1864: John Posey to Mathias Embry

How Posey might have looked

This remarkable letter was written by a Black Indiana farmer named John Posey who enlisted as an infantryman in Co. D, 55th Massachusetts. The 55th was organized at Readville, Massachusetts, in June 1863. Most of its members were recruited from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, though other states were represented. They left the state for Newbern, North Carolina, on 21 July 1863. They then moved to Folly Island, South Carolina, where they were placed on fatigue duty at the north end of the island. It was while at this location that Pvt. Posey wrote the following letter to his Embry relatives. Full of hope, Posey tells his cousin, “I will die or freedom made whole.” Confidently he adds, “I am sure if they will put as many more coons in the field that we can, we will make old [Lee] see that he is whipped. And if he is near-sighted, we are able [to] give him a pair of horse leather goggles and [I’ll be] damned if he don’t both see and feel soon the banner of rebeldom fall.”

At the time of his enlistment, John Posey was described as a 5’11” 22 year-old Black man — a farmer born near Vincennes, Knox county, Indiana. He was killed in action at the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina, on 30 November 1864 — just one month to the day from the date of this letter.


Folly Island, South Carolina
October 30, 1864

Dear Cousin,

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I do take the opportunity of writing you a few lines to inform you that I am well and doing well at present and I hope these few lines may find you the same. It is with great interest that I do write to you and the only reason is that I never forget you as you do me. I remember merely from our personal acquaintance at home but not from the letters you write for it is seldom you ever write though I excuse and I am glad that I have lately considered what was the matter the letters that I wrote having no postage stamps on them cost money when you found them. And I suppose that you have come to the conclusion of finding out the news from the South without the information of my letters. I have sent money home by Express and if you have it in hand or get it, I want you to send a portion of it to mother — $25 dollars — and remember out of the 25 the expressage — whatever it cost. I’m to send it by a young fellow that [lives] in the north of Indiana. He has his discharge and a man of our company but he is so long about going that I thought I would write to you to do it for me and shall do the best I can.

I am [a] cheerful soldier so far away from home and in my hopes, I so yet remain. The wrathy rebles must be slain. We have started up the steps and as we are on the step that is higher than common on my principles, I will stand with [my] Enfield rifle on my shoulder with my comrades. I will die or freedom be made whole. As for democracy, we do not fear. Uncle Sam is our guide and the channel he will make clear. He is honest and worthy of the praise of the colored population if nobody else. For my part, I trust that the Providence may aid him to carry on the war to the destruction of [this] miserable rebellion and be the death of the victims thereof. I will stay in [the] field willingly until my term is up. And if I am hearty and hale, I will obligate myself to swing them three years more for I am sure if they will put as many more coons in the field that we can, we will make old [Lee] see that he is whipped. And if he is near-sighted, we are able [to] give him a pair of horse leather goggles and [I’ll be] damned if he don’t both see and feel soon the banner of rebeldom fall beneath depth of soil while thousands of their friends most be found in the earth and in eternity — their principles put to flight — and on the sandy shores of America be once and forever free.

Rejoice, my friends, at your noble and civil home. The chain of distress is bursted asunder and gone for the great and noble result have our country been in a raging trouble like flame that survives its many and different directions, declaring by all that is good  [or] bad. The opposers of justice shall no longer remain before you see or feel and enjoy the legal rights of America. You may have to go through almost fire but it will come after all.

I heard that the draft took Charles Very, James [D.] Rollins, ¹ Joshua Davis, ² Aaron Toodle. They were no better to go to war than I am nor you either. Neither are or was they anymore fit [to] stay at home. Aaron Toodle should have been taken anyway but I am sorry the rest of them was drafted. As for your case, you can be excused as your sister is not able to walk and her and your mother would be alone. I will stay as long as I can do any good and that may be as long as I live or till I am wounded or lose my health and can do no more. The members of our regiment cried out decide, but I have got the first time to whine yet if I never see the [elephant], it is not my fault. And [if] I never see it, it [is] no reason that everybody else or the future prosperity will never see. I am in the service and it is true that soldiering in and under all responsibilities, is no easy occupation. But if all other coons that are thought more of than our kind are, had to looked up trees and stood one waiting for the other to climb from danger falls in the attempt, there would [have] been more of them catched winter before last when fur was so high.

Do the best you can and if you move as soon in the spring as possible, whatever you do, stop in country. Set your head like a ram against a gate post. If I had your head on my shoulders, I’d be as good for one thousand or fifteen hundred dollars as one is for another. Some days I make one and two dollars a day cleaning guns for the other boys.

Give my love to all and write soon.

to Mr. nothing Embry.

— John P. of the 55th Mass., Co. D

¹ James D. Rollins — a Black man — was born about 1836 in Indiana. He was the son of Daniel Rollins (b. 1812 in Virginia) of District 61, Knox county, Indiana.

² Joshua Davis — a Black man — was born about 1832 in Indiana. He was enumerated in the Henry Brodie household in District 61, Knox county, Indiana, in the 1860 US Census.


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