These two letters were written by Amos Watson Kibbee (1828-1915) who enlisted at Metropolis, Illinois, in August 1861 as a corporal in Carmichael’s Independent Cavalry Company which was originally Cavalry Co. B, 29th Illinois Infantry, later Stewart’s Battalion, Co. B, and finally consolidated into the 15th Illinois Cavalry as Co. B. According to military records, Kibbee stood 5’9″ tall, had light hair and blue eyes, and was a native of Barkhamsted, Connecticut. He mustered out of the service as a sergeant in August 1864 after three years.
Amos was the son of James Kibbee (1801-1885) and Alma Root (1807-1885) of Litchfield, Connecticut. He wrote this letter to his cousin, Harriet A. Tuttle (1840-1887) who he would marry in December 1868.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
December 3, 1861
Well Hattie, I have a few leisure moments today and another dirty sheet of paper so I thought I would encroach still a little farther upon your patience. Oh what a blissful homelike picture you drew of yourself and your surroundings, seated in your little sanctum without dread of fear of the disturbance of the outer world and oh! such a wide contrast between your position and mine. There all is still, peaceful and quiet; here all is noise, clatter, confusion worse confounded. My 15 roommates are nearly all sitting around the stove laughing, jesting, and some of them are old campaigners in the Mexican War, 2 or 3 are graduates from the Prussian Army (Dutch) and we have one who was an explorer under Fremont on the mountains and plains of the West. Some three or four of them are talking at once relating incidents of the past and prophecies for the future while the most of them are working away on their accoutrements cleaning saddles, arms, boots, and uniforms, while I, dear Coz, have taken my stand at the only window in our room (12 X 24) standing and leaning against a shelf which serves for a desk, and indicting a letter to you.
With your knowledge of me, my habits and disposition, can you think or believe that I enjoy myself here? No Hattie, I did not come here for the pleasure I expected to see in the service for I was fully conscious of all the inconvenience of the situation. But I was impelled only by a stern sense of the duty I owe to my country and the flag under which I have been born and bred and learned to respect. But perhaps this was somewhat enhanced by the recklessness caused by, and in consequence of, my isolated position in the world. I think perhaps it would be difficult to find a man who has more completely outgrown as it were the ambitious aspirations of youth after happiness.
Oh how bitter has been the pangs caused by the severance of cherished but separated hopes — hopes I had thought were fraught with almost transcendental happiness. They were transitory and fleeting as the vision of Mirza. Escaped, gone, never more to return to the heart which though not callous or dead, is devoid of the yearnings which animated it in former years. Yes, Hattie, I have lived in the light of unrealized hopes, indulged in speculative day dreams which although they were the source of great happiness at the time, have left the bitterness of disappointment behind. And yet for all this, I am not despairing or entirely devoid of happiness. I can look forward with calmness and in trust toward the “great beyond” awaiting not eagerly but patiently and resignedly the end which at the most is not far off. The first youth is passed, the second is fast creeping on. A few months more and one half the three score and ten years will be gone — one half the voyage of life accomplished and the other, oh how fast fleet the seasons, the milestones of time.
I ought not to have written in the sad strain but although I am surrounded by my companions in arms, I feel lonely and sad at times. There are many ere who think we shall be disbanded before, or early in the spring, and if their prediction proves true, there are a few here who contemplate an overland tour to Oregon or California and perhaps I may accompany them but not until I have visited you and the people in Connecticut and perhaps not at all as I have not committed myself yet. But I will not anticipate for I myself have my doubts of an early disbanding of the army. A great deal depends upon the success of the great coast expedition and the celerity with which it is reinforced and supported. Success in South Carolina and Louisiana, I think, would induce the speedy submission of the whole South. But if it is a separate game they are playing and until they have seen the last hope of success perish, they will persist in their mad efforts. I could not well do your bidding or at least comply with your wishes to “be good,” — that is, if writing within the time specified forms the only qualification of goodness. But for reasons which I have already mentioned, I shall claim your indulgence for this time and when I tell you I have done the best I could, as you are not naturally hard-hearted, I believe you will grant your forgiveness.
Yes, I am glad to hear that Eunice Kibbee is married — at last attained the object for which she has longed so many years. But to tell the truth, I would not liked to have been at the wedding. Old memories are still busy in my brain. All is forgiven but not forgotten. As for kissing the bride, ha ha — what an idea. It has been so long since I have done the like, I almost begin to think I have forgotten how. At all events, there is so much hair on my face now I should perform the operation very awkwardly if I done it at all and I guess when you come to see my likeness, you would shrink from becoming the subject of a treat. I have not forgotten about the likeness and think I shall be able to get it taken this week as there are a couple of artists lately arrived in camp. I have tried several times to get leave of absence for the purpose of having it taken but have failed. But now I think there will be no difficulty. Oh how much I should like to make you a visit this winter. I should like to come gliding quietly into your little rooms while you were sitting alone pensively thinking over bye gones and bend silently over your shoulder and — and — well I shall go to a barber shop before I get there and maybe I should remember how unless there should happen to be some other feller there who laid claim to your allegiance and maybe even then I shouldn’t see him. But I am getting tired of standing here as you will be of reading long before you get this far so I must bid you another goodbye.
— Amos W. Kibbee to Hattie A. Tuttle
Coz, again it is evening and as long as I have space or time, it seems almost impossible to stop writing but I will not much longer try your patience. I wish to speak particularly about your likeness. If your likeness taken last winter is a true likeness, I don’t know as I ought to ask you to get another but I would like one as perfect as possible for I should like very much to see whether you have altered any in the past year since we met. You speak of growing old. Oh Hattie, — 21 last August you grow old at 21 for that is your age. Am not I good at keeping dates. If nothing happens, I will have mine taken next Friday and send it so you will get it next week. I have one large one in Metropolis taken in Nas ____ last winter but as I do not consider it a good likeness, I will get another one.
Do you remember, Hat, I used to like to see you with ….. I thought it become you very much. I fancy your short hair. Makes you look somewhat as you did then. If so, I should like very much to have a likeness taken now although I shall not be particular either way. As for growing old, why you are scarcely in your prime even with me who am thirteen years older than you. It is not time which has weighed so heartily upon my brow but I have altered very much. I feel that I am growing old but it is more in spirit than in body. Of this you shall shortly see. I will not weary you longer. So goodbye again.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Miss Hattie A. Tuttle, Painesville, Ohio
January 26th 1862
Dear Cousin Hattie,
Although it has been but two or three days since I wrote to you, as it is Sunday and pretty dull in camp, I thought I could not more pleasantly employ myself than in writing to you again. If you will recollect you know I said in a former letter that I would write whenever I had time and wished you to do the same. I am rather afraid that something serious has happened to you or that the mails have been miscarried or I should have got a letter ‘ere this from you. What can the matter be? There is nothing being done here that would be interesting to you to read about and in fact there is really very little being done at all.
There is considerable excitement in some of the companies about enlisting to go on the gunboats as those accustomed to the rivers have been requested to do so by those in authority. I think about 12 or 15 of my company will go. I do not expect to although I know it would be much easier and I think less dangerous. There has also been a rumor in circulation here that all the cavalry furnishing their own horses would soon be discharged in which case I should be out of a job. Do you think I should be sorry? I hardly know myself whether I should be or not. But I do not credit the rumor much. If it ever should happen, I shall give myself a furlough long enough to come and see you before I re-enlist as I doubtless should do if I could get a chance that suited me.
Soldiering—especially scouting—is no easy duty to perform. Many times I have come into camp in the night time, took off my saddle and bridle, tied my horse to a stake or sapling, and gone a mile to find a field or crib of “secesh” corn to feed him with, having done which I would wrap my blanket around me and lie down on the cold and wet or frozen ground with my head upon my saddle to sleep to be awakened again at daybreak by the bugle blast of “saddle and boots” when “mount and away” is the word. Although we see many hard times, it is not without its pleasures and amusements.
About 20 of my company—myself among the number—formed the advance guard of the brigade when we took possession of Blan[d]ville, Kentucky. As we were about entering the towns, we saw a middle-aged lady beckoning to us from a house a little off the road. We halted and some three or four of us went out to ascertain what she wanted. She proved to be a widow lady from Ohio and she warned us to be on our guard against treachery for she said nearly every inhabitant of the town was “secesh” and as she could see but few of us, she thought we were in danger. I do not think you ever saw so much happiness depicted on a human countenance as was on hers when she learned that there were thousands of blue coats in the rear coming up. She and her two daughters fairly cried and danced for joy. We galloped into town with carbines advanced ad cocked, posted sentinels on all the roads, and awaited the coming of the long column headed by the famous “Bloody 18th” regiment.
In striking contrast to this (the widow) was the visages of the villagers who collected in groups on the corners of the street discussing and furious gesticulating, probably fearful of the consequences to themselves of our occupation. Again, it was really amusing to see the confusion exhibited by a country bumpkin and his Dulcinea when one day when we were on our march with orders to arrest all whom we found on the road, they found themselves suddenly surrounded by our scouts whom they evidently took to be a savage set of cutthroat troopers. We took them into camp, confined them in a guard tent over night and let them go in the morning. I reckon they will remember that night of courtship under difficulties. Again we took some prisoners whose fate being as yet undetermined. It is not so pleasurable to contemplate. I have seen acts of etaliation committed which was very hard to look at. Horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, geese, ducks, clothing, furniture, [and] everything that could in any way be used or destroyed I have seen driven off, butchered and destroyed while women and children have stood around with tearful eyes begging our soldiers to desist. Oh what a horrid thing is war—especially so when circumstances render it necessary to retaliate the acts of an enemy for in all this part of the State, the Union men have been murdered, shot or been burnt out and driven off and all their goods destroyed or confiscated to the use of the Southern army. Peace and quiet has been substituted [for] a reign of terror.
One thing more about this expedition and I have done. In order to give you some idea of what we scouts are sometimes called upon to perform, I must tell you of a little adventure of mine. While we were encamped near O’Neal’s Mills (which we destroyed and burned together with a large bridge), it became necessary to have a prisoner taken to Fort Jefferson and I was picked out to guard him in about ten miles through the woods. The road over which the army passed was so muddy as to be almost impassable. If I had been with him and he should have made an effort to escape but he evidently thought it would be no use for although I could see by his looks and actions that he frequently meditated it, he did not attempt it and I think it would have been useful for I could have shot him down or have ran over him and his pony horse together very easily. But enough of this for now.
It may seem strange to you that I sometimes forget to answer or notice some request you make of me. If any such remain unanswered, I crave your pardon on the ground that I have nothing to refer to except my memory for reasons which you will understand. I never go out on a scout without burning all the letters in my possession for fear of what might happen to me. I have burned all the letters I had, some of which I had carefully preserved for many years. I recollect in one of your letters you mentioned that I had promised to get something for you. I have striven in vain to think of what it can be and I now beg of you to remind me of it. I am very sorry and ashamed too to have forgotten it. And again, what was it I said about that likeness that you brought home from Kirtland. Please tell me. Be good. I have not forgotten about your likeness. I do not like to hurry you but would like to have you send it within the next two or three weeks as I think it will not be longer than that before we move our quarters, perhaps permanently.
There are some other things which although I have not mentioned, I have not forgotten. You wished to know whether and if I had, how and why, I had changed my views of religion. There is much I could write about this question. I have deferred answering this question for various reasons, one of which is a full explanation would necessarily be quite lengthy although my views are not so very much different from what they were when I left Ohio. I was then thoughtless and almost reckless in my expressions of things which I have since learned to reverse. I wish I could see you and talk with you about these things. I cannot write as I feel. I have driven hard to become a better man intellectually and morally, better fitted to enter upon that sphere of spirit life which lies beyond our earthly career, drawing nearer to that fount of perfection—the God I adore. I think I am not too egotistical when I say I think I have, in a measure, succeeded. I have found a religion by which I can live and by which I expect, and stand ready and waiting, to prove in the eternal world when my summons comes. There are many things, Hattie, which I would like to say to you—to you alone—you who knows more of my inner life, thoughts, and feelings than anyone else in the world. You have been the recipient of much of what the world around knows little of. You know of some of my faults and I hope some virtues of which others know little or nothing. When clouds and suspicion have lowered around me making my pathway dark and gloomy, you have withheld your judgement, whether you thought hard of me or not, and for this I have felt grateful to you for it was like a gleam of sunshine to me.
But I have no more time to write tonight. I must defer it till another time. Perhaps I ought not to have said so much as I have already but I could not help it. So excuse me for once. Write soon and often to me. Your letters so me much good. I want very much to see you and all the rest of the folks there, but to me life is uncertain and I may fall at any time. It is a soldier’s duty to be ready at all times. If I fall, it will be in a good and just cause and I am satisfied. I have less to lose than I hope I should gain. Good night. May you have pleasant dreams tonight and a long and happy life and a happy entrance into heaven at last. Although my letter may seem desponding to you, I am comparatively happy and contented with my lot. Again good night. — Amos
Monday morning, January 27th
We have been in camp 4 days and it begins to grow monotonous and tiresome. If the weather was good, I would rather be out scouting but tis wet, muddy and dreary outside. The rivers are very high coming up to the levee nearly all the way around town. Were it not for the levees, we should be in the midst of a lake. For my part, I cannot see what ever induced people to think of building a city in this mud hole for it really is nothing else. I would like for you to see this capitol of Egypt—Cairo. But I could not find it in my heart to wish you were obliged to live here for it is very unpleasant—especially to me who has been accustomed to breathing the pure air of the hills of Ohio or New England. These river fogs must make it very unhealthy for all.
I see that I am spoiling my letter for on looking it over I can hardly read it myself, so I will desist for the present. I must reiterate my request for you to write as often as you can and my assurances of doing the same. I hope to be able to be with you on Independence Day or before. I cannot come until I am discharged for we get no furloughs now. Remember me to all.
Yours affectionately, — Amos
Direct your letters to Camp Barker, Cairo, Illinois, in care of E. Carmichael, Capt. of Cavalry, attached to 29th Regt. Illinois Vols., and if we should move, they will follow the regiment.