LETTERS FROM COLONEL GRANT’S REGIMENT *** Grant’s first command in the Civil War was the Seventh District Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, later mustered into U. S. service as the 21st Illinois Volunteers. Grant first saw this regiment at Mattoon where he had gone as mustering officer to enroll the regiment in the state service. It was then commanded by Colonel Simon S. Goode, who proved incapable of maintaining discipline. The regiment left Mattoon by train for Springfield on June 14, 1861; that evening Governor Richard Yates conferred with officers of the regiment and the following day appointed Grant to command of the regiment.
The regiment was mustered into federal service on June 28 and five days later began a march to Quincy, Illinois, on the Missouri border. By the time the regiment reached Missouri, Grant was satisfied that he had “done as much for the improvement and efficiency of this regiment as was ever done for a command in the same length of time.”1 The regiment was at various places in northeast Missouri for about a month; then it was transferred to Ironton in southeast Missouri. By that time Grant had been promoted to brigadier general, and he took command of other regiments at Ironton also. On August 18, when Grant was at Marble Creek, Missouri, preparing to move against Confederate Brigadier General William J. Hardee; he was replaced by Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss, and left for St. Louis to be reassigned by Major General John C. Fremont. This marked the end of Grant’s active connection with the [pg. 2] regiment.
Letters covering the period of Grant’s command of the 21st Illinois were written by First Lieutenant Philip Welshimer of Neoga, Cumberland County, Illinois, about eleven miles southwest of Mattoon. Welshimer joined the Seventh District Regiment on May 7, 1861, was promoted to captain on March 19, 1863, and served until March 19, 1865, Below are portions of his letters to his wife and five children dealing with army life, beginning with letters written while the regiment was commanded by Colonel Goode and ending with Grant’s reassignment. Omitted portions concern his family and discuss friends and relatives. Some punctuation and capitalization has been added for clarity. For permission to use these letters we are indebted to the Illinois State Historical Library and Mr. Philip V. Welshimer, Jr., of Downers Grove, Illinois.
Camp Grant2 June 6th 1861With a heavy heart this morning I thought I would write you a line and look to you in this hour of my deepest grief for consolation. May I not look in vain Dear Wife, we have been accepted by the United States for during the war, And I took a solemn Oath if called on during the thirty days to tender my services, thinking that time would be three months which is the longest term the President has a right to call them out for but he is calling them for a longer term thinking congress will legalize the act.3 Now say Dear wife in Gods name what shall I do: stand out before the country as a Perjured man as I think I would be and as some in our company and other companies are a doing or go when my oath and my country calles. My only trouble dear Julia is in leaving you and the Children, and in this I can only make amends by keeping my character unsulled and by sending you evry cent of my wages that I can by econemy spare which I know will not be lees than fifty dollars per month which I can send you. I have no fears of my health for camp life agrees with me. I have no fears of danger for I know more men die by the manner by which the take care of them selves than by the Soard. My only trouble is in leaving home. If you can dispell this it will add to my comfort more than any thing on Earth, and as long as we are any where in reach of you I will come home as often as I can and see you. You have a good house and with the money I will get for my wages, say nothing about that that is owing to me, I think you can get along untill I return to stay with you while life may last.
Camp Yates4 June 18th 1861
We will draw our pay this afternoon and I will send you thirty [pg. 3] dollars. I have my clothes to pay for and thirty dollars is all I can spare this month. I will send it by Express and it will be in gold. Our regiment will go to Quincy in a short time there to remain for some time. As soon as we get there and fixed up I will come home and see you and if you can leave home I want to take you with me to Quincy to stay a week or two.
Camp Yates June 25th 1861
I have been Sick for several days. I was taken Sick last Thursday night and on Friday morning I went to the Hospital and remained there till Sunday eavning I.m slitely salivated but so I can be about. I was out on drill this morning. I was treated very kindly while in the Hospital by Doctor Drake who is very much of a Gentleman….I cannot say when we will leave here. It takes so long to get things in readiness. But evry thing goes off much smoother and better since our new Colonel [Grant] has got command. We have certain hours for drill each day, and evry man must be on hands. If he is not as soon as he gets back into the Gard House he goes pop sure and hours that they are not required to drill they can go where they please. The gard house was not large enough for the first fiew nights and days but yesterday there was but two or three in and to day none. No person is allowed out of Camp after dar[k] unless by permission of the Col. So you see we have the best of order and every thing mooves off pleasantly.
Camp Yates June 26th 1861
I.m not well yet but so I can be about I think it is the water here that effects me and quite a number of others as it is limestone but we will be mooved from here in a day or two at furthest…We have 98 men now in our company if we had three more we would have all the law would allow us. 80 makes a company and it may be 101.
Naples July 7th 1861
You will see by the heading of this letter that we are at Naples and encamped on the banks of the Illinois River. We arrived hear’ yesterday which was Saturday eavning and are laying over here to day Sunday. I kept the Rail Road to Jacksonville which place I reached Friday eavning about four O.clock in the eavning and learned that the Regiment had passed through there about 12 O.clock that day. I got a cup of coffee being very sick. In fact I felt as sick as I had been at any time. I hired a man to send me out to camp in a buggy which I reached about eleven O.clock that might and yesterday marched with the Rigiment fOurteen miles to this place, and about ten Oclock yesterday I thought I should faint. I never felt so badly to stand on my feet. In the after noon It was verry warm and I got to sweating and begun to feel better. When we got into camp I was verry tired, and hungary Smeidle & Stevenson5 had hired a nigger to cook for us and Mr Nigger got us a good supper and I ate verry harty and I never felt better in my life. I think I am entirely well, and to day I went down in town to church and after church a Gentleman steped up to me and invited me and two others to go to his house and take dinner which of course we accepted and a splendid dinner we had too. His name and kindness I shall never forget. his name was Bewark and is a merchant. In fact I never saw such kindness in people in my life as most of the folks showed all along the road yesterday. At [pg. 4] many places they set out tubs full of pies bread butter and honey but I was so sick I could not eat one bite. But if the people continue as kind the balance of the way I think I shall be able for my share. We have about forty miles yet to Quincy which it will take us about three days to reach.
July 8th 1861
I wrote you on Sunday last from Naples and this is Tuesday and I [write] to you from the same place with this differance there we was on the East bank of the Illinois now we are on the west bank of the River. We crossed the River yesterday morning and marched four miles & camped. We had not been in camp long before the Colonel received orders to march back to the River and await Transportation by River to St Louis and from there we are to go to Ironton Misourie to which place I expect we will go this week some time…While I am sitting on an old logg writing a company of 20 or 25 little boys about the size of Dora all in uniform, red caps white shirts and blue pants, have come into camp and are drilling to the great delight of the soldiers. Thier little captain has his soard in hand and gives commands like some old officer and the little fellows are well drilled. A little boy played his fife and another the drum. They have come some five or six miles from some little town. Nothing of importance has happened since I wrote you, excep that yesterday the Colonel was notified that a Secessionist lived about Six miles from where we camped. The proof was positive against him. The Colonel sent an officer and some men after him and about 12 O.clock last night they returned to camp in the rain and had the Gentleman with them and at first be refused to take the Oath of Allegeance but when he was informed that he could do that or worse he at last consented and the Colonel swore him and released him. This is the second man the Colonel has sworn in since we have got to this River. Since I commenced writing the Colonel has heard that we leave here in the morning.
Camp West Bank the Mississippi River
opposite Quincy Ills.
July 11th 1861
We are at this place one day. We are ordered to one place and before we get started we are ordered to some other place; but our destination is still Ironton Missourie. the Secessionist have a Regiment of our troops surounded at Palmyre West of this place and are burning all the bridges on the Rail Road running West from here and we were ordered here to assist in relieving that Regiment and opening the Rail Road West to Palmyre.6 Last night a company of Cavalry & Artillery and a company of our Regiment started to Hanible to assist in relieving that Regiment and one company was sent west six miles to gard a bridge which duty our company will have to perform this night.7 We are now in the enemy’s country and may have a batle before the seting of the sun. No one calculates on any thing else that we will have to fight and that soon. Julia you had better take the [Chicago] Tribune (daily) that will keep you posted where we are better than I can…I forgot to tell you that old Ex Governor Wood was in that company of Cavelry that went west yesterday with his beard as white as snow.8 we have not yet heard from them or the company that went to gard that bridge neither having returned.
This is a fine country but nearly forsaken. The rebels first drove off the union men and since the troops have got in a great many rebels have left. We passed throug two or three towns in which all the people had left but two or three families. Fine brick houses & fine frame houses standing emty and some with the furniture in and one I heard of that they left their dinner standing on the table. Freight houses, tanks, cars, and miles of cord wood and evry bridge that the devels could they burnt and hardly a man to be seen but the darkies say massa gone to war. We see lots of burnt houses where they have driven off Union men or killed then then burnt their houses. We passed the ground yesterday where Col. Smiths regiment had the fight last week. Re had about five hundred men and they had fifteen hundred and Col Smith made them take to the woods. When ever our troops gets near them the men, all they can do is to distroy property and sneak upon our picket gards and kill one once and a while or drive off Union Women men & children from there homes. There is plenty of fields of wheat standing not cut, corn waist high that never has been plowed. Oh it is almost enough to make a man weep to see the destruction of property here. Where we are camped a rail Road bridge has been burnt that will cost the company ten thousand dollars to rebuild it. Now & then there is a family left that are Union. As we passed a house yesterday an old lady came out and claped her hands & almost shouted for joy to think that they were to be protected. I think it would have mad any man in the free states have shouldred his Gun.
July 21st 1861 Camp near Mexico
Andrain County Misouri10
This is Sunday and it is raining. Evry thing looks dreary…How long we are to remain in this state I cannot say but the Lieut Colonel told me yesterday that the probibility now was that we would go to Alton this week there to remain in camp for a short time.11 We have had no trouble yet although other Regiments who have proceeded us have had some of thier men killed and have killed maney of them. Day before yesterday they killed one man and cripled another out of a St Louis Regiment, the one they killed after they shot him they tied him under a horse and drug him for miles then hung him on a limb and left him hanging, where his company found him. Then persued and caught two of the gang brought them back and hung them on the same limb. This Town of Mexico is quite a town and has about fifteen hundred inhabitance and I do not believe there is two hundred men in it now and not over five or six hundred inhabitance here the finest houses standing empty, and others that are not empty no men about home nothing but Women Children and Negroes you inquire for the man and the reply is they have gone from home. The Union men here say that there is at least three hundred men from this town that are out in the brush skulking around like sheep killing doggs for fear some of Uncle Sans boys will get a hold of them.
August 4th 1861 Camp near Mexico
Andrain County Missouri
It would trouble me very much if it should be that any of you was to be sick as I do not believe at this time there is money enough in this Regiment to pay one mans fare home even if I could get a pass or fourlough [pg. 6] which is doubtfull as a good many have tried lately and failed. General [John] Pope is here and he being higher in command than our Col., application has to be made to-him now. Even our own Collonel applied for leave of absence from Saturday till monday noon and was refused, so you see my chances is poor for comeng home. But I am comming after while General, Collonel War or no War… I think I never felt the weather any warmer than it has been for the last fiew days and all the water we have to drink here is creek and cistern water. There being but one well in the, town and two weeks to day since the last rain nearly all the cisterns is dry. Oh how I have wished a thousand times for only one good drink of water out of our well. If I ever live to get home you can bet I will know how to appreciate good water and Vituals and kind friends. Yet I must say that with all the hardships I have to endure it is not realy as bad as I anticipated it would be, but it is bad enough, God knows, the best of it. I do not think we can remain here in this place long for there is no appearance of rain, and water we must have. Where we will go I do not know.
Ironton Mo Aug 9th l861
We left Mexico on Tuesday Eavning arrived at St Louis Wedenesday about one or two Oclock, took a Steam Boat for the Barracks (Jefferson Barracks) which is twelve miles below St Louis, arrived about sundown, got a bite of supper about nine O.clock, lay down upon my shawl on the ground. Had not slept any the night before & of course slept soundly all night. But Thursday morning to our surprise was ordered to be ready to take the Cars at Seven Oclock for this place. The Col and all had Expected to remain at St Louis for a week or two at least but so it is. Arrived here about about four Oclock yesterday and it rained verry hard last night. Our camp Equipage failed to arrive so we took quarters in empty houses as ther is plenty in all towns in this State. We are within fifteen miles of the enemy’s camp and of course will not be surprised if we have an engagement at any time. We expect to remain here perhaps a week or two. General Fremont intends to have this place fortified and held by our troops as it is at the turminus of the Rail Road it is verry important to the Government. Holding this point we control the Rail Road to St Louis and this is the reason why the enemy want it, but I guess they will have a good time to get it as we have about four thousand troops and a lot of cannon and more arriving as fast as the R.R. can bring them. they had a mill 4 miles below here which had been running all season grinding for the rebels. Yesterday Uncle Sans boys went down drove them out took possession and informed them that we needed it for our selves & as soon as we get sufficiently strong here if they do not advance on us we will on them. Now a line about [t]his place and I am done. This town is in a Valley about two miles wide right in the Iron mountains and the pretiest place I have seen in Missouri. The cedar clad mountains on every side, butiful valley, and the finest springs flowing out at different points the best water in the world. Here is wher I should like to live. There can be no sickness here. I drank and drank of this water then washed, jumped up, shook it down, than drank again. How different from where we have been there there was nothing but creek & cistern water and you can guess how I appreciated this good water.
Was it not for my family I would as willingly lay down my life in this cause as to die amid luxury. this I believe is the feeling generally in this branch of our Army for we know and hear and see how Union folks have been and are being treated by these reches. But this week and a fiew miles from this place a man had five balls put through him just because he sayed he was in favor of the Union, the best government on the face of the Earth. The man that was shot had a family and others that have not been killed have been driven out of the country. I was offered two houses in this place Each one and a half stories with seven rooms in each all finished up nicely with good water and out buildings all built last summer at One hundred dollars each. The men having been run off they went back to the state of Michigan where they had come from. They left their property in the hands of an agent and since they went back they have writen their agent to take the above price if he could get no more as they never intended to return. I was sent on friday eavning with twelve of our men four miles out into the Mountains as picket guard and remained ther till twelve Oclock last night when we returned this is considered the most dangeres work we have to perform. There is no sleeping but keep a constant lookout for the enemy should they approach. We allow no one to pass or repass at night unless they have the countersign and allow citizens to pass in, in daytime but not out unless they have a written pass from the Commanding General [Grant]. From your letter dear Julia I am affraid you think I am sick when I wrote you I had had a fiew chills caused from a cold I think, but my health now I think is as good as it ever was and to give you some Idea Black Bill had some green corn, sliced Onions & tomatoes for dinner I ate hartly of the tomatoes & Onions and with seven ears of green corn made out a tolerble fair dinner. However the ears of corn here is not so large as they are in Illinois, having been growen in the Mountain Valleys. If you will look in the atlas in South east Missouri you will see Pilot Knob. We are camped at the western foot of this knob which is six hundred and sixty feet above the valley and twelve hundred feet higher than St Louis. I was up on the top of this mountain to day and down the side to where the were digging out Iron oar. It looks as though there was Iron enoug in this one mountain alone to last the United States for ever, but all these Mountains are full of Iron and lead ore. I was also in one of thier furnaces and saw them smelting & moulding the Iron which was quite a curiosity to me. The mineral is all this country is fit for.
Camp near Marble Creek 12 miles
South of Ironton Iron County
Missouri Aug 18th 1861
My health continues good. I never felt stouter in my life than at this time. This certainly is a verry healthy country but full of chigers and ticks, which are a great annoyance to us all. We are camped here in the woods waiting reinforcements which are expected here to day. Then I suppose we will moove South.12How fare or where to I do not know but one thing certain we will go down as fare as the Arcansas line as we have men here with us from that country who have been run of from home by the rebles They have left their families and come to us for protection and to incist for us to go down. They say the rebles have taken all their property guns &c then told them they could join their army or leave thier [pg. 8] homes. We have one man with us who acts as guide who has had three thousand dollars worth of property taken from him and him and others have flowen and left thier families to the mercy of these rebles. We grieve on account of our families but we have now such cause for grief as they and their woes related to us make our men more like devels than men and when we do reach thier camp I expect their will be some hard fiting for out men declair they will show them no quarters.
- Grant to his father, July 13, 1861, in Jesse Grant Cramer, ed., Letters of Ulysses S. Grant to hie -Father and his Youngest Sister, 1857-78 (New York and London, 1912), 41.
- The camp of the Seventh District Regiment at Mattoon was originally named Camp Cunningham. After Captain Grant had mustered in the regiment the camp was renamed in his honor.
- When the regiment officially entered federal service on June 28, 1861, the term of enlistment was “three years unless sooner discharged.”
- Camp Yates was located on the outskirts of Springfield, Ill.
- Jesse P. H. Stevenson of Paradise, Ill., was captain of Co. B, 21st 111. Vols., until his resignation on March 19, 1863. At that time Philip Welshimer replaced him, and Second Lieutenant Charles L. Smidell of Prairie City, Ill., replaced Welshimer.
- Although the attack on Palmyra, Mo., caused considerable anxiety and led to the reassignment of Grant’s regiment, it was actually a minor skirmish. Grant later wrote “I am inclined to think both sides got frightened and ran away.” Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (New York, 1885-6), I, 248.
- According to Record of Events Cards, 21st Ill. Vols., Record Group 94, National Archives, it was on July 12 that Co. B was assigned to guard a bridge on the Hannibal and Palmyra Railroad, ten miles west of camp. It rejoined the regiment at Palmyra the following day.
- John Wood of Quincy, Lieutenant Governor of Ill., filled out the unexpired term of Governor William U. Bissell, who died in office in 1860.
- The 21st Ill. had been moved from Palmyra to Salt Creek in order to guard workmen rebuilding a bridge on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.
- On July 19 the regiment moved from Salt Creek to Mexico.
- Lt. Col. John W. S. Alexander of Paris, Ill., eventually succeeded Grant as colonel.
- The evening train brought no more troops but it did bring Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss, who claimed (incorrectly) that he outranked Grant. As Grant left for reassignment in St. Louis, Prentiss cancelled the scheduled advance against Confederate forces at Greenville.