This letter was written by Herbert M. Anthony (1837-1864), the son of David Anthony (1809-1898) and Cynthia Maynard (1806-1859) of Calhoun county, Michigan. Herbert was a 24 year-old carpenter when he enlisted on 23 August 1861 at Chicago as a private in Co. G, 39th Illinois Infantry for three years service. Enlistment records give his height as 5′ 11.5″ — his hair light, eyes blue, and with a light complexion. He reenlisted as a veteran at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in January 1864 and was killed in action on 16 May 1864 at Drury’s Bluff, Virginia — the first real battle that the 39th Illinois was engaged in. The battle lasted 13 hours and resulted in 119 casualties (killed, wounded & missing) in the regiment.
Unfortunately I believe the first part of this letter is missing which was probably addressed to his father; only the final portion of it remains. Herbert then wrote a couple of pages to his younger brother Oscar (b. 1849). I should also point out that although the envelope was no doubt used by Herbert to send a letter to his father, it conveyed a later letter written from South Carolina.
Since the original dateline of the letter is missing, it does not reveal where it was penned but a review of the regiment’s history tells us it had to have been written at the regiment’s encampment near Williamsport, Maryland, on the upper reaches of the Potomac River — not far from Hagerstown. Curiously, the regiment had not yet been issued arms.
Addressed to Mr. David Anthony, Bedford, Calhoun county, Michigan
Postmarked Port Royal, South Carolina
[Beginning of letter missing which was probably addressed to Herbert’s father]
…to obey the laws to the very letter & no more grumbling because they cannot have their own way in everything. I have just had to stop writing to hear the President’s Message read. I like the tone of it very well. He reviews our National troubles in a systematic manner and proposes to strike at the very foundation of it & with an energy that is bound to succeed. You will probably have read it before you get this & I should like to know what you think of it. I am sorry to know that you hold to such opinions as your letters would seem to indicate. I cannot see why any man of the North should have any sympathy with the South who are thus trying to overthrow the government under which we live. I certainly cannot class you among the traitors of the North but we certainly have more to fear from them than from those in open rebellion at the South. They work silently conveying intelligence to the enemy & we know not where to look for them.
If I could see you, I believe I could talk to you a long time on this subject. I cannot write half what I can think as there are other subjects that need some consideration.
I found your & [sister] Emma’s letters here when I arrived here. Tell Sis I will answer her letter before long. I wrote to [brother] Byron while I was in Indianapolis. ¹ I think it is pretty near time I was getting an answer to it if he writes as soon as he ought. I think if you knew the good it does me to received a letter from home, you would write oftener than you do. It seems to relieve for a time the tedium of camp life. Dinner is almost ready so I will close & get ready for it.
Write soon to your soldier boy, — Herbert
Wednesday, December 4th 1861
Little Brother Oscar,
As you wrote some in Father’s letter, I suppose you will be looking out for something from me now. At present I am just about run out of news & do not know as I can write anything that will be interesting to you. Howandever (as Amos says) I will rack my old brains & try & say something from [even] if it is not so very cunning. Father says you are the only one he has to help him this winter & he says you do first rate. I am glad to hear that you are doing so well & you must try & help him all you can. I suppose you are going to school this winter — at least I hope you are — & learning like everything. Who is your teacher there this winter? Anyone that I know? Have you had any snow there yet this winter?
We have not had any here as yet. Some nights it is rather cold & chilly but the boys have lived in tents so far. Some mornings we can get up and looking away up almost to the sky can see the great hills over in Virginia covered with snow when there is no sign of any here. You may be glad, Oscar, that you live in Michigan where there is some chance for farming. Here the hills are so steep you could not climb them & the stones so thick in some parts that you could hardly find room to plant a hill of corn. Yet you can see farmhouses stuck away up on the side hills wherever they can find a little patch level enough to plough.
There has three men died out of our regiment since they have been in it. One of our company [G] ² & one from one of the other companies. He is to be buried today. You must write to me when ever you can & tell me all the news & don’t forget your brother, — Herbert
¹ The 39th Illinois was transported by train from St. Louis, Missouri, to Hagerstown, Maryland, in late October, early November 1861. Their stop in Indianapolis included a bountiful dinner by its citizens.
² Private William Parrish died “for organic disease of the heart” according to the regimental history. The other two were Lt. Joseph Richardson of Co. A (typhoid fever) and Pvt. Henry Hoisington of Co. B (tuberculosis).