Monday, April 28, 2008

Melancholy Perspective

I was going through some old letters from my grandfather’s family. For some reason this one always draws me. I reproduced the content here, complete with spelling and punctuation errors. Actually, this style of writing was very common during the Civil War. Punctuation, when used, seems to have been the purview of the officers.

Camp Near Vicksburg Miss
July 1st /63

Dear Friends

As I am still spared & in good health I will write to let you know how we stand here at this time Since I last wrote our Regt has had another man killed he belonged to Co. B. I dont know his name that makes in all four men killed and two wounded in the 53rd since we are here The fighting still continues day & night we have got so ust to the sound of canon that we sleep sound under the heaviest fire I will now give you a little about the sanity stores Last week the fifty third got some for the first time amongst the lot was a fine lot of comforters that would be a nice present for some sick or wounded soldiers But what was done with them the officers of the 53rd divided them between them selves some of them has as much as three nice comforters well there was a lot of potatoes that was rotten so the men got them if they had been sound they would have done the officers so you see these sanitary stores are got up with good intentions but you see what becomes of them So my advice is as it has been before to not give a cent to any of them for the men that get big wages are the ones that get the Benefit – if there is any thing spoiled or of no account – the men get it – the sanitary comiseners may do there duty for all I know But there is too many government robbers for such things to get where they are intended to go
I have nothing of importance to write about June has been a very pleasant month as far as the weather is concerned the army is in good spirits as ever & I think surely Vicksburg will surender before many days if they dont I think we will throw a few shell into them on the fourth of July the Company is all on picket duty but a few Leiche Stumph is sitting behind me patching his britches & whistling so you may know he is all right – Give my best Respects to James Hayes no more but you needent be surprised to hear of the 4th Division Being at Memphis in a few Weeks again

G C Poundstone
Near Vicksburg
4th Div
53rd Regt Ill Infantry
Co C

As it turns out, this was the last letter written by George C. Poundstone, Corporal and Color Sergeant, 53rd Illinois Infantry. He was mortally wounded on 12 July 1863 during the assault on the Confederate works at Jackson Mississippi. He died eleven days later.
The Leiche Stumph of whom he speaks, Elijah Stumph, survived the war and married George’s sister Elizabeth.

From the 53rd Illinois Regimental History:

On July 5, moved with General Sherman's army against Jackson, Miss., and on the 12th, while closing the lines around that place, the Brigade was ordered to charge the rebel works. The Fifty-third participated in this gallant but disastrous charge, going into the fight with 250 men and officers, and coming out with but 66. Colonel Earl fell near the rebel breast-works, pierced with four canister shot. Lieutenant Colonel McClanahan was severely wounded. Captain Michael Leahey and Lieutenant George W. Hemstreet were killed. Captain J. E. Hudson, mortally wounded. Captains Potter and King were wounded. Lieutenant J. B. Smith lost an arm and was taken prisoner. Captain George R. Lodge, Lieutenants Mark M. Bassett and John D. Hatfield, and a number of the enlisted men, were taken prisoners. The color guard and bearers were all either killed or wounded. The colors were captured, saturated with the life-blood of Sergeant George Poundstone, the color bearer.

When thinking of casualties in the current war, it is always wise to use some perspective. The 250 men of the 53rd Regiment were mostly farmers from an area called Farm Ridge, located between Grand Ridge, Illinois and Ottawa, Illinois. Stephen Parrish knows the area well. The house he lived in while in high school was located on property that once belonged to my grandfather’s family. To this day, the area is mostly farms.

Think about the impact of losing 184 men all from one small community in a single engagement that lasted about fifteen minutes. It puts things in perspective.