Private Dirk Keppel:

Union Letters



The original letters from Dirk were written in Dutch. They were translated by William and Ruth Tuinstra for a 1990 printing by the Zeeland Historical Society of Zeeland, MI entitled "Letters of Teunis and Dirk Kepple, Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1863". That publication is the source of these letters. In the preface, it is noted that punctuation and paragraphs were added for clarity.

Dirk Keppel mustered into Company D of the 8th Michigan Infantry on September 11, 1861 at Holland, MI at the age of 18. His name also shows up in the muster records with the last name spelled Kipple. He was Killed in Action on April 16, 1862 at Wilmington Island, GA.


September 22, 1861 (Fort Wayne)

September 26, 1861 (Fort Wayne, Detroit)

November 18, 1861 (Fort Walker, Hilton Head)

November 19, 1861 (Port Royal, Hilton Head, South Carolina)

More letters written by Dirk Keppel (page 2)



Fort Wayne

September 22, 1861

Very Esteemed Brother,

    I cannot refrain to write you a few lines because I am at the moment still in good health and I hope that you may receive this letter in good health. I can report to you but little news because at this moment there is not much news. We all are still in reasonably goo health. On Saturday our officers were chosen for our company, of which two were Hollanders: Otto J. Doersburg1 and the other an American Hollander, but he still wants to identify a lot with the Hollanders; and further they are all English. With our 100 men we make up one company. On Saturday we were sworn in for the United States, so it is proof that we don't have any regrets yet, otherwise we could have backed out. Of the departure from here I cannot tell you exactly, but I think that we depart on Tuesday because that is according to what I have heard them say here.

    We just about have all of our uniforms. We have one coat, one pair of pants, two undershirts, two socks, one cap, one blanket, one tin bottle, one breadbag2, one plate, one fork, one knife, one spoon, one cup and one overcoat and some have a pair of shoes.

    Eating is here as follows: in the morning bread an coffee and pork; and in the afternoon bread, bean soup and sometimes rice soup and meat; and in the evening the same. So we are having it good as far as eating goes. Last night the brass band arrived here, which will stay with us here in the eighth regiment.

    We see quite a few ships sail by here and steamboats. Sometimes we can see 20 ships and steamboats sail by, those that go from Lake Michigan to Lake Erie and back. Yesterday a man here was sent out of camp accompanied by drum and fife with two men who carried their rifles straight in front of them, and so he was guided through the rows of men until he was outside. We have here much fun with one another. We are now together with 19 men and I sleep between William Goedgeluk and Frank Van Ry.

    I have bought a pen and inkpot here, which I can carry in my pack. The address I won't give you anymore because by that time I might be gone and then it would have been wasted effort. If I do stay here then I will again write you this week, and if we depart from here then I will write as soon as I can and then I will send you the address as soon as I can. Simon De Groot has been with us as cook last week but now he will be cook over there, because he also has to go out on training. Yo must not look critically at my terrible handwriting because I stand here by a makeshift table, which is made of two planks, and that is very difficult. Well, Brother, I must finish for the reason that at the moment I know of nothing else. Do further greet the family and Father and Mother. I remain,

Your Loving Brother,

Dirk Keppel


1 Otto J. Doesburg

2 haversack

Fort Wayne


September 26, 1861

Very Esteemed Father and Mother,

    I cannot refrain from writing you a few lines because I am still in good health through the Lord's Blessing and I hope that you may receive this letter in health, because I very much desire to hear from you. But I know that I cannot receive a letter for the reason that you don't have the mailing address. But I cannot give it for the reason that it is not worthwhile, because we know only at the last minute when we depart. Because there was someone who had heard the Captain say that it could be that any day we could depart but one can put little faith in it, because there is so much talk, but much of it is lies.

    I am still very satisfied here. I would still like to stay here for a month if I knew it for certain, but if that is not so then I hope that we depart soon. I know of little news, but everything I do know I will communicate to you. We are all still in good health and we have much fun together. On Sunday we had to practice for the dress parade and Sunday afternoon we had a worship service at five o'clock. It was a Baptist preacher, and in the evening we had dress parade again. In the evening we also have a prayer hour here. By the Baptists, prayer is in the evening but it goes with such commotion because the one shouts "Amen" and another shouts something else.

    We have here 22 musicians who are just across from us in their tent, which we can hear clearly when they play, because they do that often for reason that they still have to learn.

    The training still goes reasonably well. We train about eight hours a day. Some captains are still a little more knowledgeable than the soldiers, but some don't know too much.

    We are still getting more clothes daily. Last night we got two pair of underpants and a real strong blanket which they call a knapsack and which we can also use to lie down on. We are getting more than we expected. We will be able to get our payment soon from this State, which is five dollars and twenty cents. There are here also a lot of bad people, the reason being much alcoholic beverage and then they begin to fight and they are being locked in the guard house, which is punishment for them; and then they are being written up for punishment. Today we stood guard with seven of us. We have to stand guard for two hours, and then we have four hours off, and that goes on through the whole day and night. We received the "Grondwet"1 here which made us very happy to again hear something from the Holland colony.

    I will soon send the portrait if I can, but I have not had the opportunity to get to town; otherwise, I would have had the portrait made already. But when I get to town I will have it done and then I will send it, but you will have to have a little patience because it cannot all be done at the same time.

    We have today fasting and prayer day, but I don't experience it very much because here we can get as much to eat as we want. In short it is not being observed, because they train pretty much throughout the entire day. Yesterday we have been training half a mile outside of camp on a meadow. We went there at about two o'clock and we returned at five o'clock.

    Well, Father, I cannot recall any more news, because I can find nothing else. I will scratch together as much as I can find for another time. Well, Father, I have to finish and I remain,

Your Loving Son,

Dirk Keppel

Do further greet the whole family and tell them that I am still in good health and I wish all of them blessings. Do greet all those who ask about me.

Dirk Keppel


1 A Holland, Michigan paper published in the Dutch language

Fort Walker

Hilton Head

November 18, 1861

Very Esteemed Brother,

    I cannot refrain from writing you a few lines and I hope that you may receive these lines in health. I am, through the goodness of the Lord, still in good health which is the most important possession I have. I have not written for quite a while, but I hope now it will go better because it was impossible for me to write. The reason why I shall at least explain in this writing. I sent out a letter when I was on the steamer VanderBilt but if you have received it, I don't know, but if you did receive it then you will at least know by now that we were on the steamer for a good 14 days. Then I had no chance to write. Now when you see this letter you will probably think that I surely could have written before. I already had written a letter but I could not get any ink to write the address on it. So that letter I had to keep here and I thought it was better not to send it because I had no time to write much news.

    That you will discover when you read this letter, because I shall gather everything together as well as I can and I shall begin at Fort Monroe about our trip, what we have gone through so far. You will hardly understand how it can be, because if I had to write it all down it would not be such a little bit about what I have heard, seen and experienced. Then I certainly would have a whole day's work of writing.

    It was nice weather when we departed at seven o'clock in the morning. Day and date I have forgotten. We had "The Great Republic" behind us, which was fastened to our boat with two big cables. It had 500 horses on board. It's the biggest ship that exists, one with four masts. On a Sunday it was brought to our boat by three tugboats. These tugboats looked like canoes when comparing the size. You would be surprised if you had seen the ships and steamboats, which were anchored there, because it was tremendous when we went out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful sight because it was crowded with steamboats and ships because we all went out together. Then we started the trip with our large cluster of ships and we all were glad, because we had laid there several days already and we were tired of that, because when we travel then we want to make steady headway, because the sooner at our destination the better. It was decided that each man would have a gallon of water, and the water we got was water they had made out of salt water. They can make 15 gallons of water. They make the water from steam that they have used. When we had sailed for a few days the wind began to pick up and it started to blow worse and worse into a storm, and during the night it began to storm so terrible that we had to let go of the big ship. There was one big steamboat which fell behind. They think that it perished, but there were hardly any soldiers aboard. I also heard that another one was damaged. I have heard that they had to throw the rifles and backpacks overboard and it had lost both masts.

    So you can understand that things were in a state of confusion. There were also many who were seasick but fortunately I was not affected. I was sick for four days but now I am better again.

    This letter is unfinished

Port Royal

Hilton Head, South Carolina

November 19, 1861

Very Esteemed Brother-in-Law,

    I cannot refrain from sending you a few lines and I hope that you may receive this letter in health and I also am in good health. I understand from Govert's letter that you would also like to receive a letter from me. That is why I am sitting down once to write you because I came back again from drill practice and yesterday I have been out of camp again. We don't have it easy now because we also stand guard seven days a week and then work in between. That no more get sick I don't understand, because they have to do all kinds of things. They have to sleep outdoors at night and work in the water, etc. I have slept outside each night almost eight days and you can certainly understand that it doesn't just affect our clothes but that it gets into our bodies. I still like it very much, the most important thing is that I am still in good health and then you can take it, but when one gets sick then one does long for home, because then it's not much good here. Our doctor does not come running and that is a bad situation when one does not have a good doctor, but it is even still more fortunate if one stays out of his hands and fortunately I am free from that.

    We have captured two fortresses here. They fired at one of these for six hours, but against the other one they did not have to do much. In each one there stood 27 cannons. They could not understand that they gave up so soon, because these were heavy cannons but it seemed that they did not have the know how to set up the cannons, because those who know how to do it would be able to sink the first gunboat that arrived there. It is a strong fort where we now serve. It is a kind of island full of plantations with corn and cotton. I will enclose one with the letter, which I took out of a shed with cotton, the seed is still on it.

    It is not a fertile land here, it is a kind of white sand, the forest is mostly pine trees and then still other kinds of wood of which I don't know the name. There are also those kind of leaves from which they make those fans which you can also buy for a 5 cent piece. There are also many slaves at the plantations. But the bosses are gone. There are also many animals, such as cows and oxen, calves, sheep, pigs, horses, donkeys, etc., it is a great loss for them, but that's the way it must go when they begin to feel what they have done. If it is true what we have heard, then they must feel terribly defeated. If it keeps going like this then they won't keep it up long. So they will have to take it, because it serves them right with their secession and I hope to resist it as long as I can.

    We have started work on a fort which will be 1 1/2 miles in length with winding corners. It is being worked on with all our might. It is a beautiful sight when one sees that the U.S. has that many people working but it is bad for the country that it has so many people at work, because it also has to pay them and that is the worst of it all.

    Well, Brother-in-Law I must stop writing. I hope that you will not blame me that I have written with pencil, because we cannot get everything so easily as I would like to. Be so good now after you have received this letter to send me back a reply, and if you don't do that then you better realize that you have received the first and last one. You can always ask Govert for the address because I sent it to him.

    Do greet your Wife and children from me and I remain

Your Brother-in-Law,

Dirk Keppel 

More letters written by Dirk Keppel (page 2)


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