Tag Archives: Civil War

Guide to Civil War Letters from Henry Allen Butts

Henry Allen Butts

Photocopy of a picture of Henry Allen Butts from a Butts Family Photo Album given to me by Jane Butts Kilgore.

Here is a handy finding guide to Henry Allen Butts’ letters home to his wife, Anna Maria Smith Butts. Henry’s 2nd tour of duty with the Union Army as a private in Company F, 43rd Ohio Volunteers, found him marching with Sherman’s army through Georgia on the famous March to the Sea and fighting his way north through the Carolinas before the end of the war and Grant’s triumphant march through Washington D.C. Fortunate Henry, who saw men die and fall wounded all around him, returned home sound of body, and apparently unscathed emotionally.

Each letter is accompanied by a history of the troop movements and some details of Henry’s personal life.

43rd Ohio Volunteers

43rd Ohio Volunteers

Letter #1: Dear Wif

Letter #2: After a Long March

Letter #3: Water Up to Our Nees

Leter #4: Henry Loses His Temper

Civil War Letter #4 – Henry Loses His Temper

43rd Ohio Volunteers

43rd Ohio Volunteers

Henry has had it up to here!  He’s marched hundreds of miles. Seen friends and relatives die and fall injured all around him. Slogged through swamps. Subsisted on minimal grub and worn rags for clothing. He has not been paid by the army since he enlisted nearly three years ago.

And those busy-bodies back home, who didn’t choose to fight the war, dare to complain about the way he treats his new bride? Henry Allen Butts is so angry when he writes this letter that his never-terrific handwriting becomes so agitated that a transcriber 100 years later has a hard time making out what he said.

Note: I am passing this letter on as the transcription reads–with lots of blanks . In a very few instances, I have filled in a blank where it seems obvious what the word is. As usual, I have added some punctuation and capitol letters at the beginning of sentences to make it easier to read. Otherwise his original syntax is left undisturbed.

Camp

April 25 1865

Dear Wife and friend,  I put myself to anser your kind letter wich I receved this week. I em glad to hear that you was well but I was [sorry] to hear that Allen ____ ____ cerriperlous but I hope he will be well of it before this letter ____ _____ to you.  You stated in your letter ____ you got no letter since the 6 of January.  I don’t no [know] mail is the reason for i wrote three letters from Goldsboro*  but i suppose ____not time to come wen you wrote your last letter. I [hope] you have got them____ before this time.

[Note: Due to some helpful crowd sourcing on Facebook, I now believe that “cerriperlous” is Henry’s version of erysipelas. It is a streptococcal skin infection that comes from conditions that might be common in Civil War rural Ohio.  A Google search will yield you more information, if you’re curious.]

I em well and I hope ____ ____ will find you the same blessing.

Watch out—here it comes. A curse for those naysayers at home.

You stated in your letter that the people was talking about me not writing to you.

Tell them who ever th[ey] may be to mind thear oune buisness – that I write wen ever I get a chance. i hope some of them will be as far from home some day as i em and see as many hardships as i have and have as littel chance as i have had and mabe th[ey] won’t write as often as i have.

Them people can set in their houses and get good grub and wen night comes stay in thear warm beds. If it rains th[ey] are in the dry but we must lay down on the ground and take what comes.  I hope if it____ _____ is ____another war th[ey] will have to come out and rain ever other day. This is all the bad luck i wish for them.

Calming down a bit, Henry gets to the good news–he is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

The weather is warm and pleasant. I am in good hart for I expect to see you soon. We ar under marching orders. We will leve in a few days for Peatersburg VA the [17th Army?] leavs first.

I will close. The boys are all well. Direct your letters to Raleigh P C Co K, 43rd OHIO 17 AC. Don’t direct your letters by way of Washington.

Hear is a five dollar bill of rebel money .

Your husband,

Henry A. Butts

As soon as i get paid i will send you some. I heve not receved my pay since i come in the army.

Confederate money

Confederate money

Henry’s 43rd Ohio Volunteers are camped near Raleigh North Carolina, as General Sherman carries on negotiations with the Confederates. Although General Lee had surrendered to General Grant on April 9th, the war dragged on here in the Carolinas and even longer in the West.

General Sherman reached an agreement with General Johnston for surrender on April 18. However, when the document was forwarded to Washington, Sherman was berated for being too easy on the enemy. Meanwhile, news of the April 14th assassination of President Lincoln had reached the army, so it was clear that the North was not in a charitable mood.

Bennett House, North Carolina

Bennett House, North Carolina

The two generals were back at the table on the day following Henry’s letter home. On April 26  Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston would sign at Bennett’s Place, a humble farm house, a final agreement marking the biggest surrender in the Civil War. Henry was right on target when he said he would soon be home.  His company was mustered out 2 1/2 months later, July 13, 1865, at Louisville, Kentucky.

Between the surrender at Bennett’s Place and the 43rd’s travel to Louisville and journey home to Ohio, they would join with all of Grant’s army in a triumphant Grand Review in Washington D.C. on May 29, 1865. It is unfortunate that we do not have Henry Allen’s description of that glorious day. (This is the last surviving letter home from Pvt. Butts.) It is said that General Sherman took special pains to have his men bathed, trimmed and well dressed, since they had the reputation of being scruffy lot.  Their long marches and constant skirmishes had not left time to worry about their appearance.

Henry was one of the fortunate ones who made it home  in good shape. 4 officers and 61 enlisted men from the 43rd were killed or mortally wounded. 2 officers and 189 enlisted men died from disease.

This year is a special anniversary. You can attend the festivities marking the 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston to General William T. Sherman at Bennett’s Place in North Carolina this coming April. Follow the link for information.

*Since two of those letters from Goldsboro survived, we know Anna got them, but the third is missing and it is possible it never got to Ohio.

See Henry’s letter #3 here.

Henry Butts’ Civil War Letter 3: Swamp Water Up To Our Nees

Camp near Goldsboro, N.C.

March the 23, 1865

Dear Wife,

Civil War swamp battlefield


Image from page 29 of “The soldier in our Civil War : a pictorial history of the conflict, 1861-1865, illustrating the valor of the soldier as displayed on the battle-field, from sketches drawn by Forbes, Waud, Taylor, Beard, Becker, Lovie, Schell, Crane, 1893

The third surviving letter from Henry Allen Butts to his wife Annie was written only a day after the 2nd letter.

In letter two, he had referred to a long march, and now he tells about it. First he repeats what he said in letter two–his joy at finally receiving letters from home and he explains:

“…it is now three months since we had a chance to write. wen we was on the raid we could not send eny letters for we had no comunication. You must not think that we can write a letter and go to the post office like we do at home. We must wait till we get to a place that we can send a letter.

The 43rd Ohio Volunteers, part of Sherman’s army, have joined the armies of other generals and a total of 90,000 men are camped near Goldsboro.

Pvt. Butts has been  fortunate, but has experienced some horrendous situations.

Now i will give you some history of our march through confidercy. We left beaufort on the 13 of January and we have bin marching ever since up to this time. About 75 miles this side of beaufort is wear Stull (Jerimiah Stahl) was killed. The fight comenced on the 2 of febuary. That is the day that Col. Swayne has his lague shot off. He was about fifty yards from me wen the canon ball hit him.

Civil War Officer

Lt. Col.Wager Swayne, who lost his leg at the Battle of Rivers Bridge

Col. Swayne is Lt. Col. Wager Swayne, a Yale graduate. By the end of the war, he had been advanced to Major General of Volunteers and Brevet Major General in the regular army. He won the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. for an earlier battle, Corinth, Mississippi. Quoting from the web site Lybarger’s Civil War:

“A lieutenant colonel in the 43rd OVI during the second Battle of Corinth that mortally wounded Col. Smith, Swayne became its colonel after Col. Smith died. On Feb. 3, 1865, Swayne was severely wounded while crossing the swampy Salkahatchie River in South Carolina. While helped to an ambulance wagon, he kept repeating, ‘The Lord sustains me.’ He was successfully evacuated to New York City, losing his leg but surviving.”

The battle was the Rivers Bridge part of  Campaign of the Carolinas , and General Sherman had divided his troops, 5000 strong, with those under Swayne circling through the swamp to flank the 3000 Confederate Troops who were trying to prevent the Union Army from crossing the Salkahatchie River. Besides a vivid and gruesome account of what it was like to be in this battle, Henry Allen returns to the subject of the death of Jerimiah Stull/Stahl.  Henry Allen’s mother was Esther Stahl Butts, so there is a strong possibility he was related.

We marched on the skirmish line and thear we had to stand in the swamp in water up to our nees till about 12 o’clock at night wen we was releved. The next day being the 3(rd) we was ordered to charge the battery.

We charged it about three o’clock in the evening. That is about the time Stull(Stahl) was killed.  We had to charge up a road through the swamp and thear was water on boath sides of the road. Stull was at the side of the road wen he was shot and he fell in the water.  The ball hit him in the side and went through him.

Wen he fell I was about 20 steps before him. Wen he fel all he said ‘help me out’. Thear was one of our co(mpany) boys by the name of Short close to him wen he fel. He helped him out. He was dead. He was bured on a hill. Him and five others was bured side and side. I did not see him after he was killed.  he is under the sods of South Carolina and I hope he is at rest. Tell Mrs. Stull (Stahl) he was bured as dessent as we could bury him. Tha made a box for him.

His brother William was not with us wen he was killed. He is at Hilton Head, S.C. in the hospital tending to the sick. I don’t no weather he herd of it or not.

An account I read of the battle said that soldiers tending to the wounded had to hold their heads up so they would not slip into the water and drown. It was a morass of blood and death. And Henry Allen, who had twice closely missed being shot, escaped at least one more time.

Obid Underwood was close beside me wen he had his arm shot off. He was sent back to Beaufort. I have not herd wether he is living or not.  I suppose you no more about it than I do my Dear.

We had a hard time since we left Beaufort. I seen more than I ever want to see agane. We have seen hard time. We marched five hundred miles. Some of was bare footed, others nearly naked. We was the hardest looking set of men you ever seen, but now we have plenty of clothing and plenty to eat.

He closes once again saying that he will write when he has a chance. They have been told that they will stay here for some time. The Army marched north to Richmond to join with Grant’s army at the beginning of April.

Obid Underwood is Obediah (Obed) Underwood who was in Henry Allen’s Company. He did survive the war after having his arm amputated at the shoulder.

Obidiah Underwood

Obediah Underwood with arm amputated. Photo provided by National Archives to South Carolina State Parks Service.

According to the web site Lybargers Civil War , there was a Grand Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1897. Since that was very close to Henry Allen’s home, he very well might have been there. Lt. Col. Wager Swayne, who Henry Allen saw injured, was in attendance.

This year (2014) is the Sesquitennial of the North Carolina campaign, and North Carolina has a great website to mark the occasion.  You can get pictures, anecdotes and a detailed timeline at the North Carolina Civil War 150 website.

Henry Allen Butts Letter #2: After a Long March See Henry’s Letter #4: Henry Loses His temper, here.