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Robert H. Caldwell Papers: Transcripts - MS 623

Correspondence from Robert Caldwell - December 1861

December 3, 1861

Camp near Louisville
Dec 3rd [1861]

Dear Mother

Since writing my last letter I have received three letters from home, on from Juliet with Wm letter enclosed and one from Aunt Mary, also one from you. We have had a fine snow storm, or rather two of them since arriving at Louisville it snowed about two inches deep a few nights ago and last Sunday night and Monday morning it snowed again and while it was snowing, we received orders to strike tents and prepare to move to a better camping ground situated about two miles from the city as the one in which we have been camping for the last week had become almost untenable on account of the wind and consequently while it was snowing violently we struck tents and took up the march for our new quarters where in due time we arrived and found it necessary to take shovels and clear the ground of the snow where our tents were to be pitched, which was finally accomplished, when the boys [s]tarted for the straw piles and rail fences, the once to furnish bedding and the other fuel, as Nelsons Brigade always makes it a point to not allow a fence or straw stack to stand within its reach. Our present camp ground is very finely situated upon a dry piece of sod ground, with water handy by to be used for cooking purposes. You wrote that there was a considerable amount of improvements going on in town, I was glad to hear of it, I was also glad to hear that John Ryder was going to build and that he had given Father a bill of lumber to save. The health of the 21st is fast improving. But I have some news to tell you, the paymaster is around and we are to receive our pay in a few days. This morning George Claghorn and myself were detailed to report at Headquarters for the purpose of making out the payrolls, there is two men detailed from each company for that purpose. There is at present near this camp about 20 regiments of infantry artillery, and cavalry. It is not positively known how long we are to remain at ar present quarters, but it is thought we will remain at this place something like 10 days. Our destination is not positively known but rumor says we are to go to Bowling Green however we may yet be ordered to Columbus Ky. We receive the daily papers in camp regularly. We get the Louisville Journal and Democrat and of course we are posted in regar to the news Perhaps you may have some fears in regard to our comfort, these cold nights, well I can say for one that I never slept more comfotably than I do in my tent[.] I have two blankets one of which I place upon the straw (which is about a foot deep) and the other I place over me and I have a bedfellow who also has a blanket and so we have one under and two over us, which keeps us very warm. We are to have a stove in each tent this winter. Each mess is to furnish its own stove, our mess consists of 10 men and as the stove costs $3 it will cost each man but 30 cents. Tell Aunt Mary that I will answer her letter shortly I have not yet received Vetters letter and am looking anxiously for it, Tell Father when I receive my pay that I intend to make him a present of a Government Order as I am not in debt one cent ot any man this side of home.

Love to all
R H Caldwell

December 4, 1861

Camp near Louisville
Dec 4th [1861]

Dear Father

I write this letter to let you know that I received a letter from Mother last evening and enclosed I found one dollar which proved very acceptable as I was just out of postage stamps having placed the last one upon the letter that I sent to Mother by this mail. The one great topic of conversation in camp at pressent is the arrival of the paymaster, I worked nearly all yesterday afternoon on the payrolls of Co I. and it will take the greater part of to day to finish them, and when that is accomplished we are to receive our pay. But I suppose that some great lover of his country who makes it a point to stay at home and continually urge others to fight the battles of the Union, would say fri? upon you for making such great calculations upon receiving the paltry sum to which you are entitled by law, you should never stoop so low as to take into consideration the pay that you are to receive but if needs be you should be willing to wade throug[h] mud, snow, water and blood and to ecndure all sorts of hardships for the good of your country. Unto all such Union men I merely wish to say that I properly appreciate all such sentiment but the Paymaster is a great institution. As I have but little time to write I shall have to close by saying that Johny is well and hearty and looks as though he were able to endure almost any amount of hardship, so healthy is he.

I have not yet received Mr Vetters letter but am looking for it by every mail, I answered Aunt Marys letter the other day, but I must close give my love to all

From Robert Caldwell

December 8, 1861

Camp near Louisville Dec 8th__61

Dear Father

Since I finished my letter I have heard the order that we are to start upon a? march for, goodness knows where. We are to? Start at eight in the morning, we have drawn? Three days rations, I suppose our (destination) is to be Camp Nevin near Bowling green

I suppose you have heard that Gen (Nelson) has? Been promoted to a Major Generalship and ???Col of the 33rd Col Sill has been made a Brigadier General he commands our brigade

[New Page]

When I arrive where I can get a chance I will write. But it is bed time and as the boys want to go to bed I must close

From Robert Caldwell

December 12, 1861

[Note at top of page]
I answered Mr Vetters letter at Louisville
I received a letter from you while at the above named place that was directed to Catlettsburg

Dec 12th
Camp Harris, Elizabeth town Ky

Dear Father

I received your letter last night of the 7th and was very glad to hear from home. I wrote to you last Sunday from Louisville and stated that we had just received orders to march early in the morning destination not known, but we found out after starting that we had been ordered to Elizabeth town distant about 40 miles. We left Louisville Monday morning at 8,oclock and that day we marched about 16 miles and encamped for the night on a farm belonging to the notorious Buckner the General in command of the rebel troops stationed at Bowling green[.] It is situated upon the bank of the Ohio river. We started on the march Tuesday morning at daybreak and after marching 3 miles we were all brought up standing upon the salt river, and as there was no bridge across the river at this point we were ferried over in hand ferry boats we were detained about 3 hours by the river. The Salt river empties into the Ohio at this place and the town of West Point is built upon the banks of both rivers. The 49th Ohio was stationed at this place sometime ago. The town is built at the foot of Muldroughs hill upon whigh the 9th Michigan has built a fortification, it mounts several guns, and directly opposite the town on the Indiana shore there is another fortification, they are intended to stop Buckners fleet that was expected to move up the Ohio and destroy Louisville. The hill upon which the larges fort is built (Muldraughs) is perhaps 150 feet high and is almost perpendicular and it would be almost impossible to storm it successfully[.] There is also an old deserted fort upon the bank of the Salt river opposite the town, that was built by the home guards of West Point it formerly mounted 5 guns one side of the works is built principally of sand bags but that portion of the works fronting is more substantially built of timbers and earth and is about 6 feet in thickness. I forgot to say that the 2nd Ohio marched with us as it left Louisville at the same time we did. We left West point about 12 oclock and marched a distance of about 9 miles when we encamped for the night. The next morning we pulled up and started and marched 12 ½ miles in the forenoon and pitched our tents in the present quarters where we arrived yesterday at noon. we are 1 1/2 miles of the town of Elizabethtown which it is said contains a population of about 4000. It is not known how long we will stay at this place as it is thought a fight with Buckner cannot be delayed much longer, as 20000 United States troops made a forward movement from a camp situated 10 miles in advance of us There are 5 regts at this place. The 2nd 21st 33rd Ohio and the 10th Wisconsin besides the 24th Illinois a german regt. The first four form our brigade. I was a little surprised to hear that James Broggs contemplated matrimony. We expect to receive our pay in a short time. I wish you would tell ??? Willson to write me and tell me the color of her eyes and hair[.] Mabel is a pretty name. I received the gold dollar that you sent me for which I was very grateful Tell Mother I have bought a pair of mittens Give my love to Mother, Aunt Mary, Juliet Vetter & Willy


December 22, 1861

Camp Jefferson Dec 22nd __61

Dear Father

Morning broke in Camp Jefferson dark and cloudy threatening rain or something equally disastrous, and while breakfast was being prepared the clouds opened and the rains commenced descending in torrents, but as a soldier cannot live without eating, our cook found it necessary to stand and take the rain as it came. Our breakfast having been dispatched we all (that is our mess) returned to our different occupations when, as I was engaged in sorting some of my effects happening to look I found a nice little stream of water making its way through our tent, when up I jumped and made my way through the tent to the kitchen tent where the tools of the company were deposited and having secured a spade I commenced enlargeing the ditch that I had digged round our tent at the time of pitching it which I found had proved inadequate for carrying off the extra amount of water that had fallen. The whole camp was alive with the soldiers engaged in the same occupation and the manner in which the dirt flew in the 21st for a short time was sufficient to make a railroading son? of the Emerald Isle tremble for his credit. I finally finished the ditch and got back into our house which was by this time clear? of water once more, But as such an occassion rarely occurs we concluded not to get mad about it. I wrote to Juliet a few days ago, but since then we have moved on to Bacon creek where the water was better and more abundant. The 21st is encamped upon the Louisville & Nashville R.R.. The bridge across the creek at this place was burned by the secesh some time ago, but has been rebuilt by the government There are eight regts within sight of our camp at the present time in addition to three batteries that are planted upon the hill overlooking our camp. we are within eight miles of Green river, where as doubtless you are aware there is a large force of our troops encamped. Our troops are stationed on this side of the river but as the bridge over that stream had also been burned by some of Buckners agents it was found necessary to reconstruct it and a whole Brigade is thrown across each day for pickets. Our troops had an encounter a few days ago at that place. Three regts of U.S. troops had crossed for the purpose of camping, and while they were engaged in marking out the grounds preparatory to pitching tents, they were attacked by a surprise force who had come across them unawares from the opposite side of a high hill. Our troops had but two minutes warning but they made the the most of it and after a sharp contest succeeded in driving them off. It is said the loss of the enemy consisted of something over 100, our loss was but 13 killed. I know not how soon we may be ordered but we are expecting marching orders every day. I received a letter from you day before yesterday, I also received one from Mr Vetter and Willie, which I will aswer shortly.

Direct to Camp Jefferson, Leesville

&c&c&c, Love to all R H Caldwell

December 26, 1861

Camp Jefferson Ky Dec 26th 61

Dear Father

Christmas has come, and gone and I now propose to give you a description of the manner in which some of the boys of the 21st passed the day.

On the afternoon of Dec 24th while on dress parade, an order issued by Gen Mitchel was read, in which the Gen had kindly given us the ensueing day off for a holiday. We were to be allowed the privilege of leaveing camp for the purpose of visiting our brother soldiers in the neighboring camps, also the privilege of visiting the different natural curiosities in this vicinity. Accordingly very early in the morning of the 25th in company with seargt M. Rice I left camp for the purpose of visiting a noted cave situated about a mile from camp. We had provided ourselves with matches and candles before starting. Having arrived at the place where the cave was situated we proceeded to strike a light and after that was accomplished we commenced the work of exploration. The place of entrance is situated upon the side of a bluff of high rocks which form the high hill under which the cave extends[.] We had no guide with us but concluded to trust to providence and our own common sense to guide us through for through it we were bound to go. Perhaps I should have informed you that this subterranean passage led completely through the above mentioned hill a distance of about 500 yards. At its entrance we were obliged to bow the head and bend the knee slightly, but after proceeding a short distance we found ourselves in that portion of the cavern where the ceiling rose to a considerable height and we were once more able to hold our heads up as good soldiers of Uncle Sam should always be proud to do. The walls presented a very uneven appearance as there were several small rooms that made off from the main passage. We endeavored to explore some of the rooms, but were forced to desist, on account of the roof which in some places came in contact with our bodies as we were crawling upon all fours. The roof of the main cavern was studded with stalactites formed by the constant dropping of water and in some instances they reached from the ceiling almost to the floor[.] Some of them were of a milky color while others presented a darker appearance doubtless caused by the nature of the soil through which the water had passed on its route to the cavern. In some places the action of the water had formed pillars upon the floor, which made quite comfortable seats upon which the adventurer might recline for the purpose of resting himself. The water was constantly dropping from the roof which mad[e] it somewhat disagreeable on that account, the water stood in pools in every direction and on account of our poor light we found it necessary to keep a sharp lookout, but notwithstanding our vigilance I managed to get into one of the numerous pools that beset our path. After having gone about half the distance through, we heard shouting on our front and presently we saw a light and several soldiers comeing toward us who, like ourselves, were not satisfied with a description of the place, but had concluded to give it a personal inspection. We at last arrived at the opposite side of the cave and once more found ourselves above ground and well satisfied with what we had witnessed. After remaining outside of the lines nearly all day we once more passed the guard and found ourselves subject to military rules, the privileges and immunities to which we had been subject during the day all taken away, but such is the experience of a soldier. I received a letter from Mother this afternoon for which you may believe I was very thankful. You also wrote in the same letter as also did Willie. Your disposition of the money that I sent you meets with my hearty approval and I will send all that I possibly can, which you can apply in the same direction. I myself would be glad to be able to say that we did not owe one cent[.] If you meet with an offer for my cutter you may sell it and apply the money the same direction, or any other that you may see fit. I wish to do all that lies in my power to clear up our debts, as I am aware that you put yourself to a great deal of inconvenience when you allowed me to enlist[.] I trust that I properly appreciate the sacrifice and hope that I may be able in part to repay you. Tell Mother that I will answer hers & Willies next

love to all


December 27, 1861

Camp Jefferson K.y Dec 27th __61

Friend Vetter

As we have just returned from Battallion drill and we will have about a two hours rest before we are called out again I thought I could not employ my time better than to answer your interesting letter which came to hand a few days ago. We have been having some pretty wet weather for some days past, but today the sun is out bright and clear with a fair prospect of remaining so for the remainder of the day.

I wrote to Father yesterday and gave an account of the manner in which I spent my Christmas, but as my paper gave out before I was through I did not give him the whole particulars. I gave or endeavored to give a description of a cave that I visited during the day[.] I also visited a noted hill situated within about two miles of camp called Frenchman's Knob, from the top of which a fine view of the surrounding country may be had. The hill rises far above any other in its neighborhood and from its top I saw the finest sight that it ever was my privilege to behold[.] This portion of the State of Ky is quite mountaineous and one could behold range after range of mountains each one farther off and rising above the one in its front, until nothing was to be seen in the distance but one blue line with peaks rising one above another until they reached almost into the heavens, as it seemed. Oh! it was the grandest sight I ever witnessed and I shall never forget it if I live to be a thousand years old. Descending from the hill, we next visited a large and deep sinkhole which some people in this neighborhood pretend to say has no bottom, a statement which I very much doubt. The place is known by its name of blue hole and after I arrived at its brink and peered into its depths I concluded that it had been very appropriately named. The hole measures about 30 feet across and gradually decreases in size until it is about 15 ft in diameter when it descends almost perpendicularly to a depth of about 150 feet and then branches off in different directions and probably forms the main entrance to some extensive cave. There was a tree across its mouth that had been placed in that position several years ago by an adventurer who by means of a rope had descended into the hole to a depth of about 160 feet, when he arrived upon a large pile of stones in its center and after ascending gave the above description of its interior.

But as I looked into the black and dangerous looking (concern?) I concluded to be satisfied with that, and not risk my valuable neck in an attempt to explore it[.] I threw in several large rocks and after descending perpendicularly for quite a space of time they would strike against some projecting rock and after breaking into a thousand different pieces would go crashing on its way, until the sound died away in the distance. After satisfying our curiosity Seargt. Rice and myslf started for camp, on our route we came across a farmer with a yoke of oxen and a cart, and as every man that drives a team in this country has something to sell to the soldier, we marched up to his cart and found he had turkey and chicken for sale, they were finely cooked and stuffed and after purchasing a fine chicken and a price of corn bread Mike and I proceeded to partake of a Christmas dinner. You would have laughed could you have seen us sitting in the grass by ourselves walking into that devoted fowl. I have often heard of chickens taking to themselves wings and flying away, but never before had I seen a chicken legs and wings fly as did those of the above mentioned fowl. I had my overcoat with me and as you are aware, they have got quite a long ____ ( I am very modest) story, well after spreading that part of my coat upon the ground for a tablecloth we just imagined that there was a table underneath and as before mentioned put things away as fast as possible. I shall always remember that Christmas dinner as being the first that I had partaken in this state[.] But you see I must close. love to all from Robert.

December 29, 1861

Camp Jefferson Ky Dec 29th 61

Dear Mother

I received your very welcome letter a few days ago, and you cant imagine how much good it does me to get a good letter from home. I wrote to Father two days ago, also to Mr Vetter and Willie yesterday and consequently I shall be somewhat bothered for ideas, but as Father, in one of his letters told about His and your trip to Fremont and visit to the Fremont camp and of your feelings when he saw the filthy manner in which some of the boys lived in their tents, for fear that I might be living in the same style, I will endeavor to quiet your fears that nothing of the kind is allowed in the 21st[.] Each mess is required to have an orderly whose business it is, to see that his tent and grounds around his tent are thoroughly policed every morning and oftener if necessary. As I am the orderly of my tent I do not wish to brag on it, but I will say that it has the reputation of being an a no. 1 mess, in point of cleanliness and order. Mr Barnes is the cook and if you could only see some of the meals that he is in the habit of getting up you would wonder that he had never hired out as a cook in some restarant instead of comeing to war, we live top top. Yesterday, by order of the Coronel all drill was suspended for the purpose of allowing us time to ditch our street that runs between our tents, a squad of boys was sent ot the wood to get our puncheons and the remainder of the Co was set to work on the ditches two long ditches were dug the whole length of the street and covered with puncheons which mad a good and substantial sidewalk we run our tent ditches into the main ones and that keeps the ground round our tents nice and dry. Co H. had plank to cover their ditches their street made the very best appearance, but the Surgeon gave Co I the credit of having the neatest quarters.

We have got our stoves and they are just the thing. they cost each man from 25 to 30 cents a piece they keep our tents as warm as we could wish for, and often we are obliged to fling open our tents on account of the heat. Doubtless you have heard by the letters of some of our boys that we are not allowed a sufficient amount of food. now in regard to that, I merely wish to say that there has been times often and often when we refused the crackers that we were allowed, on account of having several barrels on hand at the time[.] There was a time when we had 4 1/2 barrels on hand. The only time that I know of where the boys could not get enough to eat was when we were comeing down the Big Sandy, the way of it was that the boys drew their rations for one day and started on the march and the provisions were put aboard the boats to go by water, with the expectation that the regiment would overtake the boats at night and be able to draw rations but on account of the boats starting in advance and the troops being detained they were short of rations for one day. In my estimation that is the only time that the boys could find fault about their rations. I wrote in the forepart of this letter that Co H. had the credit of having the best street. I was mistaken. I have just returned from dress parade, where a notice was read giving the praise to Co I of having the best looking street there what do you think of that.

I guess that we will remain at this place 3 or 4 weeks until the bridge across Green river is repaired[.] it was blown up some time ago by the rebels. it is built of iron and is 1000 feet in length. the piers are 150 feet high[.] but I must close.

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