“Letters from the Front” by John Truex, Company D, 82nd Regiment, Indiana Volunteers

August 27, 1862  (Camp Emerson)  “Dear Wife” This letter was apparently written shortly after his arrival at Camp Emerson because he comments:  “We have not drawed our clothes yet.”  At this early date, the ugly reality of war has not yet dawned:  “We are enjoying ourselves very well, getting as much to eat as soldiers could ask.  The health is very good generally.  There is about a thousand in camp and very few sick.  Shumaker is as happy as a pet pig in a bucket of slop.”  Religion is very important and Truex sends word to his wife: “I want you to be faithful and still keep up the family altar.  Bring the children up in the fear of the Lord.  I don’t want you to grieve after me.  I believe that the Lord will protect me through and bring me safe home again.”


September 4, 1862  ( five miles south east of Louisville)  “Dear Wife”  Truex comments that “The boys are in good spirits.  We’ve plenty to eat, water is a little scarce, very dry here this season.  Some of the war news is flattering and some not so good.”  This letter continues to encourage his wife Catharine to “Be contented.  Live religious.  Endeavor to train up the children the way they should go.  Children, I charge you to obey your mother.”


September 13, 1862  “Dear Wife”  Military life is a bit more strenuous than in his two previous letters:  “We have been force marched ever since we left Madison.  Truex then expresses the concern of so many soldiers from the frontier:  “Tell me if you have got your wheat threshed yet.”  Again he states with certainty:  “I thank God that man can be a Christian any where and under all circumstances.  I leave you in the hands I am in, the hand of God, and I put my trust in Him, knowing that he is able to bring me off more than conqueror.”  Then on to more practical matters:  “The reason we do not pay postage on our letters is we have no sutler in our regiment and we can’t get stamps.”

September 16, 1862  (Camp Butler)  “Dear Companion”  Truex laments the fact that he has not received any letters from Catharine:  “This is the fourth I have wrote you and never received any answer.”  He then gives some war news:  “Have had great victory at Munfordville.  Our loss was 8 killed and 30 wounded.  The rebels lost 700.  In standing sentinel, I overheard our officers on the war question.  They said it’s the desire to call soldiers again and again until the South is completely over run.  There is now four regiments in this camp.  Said to be seventy five thousand union troops in five miles of this place.  I stood sentinel last evening and could hear the drums and guns all around me.”  Attention to religion isn’t quite as easy as in his first three letters:  “I would like to say that our religious liberties are somewhat limited.  Sunday still comes down to our guard lines but it never has the countersign and don’t get in.  Our officers drill us on Sundays as well as Mondays.  But we will serve the God of battles.”


September 29, 1862  “Dear Companion”  Again, the practical farmer Truex says:  “Don’t be in a hurry selling your wheat and other things.  I think produce will come up.  There is no farming going on here and the 6 and 22 [Regiments] boys says there’s nothing left where they’ve been…not even enough for the women and children.”  Truex ends the letter: “Give my love to all inquiring friends.  Reserve a share for yourself.”

Oct 11, 1862  (Garrard Co. Ky)   “Dear Wife”  Truex and his companions have not yet been involved in fighting:  “We laid within a mile of a hard battle.  If it had lasted an hour longer, we would have been called in to it but dark came and the fighting stopped and we was detailed the next evening to bury the dead.”  This task gave the first intimate glimpse of the reality of war:  “We got no tools to work with and we looked over the battle ground some.  I will tell you it was a distressed sight though our men did not suffer half like the rebels did.  We could stand in place and count from 18 to 20 in sight of us and the rebels laid in piles and their loss is supposed to be 4 times as large as ours.  A view of the battle ground is a sad and horrible one.”  Perhaps because of this experience, at the end of the letter Truex instructs his son Thomas:  “I want you to be an industrious boy, stay at home and carry on the business the best you can.  I think you had better stay at home and never come in the army for you would wish yourself at home a thousand times and that is all the good it would do you.”


October 23, 1862  (Marion Co.)  “Dear Companion”  Still no direct combat, but the long marches are taking a toll on health and feet, not to mention the fact that: “the earth has been our bed and the heavens our coverings since we left Louisville.”  This deeply religious man finds “dissatisfaction in absents of my family and roughness of society is disagreeable and religious liberties so limited that no religious man can enjoy himself as he would wish.  I shall not repine but will trudge along through this campaign with cheerfulness through the assistance of Devine Grace serving God with diligence.  I have set a firm resolution to serve God better than ever I did before seeing the wickedness of the world.  I am fully convinced that this war is a judgment that God has sent on our nation on account of this wickedness for I learn by reading his Word that the wicked shall not go unpunished.”  And then, perhaps with a premonition even though he had not yet seen combat, Truex writes:  “Tell Brother Elledge that I want him to write us a letter and tell us how the church is prospering and if I fall I want him to preach my funeral and tell the people that I fell like a soldier, I died at my post.”

November 4, 1862  (Cave Springs, near Bowling Green, Ky)  “My Dear Wife”   Truex describes his latest march: “a distance of ninety five miles and my feet gave out and after the first day’s march I could not keep up with the reg nor pack my gun.  It is the foot I hurt with the plow once.  I am fearful that it will trouble me a right smart about marching.”  Instead of the glowing reports a few months earlier about how everyone was in good health, he writes: “The health of the reg is only tolerable.  John Pender and Lark White (Indiana neighbors) will likely get a discharge soon.”

November 8, 1862  (Mitchelsville, Tennessee)  “Dear Companion”  This letter reflects the frustration felt in the inadequacy of mail service to and from soldiers.  Truex finally received a letter from his wife, but she had not received any from him, including all those noted above.  Again, looking forward to peace:  “when the boys may all joyfully return to their homes.  O that God may speed the day when right and righteousness will prevail and when righteousness may cover the earth as the waters cover the channels of the deep.” Then he mentions the realities of camp life, when again he says that the regiment’s health is: “only tolerable.  The measles, mumps, typhoid and camp fever is the chief complaints.”


November 24, 1862  “Dear Wife”  For the first time, Truex speaks at length about the political situation in the North and how it affects Southern attitudes.  “We have been in fine spirits thinking the war would soon be ended.  The rebels is very tired of it & was quite much discouraged when we first came to Tennessee but since the election has went off & the strife of the north has got scattered abroad I think I can see hope spring up in their countenance.  They seem sasyer and many of our soldiers have been somewhat discouraged.  One thing I feel safe in saying the strife that’s been and yet is manifest in the north has & will cause more deaths than all the south.  Tell the people for me if they won’t help us to not kill us.  I think if they knew what I knew, they would pursue a different course for I do know that every word spoken against our government or administration, if known in the south, cause the war longer and hoter.  I am sorry there is so much strife & division in the north for if they had been united the war would have been ended by this time.  I hope the God of battles will be with us and guide us to His home and glory.”


November 24, 1862  Truex also includes a letter to his son Thomas:  “Stay at home.  Tend the farm.  The support of the family lies mostly on you and your mother and above all things live religious, lay up your treasures in heaven, that if you see me no more on earth you may meet me in Heaven.  Son, remember that without holiness of heart none can reach that happy shore.”


December 1, 1862  (“Camped near Gallatin Tenn.)  “My Love”  Truex reports that “John Pender is dead.  He died a faithful servant of God and his country.”  Health problems are worrisome for some of his friends from home.  “James and Elzey Wever is sick.  I think James is not long for this world.  He took cold and settled on his lungs.  We think they’ve both taking the measles.”  Again, he gives advice on running the farm:  “You said that Nathen Hufman would clear that field for one crop if you would board him.  Well, if he will clear it and not be lying around boarding off you and doing nothing.  I think it would best be the thing you could do but bind him to do it in a certain time and not give him more than one year to do it in, not 2 or 3 or 4 or when he pleases.”


December 7, 1862  (“Camp near Gallatin, Sumner Co., Tenn”)  “Dear Companion”  Truex tells his wife that he has finally received a few letters from her, expressing the reality that movement of military units makes it difficult for soldiers to receive letters from home.  The fact that dates on his last few letters to his wife indicate that he remained camped near Gallatin perhaps explains that he did receive several letters at the same time.  He ends the letter with:  “I believe that most soldiers would rather be at home if they could, with our union restored and government again enjoying peace.  Will you pray for it and for me and all the soldiers?  The Lord in His word says the prayer of faith shall save the sick. And will prayer prevail in behalf of our government.”


December 22, 1862  (Nashville, Tenn) “Dear Companion”  This letter contains interesting comments about Nashville and its citizens.  “This is the finest and the nicest town I have seen and the best country, the best land, all looks mighty well.  Some of the finest buildings I ever seen.  If this war was over I would like to talk to the citizens here about this country but as this thing called rebel is in the way for I don’t like them and they don’t like us but they have to like us now because they can’t help themselves.  There is a good many of rebels around here but they have to keep still.”  There are comments about what historians have described as the havoc caused by childhood diseases: “The regiment got the measles in it and our company got it and we can’t muster only about 30 for duty and when we left we could muster 75.

Truex continues to articulate his deep faith: “I still aim, by the blessing of God, to meet you in heaven, this is all that buoyes me up in all the travels and troubles and hardships that I have to go through while I am here in this lonesome state or unpleasant life for a Christian man, but I think it is better for me than the ungodly or the unrighteous for I am prepared to die when the Lord calls me hence.

Now I will tell you something of a soldier’s life.  The first is when we are wakened by the drum and fife, five o’clock in the morning, fall in the line of battle in the time of five minutes or less.  We must lay with our clutterment by us nor mustn’t mix them with anyone else’s so we can fall in line quick.  Then to stack arms and then to quarters and keep on our rigging.  Then all at once the drum will beat.  The colonel will holler double quick time, then to quarters to get breakfast, the guard mount, then drill two hours in the forenoon, then dinner, then after eating drill again, this making 4 hours per day besides other duties.  So this is all right enough for our health and to make us better soldiers and to be better able to fight when needed and to fight with some skill.”

On December 22, 1862, Truex also wrote to his son Thomas.  “I want you to be good to your mother and the family and attend to the affairs of the farm.”  He repeats an earlier plea that his son not join the army.  “Now Thomas I will tell you we have had pretty hard time since we’ve been in the service.  The 82nd has been trotted through.  You was anxious to come in the army but you may be glad you did not for you could not stand it.  Our regiments has gone down a great deal since we left Louisville.  Our company numbered 87 when we left and now we can only muster about 30.”  At the end of the letter, he again directs his son: “I want you to always respect and honor your mother so that if I never get back you may be a help to her in her old age and above all things remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.  Oh, how I would like to hear of you joining the church and devoting your time to the service of God that if I never see you on earth again may I have a prospect of embracing you as my son in the Lord on the other shore.  Remember these as if they were my last words.”

December 27, 1862  (Tenn)  Truex becomes somewhat critical of the actions of others at home.  It appears that “Brother Shoemaker” allowed his pigs to destroy someone else’s corn.  He is obviously responding to a letter from his wife when he comments on the “degraded hate of that Tlaffered class.”  This appears to include “shame to the neighborhood for people to profess to be religious, to go to such a low called place as a dance, which is a place destitute of good morals – let alone religion.”  He then switches criticism to army officers: “While we are trying to put down this rebellion our officers is engaged in drunkness and every other wickedness that could be imagined or some of them at least.”  The only non-critical portion of this letter is at the end: “I must tell you that our governor sent us all an oil blanket apiece, which came at a very good time, for it has been rainy here since and they keep us as dry as kittens.”

January 9, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn)  This letter contains information about a major battle at Stones River. (December, 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863)  “The 28 we started at night and we marched all night and then for 4 nights and days we was on our feet and no sleep.  We was firing for 3 days before a general attack was made.”  He describes viewing a cavalry charge: “While we was looking our horsemen made a charge on the enemy just before sun down.  It was a mighty pretty sight.  This was on New Years Day and if I must say a new world to many brave boys.”  He describes the advance of regular troops: “Them in front of us fired and fell to the ground, then we fired and did the same and while in this place the bullets came like hail over our heads but none killed on our side or our regiment.  I never will forget this New Years Day.  We gave them a might bad licking.  It was the blessing of God that gave the victory.”

January 20, 1863  (Camp near Murfreesboro, Tenn)  “Dear Wife”  Truex is sick and is “in a private house that is taken for a hospital, close to the regiment.  I have taken cold and it has settled in my lungs.”  He believes that his sickness was a result of the battle “which lasted six or eight days and all the time with but very little to eat and exposed to the rain which was prevalent and no blankets to cover us of a night and then had to wade a river.”

He comments on his concern regarding the tenacity of Northerners:  “The news has come to us here that the pluguglies has begun to rebell in the north which has caused some excitement here in the army.  Some swears they are going back to help them while others does not approve of their course of procedure.  For my part I do not understand it all together.  I want peace to be made and I want it made honorable and in accordance with our constitution but any other way would not suit me at all.  I want you to write as soon as you can and let me know the opinion of some of your best neighbors regarding this thing that has taken place here.

January 23, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn) “Dear Companion” Following up on his letter three days earlier, Truex tells his wife that he is much better.  “I can say that I am smartly on the mend.  I am in camp again but not able for duty.  I expect to go to the hospital to sleep a few nights yet.”  He then comments on his belief about Southern motivation for the War.  “The negro question being the cause of this war is all a humbug.  They make it a pretense but I am satisfied that it is only through pretense.  The rebels want a government to themselves and a monarchal one at that.”  He ends the letter with another comment about God’s will for him.  “Grieve not for me but look up to God and muster all the faith you can and pray for peace and protection.  Will not God avenge his elect that cry unto Him day and night?”

January 27, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn)  “My Beloved Wife”  Concern about the health of his regiment continues to be foremost in Truex’s mind.  “Our reg. is not in very good health at this time.  We can’t muster more than two hundred men out of the nine hundred we started with.  Our officers has got up a petition to have our reg. sent back to Indiana for the purpose of recruiting for 60 days but I do not know whether it will be done or not.”

For the second time in a month, he comments on the purpose of the War.  “The news has also come that people in the north has come to the conclusion that pease shall be made irrespective of the war department and the war department is endeavoring to free the negroes calling on the north to help them in so doing.  Now I fear that this will leave us in a bad predicament not knowing where to center our hopes.  I wish they could, just for the sake of government, lay aside their views on the subject and unite on the constitution and its laws then we may have some hopes of peace.

Truex also mentions a frequent concern of soldiers writing home, as they worry about the status of their farms:  “I want to know how much you got for your pork that is if you have sold it.”

January 30, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)  “Dear Wife”  Truex is still sick (“My health is quite delicate today”), but, once again, he relies on his faith: “Well, Catharine, don’t be uneasy about me.  Though I am unwell, I believe the Lord will do all things well.  Though sometimes the way seems a little dark through this world, nevertheless God’s word stands firm.”

He continues to talk about his participation in the recent “battle of Murfreesboro” (Stones River in most historical accounts).  “The balls whistled pretty thick around us.  I felt the wind of one burn pass my left ear.  It felt tolerable warm.”  Once again he mentions the depleted regiment and comments on the devastation of diseases among the troops.  “The measles, mumps, and yellow jaundice got among us at Gallatin.  Our regiment has been going down ever since.  We have the typhoid fever with us now.

There are also his continued comments about the prospect of peace.  “I desire peace above all things that is on honorable terms and I hope the time not far distance when God will work our peace for us.”

Feb. 5, 1863 (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)  “Loving Wife”  The desire to see his wife is overwhelming, but Truex states:  “I suppose I will have to wait till my time is out or peace made, for furloughs is plain out and taking fence furlough ad desert is not my name, except I was very close home I might step over for a few moments.”

“I will tell you the seashash [usually spelled sesesh, from secessionist, to refer to Confederate deserters]  is deserting the enemy ranks daily and joining our forces.  We’ve a new regiment partly made up of them, about four hundred of them in it.”

Feb. 11, 1863 (Murfreesboro, Tenn)  “Loving Wife”  Still sick, Truex writes: “I have a pretty severe cold and some pain in my breast, back and head and my eyes is not well yet and my throat thinks its not very well and I have to cough considerably.  Well with all of this if you would see me you would think I was happy as a jaybird.  I am with the Co but not able for duty but you need not be uneasy about me.  I have worked when I’ve been worse than I am now.

The subject of peace and the reality of corruption are articulated once again.  “I do want peace above all things, may the God of heaven speed on the day of peace.  Oh that he would remove corruption.  From authority I fear it in the hearts of men that holds the reigns of government.  I see but little less here in men of authority would to God they were changed from nature to grace and the power of sin and Satan unto God.  I do not know what to think about peace being made soon.  There is so much division in the north and the south knows it and encourages them.”

In his own little corner of the War, Truex expresses his frustration:  “We thought when we whipped so bad here that we would soon get through with the job but this bow-wowing around against the administration ruins almost everything.  It encourages the rebels, discourages some of our men, kindles wrath in others while some are pleased with it.”

While he doesn’t mention slavery in most of his letters, Truex here opines: “For my part I’m not in for fighting to free the blacks neither do I feel like grumbling so hard at the administration for from what I have seen I am quite certain if their slaves were taken from them they could not carry on the war long.  The conscript has taken all but the infirm and squipt.  They can oversee very well while the darkey does the work and thus the farming goes on as well as if they were at home and thus through the negro the rebels are fed.  Now I would think it wisdom to deprive them of that food if possible.

Feb. 13, 1863  (Camp near Murfreesboro, Tenn)  “Dear and Affectionate Wife”  While his health is still poor, Truex informs his wife that he is “smartly better.”  He is able to be out of bed, “with the exception of two days that was on the account of a dizziness in my head.  I was so light headed that I could scarcely walk.”  He also comments on unrest in the North and states:  “That is one thing desirable, the constitution obeyed and the union restored in accordance to it.   I think as much of a traitor to the constitution on one side as I do the other.  God save me from either.”

In the signature portion of this letter, he writes: “John Truex to Catharine Truex, his wife, his love, his friend, his better half.”

Feb. 19, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn)  “Loving Wife”  A pronounced discouragement with the prospects of peace is the focus of this letter.  “My hope for seeing you soon is very small for I see no prospect of peace at all.  I do not think the officers at the head of government is trying or has ever tried to make peace.  The sesesh [Confederate] prisoners that we take say that they are fighting for the constitution and the citizens invariable declare they want peace and the old constitution.  Now if this is their motto which they declare most earnestly it is, and we claim the old constitution, I can not tell for the life of me what we’re all fighting about or why our rulers can’t make peace.”

Truex also criticizes Northern troops by citing an example of a raid upon a Southerner’s home: “They broke open a poor woman’s house that had one child and her man conscripted and took everything she had.  Took her bed, burnt her trunk, burnt her bureau of drawers, carried off all her meat, in a word they left her nothing.

Feb. 28, 1863 (Murfreesboro, Tenn) “My Dear and Much Respected Wife”  Truex expresses joy that he had received three letters from his wife.  He also heard from others from home.  [The frustration with the failure of the government to expedite the delivery of mail is expressed in many letters from Civil War soldiers.  While understandable for an army on the move, Truex has remained at the same place for two months.]

Health continues to be a major problem, and he predicts that he “will ever be able for duty anymore in the service.”  He also warns about soldiers returning home with the measles.  Truex continues to hope and pray for peace and comments on the devastation of war: “The country here looks like desolation.”

March 7, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)  “My Dear and Much Respected Wife”  “I have to say that my health is rather worse than it was a while back.”  For the first time, he criticizes the fact that he has not been either discharged or furloughed: “I Believe if our Cap. Was any account I could have a discharge.  The Col. advised him to apply for a discharge for me but he has as yet done nothing and I do not know that he will soon.  There has also been orders issued to give furloughs and some troops has got them but I don’t know that the 82nd will get any.  It would be too much honor to get a furlough.”

In this letter, Truex also mentions the fact that past due payments have been received by troops.

March 8, 1863  (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)  “My Dear Wife”  Harking back to the letter sent the day before:  “I thought of not sending any money home but our regiment is ordered to move and I have concluded to send you twenty five dollars.”

March 13, 1863   (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)  A letter from friend R. E. Plummer to Catharine Truex: “Sister Truex, Respected Mistress, according to Brother Truex’s request I tonight lift my pen to address you a few lines to inform you that I am well and to let you know that Brother Truex is still poorly.  He has been taken away to the General Hospital some two miles from here.  The reason he was taken we got orders to march and he was not able to march.  I think that he likely will get a discharge before long.”

March 18, 1863 (Murfreesboro, Tenn,)  “Dear Companion”  “It is through the mercy of our Lord and Saviour that I am still spared and have the opportunity of addressing you with a few lines to let you know that my health is not very good yet.  Though I am not dangerous nor have not been.  I am not with the regiment now.  I am at the General Field Hospital and we are very well fixed here.  We have cots with good straw-ticks to sleep on, and plenty of blankets to cover with, and plenty to eat such as it is.  They are so crowded here now that they can’t get things fixed yet like they will have them.  Our regiment has gone but I don’t know where it is now.  Dear Wife, if we are not permitted the happy privilege of meeting in this world I trust that you will continue to live so that when we come to die that we will meet in a better world where there will be no wars nor any more separation.”

At the end of the letter, John Truex again turns to concerns about his farm.  “You wrote that you thought you would have some ground grubbed for tobacco, well you can do just as you think best.  Though I think that you had better raise a little peas.  I think that I would put in about one acre.”

April 2, 1863  (Murfreesboro General Field Hospital Ward D Tennessee) To Mr. R. E. Plummer from Siman Garrison:  “Dear Sir”It is with a heavy heart and trembling hand that I attempt to drop you a few lines today to let you know that our old friend, Mr. John Truex, has at last departed this world of trouble.  He is dead and gone to rest where more of us will soon have to go.

[Editor’s note: John Truex served in Company D, 82nd Regiment Indiana Volunteers.  He was an ancestor of Vicky Geisler, a resident of Fort Wayne IN, and a member of the Lincoln Book Group at the Allen County Public Library.  She very generously donated transcripts of Truex’s letters to the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.]