This letter was written by Thomas P. Kirk (1841-1919), the son of William Thomas Kirk (1812-1889) and Lavinia M. McGrath (182-1889) of Brown County, Indiana. Thomas served in Co. H, 82nd Indiana Infantry. We learn from the letter that he was with his company in the Battle of Stone’s River in December 1863 but that after seven months of chronic diarrhea, he was sent home to recover before returning to his regiment. The date of his return to the regiment is not recorded but we know it was prior to 20 September 1863 because he was wounded in the Battle of Chickamauga in the savage fighting at the foot of Snodgrass Hill on that date.
Kirk wrote the letter to his aunt Susanna T. Kirk (1817-1897) — his father’s younger sister — who lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In his letter, Thomas mentions three sisters, Sophronia (b. 1839), Mary (b. 1843), and Sarah (b. 1848). He tells his aunt that Sophronia’s first husband was named Brown but that he had died and left her with two young boys. He also tells her that Mary’s husband was named James S. Cochran and that he served with him in Co. H, 82nd Indiana Infantry.
Thomas was married to Mary Melissa Ault (1851-1946) in January 1869 in Brown County, Indiana.
On the last page of his letter, Thomas relates the tale of a vicious attack with a pistol and butcher knife perpetrated on a local man for yelling “Hurrah for Lincoln” while intoxicated.
[Brown County, Indiana]
July 18th 1863
It is with great pleasure I seat myself to write you a few lines in answer to your kind letter we received from you some time ago and it ought to have been answered some time ago but we have been so busy at work and pap cannot write for he has the inflammatory rheumatism. He has not walked a step for about 5 months. His right leg has broke in three places and it has healed up now but it is swelled very bad yet. But it don’t pain him half like it did some time back. It is a good deal better now. He has the diarrhea now and that makes him very weak. He sometimes tries to walk on crutches but he can’t bear his weight up on his well leg. I hope he will get well but it will be a long time.
The rest of the family is tolerable well. I have the chronic diarrhea and have had it for 7 months. I hope this will find you well and doing well. Now I will tell you my name. It is Thomas P. Kirk. I have been in the army ever since last august till the first day of last month [when] I came home. I took sick at Murfreesboro with the diarrhea and have been sick ever since the Battle of Stone River near Murfreesboro. I was in that fight. I was sent to the hospital at Nashville, Tennessee, and from there to New Albany in this state and came home from there. I belong to the 82nd Ind. Regt. Co H. I am going back in two or three weeks.
We would all be very glad to see you. We was pleased to get your picture. Aunt, you have no idea how pap has suffered — poor fellow. I do wish he was well and I was out of this war. Us children have all got to be great big fellows. Sophronia is the oldest. She is 23 past. I am 22 the 6th of Sept. Mary is 20. Sarah is 15 past. Sophronia has been married and has two boys. Mary is married and her man is in the army. Sophronia’s man is dead. His name was Brown. Mary’s man’s name is [James S.] Cochran. I hate to go off and leave pap so bad but I can’t help it.
Pap says he is coming in there in the fall if he gets able. I tell you, the girls and mother has had a hard through of it since pap has been sick. They have had to plough and plant the corn this Spring but we are getting along pretty well considering pap being sick. We have got our wheat cut and I am cutting the grass now. We had pretty good wheat and the corn looks well. Pap says for you to write to him when that money is ready for him and if he is able, he will come in after it.
Well Aunt, although I have never seen you I feel well acquainted with you. Oh, if I could only see you, it would do me so much good. When I get out of this war, I will come over and see you all. I have two years yet too serve if it should last that long. Oh, I long to be a citizen again. A soldiers life is a hard one. Most all of the men from here has gone to the army.
Well Aunt, do you folks raise any sugar cane there? We raised it here last year and folks made two barrels of molasses last fall. They have in about half an acre of cane in this year.
Give our love and best wishes to all of our relatives. Mary is writing a letter to her man now. He belongs to the same company I do. We have not got a letter from him for two weeks. I guess they have been in another fight lately.
Last Sunday there was a man by the name of Thomas Brown — he was cutting wheat and he had his boys helping him and some others and when they got done, they all got drunk and got to fighting and quarreling, and one of Brown’s boys run another fellow off by the name of Alexander Hatten ² for hollowing, “Hurrah for Lincoln,” and Hatten started home and said he would kill three or four of the Browns that night and he got his pistol and butcher knife and went over to John Brown’s and went to the window and John was in bed asleep and his wife was not asleep yet. They was laying with their heads to the window and he snapped his pistol at Brown’s head three or four times and it did not go off. And Brown’s wife heard him and waked Brown up and he crawled out of bed and got his gun and went out and snapped it at Hatten and it was not loaded. And [then] he run at Hatten and struck him across the back and knocked him down and jumped on him and commence beating him and Hatten got his knife out and stabbed Brown in six places. He cut him two the hollow across the bowels and his guts come out and he cut him to the hollow on the shoulder. Whenever he breathed, the wind would come out of his shoulder. He cut three of his ribs loose from his back bone. Them was the worst places. Brown is still alive and they have sent Hatten to jail until court.
Well, I don’t expect you can read this. I have told you about all the news so I will close hoping to hear from you soon. Write before I go back to the army, if you please. Tell all the news. I hope this may go safe to you for I want to hear from you soon. so goodbye for this time. From your nephew, — Thomas P. Kirk
to aunt Susan T. Kirk
Write soon, soon, soon.
¹ Thomas Andrew Brown (1809-1872) was a native of North Carolina who farmed in Van Buren Township, Brown County, Indiana in 1860. His wife was Mary (“Polly”) O’Neal (1812-1894), a native of Tennessee. The Brown’s had a a very large family — perhaps as many as fifteen children. It was John H. Brown (1833-1863), their eldest son, who was allegedly murdered by Alexander Hatten, according to Thomas’ account of events. I believe John H. Brown was married to Sarah Jane Haskins (1839-1926) and their son was named Arthur Chase Brown (1862-1933).
² Alexander Hatten (1838-1870) was the son of Virginia-native, Ephraim Hatten (1809-18xx) who married Elizabeth Bales in Bartholomew County, Indiana, in 1833. In the 1850 census, Ephraim and his family are enumerated in Van Buren, Brown County, Indiana, where Ephraim was a farmer. In the 1860 Census, Alexander was enumerated as a hand on the farm of his cousin William Arch Merritt (1832-1897) in Dry Creek Township, Maries County, Missouri. In 1861, William Merritt returned to Putnam County, Indiana, where he enlisted in Co. D, 97th Indiana Infantry.