These letters were written by Robert Berry French (1825-1864), the son of Littleberry French (1786-1829) and Leodicia Rutherford Spencer (1796-1870) of Russell county, Kentucky. Robert married Eliza Jane Carpenter (1833-1917) in Illinois in 1853 and moved to Iowa where he bought a farm in Decatur county. Robert and Eliza Jane had seven children by the time Robert enlisted as a sergeant in Co. E, 35th Missouri (Union) Infantry. He did not return home to his wife and children. He developed an inflammation of the lungs and died on 4 November 1864 at the General Hospital in Helena, Arkansas.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Saint Louis, Missouri
October 26, 1862
I received your letter today. I was glad to hear that you was well. I am well and hope this will find you the same. You said you had not received but fifteen dollars. I sent you thirty-five dollars eight days before I sent you the letter that had the fifteen in. It expect it is lost and if it has not got to you against this gets there, write and let me know. I think it can be found. I am of the opinion it never left the office here. The boys has thought it goes late some the same way and a good many more of the men of this regiment. And if it ain’t made right, the mister postmaster will go up the spout. That is enough to say.
We muster for pay next Friday and if I get my pay then, I will get thirty-five dollars and would send you some of it in this letter if I wasn’t afraid it would get lost. The next I send, I will express to Ottumwa. If you need money, write and I will send you some and I will write to you the same time that I send it so you may know when to send to Ottumwa for it. I want you to do the best you can till I get home. I would like to be with you but I can’t now. It is thought that we will go to Saint Joseph in a few weeks but it uncertain where we will go.
I was out at Pilot Knob last week and was on the battlefield. It was some of a fight [ ] clothing scattered all over the ground. The timber shot to peaces. The burying ground was about a quarter long. They had a big fight there.
Tell Medley and Mary to write to me for it is hard chance for me to get to write. I would have wrote them if I could. They must not thing hard that I have not wrote to them and I want them to write to me. It is most dress parade now. I must go now.
I have got through drill. Eliza Jane, we have had a good time drilling. The Iowa Thirteenth came in here today and they will go to [ ] so I think now we will go to Saint Joseph to winter. If we do, I will come home as soon as we get there. Tell the children that Pa wants to see them. Tell John he must be a good boy and pack in wood and water for Ma and Ma must get him a pair of boots. Eliza Jane, you may let John Stanley have the cattle to keep and haul you wood if he will take them and what is right, I will pay him. I thought Wells would get your wood for the [ ]. Now sell the [ ] for wood, [ ] or corn. Gather it up if you can.
Yours forever, — Robert French
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Benton Barracks, Missouri
November 2nd 1862
It is Sunday morning and I am on duty today. It is very windy but warm and I am well at present and hope this letter will find you all well. I am acting as officer of the day. It has come my turn today. It is quite a task for there is 137 guards to mount and station and it will take the most of my time to tend to it.
We will draw our army tomorrow and will leave here in a few days. It is not known where we will go yet. When you write to me, direct your letters to the same place and to follow the 35th Regiment Missouri Volunteers. I can’t tell whether I will get the chance to write to you any more before we leave or not but I will if I can. I would like to be at home with you and the children today. I am not tired of the service. It agrees with me very well. My health has been very good ever since I have been in the service. There has been but little sickness in the regiment yet. There is about ten men in the hospital. There was one man died in the hospital—the only one that has died in the regiment. He had a wife and one child and the waiters in the hospital robbed him of the last cent of his money after he was laid out. It is a great place to show feeling of humanity here. I will have to stop writing now for awhile.
I take my pen in hand again to finish my letter. You don’t know how bad I want to hear from you this morning. I want you to take good care of yourself and not get to doing your work too soon. I have some money that I could send you if I thought you would get it. If you want any more money, write [me]. I could send you fifteen dollars now but I am afraid to send it. I have thirty-five dollars now and I don’t want to lose any more. If I send anymore, I will express it to Ottumwa and then you can send there for it.
Tell Medley to write. I have not forgot him. Tell my friends there that I am in the service of the United States and for the Constitution as it is and the Union as it was and if there is any other question comes to the men of this regiment, there will be a bust. Nigger equality won’t take here and if it does take place, you may look for me at home just as quick as steam will drive me. So no more at present but remain your husband till death.
Yours truly forever, — Robert French
To Elija J. French
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Jefferson City, Missouri
November 16th 1862
Once more I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present and hope this will find you the same. I wrote to you a few days ago and sent you five dollars in it. I would have sent you more but I was afraid it would have got lost. I received a letter from you since I got here. It followed me to this place. When you write, direct to Jefferson City, Missouri, Company I, 35th Mo. Volunteers.
We are laying here in camp. There is a great many of the men sick with the measles and mumps. There is six hundred and forty men in the regiment and there is about 250 of them sick. There is a talk of leaving here but I don’t know where. I am as healthy and stout as you ever saw me. There is only one thing that bothers me [and] that is my feet. They get very sore when we drill. There has many men died in the hospital and a great many more will die if they ain’t better cared for. There is some talk of piling up the hospital now. I think it will be done—all [ ] boys and three of the Miller’s and [ ] is in the hospital now. I was up to see them today. They was getting a little better. I think they will be able to move with the regiment.
There is right smart confusion [?] in the camp on the account of the men not being paid off. There is one company stacked their arms this morning and said that they would not drill anymore till they was paid off but their captain got out among them and made them take their guns and has kept them on drill all day. They are mad, sure.
I think we will be paid off before long. I will not write you a very long letter this time now, Eliza Jane. I want you to take good care of yourself and keep a girl to do your work till you get good [and] well. I would like to be at home with you now till you get well. I have not heard whether you have been sick or not but I know the time is out. I want you to write as soon as you get this letter how things is and when you want money, write for it and you shall have some sent to you. I don’t want you to pay any of my old debts till I get home but if any of the merchants will let you have goods, pay them as soon as you get the money. Don’t loan any money to anyone but mother what she wants and keep things close. I think I will see you this winter yet. No more at present.
— Robert French
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
[Jefferson City, Missouri]
December 6th 1862
I seat myself to write to you to let you know that I am well yet and I hope when this finds you , it will find you in good health.
Times has not changed much since I wrote to you. We are not paid off yet and no prospect of it as I can see. There is some talk of this regiment being consolidated with some other regiment. If that is done, there will be quite a jeer [?] among what few men that is left here. The regiment can’t muster more than 200 men now at this time and is going down every day. There is from one to five men buried every day here. I was on dress parade last night and there was five companies out. That was all that could be paraded in the regiment and the largest company had 28 men in it. Our company had 32 by splicing on with Company H. That is about the condition of the 35th Regiment and the remainder of the men are in the hospital and the graveyard. There is a good many running off. The Colonel and two or three of the other big officers is gone and not [ ] of and I can’t see how they can blame the men for leaving. The regiment is no regiment at all. It is a confused squad of men—sheep without a shepherd, scattered over a thousand hills. If there is not something done, there is in case of [ ], there will be no men here. But the fact is, I am going to stay and see the last dog dead and I don’t think that will be long now. I will be at home between this and the first of March, I think. The regiment will be give up by that time. The fact is, the Missourians ain’t worth one cent. It beats the world to see them perform.
There has come news that we start to Saint Louis Monday next. I don’t know how true it is. If it is so, I will write as soon as I get there. I want you to keep [ ] all winter if you can. I will send you more money in a few days. Do the best you can. I will be at home sometime before long—this winter [for] sure.
I will have to close now for I have to make out a sick list and take them to the hospital. Write often and tell my friends to write. I received a letter from Lige [Elijah] but I have not answered it yet because I have not had time. The boys from Decatur is all getting better but James Gordon. He is very sick. He had the measles and caught cold but I think he will get along now. I wrote for you to get your likeness taken. If you have not done it, let it be for it is uncertain whether I get them or not. Yours truly forever, — Robert French
To Eliza Jane French
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
December 24th 1862
Dear wife and mother.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I take the present opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you now that I am well at present and I hope when this comes to hand, it will find you and the family all well.
I landed at Columbus last night and the place is in quite a state of excitement. The rebels is in ten miles of here [and] supposed to be twelve thousand strong. The rebels drove in the pickets this morning and the government troops is now drawn up in battle lines five miles from here, expecting a fight every minute. The two armies is now in sight of each other. There has just come in a dispatch. What it is, I do not know, but the fact is pretty certain we will have to fight them.
The rebels burnt a town 20 miles from here last night and tore up the railroad track some ten miles from here last night. Sam left with the commissary stores to guard them. There is now about eight regiments here to contend with the rebels. We will have a hot time of it. I will write to you as soon as the fracas is over.
Now I come to a close for I am going out to take my mess some boiled potatoes to eat for they are hungry by this time. It is very pleasant and warm here today. Tomorrow is Christmas and I would like to be at home on that day to see you all but can’t. It may be a day long to be remembered. So no more at present but if we have to fight the rebels, we will whip them sure.
Yours truly, — Robert French
To Eliza Jane French
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
February 3rd 1863
Dear Wife and family,
I take the present opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know that I am well at this time and I hope when this comes to hand, it will find you well. I received a letter from you [that] informed me of the death of the little baby. I wish I had been at home with you. It was a sorrowful letter to me. Now I want you to bear the loss with the spirit of a woman and keep in hope that you will see it again. You said that you was not well. I hope this letter will find you well.
I suppose you have heard that we had a “hard battle” at Columbus. It is all a lie. There has been no fight here and no prospect of any, I tell you. The fact is the soldier’s life is a hard life. We left Saint Joseph with eight hundred and sixty men in good health 4 months ago and now there is only about 350 men that is able to drill. It is a sight to go to the hospital—men laying on the ground, on a blanket or on the hard floor. I will stop here for I can’t describe the case as it is. You can imagine the case as bad as you can and then double it and you have not got it as bad as it is in the regiment.
We have not got our pay yet. As soon as we are paid off, I will send you some money. There is now about 75 dollars due me and it is thought we will be paid in a few days. I am coming home just as soon as I can. If I was at home, I would stay there. I would write more to you if I had time. I have to make out the morning report and sick report, [ ] for to draw provision, take the sick that is in the camp to the doctor and call the company roll 5 times a day and keeps me on the trot all the time. I think that I shall quit it and take the place of a private in the ranks. It is too much to do. I am so tired at night I can hardly walk.
Write as soon as you get this to Columbus, Kentucky, 35th Missouri Volunteers, Company E. Now I will close. So no more at present, but remain yours for ever, — R. F.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
May 14th 1864
Permit me once more to answer your letter of the second. It was received today and I was glad to hear that you were all well. This leaves me in good health with the exception of my side. About ten days ago I was putting in a window when my foot slipped and I fell about 12 feet on a bench and stove on one of my ribs. It is now almost well and I am able to go to work again. I have got through my heavy work for the spring and will not have much to do this summer. I am going to take it easy this summer and see if I can get along about as well as I have here before. You wrote that Akers had sold the wagon and I am well pleased with the sale of it for I don’t know when I can send you anymore money. I lost seventy-five dollars in the burn and I only have forty-five now by me. And the sickly season is here now and if I should be sick, I will want some money myself. The boys in the company is owing me about fifty dollars and they can’t pay me until we are paid off again. If I am paid up to the time that is due me, and I get what the boys is owing me, I will have over a hundred dollars that I could send to you and then have enough to keep for myself. I have seen a great ,any men that would make [ ] of all the money they would get at pay day in a few days and then be out for a long time and would suffer for some things that they needed. That ain’t the way I do. I first look to myself, then to my family, and then if I have any to spare, I loan it to the boys.
The boys all want me to come back to the company and the captain told me today that if I would come back, he would give me a good position. I told him that I had as good a place as I wanted and I expect to keep it as long as I wanted it. I am in the commissary department and have the best there is going to live on. It is the best place I have been at yet.
Now I will tell you I have a garden planted and it is coming on nice. I have corn, peas, little beets, onions, potatoes, and a great many more things. If you were here, I bet you would say it beat your garden. Now you have never wrote whether Huffman is lending our place or not. Write all the particulars that is going on there. You said something about the Odd Fellow’s supper—that it was so nice. I am glad to hear that you were there. I have wrote two or three letters to the lodge but never heard from them so I thought that they didn’t get them or they thought that I was not worthy of [ ] so I stopped and didn’t write no more. I am as firm an Odd Fellow today as I ever was and would be glad to hear how the lodge is prospering but I have no heart to write for it appears that men that is in the army is forgotten by their friends they left at home. I am not alone in this belief for I hear many others making the same complaint and I assure you it is very unpleasant to the minds of the soldiers when they study this thing over for awhile and are in the fields fighting for our country and our friends at home keeps silent and not send us any words of consolation or comfort. It sets [ ] on our minds and by it [we] are robbed of a great deal of pleasure.
Write to me as often as you can. It has been a long time between letters this time and I will write once a week anyhow. Now I will close my letter. Give my best respects to all enquiring friends. From Robert French
To Elisa Jane French