This letter was written by 43 year-old John DeVoe Van Antwerp (1820-1902) who served as the Chaplain of the 26th Iowa Infantry. John was commissioned on 24 June 1863 and he resigned on 5 March 1864.
John was the son of Jacobus Van Antwerp (1784-1859) and Finetta Patterson (1791-1869) of Rensselaer county, New York. He was married to Lucy Ann Carter (1820-1898). His two children were Samuel “Carter” Van Antwerp (18437-1909) and Mary Eva Van Antwerp (b. 1852).
John wrote the letter to his son, Samuel, while attending Oberlin College in 1863. Samuel later served as a private in Co. K, 150th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). Samuel then graduated from the University of Michigan in 1872 and practiced medicine in Vicksburg, Michigan.
In the 1860 U. S. Census, John was enumerated in DeWitt township, Clinton county, Iowa, as a 40 year-old Congregational Minister. Others enumerated in the household with him were his 40 year-old wife Lucy, and his two children, Samuel C. (age 13) and Mary E, (age 8).
Addressed to Samuel C. Van Antwerp, Oberlin, Ohio
Walnut Hills near Vicksburg [Mississippi]
June 5, 1863
You doubtless wish to hear from me at this point. I had a rapid yet safe journey and found the regiment generally in excellent spirits and health. I, Schlaback, S. Morton, Lucas, and a few others are at Young’s Point. I went over to visit them on Monday and they seemed very happy to see me. I’ve ought to go home and I shall make every effort to get him home. A soldier’s life — especially in this southern latitude — is rather a hard one. The hear here is now as severe as at the hottest period at the North. We lie by in the middle of the day as much as we can. Grant’s army lies around Vicksburg completely investing it. We are among the bluff on the right wing — i. e., the part above Vicksburg. Our tents are pitched in a deep valley or gulch among great forest trees. The location is pleasant and healthful. I am in a tent with Maj. [Charles M.] Nye but expect to have up a tent in a few days for myself.
I have not been very well since I came but feel much better today. How long we shall remain here, I do not know. We expect to stay till Vicksburg falls which may be any day. We have force enough to take it any hour but Gen. Grant deems the game caged and he does not want to sacrifice life. I do not know how many troops we have but the army is very large and growing. It seems as though a battle were constantly raging for there is not an hour but we hear the report of cannon or musketry. At certain periods, the cannonading is terrific. At such times when cannon roar all along the line and the huge mortar toss their missiles of death high in air, the scene is one of fearful grandeur.
I went upon a crest of the hill the other evening to witness the explosion of the mortar shells. First could be see the flash, the came the first report, the second sound rolling along the heavens like heavy thunder, the the course of the shell was traced by the burning fuse as it mounted higher and then the explosion — sometimes high in the air — and then again close to the earth making report nearly as loud as the first discharge.
But war is a terrible calamity. The country becomes a waste wherever the army goes. I saw but few families as I passed down the river. Most of them had fled. The negroes flock in vast numbers to our lines of all shades and ages and sex. They are employed as fast as provision can be made for them. Multitudes are employed as teamsters, others in various kinds of labor, while the strongest are employed as soldiers. A most wonderful change is being wrought by this war in the institution of the South in which the hand of God is plainly seen.
But I must close and will write you when I can. Write to me. Direct to 26th Reg. Iowa Volunteers. Steele’s Division, Thayer’s Brigade. Vicksburg.
Your father, — J. Van Antwerp