These five letters were written by Robert B. Wartenbee (1845-1864), the son of Francis Wartenbee (1818-1871) and Frances Ellen Gabriel (b. 1822) of Waverly, Pike county, Ohio. Robert enlisted in August 1861 in Co. D, 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). Enlistment records suggest that Robert was 18 when he enlisted but census records reveal he was only 16. Clearly he did not have much of an education.
During the time that Robert served with the the 33rd Ohio, the regiment saw duty in the Kanawha Valley, W. Va., August, 1861, to January, 1862. Action at Boone Court House, W. Va., September 1, 1861. Operations in the Kanawha Valley and New River Region October 19-November 16, 1861. Ordered to Kentucky January 1, 1862. Advance on Nashville, Tenn., February 14-25. Occupation of Nashville February 25-March 18. March to Savannah, Tenn., March 18-April 6. Lawrenceburg April 4. Battle of Shiloh, Tenn., April 6-7. Advance on and siege of Corinth, Miss., April 29-May 30. Pursuit to Booneville May 31-June 6. Buell’s Campaign in North Alabama and Middle Tennessee June to August. Little Pond, near McMinnville, August 20. March to Louisville, Ky., in pursuit of Bragg August 30-September 26. Pursuit of Bragg into Kentucky October 1-15. Battle of Perryville October 8. March to Nashville, Tenn., October 16-November 7, and duty there until December 26. Advance on Murfreesboro December 26-30. Lavergne December 26-27. Battle of Stone’s River December 30-31, 1862, and January 1-3, 1863. Duty at Murfreesboro until June. Middle Tennessee or Tullahoma Campaign June 23-July 7. Passage of Cumberland Mountains and Tennessee River, and Chickamauga (Ga.) Campaign August 16-September 22. Expedition from Tracy City to Tennessee River August 22-24 (Detachment). Reconnaissance toward Chattanooga November 7. Lookout Valley November 7-8. Occupation of Chattanooga September 9. Lee and Gordon’s Mills September 17-18. Battle of Chickamauga September 19-20. Siege of Chattanooga September 24-November 23. Chattanooga-Ringgold Campaign November 23-27. Orchard Knob November 23-24. Mission Ridge November 25. Pursuit to Graysville November 26-27. March to relief of Knoxville November 28-December 8. Regiment reenlisted January 1, 1864.
From a family letter written in 1872 we learn that Robert re-enlisted as a veteran with his regiment in January 1864 and went home on a veteran’s furlough where he contracted an illness that lead to his death on 23 February 1864. The passage revealing this information reads: “[In order to obtain a pension for your son’s death in the service,] it must be proved in the neighborhood that Robert was a good boy, that he was almost the main dependence of the family, that he was a good an faithful soldier, that he did not contract his disease by unnecessary exposure on his veteran furlough, and other things about his reenlistment, &c. &c. as you well know.” [Letter, J. J. Allison to Frances [Gabriel] Watenbee, dated 17 March 1872, Zaleski, OH]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
June 11, 1862
33rd Regiment OVI
I received your letter yesterday and was glad to hear from you all. I was in the bed when the letter come to me. I was very sick for a good while [and just] when I was a getting over it, I took the cramp and the rheumatism. I could not move. When I would stay down, they would have to help me about. Well now I can get about again.
Our regiment hain’t been here in the camp for two weeks. They went off to have a fight. They went to Chattanooga. They throwed the shells into the town like the devil and got a lot of prisoners. I can’t tell you when the regiment will be back. I tell you that we have had some good times and some hard times.
You wrote to me [asking[ whether I got my blanket or not. When I went on picket guard, I went to a house and took a quilt off one of the beds. It was [a] mighty purty quilt. You want to know whether there is cotton her or not. There is plenty of it here. Our men is sending it to Ohio. You ought to see the Nigger girls plow. The fields is full of Niggers and cotton. The most of the Niggers run off from their masters. There is a going to be lots of peaches here and apples.
Henry Downing is sick. He has been sick [a] long time. The rest of the boys is well this time. I want you all [to] write [as] soon as this comes to hand. Tell the boys to write and the girls too.
You must excuse me for my writing. — Robert
[to] Francis Wartenbee
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Mr. Francis Wartenbee, Waverly, Pike county, Ohio
Camp near Bowling Green
September 2, 1862
I take my pen in hand to let you know how we all are [at] this time and hoping these few lines may find you in health.
I got your letter that sent me. We was on a march. Well, I will tell you about the fun. We left 20 eight  of August. The rebels commenced a shelling the day before we left. They commenced at twelve o’clock and shelled us till the next morning. When the first shot they made, I was going to eat dinner. We was inside of the fort but all the dodging we done, you ought to [have] seen. We’ve been marching ever since we left the fort.
We are at Bowling Green now here in Kentucky. We are going to Louisville [or] maybe to Cincinnati — we can’t tell yet where we are a going but they’re at Battle Creek we only lost one man ² in all that time.
I don’t know what [else] to write.
¹ The 33rd OVI occupied Fort McCook at the mouth of Battle Creek. Robert’s letter informs us that the regiment left the fort on 28 August 1862 after withstanding a heavy bombardment by Confederate General Samuel B. Maxey’s artillery from across the Tennessee River.
² Possibly Henry C. Downing of Co. C who died on 20 August 1862 at Nashville, Tennessee.
In this letter, Pvt. Robert Wartenbee describes the action of the 33rd Ohio Infantry during the Battle of Perryville which was fought on 8 October 1862. This battle was the first real engagement the regiment faced though it had been in the service for more than a year. It went into the fight with 400 muskets and lost 129 men killed and wounded, 25 of whom were buried on the field.
[Note: My hunch is that this letter was penned by someone other than Robert as his penmanship was not normally this good.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
[Probably in vicinity of Crab Orchard, Kentucky]
October 19th 1862
Dear Father and Mother,
I once more take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines may find you enjoying the same state of good health. Well, Father, I expect you have come to the conclusion that I have forgotten you but I have not. It is so much bother for me to write but I will try and write enough to let you know where I am and what I am doing.
We had a hard fight on the eighth of this month. It was the hottest place that I ever got into. The bullets whistled all around me but none hit me. I was one of the lucky boys that day. Henry Lewis ¹ and Ben Booth ² got wounded. Ben got shot through the arm and a cannon ball hit Henry on the arm. He can’t use his arm. Henry is not very bad. Ben is hurt pretty bad.
Peter Lightle ³ was killed on the field. We only lost one killed and 15 wounded. Well, says you, that is bad enough. It ain’t half as bad as I expected it would be. Our regiment had to fight four regiments of the Rebs. We cut them down like a scythe a cutting grass but they kept a coming. We stood there and fought them until they came within 30 steps of us [and then] we fell back and formed again and cut them down again. We had to fight a long time before we got enforced at all. We stood our ground well.
General Rousseau rode up to Major [Frederick J.] Lock and took him by the hand and said to him you have got a brave regiment; they have fought well. Our colonel got wounded and taken prisoner. He is paroled [but] I don’t know when he will be exchanged. He is not able for service at present.
Well I haven’t got much more to write this time. We are camped on a hillside. We are surrounded by woods. It is a very pretty place. I don’t know how long we will stay here. We have been here four days. I have not got much to write this time so I will close by asking you to write as soon as this comes to hand. Goodbye. Write soon.
— Robert Wartenbee to his father and mother
Directions: Robert Wartenbee, Company D, 33rd Reg. OVI, Care of Capt. [Joseph] Hinson; Follow Gen. Rousseau’s Division, Ninth Brigade
¹ Pvt. Henry Lewis survived his wound and remained with the regiment until July 1865. He rose in rank to Sergeant before he was mustered out of the service.
² I cannot find a Ben Booth in Co. D, 33rd Ohio Infantry. There were only two members named Benjamin in the company; Benjamin R. Lewis and Benjamin H. Ruley. The latter died in July 1863 at his home in Ross county, Ohio; perhaps he was the one Robert intended.
³ Cpl. Peter Lightle (1834-1862) was killed on 8 October 1862 at the Battle of Perryville in Kentucky. Peter was married to Sena Downing (1834-1910) in July 1856 and was the father of two young children, Evangeline (b. 1858) and Albert (b. 1860) when he was cut down at Perryville.
The following letter was written from the camp of the 33rd OVI near Anderson Station in Northern Alabama. It was less than two weeks before the regiment would join the Army of the Cumberland on the Chattanooga Campaign and a month before the deadly fight at the Battle of Chickamauga.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp near Anderson Station, Alabama
August 17, 1863
I will take my pen in hand to inform you a few lines to let you know how we all are this time and hoping they will find you enjoying the same blessing. I received your very kind letter yesterday morning. I heard in Ben Lewis’ letter that the baby was dead. I hope that you all will keep your health good for I have heard of so many people dying since I come in the service.
We are in Alabama again. I was a running around in the country all day yesterday. I haint seen Bob Haner nor Jim’s Regt. for about four weeks. I think it will not be long before we go to Battle Creek where we were at last summer. I would like to be there now. I will have to stop for this time. I will write more the next [time].
— Robert Wartenbee
to Francis Wartenbee
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp near Chattanooga, Tennessee
October 4, 1863
I will once more take my pen in hand to let you know how we all are this time and hoping these few lines may find you enjoying the same blessing. Well, I suppose that you heard that we was in another fight. It is two weeks today since we had the fight. I tell you that we lost a heap of men in the fight. They say it was one of the hardest fights that ever was fought. We have been throwing up breastworks here about a week, Our pickets and the rebel’s pickets stand about three hundred yards apart.
Captain [Joseph] Hinson and William Downing was wounded and a great many others that belong to our company. Robert Haner was wounded purty bad. Charley Marte was killed. Ben was wounded. Ameice Wilington is here. He [ ]. That battle is called the Battle of Chickamauga.
You say that you all have the ague there. I have had the ague here too purty bad.
I don’t know what else to write. I will write more the next time. Write soon to me when you get this.
— Robert Wartenbee
When I go to write, I don’t know what to write. Excuse my bad writing. I will write soon.