“I think they have fooled around here long enough”

“On April 30th, the troops crossed the Mississippi River and attacked rebel positions at Port Gibson, south of Vicksburg. Throughout the month of May, General Ulysses Grant’s forces continued to engage and drive the Confederate forces back into the city. Finally, on May 22nd, the Union army attacked the Vicksburg defenses. While not successful in capturing the rebel stronghold, Union troops now encircled Vicksburg, and the Confederate garrison was cut off from supply and communications with the outside world. On July 4, 1863, the Confederate forces agreed to an unconditional surrender.” [Mark L. Johnson, Peoria Historical Society]

Holmes was not physically fit for duty when the 77th Illinois Regiment crossed the Mississippi. He was left behind at Milliken’s Bend where his health continued to decline. By June, 1863, he was sent to Illinois to recover his health.

Van Buren Hospital
Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana
April 27, 1863

My Dear Wife,

As I do not know what else to do I will commence another letter to you. I am feeling rather better today than I have for several days. I took a walk of nearly a mile this morning and I believe I should gain right up if my bowels would only get right. I have to take a pill every few days to start me along though I don’t take enough to physic me we have got I think a first rate doctor that tends to us. He seems to be the right kind of a man. He is giving me some bitters which I think are doing me good. I saw Mr. [John M.] Brown Saturday. He had been down to the 47th Illinois and when he came back, he called here. He was on his way to the join the regiment.

I heard yesterday that our regiment had crossed the river below Vicksburg but don’t know how true it is. There is a mighty sight of moving troops now and seems as though something was going to be done. I hope so anyhow. I think they have fooled around here long enough.

It has been raining like sixty for about 2 hours but has cleared up now. I still get enough to eat and that is very good though plain which is a good thing. We get peaches twice a day and they are first rate. Get enough of them and I relish them good. There are three of us in this ward that have our grub brought to us. There are 16 of us in this ward. They are all Kentuckians in the war but 4 but they are all fine men—very quiet and peaceable. I like them first rate.

Bill Young is just across the way in another ward. Him and me are all the ones here from our company but there are a good many from our regiment. The premises here that constitute the hospital is a very large plantation. There are some 33 houses that was used as Negro quarters besides five or six other ones that were used by overseers and nigger drivers. There was a large cotton gin but that is burned up. There are two large one-story houses where the proprietors lived. The old man that owned the plantation is said to be in Natchez. The big houses are all surrounded by the most beautiful flowers of all kinds but a fellow dare not touch one. Mean, ain’t it? I want to get some to send you but can’t.

In regard to discharges, I don’t think there will be any given here just at present as Gen. Grant is very busy and has not time to sign them so it is said. You have it as cheap as I do but I think there will be a good many sent up the river before long. I think that after they have the fight at Vicksburg, that discharging and furloughs will be freely given. At least that is the general opinion and the fight—if there is one—will come soon. One more remark, when I look at men that I see here that are lame and half blind and afflicted in ever conceivable way, it makes me feel almost a well man and it makes me feel grateful that it is as well with me as it is and I yet trust in God that we will yet meet in His own good time. It seems hard the way we are used but we are soldiers and have to stand it. But we may be free again in time. I don’t expect I shall get the things you may send by [Andrew] Sampson but gave orders for Kim to take care of them for me. You must be of good cheer. Trust in God and all may yet be well.

I wish I had kept money enough to have bought me a watch as it would be so much company for me. Still I don’t really need one. There is $17.50 of my detail money coming to me, if I ever get it, but I guess I done the nearest right in sending my money home as I did as I had rather you would have it. I hope to hear from you as soon as you can answer my first letter. I guess I will not write any more today but finish my letter tomorrow.

April 28th — Well, my old love, I feel pretty well this morning but [not] quite quite so good as I did yesterday. I expect it is owing to the weather. It is muddy and wet and damp but the sun is coming out and I will feel pretty good when it gets dry and I can walk out.

The ward master came though last night and took the names of all the men, their company and regiment. They all seem to think that there will be a lot sent up the river pretty soon. Hope I will get to go but must trust to luck. How is the cow coming out this spring? How does the drafting go on? I hope they will bring them to Limmerick. I wish you could have a pair of the mocking birds that abound here. They are great birds to sing though they are not very handsome. I suppose you have plenty of pork yet. I want you to have anything you want and not skinch yourself.

I have got my pipe yet as good as ever but don’t smoke any now. I chew some tobacco. Tastes as good  to me as it ever did. Ask granny if her dog will bite any now. Have you heard anything from Old [Samuel] Clegg yet? I think he is acting mean. Hope they will draft him.

I don’t think of anything more now so will close as I have wrote a good long letter and hope it will reach you in good time and find you all well. Hug and kiss the children good for me and my love to you all and God bless and protect you in my prayer always. Will write again in 2 or 3 days. So goodbye for this time.

From your loving husband, — F. W. Holmes

Van Buren Hospital
Milliken’s Bend, La.
May 6th 1863

Dear Madame,

It is with deep feelings of regret that, by request of your husband, I take my pen to inform you of his illness. Though not serious, still, his sickness is such as to prevent him from writing a very intelligible letter. I write from regret on account of the pain it will bring you, but with pleasure knowing that it is a duty that devolves on every true-hearted soldier—that of helping his companion in arms in time of sickness. Hoping you will pardon the liberty which I have taken, by request of your husband, please accept my best wishes, and rest easy with the assurance that I shall do my utmost in behalf of your husband’s welfare and happiness.

His present sickness is occasioned by a foolish mistake in his medicine cause, I suppose, by a want of sense on the part of those who wrote the prescription. He was almost well and was priding himself on being almost a well man once more, but taking these pills in the wrong manner, he was again taken down. It went pretty hard with him for awhile but I am happy to state that he is on the mend and everything seems to show that he will be a well man again soon. He would write himself now but t’would tire him so, but thinks that in the course of three or four days he will be able to write to you himself and says that he shall write as soon as he possibly can.

Having performed this, to me, pleasurable duty, I am, with may kind wishes for your happiness, your husband’s friend, — John W. Hinds ¹

¹ John W. Hinds served as a drummer in Co. C, 67th Indiana Volunteers. This regiment was at Milliken’s Bend from March 8th until April 25th. Musicians often were utilized as nurses in the hospitals when not active in the field.

Van Buren Hospital
Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana
May 8th 1863

Dear Wife,

As I can’t write much, I will write with a pencil as I feel that I must scratch you a few lines. Well, I am pretty slim. The doctor’s clerks have pretty nigh killed me. It may yet before it is done with me. I was doing first rate and gaining strength fast when the doctor prescribed some alternative pills to take—one once in 6 hours or 1 pill 3 times a day. That prescription I did see till the next day but the clerk’s put up the pill right off and I marked on the wrapper to take one every three hours which was a careless blunder. I took 3 pills and then quit and I had to run often as  15 or 20 minutes for 18 hours before I could get it checked but have got well over it now. I don’t have to only about 3 times in 24 hours but it has give me an awful pull back. My bowels are pretty sore and I am pretty weak but can manage myself without trouble. I don’t expect to gain much now for several days till my bowels get healed a little.

The doctor stormed and swore awfully when he found out all about the matter. I like our doctor and have a great deal of faith in him. He has a great deal of Dr. [John] Stoner’s turn. I got a messmate to write a letter to you when I was the sickest for me so you will understand it when you get this. Signed by J[ohn] W. Hinds. I don’t know where the regiment is nor anything about it. I won’t write any more but will write in a day or two. Now rest easy about me, I am doing as well as I can expect under the circumstances. It is a bad go for me anyhow. I trust in God to help me in my trials and what is His will, I feel resigned to.

I send you two sprigs of 4-leaved clover. Give my love to the babies and all. I have not got a letter of yours since the one of yours of April 10th.

Yours truly and fondly, — Fred W. Holmes

Van Buren Hospital
Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana
May 18th 1863

Dear Wife,

I am not able to write much but will write a few lines. My diarrhea is all checked up and I am getting righted once more though I am very weak. I am now in a sick ward. We get bread pudding custard, butter, eggs, cod fish, and potato balls which are very nice cheese and on the whole live first rate for sick folks. I wrote to Uncle James about a week ago to come down and take me home or up North somewhere at least and if he is rich and good a man as mother says, I think he will come. I have got two letters from you since I have been here. We have white clothes to wear and nice clean sheets to sleep in. I will now close for this time and write again in a few days.

God bless you all. Goodbye.

From your loving husband, — F. W. Holmes

St. Louis [Missouri]
June 5th 1863

Dear Wife,

I arrived here this morning all safe and feel much improved by the trip. I am at Uncle’s and receiving every attention. Shall come home as soon as I am well enough to stand the fatigue of travel by rail which I hope will be in the course of a week or 10 days. I like the appearance of Uncle and Aunt first rate though they live in style. I suppose mother will be with you in a day or two if not already. Now have patience till I get home. I would like to have mother come here and make Uncle a visit. They are anxious to see her.

You never have said whether you got the money that I sent home by Myers or not. Please send me ten dollars. My love to you all.

From your loving husband, — F. W. Holmes

Uncle’s place of business is opposite the Virginia Hotel.