1864: William Budd Shinn to Elizabeth Hine

These two letters were written by Corp. William Budd Shinn, (1832-1899) of Co. H, 138th OVI (National Guard) that served on active duty from 2 May 1864 to 1 September 1864 (100 Days). William was the son of Job Rogers Shinn (1799-1871) and Anna Maria Miller (1808-1887) of Hamilton county, Ohio.

This Regiment was mustered into the United States service on the 14th of May, 1864, and was ordered immediately to Washington City. Arriving on May 22nd, it was placed in the defenses south of the Potomac, with headquarters in Fort Albany, and detachments in Forts Craig and Tillinghast. June 5th found the regiment at White House Landing serving picket duty and guarding prisoners. It was ordered to Bermuda Hundred and proceeded on steamer, via Fortress Monroe, up the James to Fort Powhaten. The regiment debarked and marched 25 miles in very hot weather to Bermuda Hundred. On the 19th of June it arrived at Fort Spring Hill, on the eastern bank of the Appomattox, opposite Point of Rocks, and was engaged in picket and fatigue duty at Point of Rocks and Broadway Landing. On June 22, they were visited by President Abraham Lincoln as mentioned in the second letter.

William wrote the letter to Elizabeth Hine (b. 1836), the sister of his wife, Henrietta or”Ettie” (Hine) Shinn (1839-1903) of Mount Washington, Hamilton county, Ohio.

See also Bull Dog Fighting—the Civil War Letters of Thomas Hine, 39th OVI.


White House [Landing, Virginia]
June 13, 1864

Sister Lizzie,

I thought a few lines from your unworthy brother would not be amiss at this time. Although you may hear direct and often from me through other sources, perhaps it is not so satisfactory as to come from me directed to Miss Lizzie.

Well, in the first place, my health is tolerable good. There is something in the water or what we eat that does not agree with us. Otherwise we are tolerable well. We expected to have left this place on yesterday for we always move on the Sabbath, but we are still here waiting transportation to some point on the James River. They say we report at Fortress Monroe. They say Fort Darling is taken and we are going to garrison that place. There is a great many of the old troops of Baldy Smith’s Division coming from the front to this place to go around to the James river.

Lizzie, the army is a good place to find out the principles of men. There is a good deal of style put on by our superiors—even down to our Fifth Sergeant. A private feels that he is of but little consequence. I think we have a poor doctor [Charles P. Wilson]. If you could see him strut around with his spurs on, it would remind you of some small strut of a rooster. I pity the man that gets sick on his hands for he would soon send him off to the hospital. In fact, I don’t think we are very deficient in this matter.

We had meeting on yesterday afternoon out in the hot sun seated on the ground. We had some golden chains from which we selected some pieces and tried to sing. Brother [Charles H.]. Williams being sick, some brother of the Regiment preached from these words, “A greater than Jonah is here.” The Colonel [Samuel S. Fisher] concluded with prayer which was very appropriate.

The Captain [Benneville Kline] and 2nd Lieutenant [John C. Littler], Henry Bill Gerard and one or two more mess together. They have a good fix of it—always plenty. If the balance go without, they buy many things extra to eat, having a cook purposely detailed for that object to wait on their honors. Don’t understand me to be complaining. There is some of us more fortunate than others—that’s what’s the matter.

I have just been talking with some of the men from the front and they say Grant can’t take Richmond from this side and he is changing around to Fort Darling and try it on that side. I must close. Excuse my imperfect letter and write me a good one. Give my love to all the family. Yours in truth, –W

Tell me all the news.

Direct to Washington to follow the regiment. Remember me, Wm. B. Shinny’s. I have written 3 letters to Ett and received 2. Last night was very cold and we had hard work to keep warm. In the daytime, it is quite warm. I will make the next more interesting to you if I can. No more at. present.

P. S. Sam Burdsall deserted us at Washington and is now under guard at that place as a deserter. It is the married Sam.


Spring Hill, Va.
June 25, [1864]

Dear Sister,

A few lines from me in answer to your kind letter I have no doubt will be received with pleasure. Your letter was very interesting to me—especially where you pictured out to my memory the present appearance of my little home. How different now the present prospects to the past. All is uncertainty. The grass in the yard may grow as green as ever and the beautiful flowers may bloom and land forth their lush [paper creased] there is something missed. The home is not complete. There are not so many foot steps as there used to be heard upon the gravel walk. There is one less to enjoy it. I will not dwell here.

I wrote a letter to Ettie yesterday and I was sorry afterwards for the weather was so hot and not feeling well, I could not make it as interesting as I should had circumstances been more favorable.

I am writing now while I am on picket about a quarter of a mile from the fort, having come out last night, and this is about eight o’clock Sunday morning. We are sitting under some rails fixed up with bushes thrown on top for shade. I wish for some rain to settle the dust and make it cooler for everything is getting parched up with the heat. Theodore Johnson is sitting by my side and Tom Rose on the other, both writing letters. Abe Hopper is laying down in the shade. He is not well. There is four of us.

Cpl. Shinn is referring to signal tower in this photograph which is often referred to as “Butler’s Signal Tower” because he was in it when the Rebels tried to bring it down from a battery across the river.

There was hard fighting last night at Petersburg—one continuous roar of cannon and musketry. There is some firing this morning. I have not heard the result of the fight. The rebel pickets on one side of us are in plain view just across the river. The pickets don’t disturb one another. There is a signal tower across the river from which we watch their movements. They don’t like this at all and have tried to shoot it down but have failed so far—some of their balls coming very close to it. We could see all their movements from where they fired their shots and see the ball strike the ground near the tower.

We do not know whether we shall leave this place or not. There is no one that can have any idea of the immense work before our army. To look at the work that is yet to be accomplished before we can believe we shall be successful in taking Richmond would cause the firmest of us to waver at home. We think different and not one in a hundred have the least idea how things are situated. You can’t tell anything by the papers.

Now for instance, [take] Petersburg. If at home, we would say, “Why don’t our army take it?” Well they have been and for near two weeks has there been constant fighting and it is not yet taken because there is fortifications every foot of the way. And when one line is taken, there is another behind that. This is a matter of fact—no exaggeration.

Old father [Pres. Abraham Lincoln] was here a few days ago [June 22, 1864]. He came up [the James River] on his boat and went up on the tower of which I was speaking and was told by General [Godfrey] Weitzel that we are hundred days men from Ohio and was quite astonished to know that we were so close to the front. The General said if he had have known it two hours sooner, we should have been sent to Norfolk. He also said we should not be sent into battle. This I have from brother Colter. General Weitzel told him and I give it to you for what it’s worth.

The camp is a great place to get up reports—a thousand and one a day. I don’t think much of our Colonel [Samuel S. Fisher]. I think he wants to get us into the fight so he can get a name. I thought quite well of him in Ohio [but] he has come down heavy on the men and for the most frivolous offense will punish them by putting them at labor for twelve hours a day on bread and water with fifteen minutes for dinner and no blanket at night to sleep on. If this is the way the National Guards are served, may God pity the poor soldiers by profession. He is cursed from one end of the regiment to the other and he knows it too. He pretends to be a West Pointer and I suppose must carry out the style but I think he is a humbug.

Now Lizzie, do not think ill of me writing these things. It shows the spirit that seizes a man when clothed with a little military [rest is illegible].

Write often, — Wm. B. Shinn

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