Letter written by Private Marcus S. Nelson of Company D, 14th MO Infantry, Birge’s Western Sharpshooters (later the 66th IL Infantry), to family, from Corinth, MS. Nelson has heard that generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn are at Iuka, MS, with a force of several thousand men. He expects a great battle to be fought soon. Nelson’s company went out skirmishing, though he was unable to join them. Nelson calls Company F as the “cowardly company,” and states that Company K mutinied. He has heard that the Confederates in Iuka are retreating, and that General Ulysses S. Grant is in full pursuit, mentioning that Grant “always does what he undertakes if he ain’t drunk.” Nelson also mentions that while African Americans are not allowed to be soldiers, they are employed in other areas in the camp.
Corinth, Miss. Sept. 20th 1862
Friends at home:
Congratulate us! Once more there is a prospect of something being done in these parts. Price & Van Dorn are at Iuka, twenty one miles from here with a large force variously estimated at from twenty to sixty thousand men (they probably have not over twenty-five thousand) and are menacing this place. We have a heavy force at Burnsville, seven miles this side of Iuka, and it is expected that there will soon be a great battle fought at or near one of these places. The number of our troops at Burnsville is about equal to that of the enemy at Iuka, and we have the railroad to facilitate the transportation of reinforcements from this place if necessary in case of a battle. Three companies of Sharp Shooters, “D” among the number, have been out since a week ago today, skirmishing with the enemy’s advance. As they left the day after I returned from the North , I did not go with them. I should though, if my feet had not been blistered with my rascally boots so that I could not march. They have had some pretty hot work out there, but at the last advice, not a man was hurt. At one time Company D was alone with the exception of three of Company F (the cowardly company), the remainder of that company having sulked, and Company K mutinied on account of the senior captain having put their [captain] under arrest for his superior bravery. The Rebels were in the edge of a piece of timber, at the top of a hill, and the S.S. were ordered by the infantry colonel who had
command of the expedition to dislodge them. This of course was work for bayonets. But Co. D never flinched. Only two men in the company backed out. The rest “charged” with loud shouts up the hill in the face of the enemy’s fire. It seemed like madness to rush into the woods with no arms but long range rifles [the regiment was armed with the Dimick American Deer and Target Rifle, a sporting rifle not fitted for the bayonet], but the command was “forward” and Co. D always obeys orders. Rushing through a perfect storm of balls, they reached the top of the hill in safety, and , discharging their rifles into the woods, dashed in after the already retreating Rebels. Through this piece of woods they pursued them, and held the woods until ordered to return to Burnsville. The infantry which was ordered to support the Sharp Shooters in the attempt to dislodge the Rebels from the brush followed on slowly until met by the first volley from the concealed Rebels, when they absolutely refused to proceed, and our boys were obliged to drive them out alone. To show the coolness with which the boys conducted the whole thing, I will relate a couple of incidents. One of the boys, Dallas Brewster by name, when double-quicking it up the hill, saw a ball strike between his feet. He stooped down, dug it out of the dirt, put it in his pocket, and went on the same as though bullets were not flying like hail stones around him. Another dropped on one knee to load, and had just poured the powder in his gun, when an English rifle ball struck close to the toe of his boot. He picked it up, tried it in his gun, and coolly remarked, “just a fit,” – “saves my going into my pouch for one,” and loading his gun with the Secesh ball, he was off after the Butternuts again. This Dal. Brewster has a step brother by the name of George Yerington in our regiment, whose mother is related to the Abbys in some
way. I believe Mrs. Fred Abby & she are sister. At all events, George has seen the whole of them and remembers them, and I presume Carlista will recollect him but I don’t know.
My health has been steadily improving since my return from the North, and if I can get all the milk I want, I guess I shall get along.
I cannot make out a meal of victuals without milk, and I have to pay fifteen cents a quart for it. When I was in Alton & St. Louis it was brought to me for five cents per quart, but here we usually have to pay twenty unless we can steal it. I should like to come home and stay long enough to get in the wheat, but as we some expect a “harvest” here soon, I suppose Uncle Sam don’t wish to spare any of his “reapers.”
You say you have only four head of cattle, and I have noticed several times that you have spoken of old Tom, or Jim, or John, or some other name which I supposed belonged to some old crowbait, which father had jayhawked, or had given to him. But I begin to mistrust that the steers are gone, and that old Tom is in some way connected with the trade. Please tell me something about it, and who owns the steers now, if you know. I think when I come home I shall bring along a pair of mules, first for the sake of their music. I have become so accustomed to it that I don’t think I could get along without it.
I think, Valeria [oldest sister], you were guilty of a kind of an “Irish bull” when you told the folks that “if they stayed and kept you they would leave you, etc.” Do you see it?
But without joking, the quicker you get out of that hole, the better it will be for all parties concerned.
If you send me those things by express, send them immediately, as we may be ordered away from here in the course of a few weeks, perhaps a few days. I think, however, we shall probably stay here for some time yet. I am very grateful to Harriet for her kindness, and hope her present will be something which I can preserve. Good news comes to us from Iuka tonight. The Rebels are in full retreat, and General U. S. Grant, who always does what he undertakes if he ain’t drunk, is in full and close pursuit, bagging “game” by regiments. A train of 21 cars has just gone out for prisoners, and many have been brought in before, within a few hours.
There is some prospect of taking the whole Rebel army. That’s the way we do business in the West. We are now using every means in our power to crush the rebellion. They won’t allow us to use n****** for soldiers, but we use them for teamsters, cooks, etc., & their women cook and wash for us, and their children wait on our officers. The most robust of them (the men) we employ in fatigue work when we have any [work] to do. They have done a “big job” of clearing for us within a few days to open a range for our siege guns to the S.W. of Corinth. I must wind up now as it is getting rather late. Write as often as you can, and believe me, as ever,
Your affectionate son & brother,
Sp’port, [Springport] Mich
Marcus S. Nelson, a school teacher from Van Buren County, MI, enlisted in Company D, of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters on March 10, 1862. He joined his company at Pittsburg Landing, TN on March 25, 1862, and was present at the Battle of Shiloh, and the Siege of Corinth, MS. Private Nelson was killed in action (shot in the head) at the Battle of Corinth, October 4, 1862.