This letter was written by William Davidson McCord (1831-1890), the son James McCord (1793-1876) and Mary Blaine Davidson (1809-1887). As a young man, William worked as a farm hand in Woodford County, Illinois, where he became active in forming a Presbyterian congregation. He enlisted as a sergeant in Co. E of the 37th Illinois Infantry on 20 September 1861 and mustered out as first sergeant on 29 September 1864. After his service, he returned to Woodward County where he died about 1890. William married Mary Elizabeth Clegg (1844-1879) of Minock, Woodford county, Illinois, in February 1865. She may have been the one to whom Sgt. McCord addressed this letter.
This letter describes the movements of the 37th Illinois in the weeks just before the Battle of Prairie Grove in which northwest Arkansas was secured for the Union.
A diary of Sgt. McCord’s Civil War experience from his enlistment until 7 July 1863 is housed at the State Historical Society of Missouri. It was donated by Thomas R. Prudden on 17 October 2013 (Accession No.6341).
Army of the Frontier
2nd Division, 1st Brigade
37th Regiment Illinois
November 8th 1862
You may deem it strange perhaps why I would write to you now & not before as it has been over a year since I bid adieu to you on the platform at Minonk [Woodford county, Illinois] when I took the cars for the seat of war. I frequently thought since I left that I would write but one thing or another coming up would cause me to suspend it. But since your uncle — our dear pastor — who corresponded with me has left the neighborhood & gone into the army, I have finally made up my mind to put upon you the burden of a regular correspondent from the village of Minonk if you find my communications worthy your attention.
The army I am in is called the “Army of the Frontier” commanded by Gen. [John] Schofield of _______ — formerly Maj. of the 1st Mo. Infantry. He is beloved, respected, and confided in by the whole army. He is a cool, quiet, wise, & fighting General. Heavy set, medium height, black hair, whiskers & eyes. An exception to the general rule, not addicted to intemperate habits or profane swearing.
Schofield soon made the rebels hunt their holes or fight when he started upon his campaign, by hasty marches & strategy. We left Springfield the 29th September where we had been since the first July & made a descent upon Newtonia where there was from 8,000 to 9,000 rebels under Gen. [Douglas H.] Cooper. But learning of our approach on good season by some villainous traitor, made his escape, but was hotly pursued by a portion of Gen. [James G.] Blunt’s command, killing & capturing a few of them, besides taking two pieces of cannon & a portion of their train. We made the move upon the place in the night, marching some 16 or 20 miles, & appeared before it just after daylight, but was greatly mortified to find that our prey had escaped, through misplaced confidence. Cooper & [James Spencer] Rains having concentrated their forces at Pea Ridge, Schofield moved up his army to pay his respects to them there but not wishing to exchange military salutes, left Cooper going southwest & Raines southeast to Huntsville, Madison county, Arkansas.
After remaining here two days, Gen. Schofield sent Gen. Blunt after Gen. Cooper while Gen. Schofield took after Gen. Rains with Gen. Totten’s & [Francis Jay] Herron‘s Divisions. We left for Huntsville Monday evening at 5 P. M., October 20th, going southeast, crossing White & War Eagle Rivers, & one of the most rough, stony & broken regions I ever traveled. First you would be in a deep valley with walls of precipitous stones on either side, then upon a high ridge with deep gorges on either side, from the summit of which ridge you can frequently enjoy a scene in the meandering valleys & hillsides below stretching out for miles beyond that is picturesquely grand. These valleys are rich & productive & under cultivation, where it is practicable.
Soon after we left the War Eagle, these hills & valleys lose or spend themselves into a table land or plain of Oakland soil dotted over with farms here & there that have been made by clearing of the timber. The soil the best in the world for fall or winter wheat. I am digressing.
We marched all night & the next day & did not get unto camp until 9 o’clock P. M., being 8 miles from Huntsville & 37 miles from where we started the evening before. We camped where a portion of the enemy had been in the morning, Our advance drove them to the main body which was some 9 or 10 miles from us. Our scouts reconnoitered next morning & found their locality & probable number. The enemy was estimated at about 11,000. But as soon as they discovered that we were at an unwholesome proximity to them, they again left and did not stop until they got into or beyond the Boston Mountains. As soon as the Gen. discovered that they had retreated, he ordered back the troops with him to within a short distance of the provision train we left behind, with which Col. Solomon was left on guard. We went into camp at Osage Springs where we camped last February before the Pea Ridge Battle. Gen. Blunt entirely dispersed Cooper’s force as you undoubtedly have learnt about before this.
From Osage Springs we made a trip to Fayetteville, Washington county, [Arkansas] & drove the 400 Texan rebels that were there. Here we came in sight of the Boston Mountains that lays to the south of the village, the spurs thereof running up to it. Fayetteville is — or rather was — a beautiful village before the marring hands of war was laid upon it. It is situated upon a rolling ridge from which a fine view of the mountains beyond can be seen. It would be a heartsome place to reside. It is 50 miles from Van Buren on the Arkansas River. It is the only place that I’ve found a school in operation since I left St. Louis last fall. Here we found the people in great destitution for many of the necessaries of life. They had no salt, coffee, & tea. Pork they could make no use of for the want of salt so they were confined to wheat & corn meal made into bread for sustenance. Also that the rebel army were in great want of suitable clothing to keeps them comfortable. Upon asking a sharp little girl of a Union man which of the armies she liked best, she replied that she did not know, but, says she, you are a great deal better dressed. She said a great many of the rebels had no shirts to wear, but had to wrap their blankets around them. A great many were also barefooted.
A reign of terror exists here so that men that are suspected of Union sympathies have either to flee north or conceal himself in the brush or timber of the hills. Our visit down there relieved quite a number of them. They had been laying out for months which their tattered & patched [clothing] abundantly testified to.
When we left, a great many families of this village & vicinity loaded up their little bundle of effects & came away with us. Some of these families belonged to the soldiers of the 1st Arkansas Regiment that fled north for protection of which the whole of the regiment is made up of. To see these families with what little the secesh permitted them to have is painful indeed. Almost destitute of clothing & the animals they had scarcely able to draw the little load put upon the cogly old wagon that was deemed unfit for rebel use. This is a sad picture but is nothing near the reality.
Not only were we accompanied by these refugees, but we were attended with considerable of a representation from the colored race with freedom beating high in their bosoms. This is no new occurrence in our experience or travels in this state. Slavery has been played out in this state by the war.
The Army of the Frontier having accomplished its mission clearing Missouri & driving the enemy beyond the mountains, the most of it was ordered back into Missouri. Accordingly we left Fayetteville Oct [ ] & fell back to Marionville. This is the only army that has accomplished its mission since the commencement of the rebellion. We have long since rescued Missouri & restored order within her borders. Her militia is organized all over the state. Each county or vicinity has its company that can be called together a a moment’s warning to disperse bushwhackers & jayhawkers that may start up in their midst to disturb & pillage the community. All this talk about not being able to maintain order even after the army is dispersed is senseless, for Missouri is evidence to the contrary. Annihilate or disperse the army & give the state a chance to organize and arm & it will take of itself with the assistance of the United States Regulars that will be distributed among them. This Union can & will be restored — the powers of Europe to the contrary notwithstanding. And it will be a Union cleaned of slavery. The war has been spun out & lengthened not designedly by the servants of the “Powers that be,” but by “Divine Providence” to entirely destroy & entirely eradicate slavery from our midst. Not only to purge but to punish the Nation & especially the southern part of it for the guilt of fostering & encouraging the system.
You would perhaps like to know what is thought of “Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation” by the soldiers in this army. It is endorsed by the majority of them for they cannot otherwise be consistent with views expressed & held on other matters connected with the management of the war. The most of all those that I got acquainted with that were proslavery now say “God speed to it.” Yes, anything that will tend to end this unholy war. The army is undoubtedly is with the President & when it gets home, it will settle with those that are at home misrepresenting them & have not given the Proclamation a hearty support. I have just heard that Illinois has some against it. If our state had done as Iowa has done, giving the soldiers a chance to express themselves upon the mighty & all absorbing subjects now agitating the public mind, she would had have swept the whole state of Vallandigham traitors & politicians. But the results in those states that have accorded this privilege to them will be proof to the world that the army is with the Administration in its efforts to put down the rebellion.
November 12th — Since writing the most of the above, we have been on another days march. We left Marionville Monday, November 10th at 6½ o’clock A. M. & took up the line of march for Ozark, Christian county, Missouri, where we arrived at 8 P. M. of the same day, after a march of 30 miles including rests & one hour at noon for dinner & other delays. The road was rough & hilly & it set hard on the new regiment. They cannot march with the old regiment. Our regiment is regarded No. 1 in marching. I have got to be a capital soldier at it. I grow fat on it. The health of our regiment is better today than it was on the day we left Springfield on this campaign. Of the seven that left Minonk, I am the only one that has not been an occupant of the hospital on account of sickness & Hershell Smiley [of Mendota] & I are the only ones now with the regiment. I have had remarkable health since I have been in the service. The Giver of every[thing] good & perfect that cometh from above has blessed me in this respect indeed, for which I am thankful but no so much so as I should be.
I have also been favored in a spiritual point of view. God providentially [takes] care of me in this respect evident & manifest. He in the first place he placed me in a company commanded by a man that acknowledges his allegiance to Heaven above who accorded to us the privilege of organizing a mess or tent where we could enjoy social & religious exercises, where there should be no card playing, gambling, or profane swearing. We have steadily maintained a Sabbath School & weekly prayer meeting whenever we could attend to them. It is the only tent in the regiment organized upon that principle & it has & is still exerting an influence but it is of that silent & unperceptible character that attends the consistent deportment of a follower of the Lord of Glory. Young men & old that are very much addicted to profane swearing, when they come into the tent, restrain themselves & when they utter an oath, immediately make an apology. Our tent is known as the religious tent. Profane swearing, card playing & gambling seems to be the favorite amusements of camp life. They prevail to an alarming extent. It is very hard for a young man to resist the evil influences of camp. I have seen young & even old men — men from whom we had reason to expect better things — give way to them to some extent. But thanks be to God, I can say I have been enabled to maintain my integrity in the midst of the flood of iniquity constantly flowing.
I still have that pin cushion & scissors you gave me. Almost every time I take them out, they remind me of your kindness. They are duly appreciated by me. They have been of great service to me & I shall ever remember you with gratitude. With sentiments of respect, I subscribe myself your most obedient servant, — Wm. D. McCord