Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Ransom Hawley, like most teenagers then and now, longed for excitement and adventure. For Hawley, that meant serving in the Union Army. When the war began, he watched as several of his friends and fellow students at Wabash College enlisted in the several Indian regiments that organized in 1861 and early 1862. He read of their exploits in the field at places in Kentucky, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, while he studied and continued classes. He read letters from his friends while he put together aid packages. In the following letters, it is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation between a young man and his family. He earnestly wants to fight, but his family is reluctant to let him go.
Feb. 15th 62
Dear Parents I was glad to receive Pa's letter last evening. I received letter from Lina Tuesday and one from Lucy and Henry this evening. The battles at Forts Henry and Donaldson have created some excitement; Col Lew Wallace is in command of Fort Henry and is promised the the command of the advance on Nashville.
Prof Kidd will deliver his last lecture on elocution this evening but he will deliver a lecture on Physical education next Teusday evening.
He is a great lover of gymnastics he gave us some lessons in free gymnastics after almost every lesson; he says Henry W. Beecher is a great gymnast and would if he could do so privately take a spar with [illegible].
Prof Hadley is to be ordained elder next Sunday morning.
Yours with much love Ransom.
Feb 24th 
I received Pas’s letter and was very glad to hear from you. Saturday was the glorious 22nd, we all met in the chapel Prof Cambell made a few remarks, Cpt Caven of the 11th, made a short speech and some of the other students made speeches, we sang the Star Spangled Banner and adjourned. Cpt Caven is a member of the present Juniors Class; we received the sad news last week of the death of one of his classmates A. Adams. He was Adjutant of the 18th, Ill we were all afraid that we would hear of his being killed in the late battle as every officer in that regiment was killed, so I was informed. Putnamville is ahead of this town in sending hospital stores they sent one box to the wounded at Ft Donaldson and had to come to the students for money to pay expresage It is not of much use for me to send you my marks as the Faculty will at the end of the term. I do not want want any money before next week and then it will be for board. Well , I suppose that we have a President Dr Tuttle of New Jersey came Saturday examined the buildings preached yesterday morning and lectured;in the afternoonfrom these things and the reports that we have had,we think he is our President. Do you know whether Sylvester Bishop was hurt in the battle?
Yours with much love
Feby 24, 1862
My dear Bro Hawley
The letter requesting Mrs Ladd to acknowledge your last boxes, in a letter to you, was found in the bottom of a box some days after it was opened. As it is Ladd is at home now, unwell, I send this to you. The boxes, & the sack last sent were all received safely & in good order & are being used, I trust with great benefit to the soldiers, Goods of of similar kind, are now coming in from difft-quarters in large supplies, I think I ought to say we have no need of any more clothing of any kind,-not even bed clothing-or pillows, canned fruit, & Jellies are plenty at an present, They may yet need more of some things, but the hospital fund is now accumulated so that it can be applied to obtain many things here. There is no suffering for the want of things now, in Hospital no 3. & I think not in any other hospital. I shall know more about the other hospitals in a few days, & will write to you if I think it proper.
Health is improving,--not as many deaths as some time since—Not as many coming in now from the camps south,- They have gone farther south. The field for my labours is no less important & interesting. –but more & more so, as I become acquainted & as the sick gather confidence in me & send for me to see them. Yesterday I collected as many convalescents together as I could in one ward, & opened a Bible class. We all read & I ask a few questions, & then made some application & closed with prayer. In another ward I briefly expounded the first Psalms. I close with prayer. I frequently pray at their bed sides by the request. One poor fellow, being low some deranged has his wife, his mother & her mother, comin to see him to day, all, I fear without any support from religion. Last night I laboured with him (the Soldier) & his wife, His wife seemed more disposed to repent than her husband—Exciting scenes come before me every day. Pray for me that I may be faithful. A regiment came thro here to day from W. Virginia, going on west -150 left here sick. I hope Mrs Ladd will be well enough to come back, but I fear. I have been unwell some but feel well to day. I will send this notice, I put into the L. Journal of the receipt of yr boxes. Express the warmest thanks to yr Society from the friends here- the sick soldiers especially,
Love to your dear family & others
Jos.. M. Ladd
P.S. When about finishing this, I want into our recieving room & found another box, & a bag from yr Society. Some things seem to have been sent from Martha Sollers. The bread & chickens were exactly suited to our wants, & so the other things, more thanks, if possible Two loads of sick come in to night.
No 40 North Division
I received your’s and Pa’s welcome letters Friday evening. I now believe I can truly say I have my found my Savior. I begin to feel my hopes growing brighter. We have been through vacation accustomed to have a prayer meeting in my room at night but we have been obliged to discontinue untill last night we had a good meeting. Our class have great reason to be thankful for what the Lord has done for us out of 15 six have experience a change of heart and one has been a member of church for several years do that makes the majority on the Lords side. The meetings have been discontinued since Friday evenings (except Sabbath) but will be continued tomorrow evening. I was over at Mr. Smoaks Saturday and the girls made me promise to tell you girls in every letter to come up at Commencement; and I will join in the entreaty do come won’t you? I saw in the Lafaette Journal that at the battle of Winchester Lieut Buskirck was killed. Were any of the boys of Putnam hurt. If you ever see or hear of “that piece” of Fremont’s body guard wandering around the “well” just remind him that I wrote him a letter about two months since and “have had no answer” In your next letter to Henry please state the fact to him that I am still at C. He must have forgotten it long ago. I suppose that Lucy is still well I haven’t heard to the contrary for 2 months “anyhow.” What is the P. O. address of the boys of the 27th Write soon.
With much love to
Wabash College. Ind.
I received your very welcome letter & paper this eve. I thank Pa for the $4.00 it came when I was needing it.
I should have written last night but I thought I would get a letter to night, and I could answer two while answering one. You ask where I will go? I will go wherever I am needed an wherever I am commanded whether to guard prisoners, supplies, or bridges; or to fight. But I do not believe the three months troops will be placed in the advance in preference of the not to well disciplined troops. The College company has fallen through, but my desire to avenge the blood of Putnam Co boys has not fallen with it. There has been almost a company recruited in town, but as I didnt not know any one who was in the company personally, I did not wish to go with them.
Of course then my only chance of going is to go home and enlist which I would like better, provided I go in an unconditional manner. Whatever way I go I want to go with Jake McIllvain or some one who I know has good moral principles & in whom I can confide. In short, I will say, for I might as well now as any time, I don’t care about going as a private, but I will go as a private if before I don’t go at all and I can get your consent.
I can say now I feel more & more determined to serve my Savior. Room mate and I took upon ourselves the vows of the church last Sabbath. We had a good prayer meeting this evening. I have not spoken to Prof Hadley about going, but of course he will oppose as he would for any of the boys going. I thank Pa for those little books they were just the thing.
Please excuse the mistakes as I am in a hurry to go to bed.
In July 1862, Confederate Adam Rankin Johnson raided Newburgh, Indiana, the first Northern town to fall to Southern forces. John H. Morgan, hero to Southerners and horse thief to Northerners, conducted his first raid into Kentucky that same summer, prompting the organization of several short term, "emergency" regiments, among them the 78th Indiana. Ransom Hawley enlisted in the 78th in Indianapolis. Part two will focus on Hawley's exciting, adventurous, but not so pleasant, experience fighting guerrillas in Kentucky.