1863: Jerome Bonaparte Renne to Justin Renne

This letter was written by Jerome Bonaparte Renne (1841-1884), the son of Justin Renne (1812-1901) and Maria Hinchman (1809-1874). Born in Cairo. Greene Co., New York on 12 November 1841, Jerome came to Illinois in early childhood with his parents, who settled in Grundy Co., near Morris.

Jerome enlisted in the 53d Illinois Volunteers, Company A, in 1861 and mustered out Aug. 25, 1865, receiving a commission as Second Lieutenant of Co. A in December 1864. He was in the battles at Shiloh, siege of Corinth, Hatchie River, siege of Vicksburg, Jackson, Miss., Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Natchez, siege of Kenesaw Mountain, Atlanta, and other battles participated in by Sherman’s army on their march to the sea.

In his letter, Jerome mentions his brother George Cortez Renne (1840-1927) who served as a musician in Co. D, 72nd Illinois Volunteers from August 1862 to August 1865. He also mentions his sister Isabella (“Bell”) Renne (1844-1923).

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TRANSCRIPTION

Camp near Vicksburg, Mississippi
June 24th 1863

Dear Father,

I have sent you & Mother a specimen of some of my work by the way of a discharged soldier & you will find them by going down to Jennings in LaSalle county. I will not tell you what they are so you will be more anxious to get them. You must take care of them until I get home & then I will finish them. We are down in a country where I cannot finish them now. I have been offered $10 for yours two or three times & five for the other one. The papers that is around them is the ones that I got when I met the Secesh halfway [between the picket lines] & had a talk with them.

Matters here stand the same as it was when I wrote to Bell. I suppose you seen her letter.

We are all well here but Shubal [Lockwood]. He is aliny a little. I heard from George today. He is on the mend. Tell Fisel I would like to hear from him and more. If I live to get home I will give you a full history of those things I have sent you & Mother.

I have nothing to write. So you will accept a short epistle this time. This is a hard old place down here, sure. The weather is moderate now. I will be happy to hear from you all as often as convenient. No more.

From your son, if all reports be true, — J. B. Renne

2 thoughts on “1863: Jerome Bonaparte Renne to Justin Renne

  1. Griff, thank you so much for transcribing this! (I’m the submitter, Jerome’s distant descendant.) You are helping bring a long-lost uncle into focus, even if it’s only through one scrappy letter that’s survived through the years! Here are some cool tidbits about Jerome, this letter, and his regiment:

    -This letter was written from the trenches of Vicksburg.
    -This letter was written 18 days before the 53rd was decimated at Jackson, MS.
    -The addressee, Justin Renne, was a log cabin pioneer in Illinois. You can read more about Justin here: https://www.werelate.org/wiki/Person:Justin_Renne_(1)
    -Jerome survived the war, but “died from ills from exposure contracted during the war” in 1884 at age 42. He had moved to Los Angeles four years previously, likely to get away from cold Illinois winters. He married at age 39 but never had children.
    -Though Jerome was a private through most of the war, the promotion to 2nd lieutenant in December 1864 sure seemed to help him Post-War. Before the war he was a farmer, after the war he was a “Justice of the Peace, Notary Public, Real Estate, Collecting and Insurance Agent and General Auctioneer”, according to a brief obituary.
    -A note in the family archives mentioned Justin encouraged four families to move to the area from Greene Co. The “we” in Jerome’s statement “we are all well here” undoubtedly included his cousin James Renne & family friend George Granby at the very least, but it’s great to learn that Shubal Lockwood was a friend, too. (Spoiler alert for the extra curious researcher: James was a POW and George doesn’t make it through the war.)
    -For fans of General T.E.G. Ransom, Jerome may have been one of many (if not all of the) privates from the 53rd who took a turn carrying the litter on the mission bearing the dying general. Jerome’s muster records confirm he was with the regiment.
    -For curious researchers, the 53rd is a colorful regiment whose history is well preserved online, albeit scattered. Digging will yield great stories and images. Start here: https://civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org/history/053.html
    -The aforementioned site also has a great diary from Private Ranstead– It sheds light on what was happening around Jerome when he wrote this letter. The incident that mortally wounded Ed Avery and killed the man in Company B happened the following day (June 25th). Here’s the link: https://civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org/scrapbk/ransteaddiary.html

    Fun facts aside, I have no idea what Jerome is alluding to in the first paragraph! I know readers will be curious if any information came down through the family anecdotally, but unfortunately there isn’t. Was he whittling? Carving pipes? Drawing off color political cartoons? Oil paintings? Was he joking about the offers he received? And it sounds like his dad is helping him smuggle something the Rebs requested too. I welcome fellow researchers’ theories!

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    1. My hunch is that the “specimens” of work that Jerome sent home were whittlings. I remember transcribing another soldier’s letters where he described sending home picture frames that he had whittled with patriotic or military themes. He too said something about finishing them when he got home, I believe. Soldiers had lots of time on their hands as they sat in the trenches during a siege.

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