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.


January 27, 1862 (Beaufort, South Carolina - describes the fight at Port Royal Ferry on January 1, 1862)

February 23, 1862 (Port Royal Island, Beaufort, South Carolina)

March 16, 1862 (Port Royal Island, Beaufort, South Carolina)

March 21, 1862 (Port Royal Island, Beaufort, South Carolina)

March 23, 1862 (Port Royal Island, Beaufort, South Carolina)

April 9, 1862 (Port Royal Island, Beaufort, South Carolina - Seven days before his death - Dirk's final letter home before being Killed in Action at Wilmington Island, GA on April 16, 1862 )



Beaufort, South Carolina

January 27, 1862

Very Esteemed Father,

    I cannot refrain from writing you a few lines and I hope that you may receive these few lines in good health, and I have to let you know that I am still in good health or reasonably so. I had to stay inside for about four days because I had caught a bad cold. I was so hoarse I could hardly talk, but now I am almost all better again. I would have written you sooner but my illness did not allow it. Very Esteemed Father, a new year has started again and the year 1861 is past and we came through it as a family, the one somewhat easier than the other but they are all, through the Lord's blessing, alive which is great cause for happiness and we have now entered the New Year and I hope that we may spend it in reasonable health and I hope that all your business affairs will go well, and I hope that when the next New Year rolls around, that I may be home.

    I think that it will be done by that time, that is if John Bull doesn't enter into it. Our Lieutenant Colonel must have said that perhaps in six weeks we should be in Michigan. Because John Bull certainly pestered us, I would like to grab him by his hair if I saw the chance to do so.

    Our boys have had a grim New Year, but all of them, above exception came out rather well, fortunately. They made a landing on January 1 on the mainland. There were four gunboats to protect them, which laid down a heavy barrage of bombs, and about four companies of our regiment went together to storm a battery in the woods, which fired heavily on them. They were behind a fence, where they could not see them until they jumped up and they were close to them and they fired at them for all they were worth, so that they had to fall down again all together, so that most all of the bullets passed over them. It was a very anxious time for them because bombs exploded over their heads, thousands of bullets flew around. It is a miracle that not more perished, but that was good for our side again. Two are missing and about eight wounded, including our Master Sergeant who got a bullet in his buttocks. Our regiment did well. They came with the white flag to get four hours of cease-fire to take care of their wounded and to bury their dead, but they only got two hours. The next day they fired at them. I was three miles away from there and it was a noise like thunder, and there was so much smoke as if a whole city was burning. They also burned several houses.

Father, I have to break off here. I call myself,

Your Loving Son,

D. Keppel

Do also especially greet Mother and Jenneke.

Port Royal Island

Beaufort, South Carolina

February 23, 1862

Very Esteemed Brother,

    I pick up the pen to write you a few lines. Again do I pick up the pen for the reason that I did not receive a letter from you, because we received the mail this morning. There was, however, one letter with writing that looked like yours but nothing more inside than three postage stamps and blank half sheets of paper. What that means I do not know. Maybe they have thought that there was no more paper in Beaufort. I thank them for the postage stamps, but I don't know what to do with the half sheets of paper. But they have done the best for me, that I can understand. But they do not need to do that anymore because there is enough paper here, more than I can use up. I would rather that they filled it with writing, that would have been more to my liking. There has been a time that one was glad one had a half sheet of paper, but at the moment that is not the case. If one has money, one can manage, and about that we need not complain either at the moment. We just got 26 dollars, and pretty soon we are owed another 26 dollars, and with that we can buy quite a bit of paper.

    I think that we have to leave again on Monday for about 14 days to occupy the outposts or the outpost. Then we are getting closer again to those rascals, then there is only a river between us. It also happens from time to time that they want to cross over to spy on us, and we have to prevent that, so then we better not sleep, otherwise we have a chance that we are taken prisoner. So, therefore, our motto is: "keep your eyes open and be careful".

    Last week three boats came up to the island where Company "C" of our regiment was stationed. They fired heavily on them and they turned back again. That was another defeat for them. The other day they sent another Company out there.

    Brother, I will have to finish, because I still have to write more today; and perhaps I will soon get a letter from one or the other. That I will answer immediately. I am still in good health and I hope that you will read this letter in health. Special news I don't have for you. Therefore, I will finish with this, calling you my loving Brother,

Dirk Keppel

Do greet them all

Port Royal Island

Beaufort, South Carolina

March 16, 1862

Dear Brother,

    I pick up the pen to write you a few lines and to let you know that I am still in good health and I hope that you may receive this letter in good health. Since it is raining anyway today and I do not know what to do with idle time, because when it rains we have nothing to do except to check our rifle, stc. But time, we have no shortage of that because at most we drill four hours a day, therefore we have almost always a half day off, but I am well satisfied with that. That you will understand, rather two hours than four hours and especially if it is a bit warm. Then we don't care much for it, because the novelty is also worn off, because with drill they cannot do anything anymore but give commands and we know it in our sector and the officers are also ready now. Everything begins to come together so that the 8th Michigan Regiment is ready for it. But I think they will not do too much with it anymore. So, if it will answer the purpose equally well then I don't care, because fighting is anything but pleasant.

    You must think what is the reason that I did not say anything about William Goedgeluk. You know perhaps that he is not in our company. We see each other so seldom when we are off. We hardly think about one another. He is use to his own people and I am used to mine. But not knowing any better he is still in good health and he also does not regret it and the prospect is that we will stay here the entire summer, because they brought in a lot of female school teachers and male school teachers to teach the black children, and they brought in a lot of foreman to urge the slaves on in working the land. It is good because it is a sin that so much land would stay idle, because the land here is in reasonably good shape.

    Yesterday we had a bayonet drill against each other. It went real pleasantly and it turned out rather well. There were a few lightly wounded and a few bayonets got broken, but we don't care about that when the Colonel dispatched a company to go and fight against another company. You have to do as much as you think is good. One sometimes had rifles taken away and sometimes was given chase, and so we whiled away the late afternoon.

    I stop now with writing because I have been working on it for two days now.

My greetings to you,

D. Keppel

write back to me

Ask JVE why he is not writing to me anymore

Do greet all those who ask about me.

Port Royal Island

Beaufort, South Carolina

March 21, 1862

Very Esteemed Brother,

    I am taking up the pen to write you a few lines to let you know that I am still in good health and that I hope that you may receive these few lines in health. I would have written you already on Sunday, but I had already written two and then I did not feel like writing anymore. Because of that reason did I stop, and they said that on Monday there would be mail arriving at Hilton Head again; and there I have waited for it again on Monday, and then I got two letters again and these I have answered today. You must tell P. DuPree that it was then that I wrote him that letter.

    This afternoon late I have had a good drill again. It was so windy that it was really bad and then it is not pleasant, because it is so dusty and then you sweat and then when we get back we are as black as a nigger. It is so dusty when you drill like that with three regiments, and then on top of it all it's so windy, then it is worse than worse.

    Today another man again was buried. He was a drummer. There are already several dead in our regiment, but from our company there is only one dead. That could be worse, but in some companies there are eight men, more or less, who are dead, but it does not surprise me if I consider everything.

    All the trees are bursting into leaf. The plum and peach trees are already done blossoming. I have already seen ripe strawberries. The negroes are working hard to plant corn, setting seed potatoes, because nobody else is here to do it. They also plant cotton, so it is springtime here.

    There is here now an opportunity to have a portrait made and I will have one made, as soon as we receive our pay, and I think that it will happen soon, at least it is about time.

    Well, Brother, I finish in the hope you will write back soon. I greet you once more,

Dirk Keppel

Do greet everyone from me.

Port Royal Island

Beaufort, South Carolina

March 23, 1862

Very Esteemed Brother,

    I take up the pen again to send you a few lines and to let you know that I am still in good health and I hope that you may receive the letter in good health. With this I will also let you know that I received your letter and the one from Grovert and from Jenneke in good health. I was again happy to hear from all of you and I hope to answer all of you today, because today I have the best opportunity to write you. Because it is Sunday today we had a worship service this morning, but that did not take long, because it was only a company service and that usually does not last long. I haven't much news to write as they are all still good and healthy and there are presently few sick people as far as I know.

    You wrote me that you are not an abolitionist, but stern Republican I assume. Are you sitting on the fences? Aren't you ashamed of yourself? If Lincoln also would be like that I think we wouldn't be as far as we are now and I think that there would never be a Union anymore. But fortunately it is not that way now and they want it, Republicans as well as Democrats.

    You must not think that way about the blacks as the outcry is in the North, because it is not that bad, at least not here. But those who greet a Moor like that, they themselves are slavedrivers because it does not come out of a good principle. The slaves are getting an upbringing here unlike many thousands in the North have had. Some do read a little bit but it is not much. Now you will probably ask is that good, then I say no. I do hope that there will come some change. But freedom, that I do not hope as yet.

    Brother, I will get off, because it will not help me when I get home and I can tell you more then and perhaps that might happen soon, because I think that the war will be over soon, because if everything continues so successfully they won't be able to hold out long.

    Now, Brother, I will stop writing for this time. I hope that you are satisfied with this imperfect little letter because it does not mean much. Do greet all at home and all those who ask about me. I finish by calling you my Beloved Brother,

D. Keppel

Port Royal Island

Beaufort, South Carolina

April 9, 1862

Very Esteemed Father,

    I again take up the pen to write you a few lines and to let you know through the Lord's blessing I am still in good health and to let you know that I received your letter of March 22 in good health. Only I was a little bit wet, because this morning I had to stand guard and it rained a bit, but that means nothing. Dirk, he fortunately can take it, because I am not made of salt. The corn will now begin to grow fast with such a pleasant rain. I have also learned from your letter that you are still in good health and I hope that you may receive these few lines in health.

    I am also letting you know that we again have sent a letter to A. Plugger. I have to keep 15 dollars. This time I did not dare enclose 20 dollars, because you don't know what might happen, because I don't want to starve as long as I am here. I cannot understand that you did not receive a letter from me for a month, because most of the time I do write one each week, if not more than that. But I think that it is mostly caused by the irregular departure of the mail. I think that I write enough but I might be wrong. But I have the right solution, why don't you write me how much I should write in one week, because it doesn't make any difference to me even if I had to write one every day, because writing isn't difficult for me and I presently have time enough also.

    Our drill has also been changed again. In the morning we have bayonet exercises. We start at 7 o'clock and at 8 o'clock we are done, because near 9 o'clock it gets already very warm and then in late afternoon we have earned our day's pay again. We sometimes have a lot of fun during drill. Our good Colonel comes up with such funny jokes that if you would see us in action once, you would have to hold your stomach from laughing. We are very lucky here to have a good Colonel. He makes it as easy for us as he can.

    Father, I cannot write you any news. Everything is still the same. The Holland boys here are all still in good health. You still have to have a little patience with my portrait, because it is not easy to get one.

    I finish by calling you my father,

Dirk Keppel

Do greet Mother and the whole family. Again greetings from me,

Dirk Keppel




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