Civil War Letters

Written by John Reilly
of Grundy County, Illinois

John Reilly (1842-?) wrote these letters to his friend, Frances, while he was serving in the Civil War as part of the 91st regiment of Illinois Company D Infantry. I presume the Frances to whom these letters are addressed is Frances Mecham, who later became his wife on November 1, 1866. In the 1870 census of Grundy County, Illinois, he is listed as 28 years old. In the same census he is listed as married to Frances (Mecham) Reilly, age 24, and has the following children: Ada, age 2, and Ellen, age 5 months. Family records list the following children but do not list their ages: Ada, Nellie, John, Abby, Frank, William, and Alice. After the Civil War, John returned to Grundy County and farmed. Later he became supervisor of the County Poor House.�Eventually he moved to Chicago and became an inspector in City Hall.

The Ninety-first Infantry Volunteers regiment (of which John was a member) was organized at Camp Butler, Springfield, Illinois, under Colonel Henry M. Day, and was mustered in on September 8, 1862.�The Regiment was mustered out on July 12, 1865, in Mobile Alabama, and on the same day started for home, where it arrived July 22, 1865, received final pay and was discharged on July 28, 1865.

John Reilly, Sr., (father of John Reilly who wrote the letters below), was a farmer outside Dublin, Ireland, and also operated a small grocery store in or near Dublin.�He came to Grundy County circa 1854 and built a log cabin near Morris.�His family came over from Ireland after he finished building the cabin.�His wife was Ann McEntegert Reilly and they had four children:�Mary, Bryan, John, and Phillip.�Mary was 14 when they came to this country, and John was 12. I don't know the ages of the others, except that I know Phillip was the youngest.�John Reilly (author of the letters) was the brother of my great-grandmother, Mary Reilly Crangle. Mary married Patrick Crangle, and they moved to the Ransom, Illinois, area, where they had a farm. My grandfather, John Crangle, moved to Minnesota. I am the daughter of his daughter Eleanor Crangle Flemmer.

Submitted by Sheila Clements

Letter 1

Camp Butler

Springfield, Illinois

August 21, 1862

Friend Frances:

I avail myself of the opportunity of dropping you a few lines, judging you would like to hear from me about soldier life.�It is a hard one & a rough one.�We got here on the 12th of August & went to camp at this place.�We get bread, coffee, meat & sometimes rice & beans to eat.�We have to take the soft side of a pine board for a bed.�We got our uniform & a double blanket.�I like the (illegible).�Well I can�t have anything to do but live.�My health is excellent, never better.

There is at this place upward of 2000 prisoners (Secessioners).�They are the most Godforsaken wretches you ever cast your eyes upon.�They are dying at the rate of 3 to 5 each day.�There are upwards of 200 of them died since they came here.�There was 2 of them buried today.�They are as saucy rascals as you ever heard.�They say they will fight when they get away like devils, that they will never give up.

Well, that is enough about the Rebels.�I intended to get home before this on furlough, but there is no prospect of getting a furlough now for some time. So I thought I would let you know how I am.�I think I will get home next week at any rate.�

I have a request to ask you. Will you please let me have your picture when I get home?�I have not got any girl�s picture.�I believe I think more of you than any girl in that place.�I could have plenty of pictures if I wanted them, but I would like very much to get your picture when I get home.�You must get it for me as if I cannot get home you will send it to me.�I will send you the money to get it with if you will consider to give it to me.�I will send you mine as quick as I can get it taken.

I had a good time yesterday.�I and Doc Foster* went downtown & we had a fine time of it.�I get out every day.�This is a very fine looking country.�There is excellent crops.�Up there is the most miserable place on earth.�I don�t believe I will ever make that place my home if I have the good luck of getting through this.�Terrell** and all the boys are in good health.�You must not let anyone see the last page of this letter.�You will let me know if Bryan*** got home yet or not.�I got a letter from him yesterday.�He is all right.�

Give my love & duty to all & accept a good share for yourself.�You write immediately & give me all the news.

Yours friend,

John Reilly

*The only Foster listed on the roster of the 91st regiment is Allen Foster of Morris, Illinois.

**The only Terrell listed on the roster in the 91st regiment is Terrill Bunch of Morris.

***Bryan Reilly is John Reilly�s older brother, who was a private in the 72nd Illinois Infantry, Company C.�

Letter 2

Ft. Brown

Brownsville, Texas

Nov. 15, 1863

�Friend Frances�

I take the pleasure of answering your letter of the 10th of Oct. which is first I rec�d from you in nearly two months & you can judge of the pleasure it gave me to hear from you & to know that you are well.�Well Frances, we have got as far in Dixie as they very well get us�further a good deal than I like to be.�We left New Orleans on 23rd of October & landed on the coast on the 2nd of November, so you see we had a long time at sea.�We fared very hard on the whole trip.�Got only a quart of water a day & had to make coffee out of that.�We came near starving at times.�I never suffered so from hunger in my life.�I have seen the time I would give 50 cts for what I used to feed my dog when I had one or for what you feed Curly at one time.�I must confess I wished myself at home many times & regretted I had ever enlisted.�It was the first time ever since I enlisted that I confessed I was sick of the business.

We had to stay on the top deck & of all the rocking I ever got in my life that beat it.�Several had to tie themselves on to keep from falling overboard.�Of all the heaving of Jonah you ever saw, it beat on board the second day out.�Terrell* heaved beautifully & was very sea sick during the whole voyage but is now very hearty which is always the case.�I was not sick any but felt very much like a drunken man.�Lennell** was sick & lived of it & declares he has enough of sea life to suit him.�I am of the same opinion.�He says the ground appeared to rise before him for several days after he landed.�I am not very well--have a large boil under my arm & have not felt well for some time.�There were several hundred horses killed by the rolling of the vessels & we are short of (grub?) for want of teams to haul them.�This is the hardest looking country I have seen yet; between here & where we landed, a distance of 40 miles, there is only two houses & the land is level like the prairies in Illinois.

Grass is not good & cattle, of which there are thousands of heads, are from no timber that I have seen.�Brush fences are the kind in use.

Now for a description of the people.�They resemble the Indians as near as I can describe them &, like them, live in houses made of brush & sticks, weeds, etc. covered with grass & cow hide. They adorn themselves in the same manner & wear a blanket over their shoulders.�They use a language I never heard before�a mixture of Spanish and some other.�Very few can speak English.�They are very friendly toward us & are all most Union.�Brownsville contains 200 inhabitants, a hard looking set.

Well Frances, Bro Aaron*** is well again.�He didn�t have the jaundice as you supposed.�I don�t know what did ail him.�It was thought he was playing off.�One don�t have the jaundice but once I think & such jaundice as that.�Puffer Girl gave him one would have all their life.�How in the world does Andrew get along?�Do you think he will (illegible)? I wish I was home.�I�d unbury some of those apples for you.

I don�t care about going home this year since you didn�t raise anything to eat this season.�For I am going to be so infernal hungry when I get there, you will want a big supply.�Butter is worth a dollar a pound here.�Give my respect to all yours.


John Reilly

*The only Terrell listed on the roster in the 91st regiment is Terrill Bunch of Morris, Illinois�

**The only name like this on the roster of the 91st regiment is Lemuel Drake of Mazon, Illinois, unless this is actually Terrell (Terrill Bunch of Morris.)

*** The only Aaron listed on the roster in the 91st regiment is Aaron Woodbury of Morris, Illinois

Letter 3

Ft. Brown

Brownsville, Texas

Dec. 20, 1863

Friend Frances,

It is now nearly two months since I have had a letter from you & you owe as many as two months.�I have begun to think you have gone back on me.�Why don�t you write oftener?�I would like to hear from you every week.�Well Frances I must quite scolding.�I haven�t had anything for dinner but some mush & coffee.�It�s enough to make one feel crabbed, ain�t it?

We are going to have a change for supper�coffee & (illegible) of letters�rough fare but it goes well when one gets used to it.�That�s where the joke comes in�getting used to it.�We have had poor rations since we came here.�We don�t get half rations.�This is the worst place to Soldier I ever was.�Today is Sunday, a very pleasant day as warm as summer in Illinois.�

We have a good steady job on hand.�I think it will last a good while yet.�Well, I have only a little over a year & a half to serve yet. (Illegible) long.�We get enough to live on in the Army while you folks will starve & freeze to death this winter.�I don�t want to go home till there is a large crop raised & then I want to raise my brand somewhere (that is, if I have enough to raise it with) & live fast for about a year till I get fat & stout. But I am afraid it�s going to take all I make in the Service to get me a set of teeth. Eating �hard tack� so much is going to spoil them.

I had a letter from home yesterday.�It gave a gloomy account of things in that section.�I expect you are having a gay time sleigh riding this winter.�I would like to be there to a good dance about New Years.�Hey!�Couldn�t I make some of the girls sweat?�You are right.�I would.�I hope I will be there next Christmas.�I will not be too sanguine though.�I expect nothering else but to serve my time out.�That was a bully letter you wrote me last.�I�ll keep that.�I believe you yammed though.�I would say you are complimentary, but I know that ain�t your style.�How does �Pim� get along?�Tell her Aaron* is all right.�He�s young but a growing, you know. There was a time I thought he would fizzle out, since he came here he picked up.�Tell her a line from her would be promptly answered & very acceptable.

Terrell** is in good health & feels well.�I understand his sisters is teaching your school.�I would think it dull going to school there now.�Isn�t it very lonesome around there now?�I don�t know how I could live there.�It will not be so when I get back, if we don�t all get killed or die.�There isn�t too many of our Co. left if they go as fast as they have in the last six months.�One died since we�ve been here.�Walker from Mazon.***�Two or three others are in hospital.�I must tell you about how religious I am getting.�I went to meeting last Sunday & occupied a seat in the Amen Corner.�I think of taking a seat among the members next time.�Our chaplain is a very fine man.�He tried to persuade us the war would be over in three or four months.��I can�t see it,� Mr. Chaplain.�

Well, Frances, I have nothing more of interest to add.�Excuse these desultory lines & I will close wishing you all a merry Christmas.�

With much love and esteem.


John Reilly

*Bryan Reilly is John Reilly�s older brother, who was a private in the 72nd Illinois Infantry, Company C.

***The only Walker listed on the roster in the 91st regiment is Lozenby Walker of Morris.

Letter 4

New Orleans, Louisiana

February 17, 1865

Quartered in ship �Alabama Press�

Dear Frances�

Your letter of the 5th has come to hand yesterday & I am happy to say finds me healthy.�Your letter came to hand regular mail and came here.�You can�t realize how it pleases me to receive a letter from you and especially such a sincere, loving letter as it was.

Now Frances I consider it a duty I owe you to say something in regard to the relations existing between us.�When I entered the army I entertained a high regard for you which was more than could exist between us mere friends, and my absence from you has not abated my affection for you, but on the contrary has seemed to increase it.�And in view of your kindness and the expressed sentiment in your letters I consider myself under an obligation for this expression of my regard for you.

I feel that I owe you my full attentions & I hope no act of mine in the future shall sever the ties of friendship (to say nothing of love) existing between us.�I hope to be permitted to see you before many months where no talk is all over and in the meantime let us not rely too much on our esteem for each other but seek rather our dispositions and that esteem for each other on which all higher regard is based.

Imagine my pleasure when I received this letter thinking that candy was your picture.�It was the first candy I have eaten in I don�t know when.�It was hard telling which of the candy or the poetry was the sweetest.�There was this difference�while the candy was sweet to the taste, the lines was sweet to the mind.

I have had the pleasure of being with Bryan* for the past twenty four hours.�He got cast ashore.�They started to Mobile last Sunday on board of the Steamer Ship Geo. Peabody & all was well till within a few miles of Ship Island when it commenced raining, blowing, thundering, and lightening and continued for five hours, during which time the boat became disabled and unmanageable, her bow and stern starting in, then rudders chains broke. They had to stuff blankets & mattresses in the holes and throw a hundred & twenty five mules and horses overboard & several wagons & ambulances which eased her up considerable.�They tied ropes to the tiller & put about for New Orleans again.�The soldiers steered her to the mouth of the river, directed by the man who stood by with a compass.�They came near to going to Davey Jones� locker, every one of them.�Bryan said there was some big praying done.�They expected every minute to go under & would have gone if the storm hadn�t abated.�They started across the lake yesterday to try it in that direction.**�We expect to follow them very soon.�The talk is now we are going to Mobile as soon as transportation can be furnished.

Bryan looks first rate.�He is all healthy now.�We have some pleasant weather here now�looks & seems like May weather in Illinois.�Vegetation &c has commenced growing.�The draft is a hard one on the noncombatants.�It is going off here since the 15th.�Those as drafted go around with a very long face.�I am anxious to know who all are drafted around here.

The boys are all well.�Aaron and Terrell also in earnest about the interest of their soul, I believe.�Don�t you think a wonderful change has come over him?�I sometimes think it is all much.

I don�t think Rose got a very nice name for her boy�in honor of Jerome I suppose.�I proposed a choice lot of names.�You will please remember me to any who may inquire for me.

With feelings of affectionate regard, I am your devoted friend.

John Reilly

*Bryan Reilly is John Reilly�s older brother, who was a private in the 72nd Illinois Infantry, Company C.�He served from Aug. 22, 1862 to July 22, 1865.�His regiment was temporarily in New Orleans, where John�s regiment was stationed, when the 72nd regiment was blown off course by a storm.

**The Adjutant General�s report for the 72nd regiment describes this storm, including the necessity of throwing animals and property overboard.

***The only Aaron listed on the roster in the 91st regiment is Aaron Woodbury of Morris.�The only Terrell listed is Terrill Bunch of Morris.

Last Update: