Friday, November 25, 2016

FOLLOW UP FRIDAY ~ Private John Gillen’s letter to his sister, Ella–August 1862

GILLEN_John_Private_Civil War Pension file 32_WITH PAGE NOS
Page 1 and 4 of John's letter - click on the image to enlarge it
Copy of GILLEN_John_Private_Civil War Pension file 33_WITH PAGE NOS
Page 2 and 3 of John's letter - click on the image to enlarge it

In continuing the story of Private John Gillen I want to share one of the letters he wrote home to his sister, Ella.  To read the whole story of Private Gillen and his death during the Civil War please read MILITARY MONDAY ~ Civil War Pension File - Private John Gillen - Killed in Action 31 Dec 1862 at the Battle of Stones River

This letter was contained in his Civil War pension file.  I’ve never seen any letters written during war time, from any of my ancestors.  To say this was a big find, is to put it mildly.

NOTE: The stationary I've seen, that was used in the past, was two sided, which was probably then folded one inside the other.  This is why the pages seem out of order to us.

The letter shown was written on August 13, 1862 from Iuka, Mississippi.  I first thought the location as Juka, but my research showed it to be Iuka (I’ve used a different font so you can tell the first letter is an I).

Iuka is located in northern Mississippi near the border of Tennessee.  Here is a map of Iuka during the Civil War, September 1862 (available via public domain).

Map of Iuka Mississippi in 1862

To read about the Civil War Battle of Iuka please click here.

I made the following transcription of Private Gillen’s letter.  I’ve left spelling and punctuation as it was in the letter and transcribed it to the best of my ability.
                                                                                                                                           Aug 13th 62
                                                                                                                                 In Camp at Iuka Miss
Dear Sister
  I recd yours & Mothers letters yesterday morning & I will answer yours now and hers in a few days  I am well at present we have changed our camp we are now on the Memphis & Charleston RR at Iuka this is a sort of watering place there is several Sulphur springs 4 of which are all fixed up in stile I tell you I like this camp far better than I did any other camp that we have been in since we have been in this state  I hope we will stay here till it gets cool weather there is plenty of good water & a __branch to go bathing in  a train that is the cars pass here one from each way concequental we get our mail regular which is not often the case with us soldiers we were on a scout last week we started from our old camp on the 4th & O but it was hot in the 3 reg there was several sunstruck 3 of which died well after that we did all of our marching in the night & layed over during the day we were gone 4 days we broke up one reb camp took 11 prisoners 8 or 10 horses & destroyed a cotton factory well did not exactly destroyed it but put it our of runing order we would have got the whole pile of rebs if it had not been for a lousy citizen he give them notice of our aproach the concequence was they were ready to __ as soon as we got to them ther right wing of our reg was in the advance & the left was in the rear guard consequence they got a few shots at them while we did not get a ___ well there was not much ___ing at the cowardly pups as soon as they commenced to retreat the dog was dead for they was all cav & we infantry well as soon as the rebs left we started for camp & we got to within 8 miles of it when we got orders to march to this place well there was no help for it run out ___& got here the next day making in all 6 days that we had been runing around it was the hardest 6 days march that I ever done in all of my marching it hurt me the most it was not the walking but the loss of sleep for we would be going all night & it was so warm in the day time that a man could not sleep to do ___
Ella I am going to get my pay to day or tomorrow & I will send some of it home & I want you to get your likeness taken & send it to me, don’t get it taken on the same kind of stuff as __unless you have it put in a case I want to see if you grow any I expect you are prety near as large as lib are you not  I am as black as a negro very near I tell you this hot sun will take the white out of a person in short notice I am on guard to day & will have to go & stand to hour now in a few minutes well I believe I written about all I can think about at the present time I want you to write as soon as you get this & give me all of the news I know you folks dont write half of the news sow just sit down and write a few lines slow I dont feel like writing to day & then quit
                                                                        yours ___John Gillen Jr
                                                                               GILLEN_John_CW Private_signature from his ltr to his sister Ella Aug 1862

Private Gillen was killed at the Battle of Stones River, Mississippi just a little over 4 months after writing this letter to his sister.

Things I thought of as I reviewed this letter several times.
  • Ella was only 14 when her brother was killed.  I wonder how difficult it was for her?
  • How did these letters end up in his pension file?  Did Ella or someone else in the family give them to the pension attorney who assisted with the pension claim?
  • Did Ella ever get the “likeness” taken?  If so, did she have time to send it to John?
  • Does that likeness/photo still exist?  Did John ever have a photo taken?
  • Did Ella or any other family member ever visit John’s grave at the Stones River National Cemetery?
  • Two of John’s younger brothers served in the Civil War.  Both were mustered in in 1864 and served just a few months.  Did they serve because of their brother’s death?
  • Private Gillen cared about what was going on at home and shared everyday things with his sister.
  • How worried must the family have been when two more of their sons joined the war?
There’s a lot to think about when researching our family history.  They have never been just names and dates to me.  The longer I research the more my ancestors come alive.  They live in my mind and in my heart every day.

Do you have any letters from your ancestors, written during wartime? I’d love to hear about them.

If you are related to anyone mentioned in this post, please contact me.  I’d love to hear from you.  We might be cousins.

In remembrance,
Michigan Girl

Copyright ©  2010-2016   Diane Gould Hall


  1. If they taught history this way, I do believe I'd have chosen a different career. This private's letter is just so captivating. Great find! Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Thanks Anna. History has been my favorite subject since grade school. Getting involved in genealogy has certainly not lessened that love. I plan to order a few more CW pension files. Hoping to find more gems. So far the four I have received have been wonderful. This one, of course, being the real gem, with that letter.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Diane, what a fantastic find. To be able to read in his own hand some of the experiences he had as a soldier are just priceless. I too wondered if Ella ever had her "likeness" made. Wouldn't that be a fun thing to have! What a treasure also to know these two siblings were so close he took time to write her in addition to his mother. Wonderful post. (I am ignoring the fact that our ancestors were on opposite sides of this battle! :^) )

    1. Thank Michelle. It's funny because when I began researching and learned a bit more about what was available, I always thought "gee, I bet I never get to see a CW pension file." So, the four I now have are pretty special to me. And, finding letters from a soldier to his family, as they say, "priceless."
      Yup, most of my ancestors fought for the north. I have very few who migrated to and ended up in the southern states. But, I do have a few.
      Thanks for always reading my blog and leaving comments.


I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.