A Hoosier Boy's Unique War
Just before the close of the year, I received an email from Steven Rice, who wanted to share some letters he transcribed several years ago of an Indiana Civil War soldier, John Weathers. He was given copies of the original letters by one of the descendants of Weathers and took great pains to accurately transcribe these post war letters. After reading, I was fascinated by this unique Civil War experience of a musician in the 49th Indiana Infantry, and later the Indiana Legion and the 144th Indiana. The most harrowing event of his duty was the evacuation of the Cumberland Gap in 1862, and his conversation with an ex-Confederate that served in Humphry Marshall's pursuing force is definitely revealing as to the fighting spirit of George Morgan's Federals. I hope you enjoy the following letters as much as I did. There were so many soldiers that served in several different regiments and organizations as Weathers did, and their stories and reasons for fighting are always worth reading. I am grateful to Mr. Rice for sharing these with me!
John Richard Weathers
Born March 12th, 1847
Died March 12th, 1934
#17 Iowa Circle Washington, DC
March 16, 1922
I enclose herewith by registered mail a brief sketch of my military activities during the Civil war in the United States, properly designated as “The War of the Great Rebellion.” It seems that a military spirit was inborn in me, which I feel that I can account for in this way: My father was a Captain in the active militia of Indiana prior to and during the Mexican of 1846 and 1847. He was greatly interested in that war and very anxious to go and take part in it. Mother restrained him. I was born (a seven-month’s Babe) March 12, 1847. So you can understand the very probable pre-natal influence of a military type.
In this sketch I have tried hard to avoid clerical errors, and to be historically correct in my
statements. I might have had it typed and otherwise embellished, but I have thought that your grand-children would doubtless be deeply interested in knowing as they ponder over this sketch of the part their great-grandfather took in the great Civil War of the United States.
There were many incidents in my war experience that would probably (would) sic have (been) sic interesting to you and them, but their inclusion would have made the sketch too bulky.
I was present, with musket and box of 40 rounds of cartridges in a skirmish where the first
man of our regiment was mortally wounded. His name was McCullson (sp) and he was a member of Co. H. The fight occurred in July, 1862, I believe, near Cumberland Gap.
But I presume that I have said enough. Your children will be eligible to memberships in the Son of Veteran and Daughter of Veteran organization-grand children being admissible.
Will be glad to hear from you and Jess. As ever
There were many incidents of my campaigns that would doubtless be interesting to you, for I have always thought that you were rather proud of the fact that your father was a union soldier during the great Civil War. But I will give only one now and that because it is so pertinent the printed sketch. You will see in said sketch that the Rebel Gen. Humphrey was ordered to intercept our retreating column and capture us.
You remember that I was at Little Rock, Ark., employed as editor. My employer, Mr. Kellogg, was an ex-confederate soldier. After we had become pretty well acquainted, he said one day “I see, professor, that you were a Yankee soldier.”
“Yes,” said I.
“Well,” continued he, “I was in the Confederate service and he asked where I served.
Said I, “In Ky., Tenn., West Va., etc.”
“When were you in Ky.?” he asked.
“In 1861 and 1862 – at Cumberland Gap in the summer.” I responded.
“Were you under Yankee Morgan, there?”
“Yes,” said I.
“Did you come out through eastern Ky. with him?” he continued.
“Yes,” said I.
“Why, we came across under Gen. Humphrey to cut off your retreat.”
“Did you expect to meet us at Proctor, Ky.?” Queried I.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Well, now I understand for the first time, why our Gen. halted there and took up a strong battle position.” I said. “We waited there in line of battle for perhaps two hours, and then took up the line of march northward.” I continued.
Said he, “When the head of our column reached Proctor."
"I’m mighty glad we didn’t wait any longer!” I declared,
“So were we.” Said he with a chuckle. “We were so tired when we reached Proctor,” he continued, “that we stopped to bivouac.”
Then, as I resumed my desk-work, I said, “We would have fought like devils, for we were half crazy from hunger and wanted sleep, and we had nothing left but our artillery and rifles and plenty of ammunition.”
“Oh,” said he, “Rebel John Morgan with his cavalry couldn’t catch you.”
Many of the most interesting things of that terrible war will never be generally known. Sometime, may have the opportunity to tell you face to face, of much that may interest you. The days of the Civil War veterans must be few and the chapter of our experiences we closed. The thought is saddening to me for I live over again and again those exciting storming days of youth.
(Washington, D.C., where I have been located for almost 32 years.)
March 12, 1922 (75th Anniversary of my birth)
A brief personal sketch of my military services during the “War of the great Rebellion in the United States, from 1861 to 1865, written at the request of my younger daughter, Mrs. Nellie W. Earl (nee Weathers).
I was enlisted in the military service of the United States, as a volunteer, at Camp Joe Holt, near Jeffersonville, Ind., November 19, 1861, to serve as a Company Musician (Fifer), in Co, F, 49th Indiana Infantry. The weather was cold, raw, and snowy, and our company tents, containing about ten men each, were without heat and in almost every way uncomfortable. I had been there but about ten days, when I developed a case of measles and was carted off to an improvised hospital (in a small church building) in Jeffersonville. The only nurses were two or three soldiers detailed from our regiment. We were forbidden to drink much water (one of the medical cruelties of that day), but suffering, in thirst, from a burning fever. I watched my chance, and when the nurses were out of the room, I slipped, during the night, to a water-bucket and drank my fill. This was a happy thing for me, for the measles came out nicely, and in a few days I felt so much better that I began to long to go to the regiment, which had crossed into Kentucky, and encamped near Bardstown, Ky., forty miles south of Louisville.
Failing to get permission from the surgeon to go to my regiment, I went without permission. While sick at Jeffersonville, I wrote to father, telling where I was. On the advice of my brother-in-law, Dr. J. H. Gardner, father came to Jeffersonville. Failing to find me at the hospital, he came on the Bardstown and found me there in camp. But I had taken cold, and being threatened with pneumonia (a disease sure to follow measles, if the patient takes cold from exposure – a fact that I knew nothing about). Father got me to the Bardstown Hospital (a ladies seminary improvised into a hospital). The room was cold. We had no cots, and the floor was without carpeting. There I lay, about Jan.1, 1862, wrapped in my own over-coat and blanket with my knap sack for a pillow, suffering with pneumonia, in the midst of about fifty other sick soldiers. The weather was cold and the wind high; and having diarrhea, I was compelled to get up and go out to a sink dug in the corner of the yard, several times during the day and night.
Father tried hard to have me discharged or furloughed home, but in this he failed. (The surgeon saying that since he was about to be promoted to Brigade Surgeon, it would not be best for him to be discharging or furloughing men.) Father went home, but in a few days came back, and after a long urgent talk with the surgeon (Dr. Pierson) who told father his wife’s maiden name was Weathers, and this proved to be a relative of ours from Lambs Bottom, on White River, Ind., Father succeeded in getting a furlough of 30 days for me. (This saved my life, for I could have lived but a short time longer in that miserable place, but I did not know that nor did I think it, then.)
Dr. Gardner, a good physician and a devoted friend of mine, pulled me through and in June following I went away, wearing a big plaster on my left side, to go in the regiment which had moved on southward to Cumberland Gap, a stronghold in the Cumberland Mountains, on the line between Ky. And Tenn. An army of ten thousand was gathered there, and the Gap was fortified till we felt fully able to hold it against any force that might come against us. We had taken the Gap from the Rebels by strategy. Some of our regiments (mine being one of them) crossed the mountains on the south side of the Gap, alarmed the Rebel force at the Gap, causing them to fear that we would cut them off from their supplies and “bottle them up.” This fear caused them to leave the Gap and go southward. We had the Gap and my regiment and the others went into camp two or three miles south of the Gap. But the Rebels, finding that they had been out-generaled, came back in frequent attacks, finally driving us up into the stronghold of the Gap. Here we worked through the summer fortifying and fighting and scouting and foraging. About August of that year a strong Rebel army came up from Tenn. west of us, crossed into Ky., threatened Louisville and Cincinnati, and engaged the Union army at Richmond, Ky. and defeated it disastrously. This occurrence cut us, at the Gap, off from communication with the North. The Rebs began to close in upon us on both sides, till we were almost completely surrounded by one hundred thousand Rebs. We were practically starved out, having but little food left. After an anxious consultation with his Brigadier Generals, General Geo. W. Morgan, our commanding officer, decided to try to get us out of there. It was 250 miles to the Ohio River and the road was a rough one through the hills and mountains of Eastern Ky. But the printed account of this march taken from a volume of Headley’s History of the Great Rebellion, which I enclose, will tell you of something of our trials. We were about 17 days on the retreat march leaving the Gap September 17th, and reaching the Ohio River Oct. 3, 1862.
We took no tents with us, and lived almost wholly by foraging along the way. We ate acorns, parched corn, and I think I must have eaten almost a half-bushel of paw paws. When we reached the Ohio River, I had no shirt or underwear, no socks; my entire outfit including clothing consisted only of a pair of government, or army, shoes (brogans as we called ‘em), and an army hat. I carried also a haversack (grub-bag), a gum-blanket, my fife, and an artillery-saber, which had been abandoned at the Gap.
We crossed the river near Sciotoville, Ohio and went into camp in rail-pens containing straw and covered with tree branches, and there awaited refitting by the government. While we awaited government supplies, the citizens of Ohio helped us with food. Within a short time (ten days or two weeks), government supplies reached us. But in the clothing line we were not supplied with coats of any kind, nor with tents. Soon afterward our regiment was ordered to go up the Kanawha Valley (now in West Virginia). We traveled on hog cars from Sciotoville, O, to Point Pleasant (now in West Virginia) and then marched (hiked) up the Kanawha Valley. In the morning of the second day of this march it began to rain and by noon the temperature fell, and snow fell to the depth of several inches. Soaked with snow and rain, we struggled through the mud and slush till near nightfall when we stopped to bivouac (camp for the night). We built fires and pens of rails, gathered straw from straw stacks for our beds in the pens, and huddling together in the straw we passed a distressing night.
Next morning, we were ordered to Buffalo, a village nearby, where we entered vacant houses, and there awaited the arrival of tents and the rest of our clothing (coats, etc.). When we resumed the march up the valley toward Charleston (the present capital of West Va.), but before reaching Charleston, we stopped, crossed on a ferry to the south side of the river (Great Kanawha), and went into camp. There we remained possibly two weeks; and were ordered back to Point Pleasant, where we embarked on a steamboat to descend the Ohio River en route to Vicksburg, Miss.
We lay over a day at Cincinnati, when our regiment was divided and one part of it put on another steamer. This gave us more room. Our band occupied the hurricane deck of one steamer (on the top near the pilot house and smoke stacks.) The river was shallow, and to prevent accidents, our boat was anchored midstream each night. This precaution angered many of the soldiers, for they thought that it was done to keep them from jumping off and going home for a visit. Our Major (Thornton) quieted the boys, by promising to ask the authorities when we reached New Albany, to grant a few days leave to all that wished it. But the leave was not granted. Leavenworth, Crawford County, was the home of our Company officers, and our Captain (Peckinpaugh) told his Company that a guard would be placed at the Stage Plank when we stopped at Leavenworth, but that we could leave the boat, and that, if any went to their homes back in the county and remained a few days and then came on to the regiment, it would be all right. I left the boat with the others and went up into the town to mail a letter I had written to father. I had no thought then of trying to go to Marengo and my old home 14 miles distant. While looking for the post office, three of my mess (sic), the Crane boys (brothers), called to me to go with them. “Where are you going?” said I. “Out here,” they responded pointing to the big spring at the foot of the hill back of town. “Oh, I know.” Said I, as I turned to go with them. “You’re going to get some beer.” (A small distillery was near the spring). But we passed the spring and distillery and began climbing the hill road. They said they were going home for a few days. We kept together for about three miles to where the road forked. After agreeing to meet at Leavenworth in ten days and go on to our regiment, the Crane boys went on a road that led to Grantsburg, their home, while I went northward alone to Marengo ten miles further. I had then been one year and more in the service,
this being Nov. 25, 1862. I was glad to get home and see the folks, and tell them of my adventures and experiences. But my great exposure and hardship since the preceding August has proved too heavy for me; for after a few days, I was prostrated by malarial fever and was bedfast at the expiration of our “ten day” agreement. My condition was promptly reported by Dr. Girdner to Capt. Peckinpaugh by frequent sworn statement.
After I got up again, I was told that Columbus Taylor, a Sargt. in the 66th Ind. Inf. was at home in the neighborhood and that he was going to his regiment down about Vicksburg in a few days. I arranged to go with him. We went to the home of Lt. Lindly (or Lindson) near Orleans, Orange Co., who was said to have transportation for us. We found him sick abed. Taylor and I then walked back home (over 20 miles) on the hike through January mud, my left lung which had been diseased by pneumonia, gave way in hemorrhages. Taylor seeing this said, “Why, John, you are not in condition to go to camp.”
“But,” said I, “I am at home without furlough.” He told me to write to Laz. Noble, the Adjutant General of Ind. At that time, and tell him of my circumstances. This was done, and I was directed by the Adjutant General to report, when I was able, to the nearest hospital post, and given a written leave of absence for ten days. Father then took me to New Albany, where I was examined by surgeons who disclosed that I was not fit to go south to my regiment. I was placed in a hospital (No. 5, the old Tabler House in New Albany). There I remained till the latter part of June 1863. Father told me that if there was any move made to send me away to let him know of it. While I was at New Albany, a company of Rebels crossed the Ohio River and came Northward through Marengo and past my old home. This event stirred me up. A few days later a report came to New Albany that a big Rebel force was crossing the Ohio at Flint Island. A call was made on all convalescent soldiers at the New Albany hospitals to go out on the railroad to Orleans to intercept the Rebels. Four hundred of us went. At Orleans the citizens gave us a dinner and we impressed four hundred horses that we found hitched in the town and rode to Paoli. There we slept on the ground in the fairground. This exposure with the dust raised on the road between the two towns was too much for me again. The alarm of Rebels crossing the river proved false. We returned to New Albany, and I took to my bed in the hospital.
The Captain had sent me my descriptive list and I drew several months back pay ($80). I tired of that kind of soldiering, and wrote father that I was going to my regiment if he didn’t interfere. He came promptly to New Albany, bringing a witness (Richard E. Weathers) who had been orderly Sergt. Of my company at the time I was taken into the company. Father applied by a writ habeas corpus of and took me out of service, on the ground that I was a minor and had been enlisted contrary to his wishes. (When he took me to Camp Joe Holt, he told the Captain to keep me in camp for ten days, and then, if I were satisfied, to muster me in. But the mustering officer came to muster in the company in less than a week and I was mustered in.) I was discharged by a writ of habeas corpus (habeas corpus is a Latin law phrase, and literally means – you may have the body.) on June 30, 1863. The Captain (Peckinpaugh) of my company, feeling peeved at my father for revealing his treachery in violating the agreement to not have me mustered until ten days had expired (as mentioned above) had me marked on the Company records as a deserter, doing this after he had sent me my descriptive list, which enabled me to get all my back pay at the New Albany hospital. I knew nothing of this false record until years after the close of the war, when the history of each regiment of Indiana Volunteers was published by the State of Indiana. In 1883, when I applied for a pension for disability incurred in the service, this false record came up in the pension office and I was called upon to explain which I did to the complete satisfaction of the War Department. My pension was granted, the charge being removed, and I was afterward given an exonerating certificate, which I copy here verbatim:
“War Department Adjutant General’s Office,
Washington, April 14, 1886.
John R. Weathers, Esq.,
New Albany, Ind.
Referring to the application for removal of charges of desertion and absence without leave of Nov. 24 and 25, 1862, standing against your record, as of Co. F, 49th Ind. Vols., I have the honor to inform you that as an investigation of the case has established that the said charge was erroneously made, it has been removed from your record in this office. Your record has been changed to show that you were discharged upon writ of Habeas Corpus, June 30, 1863, while in No. 5 G. H., New Albany, Indiana.
Your obedient servant
A. D. Greene
Asst. Adj. General”
I reached home about July 3rd or 4th, 1863, and July 8th, the Rebel Gen. John H. Morgan invaded Indiana with a cavalry force of about 4,000, with some artillery. I went with the Mounted Militia, known as the Indiana Legion. I was with the Marengo Light Guards, a Militia Company commanded by my brother-in-law, Dr. Gridner. We encountered the enemy at Corydon, Harrison County. A few on both sides were killed and a number wounded, and many of the militiamen were captured. The victorious Rebels went northward to Salem and then turned eastward, we (the Mounted Militia) following. The entire militia of Indiana (80,000 men) was around, and 60,000 moved to aid in repelling the invaders. Union General Hobson with a force of about 4,000 cavalry and mounted infantry had followed Morgan from Tenn. through Ky. and into Ind., but were too late for the battle at Corydon. Our little regiment of about 800 Mounted Militiamen followed the Rebel force pretty closely and overtook the enemy at Harrison, Ohio. The Rebs. however, crossed the Whitewater River through the long covered wooden bridge, an then set fire to the bridge. We saw the smoke and went rapidly forward but found the bridge wrapped in flames. We saw the Rebs scurrying about in the town across the river, and some of our men dismounted, climbed up the bluff and fired across the river at the enemy. We were soon led up the river a half-mile to a ford and there crossed into the town of Harrison, O., but found that the enemy had fled toward Cincinnati. Having driven Morgan out of Indiana, the Militia returned home, from their ten-day campaign.
In 1864, the Knights of the Golden Circle rose up in Crawford County, a few hundred strong, and made a raid through the county. They were men, who had originally come from southern states (Va., N. C., Tenn., and Ky.) and were in strong sympathy with the Rebel cause. Our companies of militia again got together, dispersed them, and captured about twenty-five and sent them to the Military Prison at Indianapolis. Such work as this and hunting up deserters occupied much of my time up to my second enlistment.
In January 1865, President Lincoln called for several thousand one-year troops. E. P. Toney who was a Lieut. of my company in the 49th Ind. concluded to raise a company and asked me to go with him as company fifer. I was very anxious to go, and after a great deal of pleading with my father and mother for consent (for I was not yet 18). I succeeded and went taking Paris E. Wood with me as Company drummer. We walked from Milltown, Crawford Co., to New Albany; next day went to Jeffersonville for physical examination; and that night to Camp Carrington, Indianapolis, where we were mustered into the service July 9, 1865, about a month later we were ordered to Baltimore, on freight cars, but instead of going to Baltimore, we were de-trained at Harpers Ferry, and sent into the Shenandoah Valley. We lay for perhaps two weeks at Halltown just above Harpers Ferry; then moved up the valley to Charles Town, W. Va.; and in a short time started on the march to Richmond, Va., where Lee’s army was so strongly entrenched. On afternoon of the second day’s march, we halted near Winchester, Va., to bivouac for the night. While standing in line to stack arms, a courier galloped up to the Colonel (Col. Geo. W. Riddle of Crawford Co.) and handed him a message. The Colonel called the regiment to attention and announced that the message advised him of the fall of Petersburg, Va. into the Union army’s hands. At this, we threw our caps into the air and cheered vigorously for we knew that it meant defeat to Lee and the close of the war. We went no farther up the valley.
On April 9th, Lee surrendered to Grant; and a few days later (Good Friday night, April 14th) President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater, Washington, D. C., by the noted tragedian, John Wilkes Booth, a rank southern sympathizer. This event shocked the entire Union Army nearly 2,000,000 strong and filled the soldiers with a flaming spirit of vengeance. But when we learned that the death of Lincoln was a result of a private scheme in Washington, D. C. and not fostered by the dying Confederacy, we cooled down and began to talk of home. But we were held in the Valley till Aug. 5th, and then went to Indianapolis, Ind., where we were paid off for the six months service, and discharged. During the service, I had been promoted to Principal Musician of the Regiment, which gave me a place on the Colonel’s staff at a salary of $22 a month.
This is simply a sketch of my military activities and experiences during the great Civil War; but a true one. My final discharge certificate is dated Aug. 5, 1865, but we were in the service until we were paid off at Indianapolis August 16, 1865. This date was stamped on my discharge certificate by the paymaster. I now have that discharge and a copy of the writ of Habeas Corpus in my possession. I likewise have my warrant (Commissioning as a Principle Musician), my old canteen and the last ration of coffee (issued at Indianapolis) and several old letters written by one while in the service (some of each service). These relics are rather sacred to me, but I am at a loss to know what disposition to make of them. I have been thinking of turning them over to my grandsons at Vincennes with the request that they have them properly placed in a little building there erected and dedicated to that purpose.
I am fully convinced, after all these years since 1865, that our cause was truly justified and that the patriotism, valor, and sacrifice of the Union soldiers of the Sixties, preserved and made our nation strong and great, and that it has since been unrivaled in importance in our wars. I am proud to know that I was permitted to take part in defense of our nation and its dear old flag, in the War of the Sixties.
Affectionately your father,
John Richard Weathers