These four letters were written by Orrilla (Willard) Pierce (1836-1908) to her husband, Alonzo (“Lonzo”) David Pierce (1831-1896)—the son of David Pierce (1804-1876) and Jane Jackson (1812-1890). Orrilla was the daughter of George Rawson Willard (1809-1868)—a wheelwright—and his wife, Abigail Salisbury (1826-1886), of Naperville, DuPage county, Illinois. The Willard’s had a residence in Naperville right next door to Joseph Naper, the founder of the village.
A biographical sketch states that Alonzo was two years a sailor on the Great Lakes and a miner in California between 1850 and 1856 before settling down as a farmer in Pope county, Illinois, and marrying Orrilla Willard on 20 November 1856. Together they had four children; Orilla (b. 1859), Walter (b. 1861), Carrie (b. 1866), and Henry (b. 1867).
In 1861, Alonzo mustered into Co. A, 6th Illinois Cavalry as a First Sergeant. He rose in rank to Captain of that company and in 1865 was promoted to Major of the regiment.
[Note: Seven of David Alonzo Pierce’s Civil War Letters are published on Spared & Shared 18.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Mr. A. D. Pierce, Camp Katie Yates, Shawneetown, Illinois
In care of Martin Smith, Soldier
Saturday afternoon, Feb. 15, 1862
As I have another opportunity to send you a few lines by friend Julius, I will state how things are flourishing here at home. In the first place, we are not all well. Last Wednesday Julius had a wood bee. It being quite warm & pleasant, Mother & I concluded we would go up there. I got very warm carrying Walter and while I was there, I nearly froze all the time I was there. After I came home that night, he was very worrisome but I did not know he was sick until I went to bed. Then I discovered he had a very high fever. He was very sick all night and the next day the doctor came over to see him and said it was worm fever and a hard cold. He is some better today, I think. I am in hopes he will soon be well again with good cure. I got cold from that day’s visit and it settled in nearly all of my teeth and one side of my face now looks fat enough, I can assure you. I really have been sorry I took that tramp, fearing it was the cause of so many ailments after it.
We have had another severe winter. Day before yesterday, just at night, it commenced to snow and it continued to snow all night. The snow in the morning was at a greater depth than it has been before this winter. Today it is beginning to melt some and if tomorrow is a warm sun-shiny day, I think we will lose a good share of the crystal flakes that have fallen. I know not what good without it is to drowned out some of the loathsome rebels that reside near the banks of the Noble Ohio. I am anxious to get some late war news and to hear of the success of our troops.
I understand that Sam and George were in Tennessee—also Eagleton Carmichael’s Company. ¹ For the past two days we have heard a great deal of firing in the direction of Smithland [Kentucky] or somewhere there abouts. We have heard since Julius came home that you were soon to be at Smithland. I tell you, we can hear almost anything. I have heard since I commenced to write that Martin has got home and is going back in the morning. Father thinks he must go down and see him after he gets his chores done and I will find his and save him the trouble of carrying this up to Benham’s. Strode’s brother-in-law has taken the Dr.’s farm and Strode would have went and moved him out today if the weather had not been so bad. The Dr. got a letter from J. C. Quinn the other day. He states that he thinks he shall try this climate in the spring for that does not agree with his health. I think it will be a very difficult matter for him to get into a climate that will exactly suit him. He wished the Dr. to tell him what the prospects would be to get a small farm in this part of the country.
May has a great deal to say about Pa and his steamboat and about Pa running upstairs and taking his Handker out of his pocket. and shaked it, she says so excited sometimes she can hardly express herself when she gets to telling of her adventures. The day she went to see Pa, take this exit. Father has not killed the hogs yet, He has not heard anything from his Paducah man yet, and I presume will not until the soldiers het back again. It will make late killing time.
There was meeting at the school house this morning and it to be this evening. I don’t think he will get a very large congregation from here tonight. Write soon and all the news. The preacher has just come here to get a chance to stay all night. He has been riding along his friends all the day since meeting this morning and his horse did not get a mouthful to eat all day so I suppose he thought would try to get a night’s lodging with a blue Connecticut Yankee. He has gone up to meeting now. I think his brethren must treat him rather coolly. Take good care of yourself and think all’s well that ends well. But if your regiment disbands as Benham thinks, it will in the spring. I wish you to come home for I believe you can do as much good here as any place. Good evening. Write soon.
Sunday morning, February 16th 1862
Walter is not any better and I am afraid he never will be. I wish you would come home if you can. It may be that I am too much alarmed. I hope I am. The Dr. says his lungs are very much affected. The Dr. has not been in to see him yet this morning. Come if you can. — Orrilla Pierce
Monday morning. — Walter is no better and never will be. He appears very bad. I am afraid he will not live the day out. Come immediately home. I have no idea you can get home soon enough to see him alive. Now come if it is a possible thing. I can write no more. — Orrilla Pierce
¹ Eagleton Carmichael (1828-1881) of Metropolis enlisted in the Union Army in September 1861, was elected Captain of Co. B and rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the 15th Illinois Cavalry that later consolidated with the 10th Illinois Cavalry, taking the name of the later, and of which he was made the colonel. Carmichael’s Cavalry operated in Missouri and fought at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1862. Eagleton Carmichael resigned from the service on October 9, 1865.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
February 8th 1863
We received two letters from you last night—one dated the 24th & the other the 26th. I was glad to hear that you were well. I was afraid you might be out of health. It has been such strong weather. Thursday night we had another heavy snowstorm. About 6 inches of snow fell & today there is none to be seen but in spots. It makes it very sloppy & bad walking.
Mrs. Stillman was buried yesterday. She had the measles & took a relapse. The rest of the family is down with the same disease except Mr. Stillman. Willie is considered very dangerous. Mr. Stillman said if he found him any better last night when he got home, he should have some hopes of him recovering. He is left in a very bad fix, I tell you. There is lots dying with the measles this winter. Mary & Bell has had the measles & about got over them. They have not been out of doors yet. I expect Walter & May will come down with them this week. Walter is making a big fuss to write, He has got a pen holder & puts it in the ink & he is doing fine business writing. They have the measles too over to Lo’s. Bart, Lynn—in fact, they are almost everywhere where they have not had them.
(Past nine o’clock) Walter is quite sick tonight coughing & has a high fever & vomits. He is either coming down with the measles or else it is a turn of worms. It is about time for them to come down. I wish it was over with. I dread it. I received a letter from Mrs. Henry Brainard last Tuesday. She is in poor health & has been for a year with the Neuralgia in the face. She says the pain is so great at times as to almost drive her distracted. She says she has tried patent medicines, traveling and doctors, & everything else that she could hear of that was good for that disease. She is now doctoring with a Homeopathy Doctor in Kingsville. She thinks he is helping her some but he did not give her much encouragement of her getting well until warm weather. She said she had not been out of doors for two months & it had been fourteen weeks since she had done her work. She seemed very low-spirited. She says her two little girls go to school & read in three letters. They like Mary Viets very much for a teacher. I presume she does well. It is her first attempt.
She says Denmark [Perry county, Illinois] continues to increase in population in about the same ratio as when we were there. She said in counting up the births the other day in their place, in five years, made out 19. She thought that was doing well. She said there had been a good many changes since we left. One she spoke of—that Mr. Straight has moved a part of the house up to the roads so now Aunt Rhoda has full swing. She says also that Mrs. William’s health is poor. She took cold the day that Mrs. Brainard was buried & it settled on her lungs & she has been sick ever since & has to have a girl to do her work.
Father has got him a tenant. He came today. James Glisson is his name. He has no family except a wife. He is a discharged soldier of the 56th Regiment [Co. K]. ¹ Father took him upon the same terms that he did Strode. He appears like a good, steady fellow. What is the reason that Thomas Liggett [Co. A, 6th Illinois Cavalry] does not write to his folks? Tell me if you know the reason. His father went to town on purpose to get the news yesterday & came home without any for himself. They feel worked enough about his silence. Father is going to kill hogs tomorrow. It is getting late & I will retire. Good night & pleasant dreams to you is the wish of O.
I will write some more this morning although I have nothing of importance to write. I can say it is an unpleasant day & rained hard last night & early this morning. Father & his tenant has gone down to Mr. Liggett’s to butcher today. Lo butchered yesterday & was going to town today. Mr. Liggett intends to go tomorrow with his hogs & I thought I would have a letter ready. Father sold his hogs day before yesterday. He sold $32.52 cents worth here at home & $61.65 cents at Metropolis. The heaviest hog weighed 327 lbs. Father paid the book money for Sam’s horse out of the hogs. Father was disappointed. He expected Sam would send home the money for that & to pay for the saddle too as soon as he got it. Father gave Dill his note for the saddle. He has dunned for the money but he could not expect it until Sam sends it.
Walter is broke out with the measles as thick as can be this morning. I think May is coming down too. I can see them plain in her throat. She was sick last night. Had a high fever [and] screamed for Father. I rubbed her head and got her quieted down so she rested middling well & Walter when he was take down, he screamed for Mama as though he would go into fits. Spatted his hand lively & called. I could not quiet him at all & Father got up & put him in their bed & he got quiet shortly. It was new for him to call for Mother for it has always been Pa Pa when anything was the matter with him.
Father saw John Ditterline yesterday. He had been to town & said there was going to be peace right away now. He said too that the 6th [Illinois] Cavalry had marching orders for Memphis. Father agreed to let Davis have his wheat when it got to be better going. Mr. Mitchell told Father the other day that taxes had got to be paid the 27th of this month & that will soon be here. We have not had a school since last Friday in the forenoon. The teacher was going to New Liberty to preach last Sunday & has not returned yet. I think must be he has got the measles for he never has had them. He came here just as Bill & Mary was coming down with them & perhaps he has taken them.
Mrs. Mitchell told father the other day that I must make up my mind to turn my face towards the school house as soon as Philip’s time was out & that would have been the 10th of this month if he had not lost any time. If it is the wish of the Directors, I believe I shall go into the school. I am willing to do what I can to help along a little. I think it would be better than to stay at home & earn nothing these hard times. Cotton cloth is reported at a half dollar a yard & calico 33.3 cents per yard. I think people will have to wear home manufacture or go rather scantily clothes at such prices as those. Everything the merchants have to sell brings a high price & what the farmers has to sell is on the rise too I believe. I think by this time next year that farmers will get more pay for their produce. I think it is time that the tiller of the soil should get some of the profits as well as the merchants & speculators.
Walter is crying & I will have to stop writing & take him.
(8 o’clock) I run away over to Lo’s just before dark. I did not know but Lo would get a letter & I could answer it tonight but Lo did not get back before I came away. Polly said perhaps he would not be at home tonight, it would be so dark. She thought he would stay to Mr. Walbright’s & come home in the morning. Father came home from Mr. Liggett’s about 4 o’clock to see how the children were & went right back to help him load up his hogs & has not got back yet. May is considerable sick tonight. I think she will be broke out in the morning. When she is sick, the disease seems to affect her head very much. This forenoon she wanted me to be sure & write to Pa & tell him that she was sick & got the measles. She said all the time when the girls was sick, she bet a dollar she would not cry when she had to take medicine for the measles. I tell her what she said & then she takes the medicine pretty good. If anything goes wrong with her, she is going to tell Pa right away. She asked me today if I would let her go & see Pa when she got well. I told her I should have to, I guessed. The whole of Mr. Lynn’s family—the children, 10 of them—are sick with the measles. Marcella is very sick. They think they must have a serious time of it. It is anything but a pleasant disease, I can assure you. It made Bell look rather peaked. Old Mr. Faughn has had the measles. Robert Brown was here yesterday & said that he did not think Mr. Faughn would ever be any better. He stayed there the night before.
Father says he wants you to look sharp & get the pay for that horse & saddle. Sam promised Dill he would send him the money as soon as he got it. Mr. Williams & Leisco stayed here one week ago tonight. He was around collecting & father settled with him last summer. They are coming here again the last of this week or the first of next. They told father they thought they could make a trade for father, get a span of mules for Fanny, & some money. Father needs a team of some kind to use on a wagon at any rate. He says he is going to make Hat. & Clara plough this spring. Mr. Liggett & a man by the name of Lewis that lives on Jim Johnson’s place to draw the pork to town & then was to let Mr. Lewis have the wagon to go into Kentucky about 60 miles to get a few traps that he had left behind. He is to be gone a week or ten days. Those horses are here yet & it seems father cannot very well get rid of them. The time was out last Sunday that Bart Lynn agreed to get them away. Father went down to see him yesterday & he said he should have nothing more to do with them for he was not authorized to do anything & father might do as he pleased for all that he cared.
It is near 12 o’clock & I must retire as the children have just got quiet. Walter is very uneasy—first wants me to hold him in the rocking chair & then to be put in the crib & so it goes. He has not eat anything since day before yesterday. He seems to be so sick to his stomach all the time. He throws up the things that I give him that is a great measles medicine in this country.
I would give considerable to see you but when that time will come is hard to tell but Ih hope the time is not far distant when you will be numbered again with the loved ones at home. Give my compliments to those that remembered me in your last letters & in fact to all enquiring friends & to Sam & tell him to be a good boy & try to be useful in the world. And take good care of yourself & as the very best you can is the wish of your ever true & devoted wife, — Orrilla Pierce (a kiss good night)
Walter is better this morning, I think. When I awoke, he was all uncovered & cold as a frog but I don’t think it has hurt him but I was afraid it would. We kept him so warm all day yesterday. May is up this morning. I think she too feels better but she is not broke out yet. Write soon. — Orrilla
¹ James Glisson (b. 1842) was discharged for disability from Co. K, 56th Illinois Infantry, in 1862. In January 1864, he re-enlisted in the same company and served until 12 August 1865, having apparently regained his health. When he re-enlisted, he gave Shawneetown, Gallatin county, Illinois as his residence.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Addressed to Capt. A. D. Pierce, Memphis, Tennessee
August 29th 1864
My Dear Husband,
I now sit down to write a few lines to let you know that we are well. Lieut. Benham is at home & thinks of starting for Metropolis tomorrow evening. He arrived home last night. He has been to St. Louis with Col. [Mathew] Starr. He was wounded in the Memphis fight. I will not write the particulars of it. No doubt you will get the news before this reaches you if there is a possible chance for news to get to you. Julius told me that communication was closed now (or when he left Memphis). I feel so uneasy about you I can hardly rest, but I will try to hope for the best. I think it was a great thing Forrest coming in to Memphis. It will learn them after this to keep a better look out for the enemy. Julius told me it was hard to tell where you would go before you returned to Memphis. Said that you had 40 days rations & there was to be no more communication as it took so many to guard that railroad.
I have not the first thing to write to you that can interest you. I expect we will have a thrashing done this week. We are now having quite cool nights, but not cold enough for frost. I would not like to see that come now for feed would be pretty scarce for my stock should such a thing happen.
It is a current report that you & three of your company was killed. If I had not received a letter from you since the fight of the 13th, I should have been very much worried. Some of the people will hardly believe that it’s not so when they are told that I have received a letter from you since the fight. Mrs. Mitchell went to Old Mr. Thompson’s today & she got the news there that Abe Vickers wrote home that those two regiments had got cut all to pieces. I believe there is more excitement here in the county now than there is with you where you are in danger all the time. Will we not repose when this “Cruel War” ends?
Today is the [Democratic] Convention at Chicago. I would like to hear of the proceedings. I do hope & pray that President Lincoln will be reelected for I believe he is the right one to finish or settle this terrible fuss. I must retire so good night.
Tuesday night, August 30th, 9 o’clock
My Dear Husband,
Here I am again writing away what you know, what I am about. Well the children are both asleep & I am left to my own musings & you must know that my thoughts are wandering to thee & I sigh to think that destiny thus separates us, but I will try to keep the bright side out & look at the pleasant future when my dear husband will again [be] with his family & can sit down at his own fireside & reflect upon the past & say that “I have ever strove to do my duty, nobly & cheerfully as every true patriot should, when duty called me.” Mr. & Mrs. Benham has been here this afternoon. He is going to leave for Metropolis in the morning. They will stop here as they go to Tennessee & leave Bertha & I will have this ready. I am almost afraid it will be a long time before I shall here from you again, but do the very best that you can towards making yourself comfortable. I want you to write to me in your next what you want me to do about my farming operations. It will soon be wheat sowing times & I want some council &c. &c.
I must tell you about my fence trade with Jim Gregory. He has got 8 hundred split & timber enough cut for 50 more rails. He hired a man to help him & came here with him tonight after they quit work for some money for him & wanted 4.50 cents for him & I let Jim Gregory have a dollar the other day & that set me to thinking that that there was a mistake. I said to Jim, you was to give me 15 dollars for the gun & he said “yes.” & he understood it that he was to have 10 dollars besides & I told him not, so I convinced him by reading the letter or that part which concerned him & he gave up that he was mistaken. I read it to him that night I made the trade. Lo came over while they were here & Jim said that he would tell me what he would do, he said seeing there was a misunderstanding, he would furnish me 150 rails that he had got in fence that was about a year old & he called on Lo & wished to know if that was not right & Lo told me he believed he would do it. (I am finishing my story most too quick, I see). That is, to give him seven dollars & a half besides the gun & he furnish 150 rails. I told him I would do it but I did not know what you would say & I thought it would be a pretty expensive fence &c. I can tell you its going to cost something to get work done after this. I expect the wood bill will be something when I have to have some cut, but I have not had any cut yet. I have been succor so far this summer. They calculate to make us soldier’s wives pay for what we have done & another pest has presented itself. Lo said when he came across the oat field tonight that the army work was in it—plenty of them—and they were going towards the meadow. It will be just my luck not to have any good meadow when I need it so bad. I told Jim to hurry & get the fence done so that I could get the stock in before the worms took all the grass. Lo says they have completely used up his meadow. It is indeed a year of pestilence. Some places they have used up the corn, so they tell me. In the first place, the drouth troubled us. The next thing to think of was frost taking hold of our crops of corn before they were ripe. But we did not think of the army work troubling us. I am in hopes they will not do much damage.
I must tell you what George Williamson told me the other day about Mary’s colt. He wanted to know what was my price. I told him I had not set any. He wanted to know how I or said he would give me a trade for the cold & let me have a horse I could ride. I told him I was not going to sell the colt till you come home & he said he would not if he was in my place. He said he would rather have that colt than Mary herself although she was more useful at present. He said he never saw a prettier colt. Julius did not praise it much—only said it was a pretty colt. He brought home two horses so Mat is as independent as any person and so Jim Gregory told me that he paid out 4 dollars in cash the other day to get his rifle fixed & get it done cheap too, so he said.
Oh dear, how lonesome it is & I must go to bed or I shall get the fidgets. Good night & pleasant dreams. — Orrilla Pierce
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
April 25, 1865
My Dear Husband,
As I shall have an opportunity to send to the office tomorrow, I will write some. Lizzie Liggett was up here this morning & she said her folks was going to town tomorrow.
This is a very fine day & the prospect is very favorable now for some fine weather, I think. I forgot to tell you in my last that we had a slight snow storm last Saturday & Sunday night, a hard frost, but not enough I think to hurt anything. I saw in the Evansville Daily Journal that Thursday night last the rebels approached that place and fired on the pickets, killing two or three of them. The rebels were pursued & several of them killed, wounded & captured. Dr. E. Read, Surgeon, speaks in high commendation of Gen. Hatch’s fighting Division now stationed at Eastport [Mississippi].
Walter keeps bothering me talking to me all the time & bothering me to make pictures for him on the slate. I have just had to make a woman for him. I done so & he was not quiet not more than two minutes before he came to me & said she had not got but one ear & he wanted two. I told him to make one himself but no, he said he couldn’t. He is a sight of company. If you was at home, he would be with you all the time. He would be out in the field with Billy if I would let him. This afternoon when Billy went back to the field, Walter followed him with a hoe on his shoulder. He stepped as large as he could. I called to him to come back & he said he wanted to go a piece with Billy. So he went to where Billy goes through the fence & came back. He has been over to Father’s two or three times today & May is over there now. They have got the whopping cough & mumps over to Alec’s. I expect my children will get the whooping cough for Mrs. Adsit’s little girl was here Sunday with it. She staid to Father’s last night so I think Bill is sure to have it & the small pox is over so Tim King’s one of his boys has it. The Dr. was called there yesterday & he says it is the small pox.
I would have sent you some money the other day but I though the letter would be so long on the way that you would be paid & rather I would have kept it. Whenever you want mont, I want you to tell me so & I will try to get some to you.
If the weather keeps fine, Billy will get this first piece plowed this week & can commence to plant Billy thinks the first of May. Mary is a little lame & has been for some time in the left shoulder. It seems Billy said she does not limp all the time. I think it’s nothing serious but I can’t comprehend the cause.
Walter does talk to me so much that I can’t think of everything to write. He wants Pa to buy a little wagon for him & wants to know if Pa can make one on the slate & has had to have a book & read his letters & asked all manner of questions since I have been writing & is just as busy as a bee. Billy (or Mary) broke one of the links out of a chain or tugs, & father fixed it for him this morning with wire & told him anything that he had got to do that he did not know how to do, to just call on him & he would help him. I think I will finish & go down to Mr. Liggetts for I have nothing more to write as I know of. Write every opportunity & tell me all about the prospect of your getting home.
Ever your true & devoted wife, — Orrilla Pierce