This letter was written by Corporal John Ewing, Jr. (1831-1863) who enlisted on 28 September 1861 in Co. B, 16th Ohio Infantry. John was the son of John Ewing (1799-1880) and Margaret Gushwa of Holmes county, Ohio. In 1853, John, Jr. married Mary Ann Hall (1834-1908) and they had as many as five children by the time John marched off to war. In the 1860 U. S. Census, John and Mary Ann were enumerated in Salt Creek Township, Holmes county, Ohio.
John was taken prisoner at the Battle of Tazewell (Tennessee) on 6 August 1862 and exchanged. But he did not survive the war. He died of “consumption of the lungs and chronic diarrhea” on 4 April 1863 at St. Louis, Missouri, and he was buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
December 19, 1861
Dear Wife & Children,
I sit down to write you a few lines. First, I am well as usual. Our company is in good health with the exception of of a few we left at Camp Dennison hospitals and we have 4 or  men quartered in the Lexington Court House but they are able to go around. We left Camp Dennison Tuesday morning — took the cars. We got off at Cincinnati and marched through the principal streets there. Crossed [the Ohio River] on a steam ferry boat, landed at Covington, Kentucky. There the good people prepared for us a good dinner which we relished with a good appetite.
At about 3 o’clock P. M., we took the Kentucky Central Railroad to Lexington, which place we reached at about 3 o’clock A. M. We remained in the cars to 5 o’clock, then we dismounted, stacked arms, eat breakfast, unloaded the cars, then fell in ranks [and] marched in the Lexington Race Course and pitched tents on the same ground which there has been a secession regiment left.
I have seen Henry Clay’s monument. It is 130 feet high. Seen John C. Breckinridge’s mansion and we are now quartered on the old estate of H. Clay. James B. Clay’s residence is in sight about 50 rods south. There is another regiment quartered north of us in the fairgrounds. They had a nice Floral Hall and an Amphitheater made of iron frame which was set on fire last night and burnt up with the [ ] elements. ¹ It was the largest fire I ever seen. It came very near burning the city which contains 15 thousand inhabitants and 8 thousand slaves. I have saw more niggers in one hour here than I ever saw in my life. The streets were black.
We have a very nice camp ground. The country is very nice and rolling. The weather is warm as May today. The nights is somewhat cool. The crows are flying about kawing like springtime.
I sent that blanket to Baker, Millersburg, in a box with several others. You will have to pay the freight on it which should not be much. Your name is on a paper and my name on the blanket and in care of J. Ewing, Jr.
The country is very hilly and broken in places as we came along — that is, up the Licking river. We came through several tunnels. One was ¾ of a mile long. It was dark as a dungeon for several minutes. There are a good many secessionists around here which we are a going to make come under. I will write more the next time about this.
I have not received any letters since the 12th but expect to get one from you in a day or two. I hope you are all well and the children and the rest all well. When you write, write J. Ewing, Jr., Lexington, Fayette county, Kentucky — 16th Regiment Ohio Volunteers, Care of Capt. [William] Spangler.
Your husband, — J. Ewing, Jr.
To M. A. Ewing
¹ “During most of the Civil War the fairgrounds (now part of the main campus of the University of Kentucky) was a federal encampment. The grounds contained a handsome amphitheater which had been erected by John McMurtry, the architect-builder who had designed the original cemetery gateway. Just before midnight on December 18, 1861, the amphitheater caught fire, an alarm was sounded, and citizens thronged to the scene. “Whilst the fire progressed,” the Observer & Reporter recounted in its next issue, “an occurrence took place…that caused a far deeper feeling of melancholy than the destruction of the amphitheater.” A Union cavalry officer, Lieutenant Joel D. Hickman, wearing his uniform, entered the campground and was challenged by a sentry. Probably in jest, Hickman declared “himself to be a Secessionist” and repeated the statement, whereupon the sentry shot him dead. The body of the lieutenant, who was well known in Lexington, was placed with military honors in the vault at the cemetery on December 20 and later was interred. Through some unexplained circumstance, the location of the grave was not recorded, and to this day it is not known.” [The Lexington Cemetery Website]