1864: James Gillespie Reid to John Wesley Reid

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A painting of James Gillespie Reid at the time he went off to war. The letter laying on the table is addressed to “Corp. James Reid, Co. G, 55th Regiment Pa. Vol.” [photograph courtesy of Art Lochrie, a descendant of one of “Uncle Jimmie’s” brothers.]
These letters were written by James Gillespie Reid (1839-1864), the son of Irish immigrant Robert Findlay Reid (1804-1843) and Sarah Ogle (1807-1851) of Harrisburg, Dauphin county, Pennsylvania. In 1838, the family moved from Harrisburg to Indianapolis where James’ father partnered with James Gillespie in shoe manufacturing. When James was born in 1839, he was named after his father’s partner. When his father died in 1843, his mother moved the family back to Harrisburg. By the time of the Civil War, James was a young man living in Chicago but he enlisted at Harrisburg on 28 August 1861 in Co. G, 55th Pennsylvania Infantry. He died of chronic diarrhea at Andersonville Prison on 1 October 1864. His grave at the Andersonville National Cemetery is in Section H, Site 10174.

James wrote these letters to his brother, John Wesley Reid (1836-1899), who was a builder in Chicago. John was married to Caroline (“Carrie”) Stouffer Clark (1835-1916) in 1858 and had three little girls when these letters were written, Emma (b. 1855), Jane (or Jennie”), and Anna Louisa (b. 1862).

The other siblings mentioned by James in his letters include, Jane Findlay Reid (1831-1911), David Ogle Reid (1834-1909), and Robert (Bobby”) Findlay Reid (1842-1924). Both David and Bobby served in Co. H, 45th Illinois Infantry; Bobby was discharged as Sergeant Major and David was discharged as Captain.


North Edisto Island, South Carolina
June 29th 1862

Dear Uncle, Brother and Sisters,

I am in the enjoyment of my usual amount of good health and spirits. I received a letter from Sister Jane yesterday and was glad to hear of your all enjoying such good health but sorry to hear of Aunt’s sickness and hope that ‘ere this reaches you she may again be well. I received a letter from Bobby about 2 weeks [since], He was well then but I see by the papers that his Division has moved since then and tramping in the Southern States in the warm weather is very tiresome and changing water so often brings on complaints.

Henry Washington Benham

This Division has moved towards Charleston but left our regiment, a squad of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery, and a company of the 1st Brass Cavalry to hold this island as a Commissary Post to be used by the advancing division. The troops crossed from here to John’s Island and from there to James Island. There runs a river between the two islands called Stono. They met with a little resistance in crossing this river but which was easily overcome. But about 4 miles beyond this river, our forces were forced back with a loss of 811 men in killed, wounded, and missing which is a very heavy loss to this division as it does not number over 10,000 effective men. Our forces were commanded by Acting Major General [Henry Washington] Benham and the Rebels (it is supposed) by General [“Shank”] Evans—the same man that commanded at the massacre of Ball’s Bluff where the 1st California Regiment was cut up. On account of this affair on James Island, Gen. Benham has been ordered to Washington.

You can all make your minds easy as regards my safety as I have not seen a Rebel since I enlisted except one morning I seen a person that looked a little suspicious. We have nothing to fear except mosquitoes, fleas, and gnats which abound here in vast numbers. I expect to be in the service until next spring. And if McClellan makes a failure, I may have to stay longer. I wish to be kindly remembered to the little stranger—namely Annie Louisa. It seems very queer that Amanda does not write to Jane but she may be sick.

Jane must not be down-hearted and Caroline must learn to like her home in the West. And I hope that John may continue to like farming. John, when you write next to Bobby, try and persuade him to get his discharge. He wrote to me that he could get it if he wanted. If you cannot persuade him, perhaps Uncle could.

I was glad to [hear] of John Stouffer’s being able to get a furlough for it must be a great pleasure to get home after serving in the army 5 or 6 months—especially for a married man. The only thing that wonders me is that David has not been home on furlough before this but he may like army for all I know. I have not heard from Harrisburg since Jane left and for that reason, you have later news from there than I have. Jane, you will please give my love to all in Harrisburg when you next write.

You will see by the date of this letter it is Sunday, but we have no chaplain and for that reason we will have no divine service. Our chaplain, Rev. McClosker (priest) went home on furlough and on his return in the Oriental which was wrecked of Hatteras, he got rather a sudden salt water bath when he was taken sick and returned to Philadelphia where he died.

I must now bring my letter to a close by wishing to be kindly remembered to all. I remain as ever your affectonate brother and nephew, — James G. Reid

P. S. Direct to J. G. Reid, Company G, 55th Regt Penna. Vols., Hilton Head, S. C., in care of Col. White. Write soon. — J. G. Reid



Beaufort, South Carolina
September 11th 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

After a long silence, I have concluded to have a little chat with you on paper. I am again in the enjoyment of my usual good health after a very severe attack of Typhoid fever. You will hardly believe me when I say that I was out of my head for over 20 days. I was sick from the 1st of May until the 1st of August, In fact, I was wasted until there was nothing left of me except skin and bones. But through the kind attendance of Dr. Benedict of the General Hospital, I have again recovered. I hope this may find you all in the enjoyment of good health and spirits.

I was very glad to hear of David recovering from his wound and that it would not lame him in the least. I was very glad to receive, as I suppose, Jenny’s first autograph and hope it may not be many years before I can receive a sheet written by her and in a legible hand and keep the spiders off the paper. Tell her that her short Uncle will be to see her before many years. I have to serve until the 1st of June next when we are expecting our discharge.

I received a letter from Jacob and they both—him and Jane—were well and in high spirits and both appeared to be enjoying themselves highly. Kiss Annie & Jennie for me.

I have tolerable good news to write you but was in hope that I would be able to give you the details of the fall of Charleston. Forts Wagner & Gregg have fallen and the magazine of Fort Moultrie blown up. Sumter is only a mass of masonry inhabited except by a forlorn Hope whose instructions are if they cannot keep the flag flying, they are to blow up the magazine and themselves to hell (excuse my language). If I possibly can, I will send you our daily paper and then you can have the news in detail far more so than I can give them to you. You must excuse for not writing a longer letter as I am very slow on composition and my brain is a little muddled as yet.

As to your paper argument in your last, I received a hearty “Amen” from this section from your brother Jim. As you are an invalid, you do the talking and your three brothers will do the enforcement of your arguments. Our family have 3 in the field which I think is sufficient for one family. If you are drafted and ca in any way get out of going, get out for God’s sake and your family’s. I send my love to all. I shall direct this as you instructed some time ago.

I remain as ever,  your affectionate brother, — James G. Ried

P. S. Direct toJames G. Reid, Company G, 55th Reg. P. V. I., Beaufort, S. C. in care of Col. R. White and oblige your brother, — Jim



Camp 55th Regt. Penna. Vols.
Beaufort, South Carolina
February 11th 1864

Dear Brother and Sister,

Having received your kind letter sometime and would have answered it soon er but circumstances would not permit. We have again moved our camp from an advanced position into the very heart of the Great Southron City of Beaufort. The reason for this last move was the many “desertions” from our regiment—not of the old men but of the substitutes and conscripts. John, if you think there is any great prospect of your being “drafted,” enlist for God’s sake as a drafted man is treated like a dog or even worse—that is, taking the men that we received for a sample. Subs are classed with you that are drafted and they are all treated alike from the last to first.

Having been interrupted. I shall now begin again. I suppose you will wonder why I have not reenlisted and to make a long story short, I will state my answer in a very few words. That is simply this: that I did not know one single man that I would like to shield from a “Draft.” He stay at home and cock his legs up in a barroom and say, “Ain’t we giving them hell?” And he directly in opposition to us that are doing our utmost to suppress this “Unholy Rebellion.” Perhaps I have gone a little too far in saying that I did not know any man that I would take his place. But when I spoke in that way, I had reference to Harrisburg where I would be credited to.

Now John, I shall give you my private opinion on this “Nigger” question at some length this evening as I have all night to do it. I received a letter from a certain part of your State (Illinois) and among other things that looked rather of the dusky here. Here was one. That men were very scarce in that section of the country, and that they had to resort to a “Female Teacher” instead of a “Male” for the winter term. And to wile away the tedium and monotony of a school mistress’ vocations, she had resorted to the reading of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” aloud to the many scholars. I suppose this is only one instance of this in one locality, [but] how many instances of the kind could we find throughout our “Adopted State?” Is this right? I answer no! emphatically. To instruct and instill their minds that their brothers of the same color as they are guilty of so much cruelty towards the human race as that Political work goes on to prove which is false, I think, in many particulars. I think and always thought that one section of this Great Country should be taught to love and cherish their friends on the South of Mason & Dixon’s Line even as much as those North of it. What hatred is more deeply rooted [but] that which is planted in the mind of youth. But this is not all. The above mentioned book portrays the suffering of the Negro in such sombre hues that it is almost impossible for the rising generation to look upon the Southron man other than being inferior to the Negro.

Now I have been in this section of country for over two years and I positively assert that I have not seen one “Nig” that was fit for the dregs of Northern Society. But you may say that we should not expect anything better of them as they have always been kept in darkness. Did they never see their masters? Did they never hear them speak? Or did their masters never speak to them? Man is an imitative animal. And you may speak to as many slaves as one’s three year service will permit him and you will hardly find one that has the “brains” of a “three year-old” Northern child. And then some of the Old Puritanical Stock will teach the doctrines of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the rising generation in the Sucker State [Illinois]. Namely, that a Nigger is as good as any white man provided the white man behaves himself. That the President of the United States has lately come to the same conclusion is also an argument used in their favor. This is as false as any of their political tirades. It became a military necessity to free them for while we were fighting the foes of our “Beloved Country,” and they numbering some 500,000, they had an army behind them of upwards of three millions of farmers to raise them their supplies and build their entrenchments while ours had to build their own. This was the reason that this was done.

Then Puritans may ask how shall we repay the States for their services in the field? I shall answer with their Freedom, but not in this land of their servitude but where those that have formed such an inveterate love for them can go away from among the white trash and love them with a more inveterate love still, with Freedom for their payment, and an inheritance of the same for their children, and an assurance on the part of our Government that they protect them until they can protect themselves. But still I suppose this would not suit some of their many friends such as school marms and Government agents because they would never have money enough to go and see them unless they stole it. I want to see every slave set free not because I want them free, but because it was the cause of this accursed Rebellion.

When our flag was first fired on, it did not hurt them as it hurt me. When our forefathers  took up arms against the tyrannical rule of Britain, it was not to establish a Free Government but to redress wrongs that were inflicted on them by their King. Also, when our Government took up arms to suppress this Rebellion, their intention was far from freeing of the slaves, but it was forced upon them by necessity. What do we receive for our services in the field? Do we receive as much as they? No, we only receive a continuance of it (Liberty), while they [are] raised from the bottom of servitude and placed on an even footing with us. Can this be? Ought [it] to be? This is only a surmise—a surmise with a chance of its becoming real. But if it does not, is it right that the rising generation should be instructed as I have shown you in the commencement of this? More of this anon, hoping this cruel war will end with my term of service so that I may meet all my dearest friends at or near Chicago.

Sgt. Major Robert (“Bobby”) Reid, Co. H, 45th Illinois Infantry

I received a letter from Bobby some time ago in which comes to the acknowledgement that he has gone as a Veteran. My regiment is—or the most of them are—on furlough North. They have fourteen days longer to stay in their native State and then what weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth there will be—almost as bad as that time we read about. I was going to mention the name of the book but have almost forgotten and might make a mistake. Then you would laugh at me. John, you may judge if I am in the enjoyment of good health from the length of this. While I think of it, I will acknowledge the receipt of Carrie’s, Jennie’s, and your own photographs for which you will please accept my thanks. Also your last paper which I also received some time ago. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a Chicago Journal.  I have been reminded of my derelictions. Allow me to ask you if you will ever receive any papers from this section called the “Free South” if you will please acknowledge as I do not know whether you receive them or no. If you do not, there is not much use of sending any more.

Hoping that this may find you all in the enjoyment of excellent health and reaping the full benefit of your industry, I take pleasure in signing myself as your affectionate brother, — James G. Reid

P. S. You will please direct to James G. Reid, Company G, Detachment of 55th Penna. Vols., Beaufort, S. C. in care of Captain Nesbit. Of Bobby comes up to see you, give him my regards and bid him, “How are you Veteran?” and oblige your brother. — J. G. R., Co. G


3 thoughts on “1864: James Gillespie Reid to John Wesley Reid”

  1. Great historical letters! Thank you for sharing them!

    James Reid was my GrGrGr Uncle. His brother D. O. Reid was my GrGr Grandfather. I can assure you that “Uncle Jimmy’s” views of the Blacks was not shared by his family. I cannot speak for his brother John, but I can for David and Robert. I have read their letters and never heard such a negative view. I would assume John did not share this either, as Jimmy seemed to be trying to convince his older brother of such. I did not know about him being named after his father’s business partner. How did you find all this out? You must have an amazing source for this family. Can you please let me know what they are? I want to know more about my ancestors.

    Both David and Robert served until the end of the war in Company H of the 45th, and were mustered out at the ranks you mentioned. I was surprised you guys had this so accurate. David continued to serve in the new Illinois National Guard and was promoted to Colonel.

    I have a painting of Jimmy with his enlistment papers hanging in my house. I would like to send you a picture of it, if you would like. Please contact me at this email if you would. I was also wondering who had possession of those original letters? Are they in museum?

    Again, thank you.

    Art Lochrie


    1. I will contact you. As for the racism expressed by James Reid in this letter, sad to say it was the popular opinion of many white Americans at the time—particularly those living in Illinois. Did you know the first State Constitution in Illinois forbade Blacks from residing in the state, even if they were “free?” The uneducated Blacks that Northern soldiers encountered in the South during the war only served to bolster their pre-conceived notions about their intelligence and ambitions. — Griff


  2. Thank you for the information. This is great work.

    Hello to whoever currently owns these letters. My name is Art Lochrie. I am Jimmy’s great great great nephew. He had no children of his own. If you are interested in contacting me about possibly selling these to someone who is related, I would love to hear from you. If you don’t want to sell them, I would still like to hear from you. Maybe we can talk about these and other things. I am D.O. Reid’s grgrgr grandson. I would love to know if you run across anything of his. My email is lochrie.art@gmail.com. Anyone with information on this family can feel free to contact me.
    Also, I hope to put up a website that honors the Illinois 45th. But that is taking longer than I thought it would. Thank you sincerely.


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