These letters were written by Joseph McGill (1837-1912), the son of Stewart M. McGill—an Irish emigrant (1786-1870), and Margaret Watt (1800-1876) of Kimbolton, Guernsey county, Ohio. Joseph enlisted on 17 September 1861 as a member of Co. H, 40th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O. V. I.) and was mustered out of the service on 6 December 1864.
In the second letter, Joseph refers to his recently being paroled. He and other members of Co. H, detailed as pickets, were taken prisoner when the Union army withdrew from Mission Ridge toward Chattanooga on the night of 21 September 1863 and failed to communicate the retreat to them. They were surrounded the next morning by the enemy and forced to surrender after a “short but desperate fight.” Nineteen of the 38 members of Co. H who were captured at that time died in rebel prisons.
Camp Cranor [near Prestonburg]
Floyd county, Kentucky
June the 25th 1862
Well, I take my pen in hand to tell you that I am well at present and I hope that these few lines may find you in the same state of health.
I received a letter from John yesterday.
Well, we have moved twenty-five miles down the river. We will go down to the Ohio River before long. We can’t get provisions up here on the account of low water. There is scouts sent out every few days and they fetch in some provisions every time.
There is thirty prisoners fetch in since I came back here. There is seven hundred and thirty-four men in our regiment fit for duty now. The day we left Piketon, the sick was put on a flat boat to go down the river. They had only went five miles till the boat struck a snag and upset and drowned five of the sick. 1
There was a great excitement got up in the camp at Piketon. There was word come in that there was three thousand cavalry coming to take us. We was ready for them for we lay out at night watching for them.
One Sabbath the men was scattered all through town [when] some person fired a gun off. The long roll began to beat and then you ought to have seen the men skedaddle for their guns and we formed in a line ready for them. The band played Yankee Doodle. The alarm was false. Some person shot a beef and it was all over.
The wheat is about all cut here. It is very warm in day time and very cold at night. Well, we have not been paid off yet nor I don’t know when we will.
Well, we are going today to see the old battle ground [See Battle of Middle Creek]. We are camped within two miles of it. Well, this is all that I have to write now. Ham 2 got a letter from J. Reed yesterday. This will do for Reed’s and Mary Ann. My best respects to all of them. Tell Dunlap that his mule is a jack ass and has long ears and it has no hair on its tail.
Write soon. — Joseph McGill
to Stewart McGill
Direct to Ashland, Boyd county, Kentucky
1 I cannot corroborate Joseph’s allegation that five of the sick soldiers died who were being transported down the Ohio river on a raft. According to the History of the Fortieth Ohio Volunteer Infantry by John N. Beach, only two members of the regiment died from drowning during the war and neither of these seem related to this alleged incident.
2 Most likely Hamilton Johnson who also served in the same company as Joseph McGill.
Addressed to Mr. Stewart McGill, Kimbolton, Guernsey county, Ohio
Kenicko Jack Cave or Shell Mound, Ga.
November 15, 1863
Mr. Stewart McGill
I was happy to receive a letter from my Mother on yesterday dated November 4th. I am always glad to hear from home but I was sorry to hear that my dearest of Fathers had poor health. Her letter found me well and enjoying myself first rate. It found me with my company again. I got back on parole a week or two ago. I have the very best of health and I feel like another man since the election of Mr. Brough [as Governor of Ohio]. I think that to be as good for the Union cause as if we had a great battle and won the victory and let me tell you the best thing I saw about it was that us soldiers had good backing at home while we was out here in the front. We feel that we have a strong fortification at home in the breasts of the good and loyal citizens. I tell you, my dear Father, its s nothing to brave the dangers, peril, and hardships when we see that we are on the right side and have so good a cause to uphold. Nor is that all, for we are cheered and encouraged on to victory by those at home that are near and dear to us & we also know that we are gaining for our friends and the future generations the greatest boon this world can give.
Father, what is there so good in this world as a free and independent government? What is there that a soldier could have as good a heart and will to battle against the enemies that we have to encounter as the certain blessings and privileges that we will gain by conquering the Rebels and all the enemies of this Nation? And there is another very encouraging thought and that is that we not only gain those blessings for ourselves, but we gain them for all future generations and all mankind for in the success. of this struggle rests the best hopes and blessings to all mankind that arises out of a Republican form of government.
I tell you, it is easy now for us soldiers to go through all we have to encounter. Our hearts are courageous, our arms are strong, and we have the will to wipe out everything that is detrimental to the welfare of this great Nation. And after we get through with the Rebels of the South, we will go to work on the Rebels of the North—I mean the poor, mean, contemptible, low-lifed, traitorous, treacherous, villainous, slavery-loving, butternut, ignoramuses. Father, they haven’t got sense enough to go to mill scarcely. They are Jeff Davis’ tools that he works with when he has anything to do that is too mean and ornery for him to do himself. Now, Sir, those kind of enemies may bother us for a short time, but thank God they can’t last very long at least.
The war won’t last longer than Spring to the best of my belief and not only my belief, but it is the opinion of a great many here—some of them officers. The general talk is that we—that is, this regiment—-will be allowed our furlough time and that will let us out in June at farthest. But I don’t think I will have to stay that long. I am not returned for duty yet, I am not exchanged yet so you see Uncle Sam hast keep me in grub and I lay round and not do anything.
We got a letter from Capt. [John C.] Meagher since he was taken prisoner and he is in Richmond in [Libby] prison. He is not exchanged yet. He was well. ¹
Father, I would like if you could just see our houses or quarters. We have shanties put up in every shape—fireplaces in all of them—so you see we are trying to live at home if we ain’t quite at home. Now sir, we get our grub, do our own cooking do our own washing, mending, and sometimes our own making. It won’t be long till we are paid off. That is the general opinion. Now Father, I will close my letter by bidding you goodbye for this time. I remain your son, — Joseph McGill, Co. H, 40th Regt. OVI. Shell Mound, Ga.
P. S. Write soon and tell me how the corn crop is and how you are all getting along with the fall work. — J. Mc.
¹ John C. Meagher entered the service as First Lt. of Co. H, 40th OVI and was promoted to Captain on 25 April 1862. He was captured at Mission Ridge on 22 September 1863 and paroled from Libby Prison in March 1864. He died at home on 4 May 1864.