[War-Dated Autograph Letter, Signed, from James Huckstep to His Sister Kate, Detailing Huckstep's Experiences in the Civil War and Relating His Thoughts on Uneducated Southerners and More]
Wartrace, Tn. July 16, 1863. pp., on a single bifolium. Old fold lines, some foxing, slight separations at crossfolds. Highly readable. Very good. Item #3924
A wonderful and highly-detailed Civil War letter datelined “Head Quarters Co. D, 115th Reg’t Ill Vols, Wartrace Tennessee, July 16th 1863”, addressed to “My Dear Sister Kate” from “Your affectionate brother”, J. M. Huckstep, a young Illinois soldier serving as a regimental musician. According to the Illinois Adjunct General’s report listing members of Company D of the 115th Regiment Illinois Infantry, James Milton Huckstep is listed as a musician in the regiment. James Milton Huckstep (1840-1916) was mustered into Company D of the 115th Regiment Illinois Infantry on July 21, 1862 and was mustered out on May 29, 1865 as a private. Online genealogy records indicate he was a dentist after his time in the Union Army. He had many siblings, including a sister, Catherine A. Huckstep (likely the addressee Katie), and a brother Will, who is mentioned in the letter.
The 115th Regiment Illinois Infantry was mustered in on September 13, 1862 for a three-year term and was mustered out on June 11, 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Regiment lost over 200 men, of which 64 were killed or mortally wounded and 147 died of disease. The 115th fought in many battles and just prior to the date of this letter the Regiment had been involved in the Tullahoma Campaign. As the dateline suggests, the Regiment was headquartered in Wartrace between July 3 and August 12, 1863. The first three pages of the four mostly relate to the writer’s recent experiences as a soldier and his impressions of Southerners.
The letter reads, in part, “We are about sixty miles south of Nashville on the Nashville and Chatanooga [sic] R. Road. This is a pretty nice country through here, and I am surprised when I look at the country, at the people rebelling. But when I look at the contemptable ignorance of the masses I am not [at all] surprised. There are no schoolhouses, but few churches, education is confined to the aristocracy who bring teachers to their own houses and educate their children in that way while the poor white citizens are kept in ignorance, and I will here affirm, the masses of the Southern whites are as ignorant as the medium slave. I have been perfectly surprised at the astonishing ignorance, to wit, one young lady of twenty two summers who turns her nose up at Northern soldiers, considering them ignorant trash, could not tell when asked whether Jackson, that is General Jackson, was dead or living. She did not know whether there was a church or school house in the country or not, and this is a fair sample. It is also true with reference to the prisoners we take. They are just as ignorant. Their officers who ought to be men of some little information at least are as ignorant as a goose is lean, in a dry grassless lot. Hence, I don’t wonder at such men being duped by smart men. And I am of the impression almost that we will have to kill the last man of them before they will have sense enough to quit and go home."
Huckstep continues with details of war news, encountering an old southern woman, and his experiences on a recent march from Shelbyville: “The news reached us today of the fall of Port Hudson, with eighteen thousand ignorant skalliwags. I think now if Lee gets pretty badly whipped, the Southern Confederacy will be well neigh gone under. I suppose you have heard of the raid of Morgan into Indiana. I am glad he has gone there and I hope he may teach the Copperheads some sense while he is going through. Fortunately, they have very little but it is an old adage that birds of a feather will floc together and certainly the Southerners are as ignorant as mountain grasshoppers, and Northern ignoramuses are liable to sympathize with them. But I sometimes think the war will close soon and we may all get home again, and things move on harmoniously. I would rejoice to see this time come for surely I am tired of this desolating scourge that now sweeps our lands, darkening its brightest forms, and lowering its dignity. However, I am opposed to any armistice, unless the Rebels themselves ask it. Then I am in favor of it and shall rejoice to see the time come when they may yield so far, but I am opposed to giving them any quarters at all, until they ask for it. Then I am in favor of showing a little lenity to the rascals. My Lieut was out today in the country to get provisions. He met with an old lady who told him she could not eat any such things as vegetables, butter or milk. She was so old and her stomach so weak. She said she was three hundred years old, and had to live on bread, coffee and meat, and she really thought she was three hundred years old, really, she was that ignorant, and knew so little how much time there was in twelve months. I don’t feel much like writing tonight as I am somewhat unwell, and having been riding on duty this afternoon over the worst hills you ever saw, with huge rocks coming up to meet you at almost every step. The country looks like a continent of augers, with the screw end up, and it is almost killing to ride over them, but having it to do there is no getting round it, go you must.... I must tell you something of our march. We left Shelbyville on the morning of the third and had been on the march but one mile when it commences raining and rained about one hour as hard as I ever saw it rain in my life but once. But on we marched through the mud. Soon we came in contact with swollen branches, knee deep in water, but there was no stop. After a while, after wading the mud about six inches deep, we came to Clover Creek or some other creek with about three feet water, thirty feet wide, and of course we marched right through it. It was lots of fun for the boys. We reached this place a little before sunset and went into camp and are still remaining. I don’t know how long we will remain here. Perhaps all the summer and fall, and winter. I want to come home in the month of Sept if I can, and go with Will, if he wants to go, with me over into Missouri, and if I can raise a sum of money sufficient and like the country, I want to buy a piece of land somewhere on the Hannibal and St. Joe Rail Road. If I can get my present pay, I can raise nine hundred dollars and that would buy a good chunk of land in Missouri.”
He continues by detailing how he will raise the money and why he thinks it is the right time to buy land cheap in Missouri. Before ending his letter with a full page exhorting his sister to trust in God, he pens this optimistic prediction about the end of the war: “We have had several victories in the Army within the last month, man such of which will weaken the Rebellion very much indeed. I think not more than one year longer will be necessary to crush the thing, and permanently settle the thing forever.” Huckstep adds a touching postscript: “Kiss Nettie and all the little ones for me. Pray for me, that I may not backslide, as some others are doing.”
A touching Civil War letter from an Illinois boy fighting for the Union in Tennessee.