations too numerable to pen on paper. And yet I have stood the storm in a great many things. But in a great many more, I have erred. But Jane, sometimes I nearly give up. Oh it is awful. And without the assistance of a higher power, I fear I shall fail. God help me. But perhaps you will say, “Why don’t you quit associating with the wicked? Why not seek out the religious of your company and associate with them?” Oh, they are very scarce. There is perhaps three or four that does not swear and…

…expect to have to be up all night but one of the [paper torn] time for me to put on my relief so by that I got to sleep from twelve o’clock until four. Well our duty is very light at present. If it was not, for what scouting we have to do, we would see as easy a time here as we could ask for. But the weather is so changeable here that I fear it will be very sickly after the weather gets warmer. This is the changeablest place I ever saw. It snows or everyday or two. Yesterday and the day before it snowed in the forenoon and rained in the evening. We don’t have more than one pretty day out of a week.

“There is hundreds of dead horses and mules lying around here and if there is not something done with them, the stench from them will kill us faster this summer than ever the rebel bullets have done yet.”

–John H. McMillin, Co. B, 91st Indiana Infantry, 25 March 1864

Well, Jane, there is hundreds of dead horses and mules lying around here and if there is not something done with them, the stench from them will kill us faster this summer than ever the rebel bullets have done yet. There is a great deal of mismanagement in the army and this place has certainly received its share of the mismanagement. And if things don’t change, the war will last for years yet. But I hope that there will be a good man raise up after awhile who will go in for the good of the nation and for the speedy termination of the war.

Well, the Rebs say if we can fill up the last call of the President that we can take any place in the Southern Confederacy and we can scarcely help filling the call by about. Why don’t the loyal [paper tear] and put a stop to the war? Oh, it would be the greatest blessing that could be bestowed on man if the war could only cease. Many is young man that might be saved from filling a drunkard’s grave or perhaps worse, a felon’s grave for vice is certainly growing and the longer the war lasts, the deeper the root of evil is planted in their natures.

Well, Jane, now you will want to know how we get such large paper as this half sheet as it was confiscated last Monday from a rebel. We stopped at a house and found this with several other things and some of the boys brought it in and I swapped with them for this, Jane, so that I could write you a great big letter. I guess you will get tired of reading it but if you do, let me know and I shall write shorter ones after this.

Well, Jane, it has been some time since I have received a letter from you but as our mail comes very irregular, it is nothing strange. But I shall expect two or three this evening. Well, I wrote to you some time ago about my and Will’s business. I wrote to Jno. N. Hart 1 some time late last winter concerning it but he has failed to answer it. I want you as soon as the weather will permit you to go up to Warrick and see him and write to me as soon as you can. Let me know just what he says and if it can’t be fixed without me, you will get some responsible lawyer to write…


1 Possibly John Nelson Hart (1820-1893) of Warrick county, Indiana.

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