This letter was written by John Ed. Thompson who was a school teacher in Bureau county, Illinois, prior to enlisting in Co. F, 20th Illinois Infantry. He had excellent penmanship and was rapidly elevated to be the adjutant of the regiment. In late January 1862, he was informed that he had received his commission as a 1st Lieutenant, effective 10 November 1861. Upon receiving that news he wrote, “Now I’m all right. Carrying that old musket three months was a good thing though! I have not drawn pay enough yet to equip myself properly. I have a Secesh horse, but he is not a good one & well he was very cheap. One of our mules went out beyond the pickets and was gone three weeks. When he came back he brought back with him two mules and this horse. The horse’s education proves him to be a cavalry horse. He is clearly Secesh and I shall keep him, but he is thin and I think has other symptoms of Secession proclivities.”
Adjt. Thompson was killed on 6 April 1862 during the Battle of Shiloh. In the book entitled, Illinois at Shiloh (p. 130), it was reported the 20th Illinois fell into line with the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the division to receive one final attack by the enemy as darkness enveloped the field on the first day’s fighting. “Adjutant J. E. Thompson, who was acting as aide to the brigadier commander, was killed during this fight, which became very severe with heavy cannonading.”
Adjutant Thompson write the letter to his friend Mrs. McConihe. She was Isabella Bubach, the wife of Lucian Harper McConihe (1825-1896)—a merchant in Princeton, Bureau county, Illinois.
Headquarters 20th Illinois Volunteers
Birds Point, Missouri
November 14, 1861
My Friend, Mrs. McConihe,
Your kind letter of Nov. 6th came to hand three or four days ago and I will try and find time to reply this morning. I have this morning been relieved from some of the hard work that has fallen to my lot during the last week. I am still quite busy and have but little time for private correspondence—this I hope will account for the roughness of this letter.
I think ’tis well for Lucien that he did not “fortify” for there is no doubt but that he would have been carried by storm, and the treasure triumphantly carried away. I did not consider it safe to make Lucien a present of the glass. I feared that it might tempt him into the habit of using it. Of course I would not send such a thing to anyone who was likely to use it. I don’t know, tho’ the glass was very small. Come to consider the matter, I hardly think Lucien would have used it.
I never used it—never tasted a drop out of it. I doubt whether I taste such drops enough for the good of my health, but my health is good, and my abstemiousness is the wonder of the mess. I do not find time to write letters for the Tribune. The account which was sent to the Tribune was written by Adjutant [Daniel] Bradley; but Mr. [Joseph] Medill sent back word that he could not publish it.
There is no indignation manifested by the intelligent men in the army here at the removal of Fremont. I think there will be more work and less talking done in this department than before.
The 10th Iowa Regiment came down here today. The 7th Iowa goes up to St. Louis tonight. Some cavalry and one or two regiments of infantry came down from Camp Butler yesterday. The infantry stopped in Cairo; the cavalry came to this Point. The regiments now here are the 8th, 11th, 20th, 22nd Illinois and the 10th Iowa.
The Colonel [Henry Dougherty] ¹ of the 22d is still a prisoner at Columbus. ‘Tis known privately that he is badly wounded by two shots in the body besides the wounds for which his leg was amputated.
Have you a cough? Take Jaynes expectorant. Has Lucien Roomatism? Give him room.
You should have not been at a loss to know what to send in that box to me. I need a Field Officer’s “Chickopie” and a horse. However, I am not permanently fixed in my position and you will please not send those little articles till further orders. Col. [Charles Carroll] Marsh has gone to Springfield and Chicago. They say he is quite a lion on the streets of Chicago. I don’t think of Frederickstown since the Battle of Belmont. There was nothing terrible, to us, in the Battle of Fredericktown. After the first few minutes, ’twas like hunting rabbits in the brush. Belmont was quite another affair but I was not there and will let you rely on the papers for information in regard to it.
My regards to your people and mine.
Yours truly, — John Ed. Thompson, Adjt. 20th Ill. Vol.
¹ Col. Henry Dougherty of the 22nd Illinois Volunteers was badly wounded and taken prisoner during the Battle of Belmont.