Seneca B. Thrall:

Union Letters


    Seneca B. Thrall enlisted on August 19, 1862 at the age of 32. He was commissioned into the Field and Staff of 13th Iowa Infantry on September 17, 1862 as an Assistant Surgeon and resigned on April 4, 1862. He lived in Ottumwa, IA and was originally from Ohio. 
    These letters are from an old, typed family transcript purchased at auction. All of the letters were written to his wife, unless otherwise noted.


September 19, 1862 (Corinth, Mississippi)

September 22, 1862 (Corinth, Mississippi)

October 12, 1862 (near Corinth, Mississippi)

October 19, 1862 (near Corinth, Mississippi)

October 26, 1862 (near Corinth, Mississippi)

More letters written by Seneca Thrall (page 2)



Corinth, Mississippi

September 19, 1862

Dear Wife,

    I arrived here last night at 9 o'clock. The 13th Regiment with others had been ordered from Bolivar to this place and I learned at Jackson, Tennessee they were here.

    I left Keokuk Sunday morning arrived at St. Louis on Monday morning. Left down the river Tuesday eve and arrived at Columbus, KY Wednesday eve. Took the cars Thursday morning and here last eve. This morning I started to find the camp of my Regiment. I found it by noon two miles south of Corinth. The sick and convalescent, those unfit for duty numbering about 100 men were left in camp. The Regiment is near Iuka, some 25 miles south, where nearly all of Gen. Grant's army has been moved during the last few says. The army is there without tents or baggage and a battle expected everyday. As soon as I can find positively where my Regiment is, it will be necessary for me to go to it and shall dos o tomorrow, taking my rubber coat only.

    I am likely to be initiated into the mysteries and miseries of war upon my very first debut - sleeping upon the ground, wrapped in my rubber coat. I have taken my baggage to the camp. There was nothing there to eat (officers have to furnish themselves), the Quartermaster was sick and everything in confusion, myself, a perfect stranger, and so I came back to the "Tishimingo House" to eat and sleep tonight. I have seen today Lt. Mobley, 2nd Iowa and Lt. Hedrick, 15th Iowa. They are sick but walking around. All able to go are out to the battle.

    I found a letter here from you, one from Annie and one from Pa. I did not send you a trunk. Pay Therese or Mrs. Cross, as I found myself extremely short of money. I wrote to you from Keokuk which I presume you received Monday. I suppose you will have to borrow money to pay Joy, what I had to borrow, and also to go home with. I will, first pay day, send money by express to Dr. Williamson to pay it. If we are whipped in approaching battle, the army will retire to the entrenchments at this place; if we whip them, I do not know where we will go. Wapello County will be well represented in next battle here, the 2nd, 15th and 17th are out.

    If I go out to the field tomorrow or next day I may not have an opportunity to write for several days but will again as soon as possible. There is nothing here but soldiers and Negroes. It is amusing to see the latter, large crowds of them are at all depots at Cairo, Columbus and all along the road. Cotton bales are scattered all along the line of roads to this place. I have seen enough of the source of all evil, Cotton and Niggers. Anie says Scott thinks of going into the Army. Write to him at once and tell him from me that I am enough of the family to go now and for him to stay at home. I can probably endure it. I know that he cannot. It is perfect folly for him to think of it. His place is at home and he should stay there.

    Tell Mrs. Porter that I have not seen her husband yet, though I gave her letter to Dr. Estabrook, Chaplain of the 15th and he will got it. Mrs. Orr's letter I gave to Dr. Reed and Dr. Orr probably has it by this time. Write frequently. Direct for the present to Corinth, Miss. I presume you know as much as I do about the movements of the army here and always will. Kiss Nellie and Frank for me. Tell me when you expect to go home. Write before you go and as soon as you get there.

Your affectionate husband

Corinth, Mississippi

September 22, 1862

Dear Wife,

    I think this is the 22nd and I am still here in camp about 2 miles south of Corinth. I received your letter that you wrote the day before you received my letter from Keokuk. I am sorry I had to cause you the necessity of borrowing money to go home with. I think you had better take Maggie with you if you can. My Regiment is not here yet. I started to go to them on Sunday, but was directed to remain here as the Regiment would be here today, but today I learn it is at Iuka. I am ordered to stay here, however, and shall do so untill ordered to do otherwise. There was a battle about 20 miles below here last Friday about 400 of our men killed, wounded and missing. The 17th Iowa was engaged, and the 16th, 5th, 13th, 15th and others did not become engaged in the fight. It is fortunate for Lt. Stuart that he was at home. I heard that they brought some 80 of the wounded here today. There are ten thousand rumors here and I presume more is known of what has transpired at the north than right here.

    I was down to Corinth today and took dinner with Lt. Eaton who is Post Quartermaster here, a very difficult and responsible situation. He has several hundred men employed under his direction and he does well and gives satisfaction. I saw Skelton today and he looks rough and healthy. He is Sergeant-Major of the 17th, was in the fight the other day and says he never wants to be in another. He was riding a horse, quite a nice one, that he captured some time since. A horse is something that I have got to have and I have been trying to get one today. I want to get one without buying and I may do so, that is, get one of Uncle Sam's to use, though it is against the rules, yet so many do so.

    I am staying in Major Van Hosen's tent, am not yet fixed up upon my own hook. I am messing in the Hospital yet, though will have to arrange it some other way, when the Regiment gets together. I will finish this and send it tomorrow.

    Tuesday morn - we go to Iuka today. Direct my letters as you did the last to Cairo. Have written to Scott


    We are in camp on the ground the Rebels occupied in the attack on Corinth. Large trees are around us, cut off by our cannon balls and shell, branches shot and hanging, tops lying all around, splintered and broken, shells unexploded and fragments of shells are lying on the ground. 50 feet from my tent are the graves of four Secesh. Groves are scattered all around through the woods. We are a mile west of Corinth. We may leave before daylight, we may stay weeks. We know nothing about it. I do not even now know as much about the battle as you probably do. By the way send me the "Hawkeye" and "Ottumwa Courier" if you get them. I have not yet received a Courier.

    I went into town this morning and who do you suppose I found, Mr. Hawley, he takes the vote of the Iowa 2nd Cavalry, also Dr. Hughes, Dr. Lambert and a number of others that I met with in Keokuk, come to see after the Iowa wounded. The pay of all doctors in Keokuk Hospital has been reduced to $80 per month. I should have been dissatisfied had I remained there.

    I suppose now there is no danger of Scott's joining the army, if he should think of such a thing, he must knock it out of his head. It is all nonsense for him to come. He has not the constitution to endure its exposures or a stomach that can digest such food as he frequently must take. With me I can laugh and grow fat on it, and, singular as it may seem, I think I shall really like it. I have been put through the mill rather roughly yet I do not now dislike it. Did you take Maggie with you, I hope you did. You must not get the blues any about me even if you should not hear every few days. As I may be situated as to be unable to write or mail a letter. But you must write at least every week and tell me all about yourself and the children. I wish if you can you would get yours and their pictures taken an mail to me without any case on them, just the plate, many are received here that way. I would give most anything to see them. Annie's baby is not as pretty as ours, I know, is it?

Your affectionate husband

Written on the bottom of this letter is an undated note to Scott


    I wrote to you some two or three weeks ago about Mary. If I was at home I should, I think, rupture membrane. It should have been done a month or so ago, yet now I think it would still be best. I think if she has now sore mouth it would not be 1/2 as severe after abortion at this period, as after its continuance to full term, would be sooner over with and with less danger. Get Iodide of Potassium, Chlorate of Potassa, Sugar Beef, etc. etc. may and probably will enable her to pass along very well still if you can at all coincide with me in opinion as to its being a proper case (medically) for the abortive treatment, I wish you would do so. I should conscientiously, do it without the least hesitation. If abortion is not produced, treatment should be commenced immediately and constantly continued. Does Annie nurse her baby's if so I would stop it, our children have proven the milk treatment by bottle to be good, and with the family idiosyncrasy, I would not have her nurse the baby.

Write to me

Yours affectionately

In camp near Corinth, Miss

Sunday eve, October 12, 1862

Dear Wife,

    We are back again once more to Corinth. Marched back in two days, Friday and Saturday.

    I wrote to you a pencil letter on Secesh paper on Thursday last October 9th which I gave to an officer returning to Corinth from Ripley and he said he would mail it for me. I gave you a short account of our march from Inker to Corinth, the battle of Friday and Saturday, and our pursuit as far as Ripley.

    I have been fairly initiated in the art of war; here three weeks, on the march all the time and in a battle of two days. Marched night and day, heat, suffocating clouds of dust, rain and mud, bright moonlight, beautiful nights, and dark, rain miserable. Friday noon it commenced raining, rained hard all the afternoon and drizzled all night and we marched on till 9:00 o'clock pm. I could not see the horse ahead of me or the man trudging along at my side in rain and mud. We camped on the banks of the Hatchee river, no tents, low bottom land, we soldiers wet and miserable, our trains behind, nothing to eat, and did not expect them to come in, but they did. The soldiers built large fires, dried themselves, got their supper and went singing, "Ho boys, ho; aint you glad you joined the army, ho boys ho, etc." Slept on the ground on their oil cloth blankets, called up at 3 1/2 o'clock am, and onward march. I put two sick men in the ambulance and fastened the seat up above them and I sat up in the ambulance out of the rain, gum coat on and dry. I have been fairly initiated. The men say they have had a harder time during the past month than ever before.

    I never felt any better, have an appetite like an Anaconda, have felt some times as though I could swallow a hog whole; but when it really came to the scratch I was satisfied with a piece of side meat (sow belly the boys call it), one or two quarts of coffee and some crackers, and without any joking it tasted fine, when you are hungry, and I have relished such a meal as I ever did any place. Tonight I am in my own tent, things fixed up and quite homelike.

    Friday noon as we were marching along, I heard a familiar voice call, "Helloa, Stick-In-The-Mud, how are you?". There was Homer Thrall with Mat Wolcott of Granville. We were marching past the encampment of Gen Davies Division of the army and they were about to start toward Corinth. I could only stop a moment then or among the multiplicity of regiments lose my own. As it was, the 13th was a mile ahead and just stopping for dinner when I overtook them, so I rode back and Homer came on with me and took dinner with me that day. We had sweet potatoes, coffee, crackers and molasses; a first-rate dinner. Homer looks well though brown and thinner than he used to be. He looked as dirty and hard as any "paddy whack" and he told me that if he was half as dirty as I was he would be ashamed of himself. He is now Lt. Colonel of the 22 Ohio, the Regt. formerly the 13th Missouri, and is said to be a No. 1 officer.

No closing to this letter

In camp near Corinth, Mississippi

October 19, 1862

Dear Wife,

    I have received no letter from you since date Oct. 5th informing me of your safe arrival at DeGraff. I wrote you under dates Oct. 9th and 12th, the latter from this camp, the former from near Ripley. We have been in this camp a week last night. It is a very pleasant place, rolling ground in the green oak woods, shady and pleasant, in day time, free from dust. Put tents up, ground cleared nicely and pleasantly situated, have enjoyed it. I have my tent near the hospital tents, as more convenient for me, though the proper place for it is in line with those of the field and staff officers. The Colonel told me to have my tent moved into its proper place but I have not done so, and he has said nothing about it since. I have a very nice little tent, carpeted with old bags that had grain in. My cot on one side with sheets, pillow and blankets, fixed up as nice and clean as you please. An empty barrel stands at the head of my cot on which are books, candle, matches, water and etc., makes a very useful if not ornamental stand. A rope stretches across the top of my tent on which hang any coats, towels, etc. My mirror hangs at the head of my bed, fastened by a look of thread, into the side of my tent, on the opposite side from my bed, two stakes are driven into the ground, a board nailed on an I have another stand, a box with papers and then my hand trunk on some boards to keep it off the ground.

    We receive the daily St. Louis and Chicago papers the second day after publication and this week we have really lived. I am sitting in my tent in my shirt sleeves (a clean shirt) and white collar on with slippers on, boots nicely blacked, two camp stools to sit on. Can you from my description form an idea of the internal arrangements of my house? I am up in the morning at 5 o'clock, at 1/2 past 5 have Surgeon's call, that is, the sick who are able to be about, and stay in their tents and also those who are lazy and do not want to work, consequently report themselves sick, are brought to my tent by the Orderly Sergeants of each Company, I have a fire just in front of my tent, set on my stool with my feet to the fire, call off their names from the lists handed to me, and prescribe, and either mark them off duty or on, as I decide at the time. A clerk sits at my side, keeps a record of every case and my prescription. The soldier takes my written prescription to the next tent, here is the hospital steward who gives him the medicine.

    We have during the past week had an average of 45 report at Surgeon's call. I prescribe for them in about an hour, have an average of 24 marked off duty each day. The remainder I consider able for duty and so marked them. The clerk makes 3 copies of my morning report, one goes to the Regimental Adjutant, one to Brigade Headquarters and one to Gen. McArthur's Division Headquarters. They all have to be in by 6 o'clock a.m. Immediately after Surgeon's call I eat breakfast. Have during the past week lived well. I bought a bushel of potatoes, 1/2 bushel of onions, 2 lbs. of good butter at 50 cents per lb., a luxury I can no longer afford, but it was the first I had tasted for a month. Have good baker's bread, coffee for breakfast and dinner, tea for supper, have had ham, fresh beef, tomatoes, cucumber and tomato pickles, etc. After breakfast I visit and prescribe for those sick in hospital, have only had three this week, and then visit those sick in their tents and not able to come to Surgeon's Call, sometimes none, sometimes two or three. Usually my day's work when in camp as now will be done by 10 o'clock a.m. then I can read, write, visit and I go to bed at 9 o'clock p.m. During the past week I have been busy trying to get some men discharged. I examined and made out the discharge papers of 32 men. Sent the men with their certificates to the Medical Director who examined the men and approved every one of them, which is here considered quite a compliment. The papers have been sent to Gen. Grant who always signs them when approved by Medical Director, so that there will the next week be sent from this Regiment 32 used up men that will no longer trouble me. It is the first time anything of the kind has ever been done in this Regiment and raised quite an excitement. I had over a hundred men apply to me for discharge. I have thus given a hasty glimpse at my daily avocation. What do you think of it? It has been slightly different from the preceding three weeks which was march, sleep on the ground, eat hard crackers and pork, and in battle for two days. Last Thursday night upon one side of my tent about 30 feet from it were 20 or 30 men, holding a prayer meeting (we have a Captain and Sgt. who are Methodist preachers) they could be heard singing and praying all over camp. In front of my tent and not more than 60 feet from the Prayer meeting was a hilarious and noisy set of men surrounding some "Niggers" who were singing Negroe melodies, beating Juba, playing on the banjo, etc. A little to one side another noisy, swearing crowd telling stories, etc., twas a singular melody. I remained in my tent, moralising and thinking what odd creatures men are and upon the varieties of human nature surrounding me.

    The days here during the past week have been as pleasant as possible, warm, not hot or oppressive, the nights however are cold. I use almost as much coverings as I do in the winter. I have two blankets or rather one army blanket cut in two blankets and must get me another double blanket. I have a large blue army overcoat which I wear in the early morn and at evening and lay over my bed at night. I sleep comfortable though the majority of men and officers complain that they do not about 3 or 4 o'clock a.m. it becomes very cold and I would certainly expect, were I in Iowa, and felt the cold so much, to find the Cemoine frozen and the boys skating. Here there is no sign of frost, the leaves on the trees are green, just beginning to change in places to brown and yellow.

    Yesterday I rode over to the camp of the 22d Ohio, spent the afternoon with Homer and took tea with him and the Colonel of the Regiment, as they mess together (Homer is Lt. Col.). We had oysters, potatoes, tomatoes, griddle cakes, bread, coffee, ham and finally a bottle of Still Catawba. We can live you see when we are situated as now, but a "soldier's life is not always gay", notwithstanding the old song, yet while it is gay they make the most of it. The 22nd are about a mile from us in the same Division of the army as the 2nd and 7th Iowa, though those two Regiments are now detached and are at Riensa about 12 miles from here, so that I have not seen Capt. Makon and our Ottumwa boys of those Regiments. Lt. George Blake, Co. K, 2nd Iowa, used to be in Daggett's Store was mortally wounded in the battle. Others from Ottumwa were killed and wounded though none that you know that I know of.

    You would be astonished to see me eat. You have seen me sometimes when I was hungry eat my pile, well, I eat that way now every meal and then quit hungry. I do not know what I would do if I was to eat till I was satisfied, if such a thing would be possible. I am brown and sun-burned, more then I supposed possible in so short a time, though my first three weeks was an initiation that few have had. It was the hardest and roughest time the Regiment has ever had.

    I have three times the life and energy that I had in Keokuk, feel any amount better, have not yet been as anything so completely tired, wearied and prostrated, as I frequently was there. This rough life has a singular charm and fascination, though I shall not express my own opinions untill I have passed into the wet, muddy winter and thus have seen all the elephant. For the short time I have been in, I have seen a very large part, have had a varied experience, have marched day and night, by bright sunlight, moonlight, starlight, heat and dust, in rain and mud, in darkness seemingly palpable and impenetrable. Have heard the booming cannon, bursting shell, whistling balls, the incessant deep sounding roll of musketry, each separately, and again all combined in one indescribable commingling, deafening sound, the falling branches, crashing trees, around me the dead, the dying, the wounded, the cowards leaving the ranks, flying past me, seeking safety, officers and men cheering each other on.

    The dead on the field after the battle, digging of graves, the pursuit of a fleeing army, road filled with wagons broken and burning, tents, blankets, baggage of every description, yet I have not yet seen it all or have not seen and experienced it long enough to yet express a fixed and permanent opinion as to how I like it. I can only say that so far as I have got, taking it all in all, I am surprised to find that there is something about it that I like. I may continue to do so, but I am much better satisfied here, mingling with and taking part in the strife then I have been before since the commencement of the war.

     There is work, there is excitement, you are constantly on the quiver for what comes next, the pulse is quickened, the brain is cleared of cobwebs, that have accumulated in the hum-drum, quiet life of years past, yet I would prefer never to see another battle. I did not at any time think of getting hurt myself, or did not feel any fear, how it would be were I in the front ranks, I cannot say, and I have no desire ever to be there.

    I have written a longer letter than I expected when I began. I wish you would write my name in indelible ink - S.B. Thrall, Asst. Surgn., 13th Iowa - pn pieces of tape that I can sew on to my blankets and other clothes, coat, pants, etc. I thought I had some ink but cannot find it. It is difficult here to procure 3 cents postage stamps. When you write, send me a couple in each letter, then if the letter miscarries, it is not much loss. In directing letters and etc. be very particular to make the 13th plain and distinct. Two of my letters have gone to the 15th Iowa and been brought to me by the boys from Ottumwa in that Regiment, or I would never have got them.

    Lt. Porter's tent is about as far from mine as our house is from his in Ottumwa. The Regiments are in same Brigade. Tell Frank that I eat off from tin plates, drink tea and coffee out of tin cups, and have it spread out on a box (mess chest) without any table cloth. If I lose my tin plate I should have to send to him and borrow his. You did not tell me the name of Annie's baby, whether it was a boy or girl, what it looks like, or whether it looks like all babies.

    You must not get the blues any about me, or about yourself. You will come out all well enough, I am convinced, and as for me, I shall do well and take care of myself. I believe the most important thing for a soldier is ability to digest any food, in reasonable quantities that fortune affords him. I can do that to perfection and by the aid of Quinine, I expect to remain well. You know Quinine is my hobby. When sleeping out on the ground I took a pill night and morn as prophylactic. Kiss Nellie and Frank and write often.

Your affectionate husband,

 S. B. Thrall, 13th Iowa

In camp near Corinth, Mississippi

Sunday, October 26, 1862

Dear Wife,

    Yours of October 19th I received on the 24th, also at same time 5 Hawkeyes. Last Sunday I wrote to you. I was then sitting in my tent in my shirt sleeves, enjoying myself hugely. Now to speak of the "Sunday South" seems a "goak" as Artemis Ward has it. I am now in my tent, my huge Cavalry overcoat on, buttoned up tight, its large cape enveloping my shoulders, my tent pegged tightly down, the flaps tied closely, to exclude as as possible the wintry blasts and withall I set here shivering and writing. Yesterday morn, about 4 a.m., there was as sudden a change as we ever had in Iowa or Ohio. I awoke nearly froze, pulled the bedclothes over me, piled all my clothes, but in vain. I had to get up and go to a fire, where I found most all of the Regiment, at various fires, routed out before me, a cold damp wind and we expected a rain. In the afternoon I had my horse saddled and went down to town with an ambulance to get blankets and other hospital supplies for our sick. I had six in hospital.

    I saw a pile of old tin, I had them throw a lot of it in the ambulance and today I have men at work building a heating apparatus in the hospital tent. About 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon it commenced snowing and in a short time the ground was covered. The snow blowing in my face as I rode about, a cold wind, and it really animated me and my horse. My horse seemed surprised, he did not like to face the blast, but as I gently insinuated my spurs in his side he sprang forward, snorting and kicking and then really seemed to like it. It snowed for several hours, and was laying upon the ground over 1/2 inch deep. The men say over an inch.

    We eat under the top of a tent, what is called a fly, has no sides, simply the top, at supper the snow would cover our plates and our food. We did not have to wait long for our tea to cool. At 7 o'clock I took a large pan of coals into my tent, fixed my bed, warmed my feet and tumbled in, as did everybody else. I slept comfortably, very few others did. Water in barrels froze a 1/2 inch thick. I have acquired a habit of early to bed and early to rise. I have always been healthy and expect to become wealthy and wise. Such weather for Mississippi and in October, the boys huddled around the fires renewed their song "Oh, aint you glad you joined the army" etc. I have not got tired of it and really like it. My "hoggish" appetite continues and I feel physically as well if not better than I ever did in my life.

    A life in camp is a lazy one to me and to most......

Remainder of letter missing

More letters written by Seneca Thrall (page 2)



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