One of my partners in the law firm where I practice law mentioned to me last week that he had an ancestor who was a Civil War soldier, and that one of his letters home had survived. Those sorts of things always interest me, so, at my request, John brought me a copy of the transcription of the letter today. After reading it, and realizing that its content was both very rare and very interesting, I asked John for permission to share it here on the blog. Thanks to John Cook for giving me permission to do so.
John’s ancestor was Maj. Alonzo W. Baker of the 139th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.The 139th Ohio Infantry was organized at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, and mustered in May 11, 1864, for 100 days service. The 139th departed Camp Chase for Washington, D.C., on May 20. It was assigned to do prison guard duty at the very large prisoner of war camp located at Point Lookout, Md., on June 1, 1864. The 139th Ohio Infantry mustered out of service August 26, 1864. John’s ancestor’s letter was written on August 11.
Baker was an attorney from Van Wert in northwestern Ohio, and his intelligence comes through in the letter. He wrote to his brother, Charles Eber Baker (known to the family as Eber), who served in the 64th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was part of the IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland. Here is the letter, in full:
Point Lookout, Maryland
August 11, 1864
Your last letter like bread cast upon the waters, came to me after many days, but after its many wandering was none the less thankfully received. And now while everything here is again “Quiet on the Potomac” I have thought it a good opportunity to pen a reply. I am happy to learn (as I do from Lottie’s last letter) that up to the last letter received by Father you were still safe and free from harm. I suppose you were not engaged in any of Sherman’s last battles yet might be exposed to some of the dangers of battle. Sherman from all accounts must have had a series of victories although the Rebs claim some triumphs.
I sincerely wish the Army of the Potomac might have as much success. Grant’s last engagement was a failure “Somebody to blame” as there eternally is in this Army. It was too long under control of McClellan. But I do hope Grant will weed it out and then he will be successful here. I think Sherman lost a good officer when old Joe Hooker left. The Rebs have got another big scare in Pennsylvania and Maryland but I guess it is about played out. Grant threw up the 6th and 19th Corps in short metre the second time.
We had a big scare here at the time of the first raid into Maryland, throwing up entrenchments &c. All bustle and excitement that has now played out, although we are now building a very respectable Fort, by rebel labor, it being voluntary on their part, preferring to to lying idle in the pens. One of the guards shot one dead last Sunday.
Last Saturday we had a large water spout pass over the extreme south part of the point, destroying everything it came in contact with. Destroying two commissary buildings each at least 100 feet long–the dead house, Sutler Store, two wards in the General Hospital each probably 100 feet long, the roof and the sides tumbling in smashing beds, etc. and yet not a sick man was hurt in either. One sentinel was picked up and carried 100 yards, had both legs broken by striking timbers in the air or when he lit, and he does not know which. Another was carried a considerable distance but lit in the bay and was not injured. But two men in all were hurt, lumber, bales of hay, and pieces of roofs, large limbs of trees etc. sent whirling in the air. It was a scene only witnessed in a life time. I did not get to see it, only the effects just having come off duty as Field Officer of the Day. I had lain down and was asleep. I would not have missed seeing it for $25–but so it was.
I visited the Roanoke (doing guard duty off the point) a few days ago. She is claimed as the most formidable vessel in the world in an engagement. Is about 225 feet long, has three turrets each 11″ thick, was plated 4 1/2 inches on the sides extending 6 feet below the water edge. The front turret has one 15 inch one 200 lb. Parrots gun. The rear one the same. The centre one two 11 inch guns. All the handling on the guns is done by machinery and by steam, having for all purposes 24 engines on board. She is indeed worth seeing.
Well we expect to start for home next week, or time being out on the 20th. The detachments are ordered in today and General Barnes says we will start next week.
Lottie has returned to Van Wert from her visit to Marion all well. And strange as it may seem after the experience I had my brother and Irene is said to be carrying on a correspondence. Be careful Boy, how you take a fancy to a Peter’s girl or a Nathan may get after you.
Well Irene is a good girl, but be careful of your heart for I tell you this girls take a fellows heart right away from him. At least that’s the way one of them served me–so look out. Well answer this soon & direct to Van Wert as I expect to be there at the farthest by the 1st of September and if your letter should best me, a day or two, it will be all right–but don’t delay a day after you receive this.
Our Col. has gone to Washington and I subscribe myself your brother.
A. W. Baker
Here are a few random notes on this outstanding letter.
Baker referred to Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s invasion of Maryland in July 1864. Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson was supposed to lead a cavalry raid consisting of his brigade and Maj. Harry Gilmor’s 2nd Maryland Cavalry intended to free the prisoners of war being held at Point Lookout. Their approach did indeed cause quite a scare at Point Lookout. The raid only made it as far as the Baltimore area before Johnson called it off. This episode has received little attention over the years.
The U.S.S. Roanoke was a U.S.S. Merrimack-class wooden frigate that was converted into an ironclad monitor in 1862-1863. As Baker correctly pointed out, it had two turrets, and the design did not work well. She was too heavy and she had too deep of a draft to be useful in shallower waters. She was part of the blockading flotilla assigned to Hampton Roads, Virginia.
The General Barnes referred to by Baker was Brig. Gen. James Barnes, who commanded a V Corps division at Gettysburg. Barnes was badly wounded at Gettysburg, and, after recuperating and unfit for duty in the field, was assigned to command the District of St. Mary’s, Maryland, which included the POW camp at Point Lookout, as part of the Middle Military District.
Lottie was Baker’s wife, Charlotte. Irene’s identity is unknown.
Finally, I have never before seen a description of a tornado, or the damage caused by one, in a Civil War soldier’s letter, and find it to be one of the more fascinating aspects of this interesting letter.
Thanks again to John Cook for allowing me to share it with you here.Scridb filter