This letter was written by Augustus Charles Barry (1829-1917) of Wyanet, Bureau county, Illinois, while serving as the captain of Co. K, 57th Illinois Infantry. He was mustered into the regiment on 26 December 1861 and resigned his commission on 20 June 1862 after six months service.
At the time of the 1860 US Census, Augustus was enumerated as a boarder in the household of station agent David T. Nichols of Wyanet, Illinois. His occupation was given as “attorney of law.” He was the son of John and Eunice (Sweet) Barry of Brookfield, Madison county, New York. He was married to Catherine Ettie Miller in May 1867 and she may have been the “Dear Friend” to whom this letter was addressed. While many of his siblings settled around Elgin, Illinois, Augustus eventually moved to San Francisco, California where he died in 1917.
The 57th Illinois Infantry was raised in the fall of 1861 and was composed of five upstate companies and five from downstate—a situation that was ripe for discord among the leaders of the organization if not the men. The Colonel and Lt. Colonel did not get along and officers below them were often compelled to pick sides in this confrontation. Though he does not say so in his letter, perhaps Augustus resigned in part because of the growing antagonism among the officers. He was long gone from the regiment by the time charges of cowardice were levied against Col. Silas D. Baldwin by Lt. Col. Frederick J. Hurlbut with specifications that dated as far back as the Battle of Fort Donelson in which the 57th Illinois barely even participated. Since he was no longer a member of the regiment, Augustus was not called upon to testify but he appears to have been strong friends with the Lt. Col. and the Regimental Surgeon suggested he may have sided with the prosecution. To read more on the Court Martial of Col. Silas D. Baldwin, readers are referred to Richard P. Dexter’s JSTOR article, “Col. Silas D. Baldwin: Guilty or not Guilty? A Case of Command Influence?”
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
[Camp near Corinth, Mississippi]
June 5th 1862
I wrote you a few words some time ago when I was in the hospital. At that time I had not received a word from you but soon after I got quite a number of letters which ’tis needless to say has been a fund of enjoyment for a long time.
I am gaining slowly but hope soon to take the field. I would not let our surgeon [Dr. James Zearing] send me back to the river but followed close to the regiment and am now in the old camp formerly occupied by Generals Price & Van Dorn and more recently by our forces. The rebels left their tents just as they had used them and left a large quantity of provision, camp equipage, &c. The provision was partially destroyed although we found a large quantity of sugar and molasses of the finest quality all right. Our men have have moved out about fifteen miles to a place called Danville and we got a report this morning from a deserter that some five miles further on at a place called Boonville the rebels have made a stand in strong force and will probably offer our forces battle—especially if they are commanded by Beauregard. I hope they will give us one more square stand-up fight and then I think they will be fully satisfied to go home and call the war a mistake on their part.
I would have come home two weeks ago but I had made a solemn promise that I never would come to Bureau County again sick if I could help it. I want to have a visit next time when I am in good health.
This is one of the finest camping grounds I have seen situated on a ridge of hills affording a fine view of the country to the south and west. Corinth is a very pretty village with quite a number of houses built in good taste surrounded by trees. Beauregard burned the railroad depot and some large storehouses around it which gives that part of the town rather a desolate appearance. I suppose a vast amount of property was destroyed. The storehouses were filled with provisions and ammunition beside the public square had been filled with military stores of every kind and burned with almost everything valuable in the town.
I think of offering my resignation and shall certainly do so if I don’t improve a good deal in ten days from now. I am just able to ride in an ambulance and shall follow the regiment tomorrow. If I could take part in one more good sharp fight, I could leave the service with a clear conscience and I don’t know but I could now. I don’t want you to understand that I want to risk my life but there are certain things that we estimate higher than life. I have heard it said that the troops who fought at Pittsburg [Landing], fought for their own safety and it required more courage to deliberately attack the enemy. I don’t believe it, but just for my own satisfaction I have often thought I would like to try it before I left the service.
We have had a great deal of sickness in our army but much less than the rebels. They have suffered fearfully as shown by their daily reports found in Corinth after they left and also by the reports of all the deserters from their camp. It is getting very warm and the sickly season will soon be here. I almost dread going further south for the cypress swamps of Southern Mississippi will sweep off more of us than Beauregard and all his rebel crew. I sincerely hope that the war will soon terminate so that we can come home without being sneered at even by our enemies.
Give my kindest regards to you family and write as often as you can. Yours truly, — A. C. Barry