The following letters were written by Robert Gooding (1834-1864) of Co. E, 59th Illinois Infantry. Robert was 25 years old when he first enlisted at Marine, Illinois, as a private in Co. D, 59th Illinois Infantry. Upon his enlistment in July 1861, Robert was described as a 5’9″ tall, brown-haired, brown-eyed farmer. He was later promoted to 2nd Lt. on 15 March 1862 and to 1st Lt. on 30 January 1864. He was killed in action on 16 December 1864 at Overton’s Hill during the Battle of Nashville.
A large number of Robert’s letters are housed at the State Historical Society of Missouri. See Robert Gooding Letters (C0323) but they are not published on-line.
Robert Gooding was the son of Robert Gooding (1791-1885) and Mary Frances Jones (1795-1872) of Clinton county, Illinois. He was married to Frances (“Fanny”) Collins Shepard (1839-1860) in August 1858 but she died in July 1860 leaving him without any children.
[Benton county, Arkansas]
March 14, 1862
Still at the same camp and nothing of any importance has occurred to make any change. Everything appears to be quiet since the fight [see Battle of Pea Ridge]—only the death of Lieutenant [Albert H.] Stookey who died last night. He has been sick some two weeks with the typhoid fever. I regret his death very much for he was a fine fellow, good hearted, and no ways self conceited which made him beloved by all his company. Poor fellow. He is now trying the realities of another world. Our Orderly has gone to bury him today. He is about 8 miles from here where he died. I am sorry the chaplain is not here.
The belief is we that we will be reinforced soon and will move Southward. The governor of this state has called out every able-bodied man to drive us out of the state. They had in the last fight some 30,000 men while we had not half that number but many of them had just come out to fight that one battle to drive us back out of the state and some men don’t run off the first fire. Men is not going to fight such fellows as we are just from their quiet firesides. [Gen. Sterling] Price makes the people believe that we are a set of thieves, burning houses and killing women and children and of course they all would turn out to protect their homes.
Oh, how I would like to see you and talk with you. They are the worst fooled people and the worst blinded to what the Government is and it wants to carry out as though they never lived in it. Why, these people is to be pitied greatly. They know not what they do. They have been kept blinded for a number of years back but they will have to pay very high to learn better and a great cost on their side to teach them their folly. But I hope they will soon learn better.
We are now living on nothing comparatively but we are looking for our train in soon. It rained very hard here last night and the weather is warm and the grass has begun to grow. But this is a very poor country and I reckon it never will be worth anything again. War ruins any country.
I am told that there is a man living close here by the name of Potts. Perhaps it is David. I’ll try and see him if I can. There was a hundred men last night detailed to go twelve miles to get a lot of arms said to be stacked by [Benjamin] McCulloch’s men saying he was dead and they would fight under no other general but they have not returned yet. It may not be so well. We soon will be in another [fight] and I suppose that will be the last here. Price is at Boston Mountains 40 miles from here. When we get over this shock, we will move.
Well, brother, I would like to see you all but I hope you all will remember [me] in your prayers and if I never see you any more on earth, I hope to meet you in heaven. Be faithful to the end. God help us all in my prayer. Farewell. Write soon brother.
From—Robert Gooding, in the Federal army.
This is considered a large battle and I guess it is a death blow to Rebels here. No more. Excuse bad writing.
[Note: The following letter was published in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Fall 1995) and published here to add context to the previous letter.]
Camp near Forethought on White river, Stone Co, Missouri
April 13, 1862
I must try and write to you again to let you know that I am well and hearty though there has been nothing transpired of any note since I last wrote but we have moved from where we were our first days march on the road back towards Springfield. Then we turned to the east marched some 60 miles in this direction over a horrible mountains country and through pine forests and nothing but one mountain after another and no settlement at all, but it was somewhat interesting to the soldier, the beautiful pine and cedar and high cliffs of rock and many other curiosities. This is one remarkable country for fine streams of pure running water, James river is one of those clear streams. We crossed it on a bridge made of wagons. You can see the bottom 5 & 6 feet deep when that is said all is said of its good qualities.
Our army is in good health and a jocular set of fellows you never saw. They have got harden to everything that is hard. They have made up their minds there is nothing too hard for a soldier and I believe it. We are all in good hopes now that the war will soon be to an end from the great victories on our side lately.
We would think so indeed was that not a telling thing at Island No. 10 that rather beat Pea Ridge. Tell those Secesh at home for me that I have tried their brother’s pluck and tell them that one Secesh is not enough [for] 5 union men. But on the other hand, 5 is not enough for one of us, but it is a fact that we can fight 5 times our number. I am not surprised at their not fighting any better. It is the cause that makes a man fight the most. [Those] that I talked with do not know what they are fighting for. They are impressed that the government wants to set the Negro free among them. Well, let them think what they may. They are about played out. A few more blows will satisfy them that coercion is strong medicine administered with powder.
I believe it is thought that Price has gone down the Arkansas River. He undoubtedly started that way the last we heard from him. I suppose we will follow him as long as we can fix a way to get across White River which will not be long, but we cannot move fast in this rough country. There is a great many creeks to cross which impedes infantry very much but we can move as fast as he can.
Since the battle [Pea Ridge], we have been reinforced several thousand. Our strength is plenty strong for all the Butternuts that can be brought against us—that is a name the boys has given them since the battle, their dress looks so much like the nut.
You better believe we have some wild boys in the army. As a general thing they are brave and noble-hearted fellows. This is Sabbath evening and today by order of Secretary Chase that every chaplain of every regiment offer prayer to the God of hosts for the great victories over the traitors of our once happy government. So our chaplain responded to the request and I enjoyed it very much.
Monday morning and evening. I feel this morning as though I would like to see you all and to be on my farm and see my stock—especially the horses. I would like to take a ride on old grey and see old Herk [Hercules]. Tell Frank to take good care of them and the trees in the yard and I will make him a good present when I get home, if ever.
Vin Stookey has been after his brother. He came the morning before we left that place. I went with him to take up his brother [and] we went over the battlefield. He picked up some of the canon balls to take home. It was a great sight to them and to anyone to see the timber rent all to pieces. A person would wonder how any escaped. It is true the balls was as thick as hail, but for my part I did not feel a bit alarmed; all I thought about was to clean them out and we knew then was a big job ahead of us. [James M.] Mcintoch & [Benjamin] McCulloch was killed by our division, that is Jeff Davis’ [Division]. He is an old bully and is well thought of as a General. Lieutenant Stookey died on the 3rd of March, he was a fine fellow. He give me his pistol before he died which I will keep as long as I live. Poor fellow. He has gone to try the realities of another world. I hope he is better off than we are.
That left a vacancy for a Lieut. and the boys said they was a going to have a say so in it. It justly belong to the orderly Benee Goodner and they told the captain that I had to be the 2nd Lieutenant. So it was left to a vote and I was elected by a big majority. The orderly could not stand it and he applied for a transfer to the 3rd Illinois Calvary and he got it so he is not in our company anymore.
I think this is the best office in the company. You get big pay and have nothing to carry but your saber, and can pass any lines that a captain can and are a perfect gentleman in every sense; a little strap on your shoulder makes a good deal of difference in a man’s position in the army. I have found that to be a fact.
I must brag a little on our captain. He is a noble fellow and he is very sorry that he was not in the battle with us. We had no idea of a fight when he left and he I know did not think of such a thing or he would not have left. Don’t any of you think that he left us for fear of a fight; if you do it is a mistaken idea, he is a lovely young captain.
I believe I got nothing more to write. Give my love to all. You must write oftener. I wrote to you before about seeing David Potts and that he was coming back there and he wanted you to tell Loami [?] to save some of his land for him. So no more, but remain your affectionate brother.
— R. Gooding, 2nd Lieutenant, Co. E, 59th Illinois Vols.