1861-65: David Watson Poak to Sarah J. Poak

These twelve letters were written by David Watson Poak (1842-1879) of the 30th Illinois Infantry. They are some of the letters that were used by Matthew Anderson in editing his book, “Dear Sister Sadie—the letters of David W. Poak, 30th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War,” published in 2013. To quote the abstract on this title, “David W. Poak was well educated and quite literate…. [He] was born and raised in Mt. Jackson, Lawrence Co., Pennsylvania, which was a small farming community in the mid-nineteenth century. He and his sister Sadie were the only children born to John Poak and Sarah Duff Poak. Their mother died in 1847. and the father married Emeline McCurley and they had two daughters, Ella and Nancy. His sister Sadie was born in 1841, David was born 1842, Ella in 1854 and Nancy 1859. Sometime around 1858-9 David W. Poak moved to Millersburg, Mercer County, Illinois along with another dozen or so residents of Lawrence County, PA. Mercer County was a thriving area of Illinois at the time, and towns like Aledo, the county seat, Millersburg, Keithsburg, New Boston, Viola and others were growing In Millersburg his occupation was a teacher, and he did this until the call came for volunteers from the state of Illinois to suppress the rebellion.

“So on August 12, 1861 David W. Poak enlisted into Co. A, 30th Illinois Volunteer Infantry as a Sergeant. The enlistment record says Poak was twenty years old, five foot five and a quarter inches tall, fair complexion, blue eyes, and had sandy colored hair. During the conflict on January 33, 1863 he would rise to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. During the Battle of Atlanta on July 22nd, 1864 he became acting adjutant and received the Seventeenth Corp Silver Medal of Honor for bravery. After the war, David Poak returned to Millersburg, IL, then moved to the newly incorporated town of Pleasanton, Linn County, Kansas. There he became a school director on February 19, 1870 and was elected Pleasanton’s first mayor on October 25th, 1870. In 1872 he is listed as cashier for the Fannin County Bank in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. In the 1876-77 City Directory for Sherman, TX his occupation is listed as vice-president of the Bank of Sherman, Grayson Co., TX. Sometime afterwards he went back to his home in Mt. Jackson, PA. His obituary on page one of the New Castle Courant, dated April 4th, 1879, stated that David W. Poak died “last week” (March 27th, 1879) at his home of consumption and is buried at the Westfield Presbyterian Church Cemetery. As for his sister Sarah J Polk, she married James Hayes October 26th, 1893. She died in 1919 and is also buried at the Westfield Presbyterian Church Cemetery.”


Camp Defiance
September 1861

Dear Sister,

I once more take my pen to write a few lines to you. When I last wrote, we were under marching order for Cairo. Our first orders were countermanded but on Sabbath eve we received new orders to start on Monday morning at 8 o’clock. Early in the morning we were on hand getting things ready to march. At 7 we started and arrived at the depot a little before eight. “Goodbye boys” rang from every side as we marched from camp to the depot and deafening cheers greeted us all along our way.

We arrived at Cairo about midnight Monday night. They marched us to the barracks where we slept till morning. The next morning we pitched our tents. Just after we got up, we started out to find some of the Mercer boys that had come before us. We soon found them and when we found them, we found some glad boys. They all look hearty and are well contented. Col. Martin is amongst them. He is well and contented.

We have drawn our knapsacks, haversacks, shirts, drawers, shoes, canteens and stockings. but no arms or uniform yet. I am First Sergeant after the Orderly. They ran me for Orderly and had quite an exciting election. The ones that knew the other man voted for him and everyone that knew me for me. He got 43 votes and me 41. I did not want the office for it is the hardest office in the company. I would rather have the one I have. The Captain [Warren Shedd] said it was as tight an election as he ever saw. The way we voted was the ones that were nominated stepped out and the rest at the command march stepped to the one they wanted. There was 8 to 10 candidates and we had about as many times to vote.

We are all well. There is not one in the hospital of our company. We have had very easy times since we came here. We have not drilled any yet. The weather has been very wet since we came here.

Our company is composed of the most contented men ever I saw. When we received our orders for Cairo, they gave three hearty cheers. We we received the countermanding orders, they were all right again. The next orders were received in the same way.

I hear the cannons firing. I suppose they are calling in a boat. It looks a good deal like war to see the banks of the river bustling with batteries all ready for action on a moment. I feel perfectly contented. I never enjoyed better health. Tell me what Jim McGinnis is doing. Tell me the Jackson boys address. I heard there were 18 of them sick. Is it true? I hope not. Give my love to all my friends and take a portion for yourself. From your only brother, but one who is devoted to his country and is willing to sacrifice all for it. Think of me often fo I do of all of you. Tell the boys to write to me.

My pen gave out entirely so I must take a pencil. When you write, address D. W. Poak, Camp McClernand, near Cairo, Ills. Care of Capt. Warren Shedd, Co. A, 30 Regt.

Be sure and write soon and often. Write twice every week and I will write once if I can. Tell Lya she owes me a letter—Sam also, and Milt Fullerton. We have lots of nice peaches here as ever you saw; 8 for 5 cents and peach pies in abundance. The pie man is coming now. Nothing more. Goodbye. From your brother, — Dave


Camp McClernand
September 13, 1861

Dear Sister,

I again take my pen to write a few lines to you to let you know how I am progressing. I expected to have received a letter from you ere this but have been doomed to bitter disappointment. I have look anxiously every morning when the list of letters was read but the last one was always read without my name being called.

We have moved our tents again since I wrote to you last. They are now fixed very comfortably, or as much so as could be expected under the circumstances. We have shades fixed in front so that when it is warm in the tent, it is pleasant out there. We also have them floored and hay on the floors so that when it rains it is perfectly dry in the tents. The mud is very sticky here but soon dries off.

The. rations are better cooked since we have got settled down and the cooks broken in. I like camp life better every day. I have commenced to think that I am a middling hearty fellow. I have not missed a meal since we came to camp.

It is all a mistake about people at home thinking the boys don’t enjoy themselves in camp for our boys are as merry as crickets and all appear to enjoy themselves well. We have been drilling about six hours per day for the last few days. We are learning very fast. The alarm comes around almost every night that Cairo is attacked but we have come to the conclusion not to get up until we hear the cannons roar. There is a fort with about eighteen cannons on the levee protecting Cairo. Then there are a number of cannons at Birds Point—I don’t know just how many—and 4 or 5 right opposite Cairo on the Kentucky side. There were sixteen 64-pounders came into the city today to be distributed at these places.

Everything assumes a war aspect—an aspect which when I left my home two years ago tomorrow morning I never expected to see. Little did I think when I took my friends by the hand the last time in Lawrence county that in two years from that time I should be out preparing to fight the battles of my country. But it is just as it is and we must submit.

Saturday morning. The list of letters read and none for me. I have just come in from drill. I get to drill with the officers and with the privates also unless I have a squad to drill so that I get a double chance and I am trying to improve my time. I have been acting as Orderly for the last two days, the Orderly being sick. The boys are nearly all out of camp. They went over into Kentucky to see the boys in the 17th Regiment. The regiment that Col. Martin is in has gone 50 miles up the river to Paducah. I have not heard from them for a few days. There were three men from Mercer County visited us yesterday. You had better believe they found a glad set of boys. The folks are all well there.

Theobald Gross or the boy that lived at Jimmy Nesbit’s shot a man the other day in discharging his musket. Fortunately it was only a flesh wound. I have nothing more but remain your affectionate brother, — D. W. Poak



Camp McClernand
September 21st 1861

Dear Sister,

I once more take my pen to write a few lines to you. I received your last letter on last Tuesday and the two you wrote to Camp Butler on Wednesday. I was very glad to hear from you and that you were well. Also that you soon expected to resume the position of instructress. But I think it will be very lonesome for our folks. I hardly see how they will get along without you. How do our folks take it about me going to war? I was very glad to hear that Mary Mc had gone down into the chains of matrimony. I think it will be a blessing to the community as well as to her. But I think if he is what his name indicates, she will have a mighty cold bedfellow.

We have received 8 recruits from Mercer County among whom is John Bray. He got married and did not come the first time so he came now. Our company numbers 100 hundred men and good ones too. We are drilling in the manual of arms and are making rapid progress. It was very tiresome at first but we are getting a little used to it.

We are Company A—the first company in the regiment. We are one of the best companies at this place. P[hilip] B. Fouke is our Colonel. McClernand our Brigade General. Our Captain has prohibited card playing and drinking among his men. We have a sermon every Sunday morning by the chaplain. We have worship before going to bed in several of the tents and a blessing asked before every meal.

I don’t know where we will stay or be this winter. Sometimes we hear that we will stay here again that we will go to Memphis and again that we will go to Washington. I hope the latter will be the place for I would rather go there than any place I know of. I expect we will be armed with Enfield Rifles. Col. [Philip B.] Fouke has gone to New York to see about getting them. We will have blue uniforms when we get it—that is, if we get it at all.

It is very often rumored that this place is to be attacked. It never has been yet, I don’t know soon it may be though. They will have to fight some if they get it. The report came this morning that the rebels had taken Lexington, Mo. with a loss on their side of 4,000 men. We had a very heavy rain last night but it did not come through our tents. It is very muddy today.

There was a large bundle of letters for our company this morning but none for me. I have nothing more at present but remain as ever your affectionate brother, — D. W. Poak


Camp McClernand
Cairo [Illinois]
September 23rd 1861

Dear Sister,

I received yours of the 19th inst. this morning and was glad to hear from you and to receive your likeness. I would a little rather have had it in a frame. Tell Lyd I want hers. You and her might get a frame together and send it to me. It is true it might be a little trouble sometime but I would be willing to undergo that and more if necessary in order to have them. I wrote a letter to Walt Fullerton and started it today. I gave him all the news I could think of. If you write to any of them, give them my address and tell them I would like to hear from them.

The news today is that Lexington, Mo. is taken by the rebels but I will send you the late paper and you can see the particulars.

Our 2nd Lieut. Burnett has gone back to try and raise another company in Mercer County. I don’t think he will succeed but he may. I hope he will. John Brady came down as a recruit but would not be sworn in and has hired as teamster. I think he has acted the wet dog nicely.

There is nothing of interest happening to vary the monotony of camp life. We are not doing much except drilling and parade. Tell Ann to preserve some pears and keep them till I get home. If you have anything to send to me, send it for I do not expect to be home soon. But I will come as soon as I can. I suppose this is the last day of the fair in Mercer. I would like to be there to see the folks once more. I receive letters from there sometimes. It would do you good to see the boys crowd around the captain in the morning when the letters come to see if there are any for them, but there are always some doomed to bitter disappointment—at least you would think it was bitter to see the length of their faces when they turn away without any it appears to me. I never thought half as much of a letter as I do now. I have just been thinking whether I would get any tomorrow but I can’t think where it will come from but maybe some friend will think of me.

I see by the papers that they are commencing to draft men in Iowa. I hope they will get to Illinois and draft about 20 from Mercer County. I would swing my hat to hear of it for there are some such mean men in it.

The boys are carrying the rations down to the tent preparatory to getting supper. I went down into Camp Defiance last Saturday to find Henry’s boys but could not find them. They must have left there. Do you know their Captain’s name? But the time for drill has come and I must close. Remember me to all my friends and relations and remember me yourself. I remain as ever your affectionate brother, — D. W. Poak


Addressed to Miss Sade Poak, New Castle, Lawrence County, Pa.

Camp McClernand
Near Cairo, [Illinois]
October 30th 1861

Dear Sister,

It is several days since I received your last letter but this is the first opportunity I have had to answer it. We have had brigade induction today from half past nine till about one o’clock. Inspection appears to be the order of the day as this is the third time during the week. We had our knapsacks on packed with everything we could get in them and had to take them off and open them out and then repack them again, I suppose to see how quickly we could do it. We put in most of our time in drilling in order to get pretty well drilled before cold weather. They are commencing to be stricter about drilling. There is a man goes around to all the tents after every drill and if there are any not out on drill that have not a reasonable excuse, he takes them to the Guard House. I think it is a first rate law, only not enforced soon enough for there are some that will slip all the time if they can and when they do come out, they don’t know what to do and consequently bother all the rest.

Our Colonel gave our company great praise today. He said us did the best marching that was done on the ground. This afternoon we had inspection of tents, cooking utensils, and so forth. The Colonel came round and went into each tent to see how they kept things. He then went down to the cook tent and examined the provisions.

The boys are all amusing themselves in some way. Some are playing checkers and some are pitching horseshoes, and I forgot to tell you that some of them were washing. I have not washed any yet nor do I intend to as long as I can get them—my shirts—-washed for five cents apiece.

This is decidedly the driest place that I ever saw. I cannot think of anything to write. I was a little surprised to hear of Danforth handing in his resignation. Walt Fullerton wrote to me that he had said he would resign unless they would let him have Co. B but I thought it was merely a flying report. I think they will give him that company before they will let him resign. There is one thing about that company that I cannot understand—that is how Cadwalader and Nesbit and Fullerton are all lieutenants. Please explain. If you know all of them (that is all the officers), tell me their names. I am expecting a letter from Walt everyday.

Tell Milt that I will excuse him for the past but will certainly expect one in the future as he won’t have to visit the squires so often. You need not think strange of Mrs. Winters thinking him the bets man out for you know she always thinks anything best that she is connected with.

We went out on dress parade this evening and before we were dismissed, Gen. McClernand and General McDougal and Col. Taylor came up. After parade, we were formed in a hollow square and they addressed us till after dark. We were then dismissed by giving three cheers for the General commanding and three for the Union undivided and the band playing Yankee Doodle for us to march in by.

There is 6 or 7 boys in the tent and they are so noisy that I cannot write. We have been having a general big time. Sade, you must excuse me for not writing long letters for I have nothing to write and have a very poor chance besides. Nothing more but remain, your affectionate brother, — D. W. Pouk


Camp McClernand
Cairo [Illinois]
December 21st [1861]

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 16th inst. came duly to hand and I now take my pen to answer it. There has nothing of importance happened since I last wrote to you. Scouting parties going out and having little skirmishes with the rebels has become such a frequent occurrence that no attention is paid to it.

Do you get to see any western papers or dispatches taken from western papers? If not, there are a great many things I can write to you that I supposed you would see in the papers before you would get my letters. Ten of our prisoners taken at the Battle of Belmont returned from Memphis on last Thursday evening. They say they received middling hard treatment during their imprisonment. They were kept in the houses they used for their drakes and their rations were very meagre. They report very few troops at Memphis—nearly all have gone to Columbus [Kentucky]. The rebels feel very confident of their ability to hold the latter place. They say that less than 150,000 men need not attempt it. I think we can convince them of their error. There are 13 gunboats and 35 floating batteries at this place.

We had a review of 17,000 troops at this place, Bird Point, and Fort Holt on last Monday. Yesterday and today have been much colder than we have been used to for the last few weeks but we are pretty well prepared for it. We have four coal stoves in our barracks and all the coal we want to use. Besides these, we are going to have a large cooking stove in our kitchen.

I had a letter from Aledo [Illinois] yesterday morning. The folks are all well and getting along finely. There had been a party a few nights before and there was but one young man at it. Don’t you think they must be scarce? Lieut. [Francis G.] Burnett, Jerry Beatty, and some recruits arrived on Wednesday morning. They brought letters and likenesses innumerable and two dray loads of eatables. We have been living on chicken for the last few days. I had a likeness taken a few days ago to send to you but I don’t like it very well and don’t know whether to send it or not. I wrote to you about that receipt in one of my other letters. I suppose you have received it before this. The amount was for $220. One note called for ninety-five dollars and the other for $125. Then there was over ten dollars.

The mail has just been distributed and I received a letter from James McGinnis. He appears to enjoy himself much better than he expected he would. This is the first letter I have received from him. I can think of nothing more at present. Give my love to all my friends and save a large portion for yourself. Write soon.

From your ever affectionate brother, — D. W. Poak



Jackson, Tennessee
June 26th 1862

Dear Sister,

It has been some time since I last wrote to you and during that time I have received two letters from you. The last one was dated the 8th. I have no particular excuse to off for my delay in writing as we have been in camp ever since I last wrote so you will have to attribute it to my laziness. In your last letter you spoke about having received a letter from Pa. I was extremely glad to hear from him for it had been so long since we had had any news from him for so long that I had almost given up hearing from him again.

We are still at Jackson but since I have commenced writing we have received orders to be ready to march at 7 o’clock this morning and considering that it is now about six, I have not much time to write. I don’t know anything about where we are going but I think we are going up the railroad toward Columbus.

The weather is very warm and dry but I can’t say it is as warm as I expected it would be at this season of the year. Fruit of all kinds is very plenty. Wild plums grow in abundance and are ripe. They are most delicious. They are as large as our tame plums were at home and are very good either cooked or green. Blackberries are also getting ripe and are plenty. The citizens are still strong secesh but are getting considerable tamer than they used to be.

They have church here every Sabbath day but as a general thing the attendance of citizens is not very large considering the number about the place.

For some reason or other you appear to be very suspicious about me telling you when I get sick. It was not me that went to the hospital but the other Lieut.—Elijah B. David. Our Captain’s name is Francis G. Burnett. You need have no fears about me for if I get sick, I will tell you so in words that you cannot misunderstand.

I had not heard of Col. Martin’s death till I received your letter. I was very sorry to hear it for he was as good a soldier as ever shouldered again and a great deal too brave a man to have to lay down his life on account of southern traitors. But I must stop as it will soon be time to start. Excuse this short letter as I have written it in great haste. Write soon.

Your brother, — David W. Poak



Lagrange, Tennessee
June 30, 1862

Dear Sister,

I again take my seat for the purpose of conversing a short time with you through the medium of the pen. Yours of the 18th inst. came to hand yesterday evening. I commenced  to write a letter to you on Thursday morning last but marching orders having come, I had to make my letter very brief. We left camp that morning about 7 o’clock and went to the depot of the Mississippi Central Railroad where after waiting 2 or 3 hours we got aboard a train and started for Grand Junction—a small place at the junction of the Mississippi Central and Memphis and Charleston Railroad. We reached this place about 3 o’clock P. M. and after stopping a few minutes came up to this place, Lagrange, put off some commissary goods and then ran back to the Junction where we remained until today.

Gen. Hurlbut’s Division was stationed here and today it moved further south and we have taken their places. This is not a very large [place] but it is a very nice little village situated about 3 miles west of the Junction. The rebels, before they left the junction, burned the depot, ticket office, and large amount of commissary stores and were going to burn the town but the citizens got them persuaded not too. Two of our pickets were shot at and wounded yesterday afternoon. It is supposed that it was done by a band of guerrillas. As soon as word came into camp a body of cavalry was sent out and succeeded in arresting 4 men. Three of them were found on horseback with loaded guns on their shoulders. I don’t know what will be done with them but I hope if they can produce any proof against them they will shoot or hand them.

One of our trains was captured sixteen miles on this side of Memphis a few days ago while on its way to this place. Happily, there was no goods of any account on board. They must have taken near 100 prisoners. One of our company was on the train but by doing some keen running, made his escape. Also a member of John Tait’s company was on board and made his escape. He stayed with us one night. He said John made a good Captain and was well liked by all his men. You may know this pleased me for I am always glad to hear of the prosperity of any of our Jackson boys.

You did not state in your letter whether the Jackson Company was in the battle before Richmond or not. I wrote to you some time ago that George Hill was going to be at home but I understand since that he is not going. He told us before he started that he was going but I guess he has changed his notion. Did you know a school teacher in Lawrence County by the name of Nelson? He has been married to Sallie H. Dunyan of Aledo, Illinois, and professes to be the son of a very rich man and I would like to know who he is. They ran off to get married.

I have nothing more. Excuse bad writing as I have written this in haste. Your brother, — D. W. Poak

Give my respects to any enquiring friends.  I am 2nd Lieutenant, Co. D, 30th Reg. Ills Vols.



Camp near Davis’ Mill, Mississippi
January 8th 1862 [1863]

Dear Sister,

It has been some time since I last wrote to you and you will no doubt owner at my long silence but I tell you that there has been no opportunity to send any letters and even now I don’t know to any certainty that they will go. The only mail we have received for some time was yesterday morning at our camp near Coldwater. I received 7 letters, among others two from you.

The last letter I wrote you was from Water Valley bearing date of December 20th. Our stay at that place was not of long duration for on the evening of the 21st just when we was getting supper, received orders to get ready to march immediately. We got started about sundown and marched back towards Oxford 8 miles. The idea of making a retrograde movement did not suit the boys but they could not help it.

We got to camp that night about 9 o’clock, cooked some supper, and then lay down on the ground without any tents over us. Was up next morning by four o’clock and was ready to march at half past five but did not get off until nearly eight. All the bridges and trestle work between Water Valley and Oxford were destroyed as we fell back. We got to Oxford on the evening of the 22nd about one o’clock. Remained there until the morning of the 24th when we took up our line of march towards Abbeville where we arrived about dark that evening. The next morning—Christmas—our company was sent out into the country foraging. Perhaps a few extracts from my diary of that date would not be uninteresting to you. The extracts that I shall give you were hastily written whenever a leisure moment presented itself and are very defective in many points so you need not show them.

This morning—Christmas—we were allowed to remain abed or rather aground (for we were sleeping on the ground without any tents and but one blanket to two men) until after daylight which was rather unusual for us. On. getting up, instead of finding the Christmas breakfast we used to get at home, we found that ours consisted of a tin of coffee, some hard crackers, and some boiled beef—this latter, however, running short before our appetites were satisfied. We were compelled to roast some fat bacon (familiarly called by the soldiers sow belly) on the end of a stick and finish up on that. Shortly after breakfast our company in connection with one from the 20th and one from the 78th Ohio Regiments were ordered out foraging. This we found dry work as the country had been scoured by the troops as they went southward. We went out about 4 miles from camp, got 7 good cows, 3 calves, six hogs, 4 barrels corn meal, and other things too tedious too mention. This property we took belonged to Capt. See of the Rebel army. We arrived in camp about 4 o’clock P. M., found out they had been looking for an attack during the day, and felt some anxiety on our account lest we should be taken. Had fresh pork for supper which we relished exceedingly well as we had eaten nothing since morning.

Rebel army reported in heavy force at Oxford. Expect to march in the morning. Our wagons came from the opposite side of the river this evening so we have our tents.

Contrary to all our expectations, we remained near Abbeville until the 3rd of the present month. During our stay at this place we were first only ¾ rations, and then it was reduced to 3/8th rations. The last two days we were there we drew nothing from the Government. Our Brigade did not feel the short rations near as much as the rest of the Division as they are on the north side of the river and did have a good place to forage. We sent out large forage trains every day which brought in lots of provision, and as then were ten miles close by we had lots of corn meal and flour. The first full rations we got was on the 4th of the present month.

These short rations were caused by the rebels cutting off our communication with the North. I suppose you have heard all the particulars of the surrender of Holly Springs by Col. Murphy. This is decidedly the most disgraceful thing that has ever happened [to] our western army. I cannot but think that Murphy is a traitor and that he sold the place to Gen. Vandorn. He was warned the night before that the rebels were advancing and were within 3 miles of the place. Still he made no preparations to defend the place. There were strong brick buildings at the depot and any amount of cotton so that he could have blockaded the streets and kept any cavalry force at bay until the reinforcements—which he knew was coming to his assistance—could have got there. But enough of this. I will go back and give you a few incidents of our march.

On the evening of the 3rd of this month, we received orders to cross the river. This we did, arriving at our camp about 8 o’clock at night and in the midst of a heavy shower of rain. While we were setting up our tents, it rained as hard as I ever saw it, and the wind blew so that it took four of us to hold up the tent while the others staked it. After we got it up and went into it, we found the ground covered with mud and water at least 4 inches deep. We placed in a few rails and thought we would spend the night sitting up but tired limbs and sleepy eyes soon overcame us and we concluded to try sleeping on the rails. My partner went out and brought in a large lot of brush and he and I had a middling good bed but the rest lay down where it looked impossible for a man to lie, let alone sleep. But all I guess slept middling comfortably notwithstanding their hard beds and wet clothes.

The next day was spent in doing the blankets and clothing. The next morning we had orders to start at half past seven o’clock and did not get off until one. We marched to Holly Springs that day… [end of letter missing]



Camp of the 30th Illinois Infantry
Memphis [Tennessee]
January 21st 1863

Dear Sister,

Your very kind and welcome letter of the 11th inst. came to hand yesterday evening and I now take my seat to pen a few lines in reply. Since my last to you which was on the 8th of the present month we have again been on the move. Early on the morning of the 9th we received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to march at a moment’s warning and about 11 o’clock A. M. received orders to move. Our stay at Davis’ Mill was not as long of as long duration as most of us supposed it would be when we stopped there. However, I guess all were satisfied to leave. We passed through Lagrange that day about 2 o’clock. From there we took the Memphis & Charleston Railroad toward Memphis. Shortly after leaving Lagrange it commenced raining and continued until long after night. When we had traveled about five miles along the railroad we stopped in an open field as we thought to camp for the night, but which we soon found out was merely to get supper. The Boys as soon as we stopped busied themselves in getting up rails for our fires and in gathering up grass to sleep on so that when the order came for us to start, very few had anything to eat. It was now getting near night. The rain was falling fast and we were still full seven miles from where we were ordered to go that night. Happily for use however, about dark the weather became so very bad that Col. Seggett (commanding our Brigade) thought he would take the responsibility upon himself to stop for the night and march us in the morning. Accordingly we stopped in a nice piece of timber, built good rail fires, set up our tents, and were soon quite comfortable.

Was up next morning about half past four o’clock and by half past six were on our way to Moscow—a small village on the railroad which for the present was to be our stopping place. Arrived at the town about 8 a.m. and after waiting a short time for the officers to select a camp ground, marched about ½ mile west of the town and pitched our tents on the ground formerly occupied by the 18th Wisconsin Regiment. Lt. David and Sergt. McCreight returned to the company as we were passing through Lagrange. I must confess I feel a heavy weight taken off me since he assumed command of the company. When I was in command of the company, I did not have any peace of mind at all—not that the company was hard to govern or that they didd not obey me promptly, but there was so much responsibility resting upon me that I could not but think of it. The commander of the company occupied the same position toward the company that a teacher does toward his scholars—only that he he is often placed in much more embarrassing circumstances. Lt. David has been appointed Captain, I 1st Lieutenant, and Samuel McCreight 2nd Lieutenant. I am well satisfied with the appointment except 2nd Lieutenant. I think another man was entitled to the position. However, it don’t matter to me. I think I have the nicest position in the company, or at least the one that suits me best. Since they have returned, I have been taking things decidedly easy as far as any company is concerned and I intend to continue in the same way for sometime to come. But enough of this for the present. More anon.

We remained at Moscow until the morning of the 12th when we marched to LaFayette, a distance of ten miles, arriving about 2 o’clock P. M. During our stay at this place we were the recipients of one of the largest snow storms that had been known in that country since March 1843—nearly 20 years. It rained nearly 24 hours before the snow commenced falling so that a large amount of it melted as it fell, but it remained to the depth of 8 inches on level places notwithstanding the melting. I happened to be one of the poor unfortunates who were compelled to be out in this storm.

I will not pretend to give you anything near a perfect description of my situation for this would require a much abler pen than mine. However, I will give you a few extracts from my diary of that date which may not prove uninteresting to you. By the way, let me ask you first how you like my extracts and whether they prove interesting or not?

January 14th 1863. Commenced raining last night about 11 o’clock and is raining still this morning without any cessation whatever. Had breakfast about 8 a.m. and had just finished eating dinner about 3 p.m. when in came a detail for picket with my name on it. This was by no means good news, but it has to be did, so I got ready as soon as possible. Reported at Brigade Headquarters about 4 p.m. and was started in charge of 40 men to a post about a mile off on the railroad. Arrived at the post at 5 o’clock P. M. after crossing numerous streams, getting our feet and legs wet, as well as the upper man. Found Capt. Martin of our regiment in charge of the place and a sorry place it was. They were on the. railroad track and were surrounded on all sides by water, differing in depth from six inches to six feet. After placing the guards, I found a small island that I thought was large enough for us to stay on so we moved our quarters. The guards were placed on like camp guard and the men going out to relieve the others had to wade through mud and water knee deep. To add to the pleasure of the place, the rain which I have spoken of before has continued increasingly all day and tonight there is no prospect of it ceasing.

I am standing by a fire taking the rain as best I can and thinking that I have at least one advantage—that is, I cannot get any wetter. About nine o’clock I lay down under a few rails the Boys had lain up for shelter, covered with my blankets, and tried to sleep, but no sleep would come to my eyes, I spent the night in this place getting up frequently and warming myself.

The rain changed into snow about 11 o’clock that night. I let it snow one top of my blankets which closed up the crevices and made me quite a warm covering. Next morning when I lifted my blankets preparatory to getting up, the first thing I was introduced to was a flake of snow about six inches square and it right in my face. I thought this pretty hard, but on making an effort to turn over, I found the snow closing in on all sides and I was compelled to get up double quick or be buried in snow. This day passed off very roughly. It snowed all day. We were relieved about 5 o’clock on the evening of the 15th made our way to camp found supper waiting on me. After eating a hearty supper and getting right warm. I went to bed and was soon contemplating in dreams the scenes of the last day.

We remained at Lafayette until the morning of the 18th when we took up our line of march for the long talked of (by us) Memphis where we arrived on the evening of the 19th about 2 o’clock. The night of the 18th it rained and melted off a good deal of snow which made it very muddy. Just the day before we left LaFayette, I got a pair of new boots and started to march before they got set to my feet. They hurt them and the march got me down worse than any one since I have been in the service. I expect a more tired boy never came into Memphis than I was the day we got here. We marched 31 miles in a day and a half. I have not been down in the City yet but those that have say business of all kinds is very brisk. What I have seen of the place is very nice and the country adjoining it is beautiful.

Gen. McArthur’s Division left here yesterday for down the river. It is reported that the troops that go down are all landing at Napoleon. I have no idea how long we will remain here. I think our course will be down the river. I expect we will be paid off tomorrow or next day for the months of July and August. We have now over six months pay due us nut are only going to get two months. I don’t care much. Still I would like to have it to send home. I am going to keep a good supply for myself this time for fear we don’t get anymore for another six months.

You appear to have some fears about is going to Vicksburg and indeed prospects look very favorable for us being there should there be another battle at that place, but I don’t think Gen. Grant will fight them there. I think he will make some move that will force them to evacuate it or will draw them out some place else to fight. This is merely my opinion but I am not dreading Vicksburg very much. If they do have a battle there and call on us, all I want is to be able to do our duty as well as we have in times past. In yours of January 4th which was received a few days since. You wished me to answer an inquiry which you made in a previous letter concerning my relations with a certain person. When I received your letter, I never took a second thought about that. I had heard so much on that subject, and from so many sources, that I had quit paying any attention to it whatever but being as you desire some information on a subject that has attracted the attention of so many and will not be put off without an answer. I suppose I will have to give you the required information. There are no relations existing the person you alluded to and myself, other than there are between any two common friends. Are you satisfied?

We draw soft bread again this evening. This is the first time since we left LaGrange going south. Nearly two months.

In your last you said Mr. Haus wanted a good contraband. You can tell him good contrabands here for cooking are like good girls in Lawrence County. Skace. I have one I think would suit him but I cannot spare him while I am in the army. Things are pretty high in these quarters. I sent one of the Boys down to town yesterday to get me some eatables. He had to pay 45 cents apiece for chickens. 30 cents per dozen for eggs, and other things in accordance. The weather has been quite cool for the last ten days. Well, I believe I have written enough for the present. Give my respects to any enquiring friend.

Your brother, — David W. Poak

P. S. I notice by the Journal that Sawyer Johnston has been appointed Pay Master and Ben Cunningham is Assistant. Bully for Ben.


Headquarters 30th Illinois Infantry
Vicksburg, Mississippi
October 29th 1863

Dear Sister Sadie,

Having nothing of importance to attend to this evening and having received a letter from you a few days since, I propose to employ the time in answering it. It is now after dark, supper is over, and we are gathered in our tents. Maj. Allen (my tent mate) is lying on his cot smoking a cigar and reading a novel while I am seated by a small desk penning you these lines. Our of doors all is sad and dreary. The rain is pattering against the tent, the wind is howling round, and whistling through the crevices like winter. I really pity those who are on duty tonight and have to remain out exposed to the chilling blast. We in our tents are as comfortable as though we were at home. We have a nice fireplace built to our tent which makes it as comfortable as a room. Then it is so cheering to sit and look into a nice blazing fire.

Our entire regiment is getting very comfortably fixed in camp—nearly every tent having a stove or chimney. How long we will get to remain in our present camp is unknown to thousands. Perhaps a moth or two and perchance all winter. I am seeing now the best time soldiering that I have since I have been in the service. I have nothing to do except as I see fit, have good quarters, good victuals, and a horse whenever I want to ride. The duty is still heavy on the regiment. The men go on duty every day, but still they are very healthy and enjoy themselves finely.

We are expecting to receive pay for the months of July and August in a few days. Part of our Brigade was paid yesterday. Never I think since we have been in the service has the need of a paymaster been more felt than it is at the present time. Nearly all the officers and large number of the men have been home and only brought enough money back to defray their expenses, expecting to be paid soon after their return to camp. It now being about four months since we were paid, they are getting pretty short of funds. You wanted to know if they wanted me to do the work of adjutant. They did not give me the position. I had the offer of it but would not accept of it. The reason is this. An adjutant has the same work as the First Lieutenant; hence, it would be no promotion for me. In the next place, should I accept of the position of adjutant, it would hinder me from ever rising any higher as well as from getting any other position. An adjutant belongs to no company. Hence he cannot be promoted in any company and he can never rise to a field officer from the fact that the Captains outrank him. I talked to Col. Shedd about it several times and he told me that I was his choice for the place and that I could have it if I wished, but that he thought I had better not take it. The arrangement that he has made now is that Julius Alvord, Quartermaster Sergeant, shall be promoted to Adjutant, but shall be detailed to act as Quartermaster while I act as Adjutant. Then should anything better offer itself, I can have an opportunity to get it.

You told me that considerable hard feeling existed between the Mount Jackson and the Westfield folks on the day of the convention but did not tell me what it was about. If severe, then I would hate very much to quarrel with the Westfield folks on account of the young ladies, some of whom I esteem very highly. I have four more photographs which I am going to send home. One is of Lieut. Col. Rhodes of our regiment, one Lieutenant killed of “H” Company, the other two are marked so that you will know them. [Robert S.] Finley was formerly a member of Company A.

The rain I spoke of last night continues until about an hour ago, It has now closed and I think it is going to clear off. I received another photograph this morning. It is of Col. [Warren] Shedd. I will send it with the others. It is pretty good, but is not as plain as it might be. You can hardly see his spectacles. I have nothing more to add. Write soon.

Your brother, — D. W. P.

[Note: Letter 12 is from the personal collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent.]


Headquarters 1st Brig, 3rd Div., 17th Army Corps
Goldsboro, North Carolina
March 25, 1865

Sister Sadie,

Presuming that you are quite anxious to hear from me, I will write a letter now and have it ready to send by first mail. As you will perceive by the heading of my letter, we are now at Goldsboro where we expect to take a rest after our long and very severe campaign. How long a respite we will get here is hard to tell. They will be compelled to remain long enough to refit our army as it is now in a very destitute condition. A great many of the men are barefooted and without pants. Many of them have been forced to pick up and wear citizen or rebel clothes to cover their nakedness.

Our campaign has been in many respects one of the most severe we have ever made. The marches were long and most of the time through almost impossible swamps. Scarcely a day passed but what the men would have to wade from one to half a dozen swamps, frequently waist deep. The roads through these swamps would cut up before but a small portion of our train would pass over and part of the troops would have to remain out all night helping the wagons through. Our Brigade was out four nights all night and very often till two and three o’clock in the morning.

Whenever the enemy would make a stand, it was certain to be at one of these swamps and there our men would have to wade out in the water and stand and fight them. Anyone that was so unfortunate as to get wounded would fall in the water and perhaps nearly drown before they could get any assistance.

Sherman’s army has, I think, seen as much campaigning as any other. Still we learned a few things this trip that we had not thought of before. The men were in excellent spirits all the time. You would never hear them grumble a bit no difference how hard a time they were having. I often wondered how they could stand it at all. We passed through some rich country where we would find an abundance of forage and through some of the most barren regions I ever saw.

The principal places we passed through were Orangeville, Columbia, Winnsboro, Cheraw, S. C. and Fayetteville, N. C.  At Orangeville, our Division had quite a sharp little fight. No one in my regiment was hurt. Columbia was nearly all burned. Lieut. Col. Rhoads, commanding the 30th Illinois, was kicked by a horse a few days since. His leg is badly smashed and it is feared he will not recover. A train of cars came up from Wilmington this morning. The railroad from New Bern will be completed in a few days. We are expecting a large mail this evening. This is the fifty-fifth day since we left Pocotaligo. During that time we have marched nearly five hundred miles.

February 25th 10 P. M.

Have just learned that I can send a letter off in the morning. Will send this. Give my love to all friend, your brother, — D. W. Poak

One thought on “1861-65: David Watson Poak to Sarah J. Poak”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s