This letter was 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.
I the 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.
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.