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A Sharpshooter's Letter

We have come across the Fourth Ohio Independent Company Sharpshooters once before, in a post about a wedding on the Stones River battlefield. This time we have a letter written by another man for the Fourth, Eleazor J. Gorham, to his daughter Mary Ellen.


Prior to the war Gorham was a farmer in Clinton County, Ohio. He was born on January 10th, 1825, to Stratton and Mary (Polly) Gorham, who both hailed from Pennsylvania. Eleazor would marry Mary Harlan some time before 1850. Their marriage would produce five children, all girls, Elvira (who died in 1849), Agnes Ann (who died in 1859), Mary Ellen, Malvina, and Almira. Eleazor's wife Mary would die on March 25th. 1862, leaving Eleazor with three little girls to care for. His decision to join the Union army might have been for patriotism, but more likely it was a way for him to provide for his family as farming can be a risky venture and the promise of army pay might have seemed a steady source of income.


On October 21st, 1862 Eleazor would join the Fourth Ohio Sharpshooters, under the command of Captain Jacob M. Flegle. The company would at times be known as Flegle's Sharpshooters. Gorham would leave his young girls to the care of the Miars, who were neighbors of the Gorhams.

In early March 1863 Gorham was stationed at Woodsonville, near Munfordville, Kentucky, and along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The men were tasked to guard the rail bridge over the Green River. From there he would write the following letter to Mary Ellen:


Woodsonville, Ky - March 8th, 1863


My Dear child,

After receiving your letter with Abi’s I concluded to write you a few lines to let you know that we were still at the old place where we first stopped. We don’t know how long we may stay here. There are some rebels reported to be down below us. Let them come we are ready for them. I believe I would fight. Try me and see that is the [way] to find out. It has rained here for several days and nights and is still raining. The river is very high and still rising. It has raised some ten feet in the last 24 hours. It is past gone over the ferry boat. I dare not cross it was so I will. Mary Ellen our boys was put out on picket today. I was detailed for cook for my mess. There is but one and myself in the tent tonight. I took their supper to them tonight. I walked some two miles. They are in line about two miles long. Our tent is very wet. Mud is half shoe mouth deep. It is hard times down here. You have your dry beds to sleep in, we have our wet tents and split puncheons to lay on. We are smoked nearly to death. It is a poor way of living. Eggs 20 cents per dozen, chickens 25 apiece. Pies 10 cents peach. Nothing in them, one peach to a pie, the crust thin and tough. You would not eat them. I don’t buy them. The boys do. It is money thrown away I think. Mary Ellen, I drawn 29 dollars and ninety cents. I sent your uncle Elick thirty dollars for the use of you three children. I told him in a letter to write to me soon after he got it. I have not heard from it yet. I sent it the 17 of last month. It is curious that I don’t hear from it. Mary Ellen if you know anything about it let me know soon. There is plenty of rebels down here our Cavalry is fetching them in nearly every day. I expect there will be a fight here yet. Let them come we will give a hot visit. We had 83 men when we left Camp Dennison, we have but 38 fit for duty at this time. I am one of the best of the number. I am always ready for duty. Mary Ellen, I have not much more to write at this time be a good girl and mind Eliza. I will come home some time and stay with you the balance of my time on earth. Fare well my child. From your father.


By 1880 Eleazor was indeed staying with Mary Ellen for the balance of his time on earth in Van Wert County. On the 1890 Census of Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, it was mentioned that he was "broken down with gone mind," leaving us to surmise that either he suffered from insanity or Alzheimers. Whatever the state of his health, Eleazor would live on until January 30th, 1898. He is buried in the Springfield Friends Cemetery, southwest of Wilmington, Ohio, alongside his wife Mary. If you ever get a chance to visit the cemetery, please do as it is wonderfully maintained and is a quiet and thoughtful place.

 

The collection of Gorham's Civil War letters have been edited and published with footnotes by the blog author. Copies can be obtained via Amazon.

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