These five letters were written by Sgt. Charles Eckles (1840-1932) of Co. D, 34th Illinois Infantry (a.k.a. the “Rock River Rifles”). He mustered into the service on 7 September 1861 at Camp Butler, Illinois. Records indicate that he stood 6 foot tall with brown hair and brown eyes. He was promoted to Orderly Sergeant in January 1863, to Lieutenant in April 1864, and to Captain in May 1865. He mustered out of the service in July 1865.
Charles was the son of Marmaduke Eckles (1811-1855) and his wife Hannah Levitt (1810-1894). Marmaduke was born at Gilberdike, England, and operated a brick yard near Hull, England. Hannah Levitt was born at Bilton, Yorkshire, England. They were married in England and had twelve children, 1834-1854, born at Barlow, Yorkshire, and Eastholm, Yorkshire, England, and in Lee County, Illinois. The family immigrated to the United States in 1850 and settled on a farm near Dixon, Illinois. He died in Lee County, Illinois; she died in Marshall County, Iowa, while staying with children. Both are buried at Prairieville, near Sterling, Illinois.
The passenger manifest of the Allen Brown — the ship that carried the Eckles family to the United States — arrived in New York City from Hull, England, in July 1850. The Eckles family — at the time of their emigration — included wife Hannah, and children Richard (age 16), Joseph (age 15), Mary (age 13), Harry (age 11), Charles (age 9), Robert (age 6), Marmaduke (age 5), Thomas (age 3), Hannah (age 2), and Sarah (an infant).
Charles’ brother, Marmaduke Eckles, joined the same company as Charles in February 1864. Another brother, Thomas Eckles, joined Co. D, 140th Illinois Infantry in May 1864 for 100 days’ service.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp Nevin [Kentucky]
October 14, 1861
I received your welcome letter yesterday. Was glad to hear from you but was sorry that your leg and tooth bother you. Well my teeth is all that ails me. I have the toothache a good deal now-a-days.
We are in active service. We are in Hardin county, Kentucky. We are in the county and state that Old Abe Lincoln was born in. We have not seen many rebels yet but 2 or 3 weeks ago prety near where our camp stands, there was a rebel camp but it is gone now. They have burnt down all the bridges that they could get at. We crossed a stream the other day that they had burnt down the bridge but the Union men had fixed it again. ¹ But we are stopped now for we have to [cross] another bridge that they have burnt down and it is not fixed up yet, but it will be in a few days when I expect that we shall move along.
There is a good many troops around here. We was traveling on the train for about 5 days and 5 nights and the cars were those cars that they haul grain and the like in. For 3 nights I did not get scarcely any rest and on the 4th, I just about gave out. But after a night’s rest, I was alright again. The health of the 34th is good. All the boys from Prairieville are first rate and are in good spirits.
I was out on picket guard last night. They have to go out of camp from a mile to 3 or 4. I had 3 men to go with me. Our business is to see that nobody is a going around at night and to watch out for the enemy. If we see a man and have to tell him to halt 3 times and if they do not stop, then we are to shoot them. One of the regiments shot one last night. We did not see anybody but if we had and they had not minded me, I should of shot them too.
I have not heard from home since I left Camp Tuttles [Tassell?] I had one from Nelly Powers and one from Vira and one from Josie Schoeh yesterday. They were all well when they wrote.
I expect that there will be a good deal of fighting done this winter and I hope that the war will be finished by next spring. We have got our guns and everything ready for action. ² They say that we have the best arms that any regiment has got in the state. We have been rather pinched for victuals for a few days on account of our moving, I expect. Vira and Josie say that they like Mount Vernon first rate but think that they shall come home in about [ ] weeks. They say it is lonesome around Prairieville now for the boys and girls are both gone. Helen says that she gets lonesome.
Kentucky is pretty rough, what we have seen of it. But the folks that are left now have used us first rate so far.
Well, I must come to a close so goodbye. Write soon and I will give you the particulars of the 34th as soon as you write. You must excuse bad writing and spelling for I can’t spell very good and I have not much [ ] here a sitting on the ground. But remember to write soon and direct to Camp Nevin, Hardin county, Kentucky via Louisville, 34th Regiment, Illinois V. M., Co. D.
And may God bless you and protect you. And if we don’t meet on this earth, may we meet in Heaven. From your brother, — C. Eckles
¹ This was the bridge over the Rolling Fork river which was a temporary bridge constructed of poles. The engine was detached and crossed alone and the remainder of the train was pushed across by an engine in the rear.
² The men of the 34th Illinois were not issued their firearms until they entered Kentucky. They did not drill in the use of arms until they reached Camp Nevin near the Nolin river in Hardin county.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp George Wood [Kentucky]
February 2nd 1862
Dear little sister,
It seems to me that it is a long time since I have heard anything from you but I hope that this will find you in good health as it leaves me. I have been looking for a letter from you for this long time but none seems to come so I thought that I would write a few lines to you again.
I have forgot whether we was in this camp or not when I last wrote. Well we are now camped on the Green river. It is about 25 miles south of Camp Nevin on the same railroad. We have not got into any fight yet but there was a small fight about 2 miles from where we are now camped but our men whipped them out before we could get there. We lost on our side 9 [and] they lost over 30 men.
We get along first rate soldiering yet. So far we — all of us — have had our turn at the hospital. Anson ¹ is there now but he is most well. The rest of the Prairieville boys are getting along first rate, myself amongst the rest. I get letters from home and around there every little while. They were all well when they last wrote. Mary was teaching up to Rock Creek.
We have had real wet weather here this winter but it has not been cold like it is in Illinois. But I don’t like this mud much but still we have had some very nice weather too. There is nothing of interest a going on in the camp. I wish that you would write back as soon as get this. With this I close from your ever loving brother, — Charles
Direct to Camp Wood via Louisville, 34th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Militia, Co. D.
¹ Anson E Thummel was a corporal in Co. D, 34th Illinois Infantry. He rose in rank to Sergeant in 1864.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Camp in Kentucky
February 22, 1862
Dear little sister,
It seems to me that it is some time since you have wrote me but you see that I have not forgotten you — no fear from that. I oft think of you and should like to see you first rate but I suppose that I shall not for some time but maybe after all it will not be so long either for I think that our side are getting along with it first rate. We are now within 21 miles of Bowling Green and expect that we will be there in a day or two for I suppose that you know that our troops occupy that place and did not have to fight either as they expected that they would have to but they pulled up stakes and left.
My health is still first rate and so are most of the boys. The weather here is still very wet. We had a small snow storm the other day but it is all gone now.
Just getting into the merits of a soldier’s life for when we was on the march, we had at nights to lay on the ground without any tents and the snow about 2 inches deep and one night it rained most of the time. I tell you that it looked rather hard after a hard day’s march but those nights are in the past and we are here ready for another march which I suppose that we will get in a day or so. Well, I hope that they will put it through and get done with it.
Anson [Thummel] got a letter from Mary yesterday. She was still teaching school and in good health. I heard from home not long ago. They were all well. But I must close for it is getting about dark. Don’t forget to write soon to your ever loving brother, — Charles
And may God bless you, Hannah.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee
February 20th 1863
We are still in the same camp that we was when I last wrote. Things go on in about the same old way as they generally do. We are a doing camp duty [and] go out on picket about once a week as of old. We was on picket night before last & it was not the pleasantest of nights either for it snowed a good part of the night. But it was not very cold so the snow did not stay with us long. We had a very good place out there for there was an old house on the lines & we made a fire in the fire place so we got along finely. Last night was a very cold night for this country. It froze very hard but we kept nice & warm in our tents for we are pretty well off for blankets. We have had no cold weather down here than we thought we should but not so much mud as there was last winter. We hear that there has been a very open winter up North but I expect that it will be cold enough yet before spring.
We are building breastworks around Murfreesboro. I suppose that they are so that a smaller force can hold it when the main army leaves here. By the appearance of things, there will be a big fight again at Vicksburg for they are sending lots of troops down there. Well, I hope that they will take it this time without fail.
Well there, we have just been to dinner. Alfred ¹ has been cooking beans this forenoon. They look nice but I dare not eat them for I don’t feel any of the best today & beans don’t agree very well with me. Fred is a washing today down to the creek & has not been up to his dinner yet. C[harles] Wetherbee has been quite sick but is getting along finely now. We was working on the breastworks one day last week [and] Anson [Thummel] got to fooling with some of the boys & sprained his wrist but it is about well now. His health is good. Alvah [Stewart] ² is still in Nashville.
General [Alexander McDaniel] McCook has been home & has got married. Bully for the General, I say. I suppose that you are a going to school these days. I wish that I could do the same but I don’t know but we are a going to a pretty good school now. We hear that there is great times up North with some of those Copperheads as they are called. I think they might keep still anyhow for it is hard enough as it is.
But I must close for this time. Give my love to Ma, brothers, & sisters & remember me kindly to all enquiring friends & may God bless you all & permit us — if it is his righteous will — to meet again soon.
Write soon to your ever loving brother, — Charles
This to Hannah Eckles
Gap Grove, Lee county, Illinois
¹ Possibly Alfred T. Mead of Co. D, 34th Illinois Infantry.
² Alvah T. Stewart of Co. D, 34th Illinois Infantry was wounded on 7 April 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee
April 17th 1863
I thought that I must try & write you a few lines this afternoon but I have but little news to write you. One great blessing, we are all in the best of spirits & are living like kings for that box which our dear friends sent us we have got all right & we find that there is a good deal in it too. I don’t know as I answered your last letter or not but if I have not, you must not think hard of me for I try to write home if no other place. I wrote one to sister Mary a few days ago. I suppose that is come through all right. I shall look for one from home now each day until I get one & I hope I shall not have to look long. I love to get letters. They are a soldier’s greatest blessing.
I have had two letters from the girls at Mt. Vernon since they went there. They seem to be getting along finely. Nellie seems to think that fourteen weeks is a long time for any that has not been home much before but I wish that my chance for getting home as soon as that was good as that. I am getting discouraged? No, not in the least. I feel that our cause is just & with God’s help, we will conquer — & conquer we must. It goes rather slow but it will come out all right in time.
I suppose that the boys are busy now-a-days with their spring work. Don’t expect that they will have much time to write to me. I hope that they will get their crops in in time. We are having the most splendid, fine weather here for a few days back. It was real rainy for a day or so. Then it cleared up & now it is so nice.
They still keep us at work on the fortifications — or rather for this last week we have been working on a magazine. I have not heard anything about moving yet. We can make a big fight here behind these works.
You must write to me again soon. Give my love to Ma, brothers & sisters, and enquiring friends & with much love to you, I am as ever your loving brother, — Charles