Category Archives: Indiana Homefront

1861: Kate (Pinckard) Greenleaf to Margaret St. Clair Pinckard

How Kate and her husband Alvin might have looked at the time of their wedding in 1855.

This letter was written by Katherine (“Kate”) Pinckard (1835-1905), the daughter of Dr. Thomas Butler Pinckard (1793-1860)—a grandnephew of President James Monroe—and his first wife, Catherine Lawrence Vance (1804-1839) of Lexington, Kentucky. After Kate’s mother died, her father married Mary Rothram Harper (1810-1900). Kate was married to Alvin Choate Greenleaf (1829-1866) in January 1855. By 1861 when this letter was written, the couple had one child, Katherine St. Clair Greenleaf (1856-1923). Alvin was the son of Edward Greenleaf (1802-1873) and Mary Jane Allen (1808-1887) who lived near Indianapolis in Marion county, Indiana, where this letter was penned in April 1861.

Kate wrote the letter to her sister, Margaret St. Clair Pinckard (1832-1919) who married James Granville Cecil (1808-1881) in Jefferson county, Kentucky in February 1868.


Out at Mrs. Greenleaf’s
April 23, [1861]

My Darling Sister,

I received your most anxiously looked for letter today. Oh how thankful I am you are not here. Never in my life put together did I ever suffer such exquisite torture as I have since the news from Fort Sumter came; for I am living among a set of hungry wolves—I can call them nothing better, who are actually thirsting for the blood of those who are dearer to me than all the world beside, and they all take the greatest delight in letting me know the state of their feelings and insulting me in every possible way. I have prayed most earnestly that Christian forbearance and fortitude might be given me to endure in silence, and feel it was my my Heavenly Father who. was trying me for my good, and so far He has mercifully vouchsafed to hear me and I have with His gracious help been enabled to bear them. But I feel as if it will kill me to have to live so much longer—flesh and blood can’t bear it.

The people have gone perfectly mad. I never imagined savages could be so blood thirsty—Cousin Annie and Will as bad, if not worse than any. All our relations and all the Greenleafs and Espys. So you see, I am in the midst of a hornet’s nest and the worst of it is, here I have to stay, maybe all summer, though I would far rather die this minute if it is God’s will. I am afraid [my husband] Alvin is not doing much in Memphis. I have almost given up all hope of ever having a home anyplace in this world. I would not have one here for I can never live among my enemies and be happy of course, and all whom I once caed for here have taken every means to let me know they stood in that position.

I wrote you and Will not long since and told you Mr. Stringfellow was going as Chaplain with the Greys from here. Cousin Annie told me so. But I am happy to say there was no truth in it. I was there Saturday. He said he expected they would have to leave here, as anyone would be in danger of their life who was known to have any sympathy with the South and he is a true Southerner in every feeling. Oh! it would make the blood boil in your very veins to hear some of them talk. Others are so deplorably ignorant, it only awakens a feeling of perfect contempt. No one is allowed to even wish for peace without danger of being mobbed and if we dare say a word in favor of the South, we are to be hung. There are said to be 9,000 men (I cannot call them soldiers) here now encamped on the fairgrounds and I have heard several say they never in their lives saw such a Godless set of men congregated together. You know they ran the first battle in the Mexican War, but they can bluster and braggard. That is about as much as the people here know about bravery. They have no idea of true, manly courage. The Southerners have that yet to teach them. May the lesson be one they will never forget.

I feel when the struggle comes, I must be with you all down there for if you suffer, I must suffer. And if needs be, die with you. The South has many warm hearts here beating with love and sympathy for her, but they can do nothing but offer up their prayers which in this time of trouble, is our only resource—and a dear one it is.

I went to Mrs. Stewart’s the other day and had a good talk. I just feel like going right to see everyone I hear favors the South, for my heart goes right out to them. Someone gave Katie a Union flag the other day and I told her at first she should not have it, but she begged so hard and I could not explain to her then why I did not wish her to carry it, so I let her have it. As we were going home, she was running along before me and I stopped to speak to Nettie Stewart. I noticed some lady stop Katie and talk to her for some time and when I came up with her, I asked her what the lady said to her. She says, “So little girl, you are for the Union, are you?” “No ma’am,” says Katie, “I am for Bell. My mamma said I should not carry this flag at first, but a little girl gave it to me and I begged her to let me keep it, but I am a Southerner.” “I ain’t for Lincoln,” she always says whenever she hears his name mentioned.

I wrote Uncle Ferd and Will on the 14th and you and Will again on the 18th. I hope dear Will and all I love so dearly will belong to the Home Guard. I have written this in such haste and such a miserable pen, I am afraid you can’t read it, but I am almost crazy so you must make allowances. Katie is very well. I am afraid you will never get it, but hope you may. I shall try and get away from here if I have to walk. With a heart full of love to all you dear ones. I am your loving sister, — Kate

1862: Julia A. Donaldson to Mr. May

During the Civil War, soldiers sometimes placed advertisements in news papers seeking “pen pals” or urged a comrade’s relatives to strike up a correspondence with them. Some, perhaps, hoped the correspondence might actually lead to a relationship; others simply found it as a convenient way to fill the otherwise dull hours of camp life. Female correspondents often took on the task as a patriotic duty—as a means of encouraging the soldiers who were willing to “sacrifice home and pleasure” to put down the rebellion.

How Julia might have looked

In this charming letter, Julia A. Donaldson of Lafayette, Indiana, wrote to a soldier identified only as “Mr. May” who may have been local boy or not. I have not been able to find Julia in census or directory records but she may have only living in Lafayette temporarily—perhaps as a housemaid or staying with a relative. It seems clear she and Mr. May did not know each other. She states she has a brother in the Union Army. The only Donaldson I can find in military records connected with Lafayette, Indiana is a Madison Donaldson of the 20th Indiana Infantry, which was formed in Lafayette but he does not appear in the census records there. As for Mr. May, there were four different soldiers with the surname May in the 20th Indiana Infantry. Perhaps he was one of these soldiers.

I have transcribed Julia’s letter as she wrote it so you can see that her formal schooling—if she had any at all—was severely limited.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


April 18, 1862

Mr. May,

Dear sur,

as i have hurd a friend if yourn spoke of you, i thot that i would writ to you. i hope that you will pardin me for the privlig that i have takin as this is Leep year and all foks is free in war times, i thot it would bee nise to have a unoin corasponent. i hope that that you will pardin me for making such a bold atenit as to write to you. i would not atemp to writ to eney won except won that had gon to help to put down this wiked war. i alway feel free to write or talk to eney won that is wiling to help put down this weked war. i think that eney won that is wiling to sacrifise home and plasur to help to restor aruend cuntry is the salt of our repulicen goverment.

when i pic up a paper and see that you ned help, i feel like picking up a gun and go to war mi self. But i cant. all i can do is to tri and write and pra for those Brave Boys that is wiling to tri and restor our republici goverment. i have won Brother in the army and a grat meny of mi friends ar in the army. a grat eny has gon to war. But tims ar quit flurshing in the norh yet and i hop it will always Bee so, By the help of god and our Brave Boys.

Well i supose that you would like to know what fur looking girl you corspondent is. Well i wil tell you. I am tall and slender, dark complected, dar hear and dark eyes and full of fun 21 years old. i enjoy mi self vary much ended But still i often think of a nother world apart Cold hener wher there is no mor war or parting of friends. We all hop haf to part with our friends ito am among strangers.

Will i gess that i will close this leter for i supose that i have writin mo than will enter rest you, i will close hoping that you will pardin me for the privilige that i have takin and if you think this leter worth ancering, I will Bee plsed to her from you.

From you well wisher, — Miss Julia A. Donaldson, Lafayette, Indiana

1864: William R. Bennet to Joseph O. Jones

This letter was written by 43 year-old William R. Bennett (1821-1896) of Ascension (now Farmersburg), Curry township, Sullivan county, Indiana. William’s parents were Thomas Bennett (1797-1865) and Miranda Coffin (1803-1848). William was married in 1842 to Lucinda Terry (1824-1913) in Ripley County, Indiana.

I could find no image of William but here is a tintype from the period of a man that looks to be about his age. (Will Griffing Collection)

William wrote the letter in late September 1864 from his home in Sullivan county, Indiana, where he was most likely a member of the Home Guard. Some two weeks later he accepted a bounty to enter the service as a substitute in Co. E, 43rd Indiana Infantry. He was discharged at Terre Haute in mid-June 1865.

The letter was written to Joseph O. Jones who served as the post master at Terre Haute at the time. The content hints at the violence that prevailed in Sullivan and Clay counties during the Civil War caused by the strong presence of Southern sympathizers residing there—particularly in Eastern Clay county where the Knights of the Golden Circle factored prominently and who terrorized the loyalists.


Ascension, Sullivan county, Indiana
September 28th 1864

Mr. J. O. Jones
Dear Sir,

There is a good deal of uneasiness among the Union men here on account of the assemblage of the rebel sympathizers at Hooker’s Point in Clay County. 1 Reports are so conflicting that we can form no just conclusions. We are anxious to get information from Terre Haute daily until things are brought to a focus. Will you please get some reliable person to send a few lines to our post master (E. Hunter) every mail giving us any information that would be useful to us. If you should see Dr. Baldridge, he would write us about the news if requested. He will be likely to be about the Provost Marshal’s office.

Respectfully yours, — Wm. R. Bennett

1 Hooker’s Point was located on the Eel River in Clay county, Indiana. It was named for Lucius Hooker who built a watermill on the river about 1860. It was located about ten miles due east of Ascension (Farmersburg).

Tom Frew and Rose Gates reveal the remains of the flag that was given to Sullivan county’s Home Guard by Gov. Oliver P. Morton. “Sullivan County contained many Southern sympathizers and there was a strong presence of what was called the Knights of the Golden Circle, a pro-Southern secret society that was the forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan,” said Frew, president of the Sullivan County Historical Society Inc.
“They shot down the flag and tore it to pieces. The main thing they sought to get rid of is the field of stars, which was the symbol of the union. They wanted a separate country of the confederate states,” Frew said. “To me, it is an example that you can’t destroy the United States. You can’t destroy the flag; it will hang on, just like this one,” Frew said. See Enduring Symbol: Torn, tattered Civil War-era flag.

1862: Samuel Hartshorn Potter to J. O. Jones

This letter was written by Samuel Hartshorn Potter (1809-1895), a merchant of Terre Haute, Vigo county, Indiana. An obituary for Samuel was found in the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, 12 January 1895.

Unusual Mortality. A familiar figure will from this time forth forever be missed from our streets. The figure of a man who had spent the best years of a useful life in the Prairie City, had seen it grow from a hamlet to a thrifty commercial city, and had been identified with its growth, and participated in the efforts that made it possible for such growth. Samuel Hartshorn Potter—”Captain” Potter as he was familiarly known—died at his home on south Sixth street last Tuesday evening, at the advanced age of eighty-six years. He had long been subject to attacks of illness for which simple remedies “had heretofore brought relief.” But this attack was beyond remedy, and while seated in his room on the day named, the end came suddenly and unexpected, his daughter, Miss Frances E. Potter, being present when the final call came.

In the historic town of Cooperstown, N. Y., Mr. Potter was born on November 11, 1808, of a family noted for its longevity. He began life as a farm boy, afterwards engaged in the dry goods business, and later took up the hardware business in Utica, N. Y. He was engaged in the latter business in Cleveland, Ohio, and in May 1844, became a resident of Terre Haute. He was joined here by his brothers-in-law, Lucius Ryce, A. O. Potwin and P. R. Whipple, whose names are inseparably connected with the early history of the town. He continued in the hardware business until 1865, when be disposed of it to C. W. Mancourt and Simeon Cory, of which firm the first named is the survivor. Since then he had not actively engaged in business, his entire attention being devoted to his property interests here and in Clay county, and to other business connections elsewhere.

In years gone by Mr. Potter’s name was familiar to the newspaper readers, for it was well known that “P.” was the only disguise he pretended to assume when he expressed his well known views in public print. It was a well known fact that when an article appeared in public print signed “P.” there was sure to be something said that was directly to the point. He had views of his own, and the courage of his convictions, and he never hesitated to express them in his own pointed way. An Express writer who knew him well describes his characteristic pointedly when he says: “He possessed by nature and inheritance marked characteristics. What he believed, he believed with his whole soul, and he never shrank from saying or doing what he believed ought to be said or done. He was naturally high-spirited and of impulsive temper. How much more so he was than he showed none could know but himself, for he thought that he had restrained and subdued himself to a great extent.” He was the kind of a man who leaves his impress on a community. When be believed he was right he cared not if the whole world was against him. He made friends by it, too, for besides loving a lover, all the world admires a fighter.

Mr. Potter was married three times. His first wife was Miss Emily Van Buren, of Newark, N. J., whose brothers were Messrs. Whipple, Ryee and Potwin. She died in 1868. His second wife was Miss Louise Freeman, a sister of Stephen R. and John R. Freeman, who were also well known in Terre Haute’s business circles. She died after a few years’ residence here. Later Mr. Potter was married to Miss Gloriana Eldridge, of Lafayette, who has been dead many years. For many years Mr. Potter’s daughter, Mrs. Hannah Tutt, wife of Jas. P. Tutt, once a well-known shoe merchant, kept house for him, and in recent years that duty had fallen on his youngest daughter, Miss Frances E. Potter. One brother survives, Wm. M. Potter, of Lafayette, Ind. Besides Mrs. Tutt and Miss Frances Potter his surviving children are Mrs. Helen M. Beach, of Watertown, N. Y., and Mrs. Susan R. Smith, of Peoria, III. The deceased had been connected for many years with the Congregational church, and exercises appropriate to his memory will be held there next Wednesday evening.

From Samuel’s letter we can infer that he was a volunteer in a soldier’s aid society—probably the Terre Haute Sanitary Committee—attending to the wounded soldiers in hospitals in and around Evansville, Indiana, still arriving from the Shiloh battlefield. C. Russell Bement is mentioned in this letter and he was a member of the Evansville Sanitary Commission’s Board of Directors. Samuel wrote the letter to J. O. Jones who served as the Post Master in Terre Haute, Indiana.


Evansville, [Indiana]
April 15, 1862

J. O. Jones, Esq.
Dear sir,

I arrived all safe last evening at 8 o’clock. Visited one of the hospitals before I went to bed. Saw many cases needing some of our stores & clothing. The sights were pitiful in the extreme and calculated to inspire sympathy of the strongest kind.

Early this morning I had all the stores in a good, spacious room arranged for opening. To Mr. Russell Bement 1 and others of the committee here I was under special obligations for furnishing the room and drays to haul them. I have distributed freely in two hospitals. Mr. Bement and myself visited the Marine Hospital 2 this forenoon and there found the poor wounded soldiers greatly in want of clothing, surgical attention, and nurses. What surgeons were there were busily engaged in performing capital operations, leaving 50 to 100 with wounds needing surgical attention badly. Also nurses to assist them to wash up and get on a clean shirt and drawers. Many had not washed since the battle and were still in their dirty and bloody clothing.

We returned after dinner with a dray load of stores, some more surgeons and nurses. I have worked hard all the afternoon distributing shirts, drawers, pollows, pads, handkerchiefs, and towels, and in some cases a little wine to strengthen and revive the weakened pulse. The S. B. Adams arrived this evening with many more of the Indiana wounded, among them some of the 31st [Indiana Infantry]. A portion of them will go on to New Albany.

I shall remain here tomorrow. Will send shirts and pillows to Paducah as per request of your dispatch. I have requested Mr. Crawford to see you or Bement, and have purchased 50 pair of slippers and sent immediately.

In haste with poor pen, paper and ink. Yours, — S. H. Potter

The Marine Hospital at Evansville

1 Charles Russell Bement (1828-1893) was a wholesale grocer in Evansville. He died at the age of 65 of Bright’s Disease.

2 The Evansville area had four hospitals during the Civil War. The largest of the four was Marine Hospital which was located on the bank of the Ohio River and Ohio Street. When occupancy was exceeded there, makeshift tents were set up on the grounds outside. This occurred in April 1862 when wounded soldiers arrived from the Battle of Shiloh.