James Turner was a soldier in the Seventy-Ninth Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. When he mustered in on August 4th, 1862, he was 32 years old. Made a corporal on January 1st, 1863, he would go on to serve in the Seventy-Ninth until being mustered out on June 2nd, 1865 at Albany, New York. Mostly performing guard duty in Kentucky and Tennessee in 1862 and 1863, the Seventy-Ninth would go on to participate in the Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea, and then in the Carolinas, seeing action at Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, Columbia, Averasboro, and Bentonville. One company of the Seventy-Ninth, Company K, was a sharpshooter unit, having originally organized as the Fourth Independent Company Ohio Sharpshooters, and receiving Spencer rifles shortly after organizing.
The following letter was written by Turner to his sister back in Ohio and published in The Highland Weekly News on June 11th, 1863.
Letter from a Soldier of the 79th O.V.I. to his Sister—His Opinion of the War and Slavery.
Mr. Editor: I have obtained the privilege of making a copy of the following letter, written by Mr. James Turner, a soldier in the 79th O. V. I. sent from Gallatin, Tenn., to his sister, Mrs. Bishir, of this place, which if you will publish will be gratifying to many. R. FULTON. Lynchburg, O.
We are encamped in a very nice place, about three-quarters of a mile north of Gallatin. This was a splendid country, before this accursed rebellion broke out, but it is ruined, now. I do not think it will recover from the effects in fifty years. Fine mansions have been burnt and fences destroyed, and the fine plantations of the lordly, aristocratic rebels laid waste. Generally they are in the Secesh army, or have been transferred beyond our lines, where they can talk Secesh to their hearts' content. The days for guarding Secesh property are now over, or what is better, were never commenced by the boys of the 79th. We came out to help crush this rebellion, and we intend to devote our energies to that purpose, instead of aiding it, and I believe this rebellion- would have been crushed out by this time if the people of the North had been as true and loyal to the Administration as they are now. Last full a certain party styling themselves Democrats, carried the Northern States at the election. They were going then to have peace right off, by proposing terms of adjustment to Jeff. Davis, and overthrowing. the Government. I do not say that all that voted that ticket were in for that, but I do say that that was what the leaders of the party wanted to do and tried to do. They circulated all manner of lies through the army, telling the soldiers we were fighting to free the negroes, and tried to raise a mutiny in the army by telling us there was going to be an outbreak in the army. This was the time that tried our souls. To think of the long and weary marches we had taken through mud and rain, and of the nights we have had to sleep in the open air, on the wet and muddy ground, and exposed to sickness and death, away from home and friends, and our comrades dying around us from exposure and after we have made all this sacrifice, to think that men, merely for a dish of political pottage, will do all they can against us, by trying to prolong the war and keep us out still longer. Language fails to describe our contempt for them. But, thank God! Their base plan for the overthrow of the best Government that ever existed, has failed in part. When they meekly proposed their terms to their royal master, Jeff. Davis, he scorned thorn, and told them that nothing but the acknowledgment of the Southern Confederacy, and the North paying the expenses of the war, would do him. Well, the poor souls had to return, crest-fallen, for that was more than they would hope their party would agree to. John Van Buren saw it was time to arise and shake the dust of modern Democracy from his feet, and place himself on praying ground and pleading' terms with the Government they had foully wronged. When the best part of the Democratic party followed him, the rest arranged themselves side by side with Vallandigham, Bright and the Cincinnati Enquirer, which now constitute one of the most contemptible, God-forsaken, hell-deserving parties that ever existed, without one redeeming trait in its character. They have forfeited the respect of every honest man and woman, and the soldiers think far better of the open foe that dare face us on the battle-field, contending manfully for what they think are their rights, than we do of those poor, cowardly, contemptible, copperheaded villains that would stab us in the back while we are trying to maintain the honor of the flag that they are doing all they can to disgrace. We care nothing for party names. We are for the Union, the Constitution, and a vigorous prosecution of the war, and a cordial support of the Administration in all lawful efforts to quell the rebellion. We never thought it was right to interfere with Slavery, therefore we have no sympathy with Abolitionists, but since the rebels have commenced the war, they have taken the business out of the hands of the Abolition party, and given the Government the power to abolish Slavery in the States that are out of the Union, and to de it constitutionally; and if it weaken them and shorten the war, I am in for it, if it frees every slave and kills every traitor both North and South.