These three letters were written by Pvt. Frank J. Parks [@1835-Bef1891] of Co. A, 12th Illinois Cavalry [Note: he appears in Company records as John T. Parks]. The 12th Illinois Cavalry was unique because it was one of only two Illinois cavalry regiments to see extended service with the Army of the Potomac in the war’s eastern theater. The first letter was written from Alexandria, Virginia, where Frank was detached from his regiment serving commissary duty. The last two letters were written from a camp near Stafford Court House, Virginia, at the headquarters of Major-General Henry W. Slocum’s 12th Corps. His words capture the mood of most soldiers in the Army of the Potomac during the early spring of 1863 — dejected and frustrated by the lack of progress in putting down the rebellion, and angry that Gen. McClellan was replaced by General Burnside who seemed incapable of taking the fortified city of Fredericksburg, just across the Rappahannock River.
Frank was the son of Jacob Parks [or Joab Parks] (17xx-1837) and Eliza Elvira Bilderback (1810-18xx). Jacob and Eliza were married in May 1831 in Randolph [or Jackson] County, Illinois. I believe Eliza and her children moved to Jefferson, Wisconsin after her husbands death in 1837.
Pvt. Parks wrote the letters to his sister Ella D. (Parks) Belden (1833 in ILL, fa TN, ma IL), the wife of Edward Edgar Belden (1832 Ohio, fa CT, ma MA). They were living in LaPorte, Indiana, at the time of the 1860 Census. It would appear they had three boys named Albert, Claude & Frank. They moved to Sierra Valley, California by 1863, and to Oakland, California before 1875. Edward was employed as a carpenter.
Frank also mentions his sister Nettie Manchester (Parks) Wright (1836-1913) who was married to David J. Wright (1829-1890) and living in Wisconsin at the time. They later relocated to Dubuque, Iowa.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
November 22, 1862
I once more take my pen in hand to let you know that I am still among the living. You must excuse me for not writing oftener for I have not been _____ for two weeks since I enlisted. I first enlisted in a Kansas regiment that was disbanded and then I went to Illinois and enlisted in the 12th Illinois Cavalry and I am in it yet. There is but a few of our regiment here. The balance are at Fredericksburg. I expect to join them in a few days. This is a very lonesome place here. We are in sight of Washington and of Mt. Vernon, the tomb of Washington.
We do not drill any and I do not have to stand guard any. I am a commissary sergeant. We have not drew no pay in six months and I do not know when I will get any. This is a hard life but I am getting used to it. I have not heard from [sister] Nettie for a long time though I have wrote to her several times.
There is a great deal of dissatisfaction here on the account of the removal of McClellan. I do not think there is prospect of peace very soon. If I am discharged here close to Washington, I will come to California. Times are very hard here. There is about 20,000 sick and wounded soldiers in the vicinity of this place.
You must excuse my haste and bad spelling and write soon. From your affectionate brother, — Frank J. Parks
Address your letter to Camp of Recruits near Alexandria, Virginia, Co. A, 12th Illinois Cavalry
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
Camp near Stafford Court House
February 27th 1863
I once more take my pen in hand to write you a few lines to let you know that I still live. I have written to you three times since I came into Virginia, but have received no answer. I think my letters do not reach their destination.
The weather has been very disagreeable here for some time though not very cold. There is at present about 6 inches of snow on the ground. The headquarter of the Army of the Potomac is 5 miles from here. I belong to Co. A, 12th Illinois Cavalry. Our company is body guard for Major Gen. [Henry W.] Slocum. We have a great deal of riding to do carrying dispatches, going out with the general &c., and very little fighting.
The Rebel Army under command of Gen. Lee lays just across the Rappahannock River from us. They are strongly fortified and the mud is so bad that we cannot move. We can see the Rebel pickets and converse with them plainly from this side of the river. They seem to be in good spirits and are better clothes than is generally reported. I do not think that we will take Fredericksburg until they leave it.
There is a great deal of deserting here from our army. The soldiers are tired of the war. I have not got much faith in putting down this war since the removal of McClellan. You have no idea of the numbers there has been killed in Virginia. I have got two years to serve yet and then I will never soldier anymore.
I have not heard from [sister] Nettie for some time. James Luna came from Hazel Green [Grant County, Wisconsin] three months ago. He said Craig and Nettie was well. Jim is in the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry. There is a dispatch just came. The Rebel Generals Lee & Hampton have crossed the river above here with 8 thousand cavalry and the bugle is sounding for us to saddle up and be after them so I must close and be off. I thin it is only a raid to pick up our pickets and give us a scare. There is about ten thousand of us going after them but I think they will do all they want to do and get back before we overtake them — at least they always do. It is too muddy to expect a battle now.
We have not been paid in 8 months and there is no prospect of it at present. I will have to close for the captain is after me so good bye for the present.
From your affectionate brother, — Francis J. Parks
Direct your letter to C. A. 12th Illinois Cav., Escort of Major Gen. Slocum, Va. by way of Washington D. C.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 3
Stafford Court House
March 13th 1863
I received a letter from you this evening and was very glad to hear from you once more and that you and your family was well. My health has been very good this winter although there is a great deal of sickness in the Army about here. I wrote to you a few days ago telling you where we was and what we was doing. We are still at Stafford Court House acting as escort for [Major-] General [Henry Warner] Slocum. The army is lying still now but the roads are drying very fast and before you get this, we will be in motion. Today there is a report that the Rebels are crossing the river above here but I do not believe it.
We have very good quarters here and I like Gen. Slocum and his staff very well. He has command of the 12th Army Corps. There is a report that the pay master is coming in a few days to pay us off. When I get my pay, tell Albert & Claude — also Frank — that I will send you some money to buy them a present. I would be very glad to see you and Ed and the children if I could but that would be impossible at present as they only give furloughs for fifteen days. But as soon as I am discharged, I will leave this without fail.
We have a very good Captain. His name is [Philip E.] Fisher.¹ He is from Roscoe, Illinois. There is several in this company from that place but none that I knew before I came here. I was over to see Jim Luna today. His regiment is close by. I do not have no guard duty to do but go on orderly duty as is called every third day carrying dispatches from one headquarters to another. In time of a battle, we carry orders from the Major General to the other generals.
Ella, I want you to write to [sister] Nettie and tell her to write to me. I have written to her 3 times but have not received any answer. Neither have I heard from Craig for a long time. I do not know why they do not write to me. Perhaps they do not get my letters.
The cavalry expedition I spoke of in my last did not amount to much. The Rebels recrossed the river before we could overtake them. They captured a few of our pickets.
I wish you and Ed could see this army once. There is nothing but tents, waggons & batteries as far as the eye can reach. I guess there is 200,000 troops here — perhaps more than that. The Rebel camps and the City of Fredericksburg in is plain view. I do not know of anything to interest you and you will be tired of reading this already so I will bring it to a close. I have wrote so little of late that I can hardly read it myself, I write so bad. But I will write as often as I can after this. There is no such thing as getting postage stamps here for money or anything else so I will have to let you pay the postage on this. I have sent for some but but I do not know whether they will come or not. Write soon as you get this and tell us all the news. Give my best respects to Edward & the boys and accept the same for yourself. So farewell for this time. From your affectionate brother, — Frank J. Parks
Be sure to direct to Co. A, 12th Illinois Cavalry, escort of Major Gen. Slocum, commanding 12th Army Corps, Virginia, via way of Washington
¹ Philip E. Fisher (1837-1867) enlisted from Roscoe (township, Winnebago County), Illinois, as a corporal on 19 Apr. 1861 (the first days of the Civil War) in Co. F of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. It was a 90-day regiment, so he was mustered out on 21 Aug 1861. He then re-enlisted as a lieutenant on 28 Feb 1862 in Company A of the 12th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, the same day that his brothers, Joseph and John, and his second cousin, Gilbert L. Butterfield, also enlisted in the 12th Illinois. Philip was promoted to captain in September of 1862. On 1 Jul 1863 he was severely wounded in the foot; more than 15 bone fragments were removed from his foot. He was hospitalized for a time, but eventually returned to active duty, which aggravated his injury. He was”discharged for promotion” on 27 Jan 1864. His widow, Emma M. Fisher, reported in 1890 for the 1890 Veterans and Widows Census that he had incurred a rupture and 7 fractured ribs as the result of his Civil War service.
Philip and Emma Whitbeck were married by H.M. Goodwin, a minister of the Congregational Church, in December of 1863, about five months after Philip’s injury in battle, suggesting that he was home from the war on furlough at the time of his marriage.
Philip died 14 Jan 1867 from wounds and disease he suffered in the Civil War. His daughter, Emma Alice Fisher, was born two months after his death. His widow, Emma M. Fisher applied for a widow’s pension on 18 Mar 1867.