Letter written by Private Isaac B. Jones of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 18th U.S. Infantry, to his cousin Helen Sofield, from Belotes Ford near Cairo, TN. Jones mentions that the mail had been captured several times in the last few months and is unreliable. He describes the hard marching from Winchester, TN to Bowling Green, KY. They caught up with General Braxton Bragg but General Don Carlos Buell held back, and Bragg escaped.They pursued Bragg’s forces to Springfield. Jones writes in great detail about the Battle of Perryville, including descriptions of the heavy artillery. The following day he walked the battlefield and describes the carnage he saw, including the surgeons amputations of many arms and legs. Jones concludes by writing longingly of his family.
Belotes ford near Cairo, Tenn. Dec 4th, 1862
I received a letter from you a little more than a month ago, I think, and allow me to say that I was very glad indeed to hear from you, for I had not received any word from any of my folks for a long time. I received one letter from my wife since I last wrote to you. She and Susie [daughter] were well. I had been looking for a letter from you for quite a length of time, and had almost came to the conclusion that you had not received my letter. Our mail have been captured, here and in Ky. several times within the last three months. So there is not very much dependence to be placed in them now. Well, cousin, we have some sharp times, and awful hard marching since I last wrote to you. We have marched over 800 miles, including our flanking movements, since we left Winchester, Tenn. We marched from Decherd, Tenn. a distance of 20 miles to reinforce Gen. Shouph. He was expecting to be attacked almost every hour. We did not get the order till evening. Then we started and marched nearly all night with nothing but blankets and rations. It rained hard, and was very cold and disagreeable. We had nothing but dry crackers and a little fat meat to eat, and only half rations at that. We got here the next forenoon and laid in line of battle two days. We had no fighting except some skirmish and picket fighting. We then moved on, with our whole force, near Pelham, Tenn. We expected there for sure to
have a general action, but the enemy evaded us. We then marched to Murphreesboro on a forced march a distance of 65 miles. We rested there 20 hours and started in the evening, marched all night, and continued on till we arrived at Nashville, Tenn., a distance of 32 miles. We done all this marching on half rations and scarcely water enough to drink. We guarded the bridge of the Cumberland River at N[ashville] 7 days. Then we received another order for another forced march to Bowling Green, Ky.’ We made that in three days, a distance of 69 miles just in time to catch Bragg and his force of about 80,000. But Gen. Buell would not leave us at them, but kept us back two days, and Bragg made his escape again, after being allowed to take 4,400 of our men prisoners, and paroling them. Co. K, 2d Batt. out of our regt. was taken there, and the duce of it was, it was just a full company. They had just came into the service – consequently green, although well drilled. (I will resume our journey) After the enemy had two days’ the start of us, Buell, the old “traitor,” concluded to leave us go on the pursuit of the Confederate forces. The men were a good deal discouraged, but marched well. The fact of the business is, the marching we made has never been equaled in the U.S. We were 8 days without running water to drink, but twice. All the rest of the time we had to drink water out of mud holes in the road, and ponds in the fields. The water in some of the ponds was all green on the top, but we got so very dry that would drink almost anything in the shape of water, and we had nothing but dry crackers and a very little meat to eat, and coffee to drink. We never get beans or rice on a march for want of time to cook them. The day after we got to Louisville, Ky. There was
325,000 Union troops bivouacked there. We rested there a short time and started after Bragg, Buckner & Kirby Smith’s forces. We went by the way of Shepherdsville, Bardstown, Springfield, etc. We marched 9 miles before we got to Springfield without a halt. All the time as fast as we could possibly walk, and part of the time on a double quick. There the Rebels opened fire upon us with their artillery. But ours proved too much for them. They had to retreat. Our brigade was in the advance and our regt. was in the advance of the brigade, so you see we were thrown in the hottest of the fire. We fought them back from ½ past 11 till night. The next day there was some skirmish fighting, but the third day they took a stand this side of a creek, they having the choice of the ground and all the water. So you see we had to fight them back for water. The general action commenced on the morning of the 8th of October about three o’clock, and both sides fought their best till after dark. Our brigade was held back as a reserve, but were called into action a short time before sundown. So that we were under heavy fire at least an hour and a half. Our battery took its position and opened up with incredible fury. Night was growing fast upon us, and the combat grew every minute more ferocious. The flashes of the artillery was blinding, above, around, in front. Bombs, solid shot, canister and minie balls flew like hail whizzing & exploding in every direction. The shrieks and groans of the dying and wounded, added to the horror & confusion of the moment, made up altogether a scene of consternation and dismay enough to
appall the stoutest heart. I was over part of the battlefield the second day after the fight, & the ground was literally strewn with the dead & wounded. I seen one place where the surgeons were at work with the wounded. They then had a pile of legs and arms about four feet high. I seen one poor fellow with the whole of his underjaw shot off He was living yet, but never could [say] anything; and others equally as badly wounded. One man in our regt. had his leg taken off, another was shot through the lungs, & another had both of his arms blown off, & face & breast burned all into a crisp. The battle was fought at and near Perryville, Ky., and it is called the battle of Chaplin Hills.
I was very glad to hear that cousin Alfred was so well situated. I only hope his regt. can stay where they are. If they should be ordered out on a few such chases after the Rebels as we have, he will begin to have a poor opinion of soldiering. I think, however, that the most of these new regts. will escape these hard marches. We have actually marched as high as 32 m[iles] a day, on half rations, with rifle accouterments, and 60 rounds of cartridges. You were saying you wished me to write to cousin Alfred. I don’t feel myself at liberty to open the correspondence. It would be entirely contrary to our discipline. If the capt. would write to me, I would be most happy to answer to the best of my ability, and give him all the particulars of the movements of the Army of the Ohio. We have 20 companies now in our regt., and three new ones ready to join us. Our regt. is different from the volunteers, we are divided in three battalions. I would rather be in a volunteer regt., on account of their not being so strict as the regulars. I would like to write more, but don’t feel able. I have been sick for several days. I am afraid my constitution will not bear up much longer. I have not much to live for, but my dear little daughter. If I could but see her once more I would feel better satisfied, but it is more than I expect. Give my love to your children, and accept the same for yourself. Tell Alfred I wish to be remembered. From your affectionate cousin, Isaac B. Jones
Direct: Co. C, 3rd Batt./18th U.S. Infty./ 1st Division 3rd
Brigade/ Gallatin, Tenn.
-Page 1, Crosswritten-
Please answer this immediately if you deem it worthy. Direct to Gallatin, Tenn. this time, but at any other time you may direct to Louisville, Ky. It will always be forwarded. I would be very happy to receive a letter from cousin Alfred.
Isaac B. Jones was a carpenter from Williamsport, PA. He originally enlisted with Captain Joesph E. Ulman’s Battery of Light Artillery PA Volunteers at the age of 27. The company was discharged March 7th, 1862 and Jones re-enlisted with the 18th U.S. Infantry. He was killed in action on December 31, 1862 at the Battle of Murfreesboro.
Alfred J. Sofield was a clerk/justice of the peace in Wellsboro, PA when he enrolled as a Union Army Officer. He served in the Civil War as Captain and commander of Company A of the 149th PA Volunteer Infantry. During the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, he was stationed along Chambersburg Pike north of the McPherson Farm. His unit under artillery fire from the Confederate batteries on Herr Ridge, and was struck by a round, which killed him as well as Private Edwin D. Dimmick and Corporal Nathan H. Wilcox.