This incredible letter was written by John Randolph McBride (1842-1912) prior to his enlistment in September 1861 as corporal and later as commissary sergeant of Co. C, 33rd Indiana Infantry. He eventually served as 1st Lt. & Adjutant for the regiment and authored the regimental history that was published in 1900.
John was the son of William Warren McBride (1805-1871) and Barbara Harbaugh (1814-1853) of Bluffton, Wells county, Indiana. John’s father emigrated from Ohio and settled in Bluffton in 1841 where he established a furniture and undertaking business.
John wrote the letter to his friend Lucas Folsom Smith (1844-1924) of Bluffton, Wells county, Indiana. Lucas learned the printing business in the Bluffton Banner office where he found employment until August 1862 when he enlisted in Co. G, 101st Indiana Vols. After the war he attended the University of Michigan, became a lawyer and eventually a judge.
July 15, 1861
Your letter of the 8th came duly to hand and was eagerly perused. I always like to read anything that comes from Bluffton. The weather today looks discouraging; the rain pours down in torrents, and has the appearance of continuing in such a manner all day. I hope it will not.
Not much excitement in Martinsville at this time. Last Saturday there was a scrimmage between two men hailing from the “rural districts,” but nothing of a very serious character happened to either of the parties.
The Fourth of July was celebrated in Martinsville in a very becoming manner. The day was ushered in by the booming of cannon, the sharp crack of musketry, and the beating of drums. Before 10 A. M. the streets of little Martinsville were well filled with those who came to celebrate the 85th Anniversary of our national independence. The greatest feature of the day was the appearance of a company called the “Raging Lads.” A description of them I can hardly give, but I can say this much—they were about the most mearthly, demon-like beings that ever made their appearance before the gazing public. They were on horseback and dressed in uniforms of the lowest and highest characters. I spent the day very well. I never had a better time on the Fourth of July. Misfortune seems to have been your luck in that day. I am sorry to hear it. When you go out on such an errand as the one you did, you should not get down-hearted, but march up to each and every one and talk to them like a dutch preacher.
In reply to Sharpe’s answer, you can tell him that I don’t want to go to hell when he is not home. As far as his writing me a letter, I believe it is a damned lie. Do you think that a letter would get lost going that short distance? I think not. He played the same trick off on another fellow that I could mention, if necessary. I don’t ask any man to write 5 or 6 letters to anyone. Thank God, I am under no obligations to Sharpe Wisner.
I am not doing very much now from the fact that we have not published a Gazette since the 26th of June. We have had a good deal of job work to do, but then that don’t help me at work very steady. I don’t know exactly how soon the Gazette will come out again. [Edwin W.] Callis sent to Cincinnati for new material for the purpose of enlarging, and up to this date, they have not made their appearance. I hope they will soon come because I want to get to work again. One would infer from your letter that you have to work pretty hard, when you say you work till midnight, &c. most every night. I haven’t had to work after midnight since last winter. Is it because you are short of hands, or have too much work on hand? You seem to think that I will have a sister-in-law shortly. This is news to me. Who is she? Let me know for I am anxious is such is the case.
I am glad to hear that Bluffton is still improving. Beer seems to be pretty cheap. I would like to be up there to help you drink some of it. Are you a lover of it? It is good for the soul. This town beats anyplace I ever saw for beer drinking.
What a change there has been made in Bluffton since I left. Young folks are getting married and improvements in the way of helping the looks of the town. I think that by the way time has rolled by that your apprenticeship will come to a terminus at the end of a few more months. I suppose that you are quite a printer by this time and can set your “thousands” with anybody. I suppose ye little “sucker” is making a printer pretty fast. I would like to see him if he is—and no doubt of it—what you represent him to be. I suppose Fernando Mac. is the foreman in the office. I would judge so at least. Give my best regards to him.
I suppose that the gals that wore short dresses and panties have changed to women wearing long dresses and sparking as big as you please. Who is your favorite? That’s none of your business. I thought so—I merely asked for fun. The boys, I suppose, have changed considerably. Time brings changes. It is probable that when I return to Bluffton, that I will hardly recognize the city and the people thereof.
There are several recruiting officers in this town drumming up recruits to fill up the vacancies made in the 11th Regiment under [Lew] Wallace, now at Cumberland, Md. Another recruiting for soldiers to march under Gen. Fremont on his expedition down the Mississippi River this fall. They are doing very well considering.
The rain still keeps pouring down as I write, and the weather is very chilly. Both together makes one feel like as if he had the “blues” which is worse than the itch. It is time that I was drawing this letter to a close, but you must excuse me for making it so scattering. Answer soon. Yours truly, — J. Randolph McBride
to Lucas F. Smith, Bluffton, Indiana