Seneca B. Thrall:
Seneca B. Thrall enlisted on August 19,
1862 at the age of 32. He was commissioned into the Field and Staff of
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.
November 6, 1862 (near Grand Junction, Tennessee)
November 15, 1862 (near Grand Junction, Tennessee)
November 23, 1862 (near Grand Junction, Tennessee)
November 29, 1862 (near Grand Junction, Tennessee)
December 1, 1862 (Six miles South of Holly Springs, Mississippi)
More letters written by Seneca Thrall (page 3)
Camp near Grand Junction, Tennessee
Thursday morn, November 6, 1862
I wrote you a note Sunday morning saying we had orders to move by daylight. We were ready of course, but there were so many to start and as our Division (the 6th) was in the rear we did not leave our camp untill 2 o'clock p.m. when we were marched out and on till late at night. It was 12 1/2 o'clock at night when I got my supper. A grand movement of the whole army has commenced, nearly all the troops from Corinth, Bolivar and Jackson having met those from Corinth at this place. I have averaged about four hours sleep each night. My blankets in the morning are covered with frost and one morning I got the cook to give me a cup of water when he got up to get breakfast. I set it by my head on the ground and in an hour after when I got up it was covered with ice. The days are very pleasant, at noon uncomfortably warm, though morning and evening I wear my overcoat. The dust is terrible, enveloped in clouds for miles, it fills the mouth, eyes, ears and nose. I put my tent and hand trunk, cot and all my bed clothing in my hospital wagon and have it with me, notwithstanding orders. I make it a rule to carry my things wherever I go and shall do so whenever possible. I have everything with me except my books, white shirts, and I sleep on the ground as my things are packed away in the wagon. I keep warm and comfortable. We have fresh pork, beef, chickens, sweet potatoes, geese, which the men draw along the road. It is cooked along side the road, the dust seasons it well, but nobody here pays much attention to dirt.
I think we have started to Vicksburg, Mississippi. A battle was expected at Holly Springs, 24 miles from here, but we heard last night that the Rebels had evacuated. Maybe they have, if they have not there will be a battle there.
Tuesday night I witnessed a beautiful sight. The army was encamped in a large field. At 11 o'clock at night, as far as the vision extended, were the camp fires, the wagons, the horses, the men, the moon nearly full, bright clear, starlight. I walked to the highest point which from near our place overlooked the entire scene. It is seldom that an army encamps so as to afford such a view. Last night I saw another beautiful view. The army is encamped in the woods, off to our left is a large open space, dead trees standing thickly, the trees caught fire from our camp fires, some of them the fire was in the top only, others the extending branches were burning, others again the entire tree. Thousands of them burning, some falling every moment, the sparks and flames driven by a high wind filled the air. It was another sight that seldom occurs.
The country around here is beautiful, large plantations, immense corn fields, and a large amount of cotton, fine pleasant dwellings on a great many of the plantations. The country is rich and a few men are, or were, immensely wealthy, many are poor. The contrast from the country around Corinth, which is now a complete desert, made it appear to me much more inviting. The houses and lands were there, but the people around the fine residences we seldom saw, and then only females, children and old men. Stragglers from our army, worthless, trifling, cowardly wretches, and such stragglers usually are, have pillaged and burned all along the way. I saw not less than 30 or 40 houses burning and one large church. I saw the fire just starting. I fell behind and put it out, yet it was afterwards burned. I saw the enclosures around graves, neat palings, burning and burned. I have seen soldiers with massive silver drinking cups, wine glasses, and china cups and saucers. Now such ruthless and wanton destruction and stealing, I entirely condemn. I have no objection to the army taking anything useful or necessary as food, forage and the General Commanding has threatened to have the men caught, shot and every effort is being made by officers to stop it. Such acts of vandalism are only perpetrated by comparatively few, yet it amounts to an immense amount.
My least week in Corinth was a busy one though I had not much to do in the Regt. as there is now a 2nd Asst. Surgn., a Dr. Morrison from Iowa City. As I have charge, I gave him the morning call, and I laid in bed till they called me to breakfast. I only attended to the sick in hospital, 4 to 6, made requisitions for medicines, hospital supplies, etc. I was only employed an hour each day in the Regt. but went on commissions to other Regiments to examine soldiers for discharge. In the 16th Wisconsin we examined a hundred men and gave 30 certificates for discharge. In the evening we would get a nice supper then go to our own camp. The commission was composed of the Surgeon of the 11th Illinois Cavalry, Surg. of the 14th Wisconsin Inf. and myself. The Regimental Surgn. of the 16th Wisconsin did not like to render himself unpopular in his Regt. by refusing certificates to so many so he asked for a commission. I would never do so. I will give certificates of discharge when I think proper and necessary and otherwise I refuse.
I do not know how long we will stop here, though probably not long. I may have other opportunities to write, I may not. My letters will probably be somewhat irregular. I have my tent up today to keep out the sun, use my medicine chest for a table and am fixed quite comfortably. The Colonel has a small tent right by the side of mine and there have been 15 to 20 officers lounging around our tents laughing, joking and wishing they were either Colonels or Doctors so they could carry tents, whisky and other necessaries of life. So I presume I have written a rambling letter.
When we get fixed in winter quarters so as to be stationary, I think I can get Scott a pass. There is no opportunity here to get Frank Garlov in as hospital steward, they are all filled by men who have enlisted in the regiments and none outside of a regiment can be appointed. Kiss Frank and Nellie.
Your affectionate husband
Camp near Grand Junction, Tennessee
Saturday Eve, November 15, 1862
Yours of November 10th with pictures all safe was received last night. It almost seemed as though I saw you and the children in propria persona. We are still in same camp, about four miles south of Grand Junction on the bank of a stream called "Davis Creek" not, however, named in honor of the illustrious Jeff, but because a man by the name of Davis has a mill on the creek. It is about 20 feet wide and from two to eight feet deep. Such is the character of all the streams in this section, narrow, but deep. It has been very pleasant for several days, quite warm during the day. All of our tents and camp equipage have been brought to this place and we are living quite pleasurably again. I suppose there is no doubt about the evacuation of Holly Springs by the Rebs and where or when we will go I have not the least idea. When I say we, I mean more particularly our division of the army, the 6th, Gen. McArthur at present commanding. Gen. Grant is here. There are a number of divisions in this vicinity, around SaGrange, some six miles from here. Grant's headquarters are at Sagrange.
You asked me once how I lived. I have been messing with the hospital untill the last week. I would buy provisions (extras) which are not furnished by the army commissary to the troops, or at least not often, or large quantities as potatoes, onions, dried fruits, so that I did not, as many actually do, sponge my hoard from the hospital supplies; but we have now a mess of our own, which is much pleasanter, and then no one can possibly say we live on the hospital fund. Dr. Morrison, 2nd Asst., and myself (Dr. McKee Surgn. is not here) hired a white man and mess by ourselves. We pay the man $13 per month and board him. He is our cook and a first rate one, boot black, chamber maid, laundress and general servant of all work. We spread a white table cloth upon the office chest, in shape just like a mess chest, it is in my tent, and we have large coffee cups though no saucers, a white sugar bowl, and altogether our table presents quite an inviting appearance. When our meal is upon the table and Roll, our man's name, tells us dinner is ready, if you were here you would see sweet potatoes, ham, dried peaches, Baker's bread, sugar, coffee, and for the past day or two, nice fresh butter, in all more than you were accustomed to cook for all our family. There is seldom much left when we get through.
Orders were issued the other day with reference to tents and baggage. The Field and Staff of a Regt. can only have 3 small wall tents, other commissioned officers and soldiers are to have only what are called Shelter tents. I have never seen one, though they are very small and merely for shelter as the men must carry them. They fold up in small bulk and are light. The Surgical Staff will have one of the wall tents and also one of the 6 wagons allowed to a Regt. to transport hospital and consequently it will not effect me personally very much. They are rapidly reducing the army to fighting weight. The army is not in as good spirits and as cheerful as they were before the elections.
A very large majority of that portion of the army that I am with, and able to judge of their opinions, are unqualifiedly in favor of any and all measures for the vigorous prosecution of the war. A very large majority endorse the President's Proclamation on emancipation. They regard it as a military expedient and necessity to crush out the rebellion, and are in favor of its enforcement. They heavy vote in the Northern states, especially in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, evidently opposed to such prosecution of the war. The election of men whose antecedents prove them to be at least sympathizers with the South; the heavy vote which such men as Vallandigham of Ohio, Sherman of Illinois, Mahony of Iowa, and the possible election of Jesse D. Bright in Indiana, to the Senate, all prove the strength of the opposition at home, and it is a common saying here that if we are whipped, it will be by Northern votes, not by Southern bullets. The army regard the result of the late elections as a least prolonging the war; as giving to England and France just cause of interference, and if by any possible means a compromise should now be effected, that it would only be a temporary peace. They, almost to a man, are in favor of putting the thing through while they are at it and not leave the work to be done ever again in a few months or years. The army is in favor of the emancipation message and views, not because they favor abolition of slavery, or the freedom of the negro, but because the Rebels use them as essential aids to their cause, because it is their vulnerable point and because the nigger is the alleged, and simply, only the alleged, yet not the true cause of the rebellion. It is 10 o'clock, if we do not move I will write more in the morning.
Sunday morning, Nov. 16th. If Scott is very anxious to come to the army on a visit now, the best course for him , I think, is to go to Columbus. Pa is acquainted with the Surgeon General of Ohio, get a letter from him stating his profession, residence, and a recommendation to permit him to visit the army. Might also get a letter from the Governor and others who you would find there, possible the General of officer in command at Columbus. Maybe the Surgeon General might give you some nominal duty, to pass you through. Such recommendations or letters you would present to Gen. Tuttle or officer in command at Cairo, who would then issue the pass. There are at present stringent orders prohibiting civilians from coming down though they do come every day. There is no telling where the army will be in a week and he might not at present be able to get to the division. I have no doubt he could now get permission to visit Corinth, but the army is not there. He could see where it had been and the fortifications.
If we go into winter quarters any place, there I might be able to get him a pass from here. I think by getting letters from officials in Ohio and I think Pa can get them for him if he will go in person to Columbus (do not send for such) he may get through the lines now, and come to Jackson, Tenn. thence through Bolivar to Grand Junction, thence if we are on the line of railroad, probably to Holly Springs if we should be there. If he comes he must at Cairo find out from Hd. Quarters there where the 6th Division of the army is. I would like very much to see him here and he might possible have a fine opportunity to see troops actually in the field, on the march, in bivouack at night, in camp for several days. If he should come he should bring either a couple of blankets or a warm quilt and a gum coat, besides that he only needs a clean shirt and a pair of stockings. If he chews tobacco and wants a good article he had better bring with him sufficient to last him. My tobacco costs me about 50 cents a week and it is miserable stuff at that. He also wants a small flask of good brandy as none can be had here. I would rather see Scott here than anyone else and really hope he will come. If he comes now and stays two or three weeks he might hear and see a battle, though I have not the least idea of what is going on around here or where the Rebels are.
Uncle Sam has not paid the troops in this Dept. for over four months. In 3 days more, he will owe me 3 months pay. When he pays and when we are where I can get a photograph taken, I will send you one. I can get none here. I am almost pennyless, have only one dollar left. Uncle Sam keeps a big store here and trusts so I will have to go on tic.
When we are in camp, we lead a lazy humdrum sort of life, though very pleasant in fine weather. I read considerable. In St. Louis, I bought "Grays Anatomy" $7, I have nothing but medical books to read. We have but very little sickness in our Regt., less than any other here. We have none sick in hospital and only 10 off duty in the Regt. of over 500 men. It is the result of the discharges made at Corinth. I discharged some 32 there, and now as a consequence our Regt. has the least sick of any in the Brigade. Thursday night one of our men shot the thumb of his left hand, supposed by his comrades and by his officers that he did it intentionally. His hand rested on the muffle of his musket and was terribly torn. I took off the thumb and metacarpal bone of the thumb and made quite a decent hand out of it.
I yesterday saw some of the men playing chess. I went over to them and took a game with one of them, and beat him. He said he would bring a man that could play better and he thought could beat me; the man came. He, I found to be a brother of Coppic, of John Brown notoriety. He is a very intelligent man, is a Corporal in our Regt. I beat him, however, at chess, which leaves me the best chess player in the Regiment.
I received a letter from Dr. Williamson the other day. Ottumwa seems to be going along about in the same old style. Dr. Warden is building a store room on Front Street 3 stories brink. Major Woodward has failed, to the tune of $12,000 to $15,000. Dr. W. has not been very well, has had considerable business.
If Scott should come down, write to me, and let me know immediately and when he expects to come. You must not let Nellie learn to talk Welsh, to the exclusion of the English language, or I cannot talk to her when I get home. Did you put her finger in her mouth, intentionally, or did she naturally put it there? Frank looks as bold and careless as possible.
The drums have just beat for church. Capt. John Elrod, a Methodist Preacher, and Capt. of Co. I, is going to preach. I will close and go to church.
Your Affectionate Husband
Camp near Grand Junction, Tennessee
November 23, 1862
We are still here in this neighborhood, though we moved our camp the other day about 1/4 mile to get upon higher ground out of the mud and water. We were upon the low bottom land, right upon the bank of the creek. It rained for a couple of days and there was some appearance of an overflow and an involuntary cold bath. We are now upon the side of a hill. My tent and the hospital tents near the top and for the past two or three days the weather has been very fine, the days warm, pleasant and at noon for three for four hours, quite warm. The nights, however, are and I suppose always are cold. I got another double blanket day before yesterday and use as much bed clothing as I would in Ohio, though we do not have any feather bed to lay upon or even straw.
I received yours of the 16th night before last. If I should accidentally come across a decent contraband I will send her up if I can. It is only occasionally that such are found. I have but little to do now, though I now also have charge of a company of cavalry, Gen McArthur's bodyguard, Co. G, and the 11th Illinois Cavalry. I prescribe for them at 9 o'clock a.m.
We have now none in hospital and only 6 off duty in the Regiment; that for 500 men is as healthy as they would be at home. We are encamped on a plantation that has been cultivated for many years. We are in the "timber" (an Ohio man would say woods) just in the edge of the cleared ground, so that it seems like a prairie. All the fencing has been burned and for the past few days they have had a Division drill four hours each day. A Division (ours is the 6th Gen. McArthur) is composed of three Brigades (ours is the 3rd Brigade, Col. Crocker commanding), each Brigade is composed of four Regiments. There is also a company of Cavalry as Body Guard for the General, also a section of 6 guns of a Battery attached to each Brigade.
The Division then is composed of 12 Regiments and about 24 guns (Artillery). There was plenty of room for drill and you may read in some of the papers rose colored accounts of the drills of the General and his Staff. I went out one day and found it like most everything else, distance lends enchantment to the view. The Division was drawn up in line of battle. The batteries stationed and supported by regiments upon each side of them. They would alternately advance and retreat, charge bayonets, advance and form new lines of battle, change their front, then cannon with six horses attached would go tearing at full gallop across the field, suddenly halt, unlimber their pieces, be ready to fire, etc. It looked very well it is true, but I should not be surprised to see in the "Cincinnati Commercial" some high flown account that it would be difficult to recognize the original.
I saw in a late Commercial (the 13th I think) a panegyric upon Gen. McArthur that everybody here laughs at and ridicules. Today they ate now having an inspection of the wagons, ambulances, horses, mules of the Division, also of the Regiments, the men, the condition of their guns, clothing, etc., the whole division is out.
I do not know how much it is going to cost me to live here and cannot tell except by trying. I suppose it will be about $25.00 a month. You need not be uneasy about not being able to pay our debts. Uncle Sam now owes me about $340, when he will pay I do not know, but anxious enquiries are made for the Paymaster, and if I stay in the army four months longer I can pay all I owe, especially as I expect to receive more pay soon - $160 per month.
Dr. McKee's, the Surgeon, resignation was accepted. I wrote immediately to Gov. Kirkwood for the commission and I think I stand a very fair chance to get it. I will unless he has some politician to give it to, or Colonel Crocker has some particular friend he wants to have it. The Medical Director recommended me for promotion, also Colonel Hillis of 17th Iowa gave me a very strong letter to the Governor, also Lt. Col. Shane who commands our Regiment. Colonel Crocker who is Colonel of the Regt. and can have whoever he wants appointed, commands the Brigade as acting Brigadier General. Col. Crocker does not like me very well. I did not happen to show him sufficient deference. I did not report myself to him when I joined the Regt., and did not for some 3 or 4 weeks present to him several letters of introduction which I had. When I did call upon him, he asked in an authoritative tone of voice why I had not done so before. I answered because it was neither required or necessary, that I reported to the officer in command of the Regt. which was the only proper place for me to report and that I did not think it necessary to present any letters of introduction as I did not think much of such letters anyhow. We of course parted not very well pleased with each other.
He refused to recommend me to the Governor but said he would not interfere in any way. If he does not I think I shall get my commission as Surgeon. If I do not get it, I shall get out of the service if I can. I have had charge of the Regt. all the time I have been with it, and now I want the commission and the pay of Surgeon. I said nothing to Col. Crocker myself, but he told Lt. Col. Shane that he would not ask the Gov. to give me a commission, though he would not interfere to prevent it. The Medical Director also asked him to recommend me to the Governor and when he declined to do so, the Med. Director did it himself, so that my chance is good if Col. Crocker really does not interfere. It may be several weeks yet before I know the result; such things move slowly. Dinner is ready and I must stop to eat as we have an extra dinner today; boiled mutton, soda crackers (not the hard army crackers), butter (I bought 2 pounds of $1.00), cheese, pickles, dried apples stewed, molasses, sugar and coffee. It was an agreeable change from fat pork, hard bread and coffee which has been our only diet for the past few days. I have unbuttoned my vest, pants and drawers to give the apples room to swell. In my last I told Scott how to get down here. I hope he will come.
Tell Frank that I have a nice bed to sleep on now, a cot just large enough for one. I have lost my horse though and will have to get me another which is no easy matter down here. Horses here are like niggers, mighty uncertain property. Whisky is rather hard to get down here and we have not had a drop in the Regt. for 10 days and I do not drink an ounce a week. My appetite is good and I feel first rate. There is an order that a Surgeon who drinks or gives to Regimental officers to drink the hospital liquor shall be dismissed, a good and necessary order, lately issued. They are packing mail to send off and only waiting for this.
Your affectionate husband,
P.S. Tell Scott to send me in a letter Podophyllin. The government does not supply it and I want it.
Camp near Grand Junction, Tennessee
Thursday noon, November 29, 1862
We move in the morning, in all probability, as I have just received orders to send my sick to General Hospital No. 1 at SaGrange, I have sent two only, the other Regiments by my side have sent 6 to 12. I went to SaGrange yesterday to see the place. It is a beautiful place, many fine residences with large yards, beautifully improved, the houses of a modern style of architecture, the chimneys inside, in this country they are generally upon the outside. There is a vast amount of wealth in the town, the wealthy planters have their town residences there.
Our Thanksgiving dinner consisted of fried ham, onions, soda crackers and molasses. Just as we had finished our dinner a man came into camp with a wagon load of bread. I bought six loaves for 70 cents and ate a loaf just because I wanted to see how soft bread tasted and whether it was hard on the teeth. It was the first bread for nearly a month and probably will be the last. I weighed yesterday 152 pounds, used to weigh 137, so you see camp life agrees with me. The weather has been very fine though it freezes water every night. I filled a bed thick with dead leaves and with my blankets had a first rate bed. When we stop I shall try again. We probably go to Holly Springs first and the impression in camp is that we are bound for Vicksburg, away down in the land "of cotton, cinnamon seed and sandy bottom".
I expect we will have a hard march and it is rather cold to wrap up in a blanket and take it on the ground these nights, though I am getting used to it and sleep first rate when I have to do it. Orders have come to prepare to move. The next order will be Move and it may come in an hour, though we do not expect it till morning, but I must see to the hospital tents, medicines, cooking apparatus, etc., and then to my own things and be ready. Will write in a few days.
Your affectionate husband
P.S. I send you passes such as we have to get when we go outside a line of pickets.
Six miles South of Holly Springs, Miss.
Monday Morning, December 1, 1862
Friday morn we left camp near Grand Junction, ordered to carry seven days rations. The day was cloudy, cool, rendering an overcoat very pleasant all day. Men had to carry their knapsacks, blankets, guns, etc. Roads in fine condition, neither dusty or muddy. It was the hardest days march our Regiment has ever had. We were up at 4 o'clock a.m., ate breakfast by candle light, loaded teams and started at 8 o'clock.
We marched till about 8 o'clock p.m. then had to stop for 3 hours only, eat supper (I had crackers and boiled ham in my haversack). We started again and went four miles further. I laid down to sleep at 3 o'clock a.m. Saturday morn was up and routed out our cook and had warm coffee, while it was yet so dark we could not see to cook or eat without a candle. Started Saturday morn as soon as it was light enough to see. Our Division, Gen. McArthur's, leading the advance of the whole army, our Brigade leading the Division, and our Regt. leading the Brigade. None were ahead of us except cavalry and some light artillery as advance guard. We passed through Holly Springs at 10 a.m., our band playing "Dixie". Holly Springs is the best and largest Southern town I have yet seen. I will tell you more of it at some other time and incidents of our passage through. About 4 miles out from town we heard the cannon and musketry of our advance skirmishers. We were ordered forward at quick time, and in about 15 minutes came up to where they had been firing. One of our men (of 3rd Michigan Cav) was lying by the road, dead, and three secesh by his side, their graves already digging. They were buried in less than 1/2 hour from the time they were well and living. We passed immediately on. Our advance skirmishers driving in their pickets. We came in sight of them once. I saw them about 1/2 ahead, we halted for the army to come up, stopped 2 hours, then advanced about a mile, and camped in the old camp of the Rebels. Our teams did not come up till Sunday morn. Yesterday the cannon were ringing every little while. The enemy are found to be in force about 5 miles ahead, prepared to fight and dispute the passage of the Tallahatchie river.
There is going to be soon a severe and terrible battle, probably tomorrow if not sooner. We have here nearly all of Grant's army. The whole country is covered with men. I do not know how many, probably 25,000, possibly 50,000. We have our tents up. Last night it rained very hard, Saturday was one of the finest and most pleasant days I ever saw, Today it is cold. I am wrapped in my overcoat, hands so cold I can scarcely write. Yesterday while cannon we constantly booming and occasionally we could hear the prolonged continuous roll of musketry, I was in my tent busily engaged in making out my monthly report. Everything moves in the army just in clock work and a few guns does not disturb the equanimity of old soldiers though it excites somewhat the new troops who are here. The old troops joke the new ones roughly and hard. The new ones cannot endure the marches. They, you know, were paid a bounty of $100.00 to enlist. The old ones call them Bountyites and we would see many of them lying by the road side, shoes and stockings off, footsore and completely exhausted. The old ones as they passed would call out, what regiment, the reply was generally 95th Illinois, 103r Illinois or some other new regiment. Then the old soldier would call out derisively, "Halloa, Bounty, hard work to earn $100, ain't it? Ain't you glad you joined the army? I say, old boy, I will tell you how to keep your feet from getting sore". The new one looks up, eye brightens, and asks how. "Wrap that $100 around your feet". But the new ones are pretty sharp, they finally have beat the old ones out. Yesterday several large, fine new Illinois and Indiana Regiments marched by us to camp just beyond us, the guns were booming away in the advance, full new Regiments as large again as ours, bright buttons, new clothes, all shining and gay. "What Regiment?" "40th Illinois, got our $100 in our pockets (slapping their hand on their pocket), going down here to the Tallahatchie to Price and Van Dorn. Do you want to borrow a green back (that is a treasury note)". Our boys were beat. The joke and the laugh were constant, and frequently gems of genuine wit were darted out by some dirty, dusty looking soldier.
I must close to send this off. I received yours of 23d on Thursday eve. Do you receive the "Courier" yet? I sent to Morris to send it to you. Scott had not better come down now unless he can come this way to Bolivar, Sagrange, Holly Springs, etc. There is nothing at Corinth now. If we have a battle here he may if he tries get sent down by the Governor or Surgeon General to see after Ohio troops, that is his best plan.
I will write as soon after the battle as I have an opportunity. We are bound to whip them is the general feeling of officers and men. The soldiers are feeling well and ready for the fight. I intend to keep as far out of the way as is consistent with my duties. My curiosity with regard to a battle has been entirely satisfied, and I should desire never to see another.
Your affectionate husband
More letters written by Seneca Thrall (page 3)
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