This letter was written by George W. Thompson (1842-1919), the eldest son of Aaron Thompson (b. 1809) and Nancy Chapman (b. 1826) of Darwin, Clark county, Illinois. He wrote the letter to Lydia Jane Waller (1839-1879) of Clark county.
George identified himself as a farmer when he enlisted on 14 June 1861 as a private in Co. H, 21st Illinois Infantry. He enlistment papers recorded his height at 5′ 5″ and gave his description as “blue eyes” and “light hair.”
In this letter, George informs his friend that he is “not a butternut nor a copperhead” and that after “we whip the rebels,” he will return home to Clark county, Illinois, and will “soon clean out” any traitors that remain there. He also describes the movements of the 21st Illinois Infantry at the time of the fall of the City of Atlanta culminating in the regiment’s participation in the Battle of Jonesboro.
Camp 21st Regiment of Illinois Veteran Volunteers
September 13th, 1864
Miss Lydia J. Waller
Much respected friend,
I am happy to seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and my wish is that this will find you well and the rest of the family also. I just received your kind and welcome letter dated August 29th. I was truly glad to hear from you and to hear you was well for health is the greatest blessing that we can enjoy here on this troublesome world. You said you saw James Baker. I wish I could get to see James for he is a good soldier and a number one man to fight and all the soldiers that belong to our company seems as brothers to me for we have been together so long that I hate to part with one of them.
Lydia, you need not to be uneasy about the draft for Abraham Lincoln will draft them if they don’t want to go for they do us more harm at home than the Southern soldiers does and they have just as good a right to fight for the government as I have and they shall help us now. You said you seen Sarah Carden and David Drummer at church. I am glad to hear that someone will fancy Sarah for I can’t. She can’t never make friends with me in the work. I am not a butternut nor a copperhead. I am for the Union and the Constitution as it was and if [this war] takes my life, alright—I will lose it; no one else will. And I will take my musket and go on the battlefield and fight the rebels until the sun ceases to rise before I will give up our country.
I am glad that I have reenlisted in the army. It is the best thing that any young man can do is to fight for our freedom and our noble land that our forefathers fought seven long years for which they gained their independence and we have been blessed so long with peace. And now the traitors is trying to destroy the government and trample its flag under their feet but we will not let them. We will whip the rebels yet. One more year and we can come home and see our friends again and then if there is any traitors, we will soon clean them out.
Well you said if I ran for a office, to run for a good one. I will be sure to do that if I run for any and I will make a good noise too.
Well, I don’t think it is worth my while to write about the war for I expect you know as much about the army as I do. We have taken Atlanta without getting many men killed on the 25th of August. We fell back two miles from our old line of works and marched in the direction of the river and on the 26th, we marched then in the direction of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad and on the 28th we found a small force of the rebels in front of us and we had a heavy skirmish with them and struck the railroad 16 miles below Atlanta and destroyed 30 miles of the railroad. And on the 30th we marched in the direction of the Atlanta and Macon Railroad and found the rebels in one mile this side of the railroad. We had a heavy skirmish with them and then we went into camp for the night.
On the thirty-first, we drove them away from the railroad and on the first of September we marched down the road and destroyed the road as we went, until 4 o’clock when we found General Hood with his army. We formed a line of battle and then fighting began [see Battle of Jonesboro]. It lasted till after night when they fell back from their lines and retreated and we followed them up until we heard that Atlanta was evacuated on the first and the 20th Army Corps occupied Atlanta in the 2nd of this month. Then we fell back to Atlanta on the 8th of this month.
We have been on the campaign so long that we are all worn out so we will have to rest for one month before we will be able to march again. Atlanta is a pretty city and is the best fortified of any city in the West.
I was down to town to get my miniature taken today and there is no Ambrotypes here yet but there will be some in a few days and I will send you [my] miniature the first I can that I can get taken. It is getting late and I have got five letters to write today so I believe I have written all the war news this time. I will tell you the more the next time. So no more at present but remain your affectionate friend until death. — George W. Thompson
to Miss Lydia J. Waller.
Write soon and often if you can. So goodbye, Miss Waller, this time but not forever. Direct your letter to Mr. George W. Thompson, Co. H, 21st Regiment of Illinois Veteran Vols. via Chattanooga, Tenn.
I am camped in Atlanta now. This is the 19th of September 1864.
Goodbye Miss Lydia J. Waller. I am your affectionate friend until death.
Well I would have written more this time but I hear the supper bell ringing and it is supper time so I will close my short note this time. Your affectionate friend until death, — George W. Thompson