1863: Robert Alexander Young to Family

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R. A. Young (1880-ish)

These letters were written by Pvt. Robert Alexander Young (1829-1909) of Co. K, 106th Illinois Infantry. Enlistment records tell us that Robert was 29 (actually 33) years of age when he entered the service in August 1862. He stood a little above average height (almost 5′ 11″), had black hair, gray eyes, and a dark complexion. He gave his birthplace as Bath county, Kentucky and his current residence as Athens, Menard county, Illinois. He was mustered out with his regiment at Pine Bluff, Arkansas on 12 July 1865.

Robert was the son of William Preston Young (1800-1878) and Margaret Young (1794-1853). He married Cassindra Claypool (1835-1866) in 1865 but she died less than a year later. His second wife was Ann Eliza Kincaid (1840-1903), the daughter of John Kennedy Kincaid (1808-1877) and Vienna Williams (1817-1888).

Robert’s siblings included: John Edward Young (1824-1904), Margaret “Susan” (Young) Graham (1826-1903), Mary (“May”) Jane Young (1827-1903), and Agnes M. Young (1830-18xx).

[Editors Note — See also 1863: James Lemuel Yates to Susan (Norwood) Yates.

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Rutherford [Tennessee]
February 18, [1863]

Dear Sister,

I received your letter of the 8th which was the first I had got since Tom Kincaid brought me [brother] John Eds. I was glad to hear that you all were well as you were and I hope these few lines will find you well. I am as well as usual — only I have a slight cold which is the first I have had this winter. I caught cold on last Tuesday night on picket. On that night, word came that the rebels were around us and there was extra guards thrown out. I with four others was detailed for that and placed about a half of a mile from camp in a dark, damp hollow where the rebels would have to cross if they came that way. We were not allowed to have any fire and not being used to be out at night since we came here, I took cold. The report proved to be false about the rebels. I do not think they were [with]in ten miles of us at that time but someone came in and told the Major a big yarn and he believed it and had us placed in danger and exposure when there was no need of it. Major [John M.] Hurt has a good deal to learn yet and he will learn somethings that will open his eyes some of these days. If he does not while in the army, he will when we get home.¹

Mary, there is a good deal of humbug in the army — especially in the shoulder strap part. Only a few of them can bear them without hurting them.

I am sorry to see from the papers the course taken by the legislature in Illinois on the war. It is calculated to create dissatisfaction in the army. If they should call the Illinois soldiers home, woe unto those that sympathize with Rebels. I have heard men name persons at home and swear they would burn everything they had. There is some in the 106th that have deserted — I think 15 — but the majority of them we can do without. Although there is one company in which there is some dissatisfaction.

You wrote that you had hard times at prayer meeting in singing. Tell Johnny to learn to start the tunes. I should like to drop in some night and see you there. Tell McStrain that there is no danger but that a tune will stop if the brakes are put on.

You also surprised me in saying you had been a visiting to Betsy Cantrall’s. I declare, you must be improving since I left. Tell McStrain he owes me a letter and Mr. Crisswell too. Mary, tell Pa to go to Joel Hall’s and get a half drachm of morphine and send to me for the captain. It cannot be had here. He can send it by mail without much risk and it is much needed sometimes. The boys are all about well over the measles except Frank Rice. There was a man died at the hospital yesterday. He belonged to Co. H.

You must write often and visit your neighbors and let me know.

Your brother, — R. A. Y.


¹ John M. Hurt, a resident of Athens, Illinois, enlisted in September 1862 and served as the Major of the 106th Illinois Infantry until he was promoted in April 1864 to be its Lt. Colonel. He died at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on 18 November 1864.

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Union fortifications around Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Snyder’s Bluff [Mississippi]
July 19, [1863]

Dear Father,

As I have written to most of the family since I have to you, I will now try and scratch you a few lines to let you know how we are. In the first place, I am well but I cannot say that for all the boys although all of them are getting about well except Point Will Kincaid ¹ and I think it doubtful if he ever leaves the hospital until he is carried. He is the awfullest looking object I ever saw. He has a rising on the side of his face and neck. It is swollen as large as a common wash pan. The doctor has burnt it with iodine until it is perfectly black. He is deranged all the time and does not know any of us. I wrote to Tom Kincaid about him a few days ago [to] let him know how he is now.

The health of the camp is some little better than it was a week ago but there is a heap of sickness yet. The reason I have never mentioned the names of those that are sick [is] they didn’t want their folks to find out for they would be so uneasy about them. I visited the Division Hospital yesterday and it is past description the suffering I saw — strong men in the last agonies of death — others whose doom was fixed withering with pain. It almost made me sick as I passed through the different wards and I was glad when I got out in open air again. At this hospital they have good doctors and careful nurses but a great many die out of it.

We heard last night that all of us well ones and the convalescents have to go to the regiment which is at the railroad bridge across the Black River 7 miles from Vicksburg. All the sick are to be sent to Memphis and other hospitals north, but a great many that might get well here will die from being moved.

As to news, I have none — only that Grant is after old Johnston full chisel. I hope he will force him to fight and I do not fear the result as Grant has one of the finest armies the world ever saw. Northern papers are scarce down here and sell for fifteen cents apiece. The latest date we have got is the eleventh of the month.

I have not heard from Kit for some time. The last was about the time he wrote to Agnes but I suppose he is still at Young’s Point.

Our new officers have not got their commissions yet but I suppose they will be on in a few days. Our regiment is about out of officers at this time. [Col. Robert B.] Latham and [Lt. Col. Henry] Yates are at home. The Major [John M. Hurt] is sick with yellow jaundice. Capt. [David] Vanhise is in command of the regiment. There is four captains that are off duty and about a dozen lieutenants that have either resigned or are not fit for duty.

Well, Earnest ² was elected First Lieutenant of Co. A but — poor fellow — he now sleeps in the silent grave. He was sick about a week but the doctors could do nothing to help him. He was buried beside [Capt. George] Collier.³

I got [sister] Agnes’ letter last night that was written the 4th and was glad to hear you were getting along so well. I wish I could be at home to help you through harvest. I must stop. write soon.

Your son, — R. A. Young



¹ William Kincaid enlisted as a private in Co. H, 106th Illinois Infantry, on 17 September 1862. He died at Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi on 19 July 1863 — the very day this letter was written.

² The only other member of Co. K dying at Snyder’s Bluff besides Capt. Collier was Calvin Goodell. His death occurred on 28 June 1863 — two days after Capt. Collier’s. “Earnest” may have been a middle name? Calvin was from Petersburg, Menard county, Illinois.

³ Capt. George Collier of Petersburg, Menard county, Illinois, died on 26 June 1863 at Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi.

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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE

Camp Pine Grove [on Penitentiary Hill]
[Little Rock] Arkansas
October 17, [1863]

Dear Brother,

Having some little time this evening, I will scratch you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along at this time. Well I am well and hearty and feel as stout as I ever did in my life. The rest of our mess are all well as usual except [Lt. James D.] McCann, although he is able to go about yet. He does not improve or gain strength very fast. The rest of the company with two exceptions are well at this time. They are I. N. Milslagle and W. O. Matingly, but they are both getting along very well now.

But our company has lost another one of her best boys — James [H.] Jackson ¹ died on the 14th of this month at the Post Hospital in town. He just seemed to wear away. The doctors hardly knew what was the matter with him but he, like most others, was imprudent in his eating and that with other things wore him away.

I have not saw Kit since I wrote home last but have heard from him almost every day. He has been rather unwell but is getting better at this time. I should of gone to see him before this time but we have been moving our camp and I have not had time.

We are building winter quarters now and are very busy. We are camped now just west of town, rather in the suburbs, in a beautiful yellow pine grove — at least it was beautiful before we came to it. But we have cut most of the trees off to build cabins with. Our whole division is camped in column of companies along the ridge of Penitentiary Hill. ² From what one can see, we are going to stay here this winter and I do not care much if we do for this seems to be a healthy place — at least the health of the men has improved since we came here.

It is very dry here now. The dust is shoe mouth deep in most places but where we are camped is nothing but flint gravel.

Little Rock is quite a nice town from what I have seen of it. There [are] some splendid mansions with beautiful lawns set out with every kind of evergreens.

John Ed., I have no news to write and you know that it is a hard matter to write a letter when you have nothing to write about. We were paid two months pay today. I will send $20.00 home to you and father to put out for me, or to use if you need it for any purpose.

I will have to stop as it is time to put up the mail. You must sell off all the stock you think you can spare. I have not got a letter from home for about ten days but expect to get one tomorrow. Give my best wishes to all the friends.

Your brother, — R. A. Young



¹ Pvt. James H. Jackson of Sweetwater, Menard county, Illinois, died at Little Rock, Arkansas, on 14 October 1863.

² Penitentiary Hill was a low ridge that ran north-south at the west end of Little Rock — the northern end terminating on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River. The Little Rock Penitentiary was constructed on this ridge and was in use at the time the city fell under Union control in September 1863. Union forces quickly converted it into a federal military jail for holding captured Confederate soldiers and civilian sympathizers.

Confederate prisoners. The prison was later torn down and is now the present site of the Arkansas State Capitol.

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