These four letters were written by James Wallace Hunter (1824-1864), the son of John W. Hunter (1783-1839) and Elizabeth McIlvain (1786-1869) of Centre County, Pennsylvania. When the Civil War began, James was residing in Monroe, Wisconsin. He entered the service as a first sergeant in Company C of the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry in May 1861 and was promoted to 2d Lieutenant of Co. A in July 1862. He was elevated to 1st Lieutenant in November 1862 and then to Captain of Co. F in November 1863. A regimental history records that Hunter “was a very popular officer because of his unfailing patience, good humor and kindness of heart. He was calm and imperturbable in battle, seemingly unconscious of danger, and was in all the battles of the regiment” which included Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Atlanta Campaign.
Captain Hunter was at the head of his company when the 3d Wisconsin Infantry encountered a strongly entrenched Confederate army at New Hope Church near the crossing of the Marietta, Dallas, and Acworth roads in Georgia on May 25, 1864. The 3rd Wisconsin, in the center of the advancing Union line, took the brunt of artillery fire with over a hundred casualties sustained from grape and canister wounds — Capt. Hunter among them. Hunter was wounded in the knee by grape shot — thought to be only a “severe bruise” — but he died on 9 June 1864 at a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a victim of blood poisoning. Monroe, Green County, Wisconsin.
James wrote the letter to his older brother, Capt. John Andrew Hunter (1820-1916), of Halfmoon, Centre County, Pennsylvania. John was married to Elizabeth B. Elder (1824-1909) in January 1852. He gained his title by commanding several local companies in which many officers and men were prepared for service in the Civil War, although he himself never saw active service. In his early manhood, Captain Hunter taught for almost sixteen years in the public schools of Centre and Huntingdon Counties, beginning when about sixteen years of age. His interest in education was continued with the establishment of The Pennsylvania State College, as evidenced by his presence at all its commencements until within the last two or three years, when failing strength prevented his attendance.
Though undated, the first letter was postmarked from Washington D.C. and the two regiments mentioned near the end of the first paragraph — the 1st Wisconsin and 11th Pennsylvania — were both 3-month service organizations that were attached to Abercrombie’s 6th Brigade, Negley’s 2nd Division, of Patterson’s Army. These troops were thrown in with the 3rd Wisconsin in mid July while at Camp Pickney on the southeast slope of Maryland Heights near Harper’s Ferry. It is therefore conjectured that this letter was written in late July, just before the three-months service organizations mustered out.
The third letter was written from City Hall Park in New York City a few weeks after the draft riots. As the day of the draft approached, it was determined that several seasoned and battle-hardened regiments should be brought into the city to ensure that further rioting would not occur. The 3rd Wisconsin was transported in the steamer Merrimac from Alexandria to Governor’s Island in New York. They were disembarked at Canal Street and marched up Broadway to City Hall Park where they bivouacked from 22 August to 5 September 1863. A regimental history claimed that the “brown-faced veterans from the Potomac battlefields” in their “seedy” uniforms caused “a dense crowd of pedestrians” to look upon them with great curiosity and “not a rioter dared peep.” [Source: History of the Third Regiment of Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry by Edwin E. Bryant]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to John A. Hunter, Esq., Halfmoon, Centre County, Pennsylvania
[late July 1861, Maryland Heights]
I cannot write more to you at present. Excuse scribbling. I have to write on my knee and on the ground and every other way. I express my trunk to mother to the mouth of Spruce Creek. If it has not been sent to you, I wish you would send for it and if you get it and have no key to open, break the lock and get my clothes out to air them. I did not pay the charges. The reason was the agent could not tell me what the charges would be and I thought I would get them as soon as the trunk and take it home with me but the way the thing is ___ning, I cannot get away at present. The 1st Wisconsin Regiment is just waiting their time out and the Pennsylvania 11th is doing the work.
I had intended writing to John but I cannot get time. Now you can tell him I will write to him as soon as I can.
We have a regular confusion in camp. Everyone is busy getting ready and all anxious to be into the fun.
There is a good many traitors in this part of the country but they have to keep quiet.
Good bye. If we never meet in this world, I hope we may meet in a better one. Your brother, — J. W. Hunter
I cannot tell you half I wanted to. Perhaps I will be able to tell you more next time. Perhaps I may get home on parole yet. Good bye.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp near Stafford Court House, Virginia
3rd Wisconsin Vols.
February 17, 1863
I wrote to you some time ago and have not received and answer yet. I thought I would drop you a line. I stated I had some prospect of getting leave of absence to go home but have not got it yet. Nor will not before the first of March but I think will then if nothing happens. There is only two officers allowed absence at one time and there is two absent at present so I will have to wait till they return. If you pay us a visit, come immediately and I think I will be ready to go home with you. I will not have much time to spend with you. They only grant leave of absence for ten days to go to Pennsylvania and to Wisconsin fifteen.
We are only eight miles from Falmouth. Some of our boys go down every few days to visit the friends on twenty-four hour passes. The roads are very bad. Rains or snows every few days. Snow fell last night 3 inches and still snowing fast this morning. Yesterday was warm as May. We have no news.
I must quit. The mail is going out. Write if you do not come yourself. If you do come to Washington & come down the Potomac to Aquia Creek Landing and then you will have to foot five or six miles to Stafford Court House.
Your brother, — J. W. Hunter
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Addressed to John A. Hunter, Esq., Halfmoon, Centre County, Pennsylvania
Camp City Hall Park, New York
August 25th 1863
I suppose it will surprise you somewhat to hear of us making so sudden a change in our base of operations. It seems strange to us. Two weeks ago we were doing picket duty on the Rappahannock. We left there on last Sunday a week, came to Alexandria on the cars, stayed there three days, then came to New York on transports — four regiments of us — two days and half coming and oh!, but some of us were sick.
We arrived in the city on Saturday, marched into the City Hall Park and camped. The men are in barracks, officers have their tents pitched in the park. I tell you we are quite a curiosity to see as old soldiers as we are. The drafting commenced yesterday. There has been no trouble yet. I do not think there will be much. The rowdies are a little afraid of old soldiers. We are kept in the business part of the city right in front of the Astor House and Barnum’s Museum.
We can spend our time pleasantly although we are kept very strict, but there is so much noise and bustle I am almost tired of city life already. The weather is very warm. I must quit for the present. I am officer of the day and kept pretty busy.
I have had to buy a new suit of clothes since I come and it has strapped me. I had no idea of coming to New York when I sent my money home or I would have saved some. I wish you would send me one hundred dollars by express as soon as you get this or perhaps we may move and I need the money. Address it to:
Lieut. J. W. Hunter, 3rd Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers, City Hall Park, New York
Write at the same time. No more at present. — J. W. Hunter
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camp of the 3rd Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers
Elk River Bridge, Tennessee
October 21st 1863
I suppose you are a little anxious to know where we are and what we are doing. Well we left Virginia on the 26th September and rode eight days on the cars. Was a long, tedious ride and not much chance to sleep, but the weather was pleasant and we had rather a pleasant trip. We came on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to Wheeling, then by the way of Columbus & Indianapolis, Louisville, to Nashville, Tennessee.We went down to Stevenson, Alabama, there were ordered back to Dechard, Tennesee. The Rebel cavalry got in between us and Nashville and burned some bridges. We went aboard the cars again, rode as far as was safe, then marched 40 miles, captured a lot of Rebs, had the bridges built, opened communication, and marched back to the present station 80 miles south of Nashville. We are guarding the bridge at this place. Our corps is to guard R. R. and keep communication open with the Army in front.
There has been another change in commanders. General Grant passed here yesterday to take command at Chattanooga. It is hard to tell what will be the next program.
We have built winter quarters but how long we will get leave to stay in them is hard to tell. There is a rumor this morning at headquarters we are to move but now one knows where. I suppose to the front. This country is a good deal like Virginia — almost everything destroyed.
There is a Negro Regiment ¹ camped besides us — eleven hundred strong. They have been out about two months and make good soldiers. They make the best kind of picket guards. They know nothing but obey whatever they are told, have white officers. They will not let a cow or even a dog cross the lines and is not safe to go around the lines after dark. They are firing all the time. They say, “Can’t no Reb come around dare wid cow skins on to fool de soldiers” so down comes Mr. Cow. They fire at everything that comes around after night.
I must quit. Corporal is waiting for this. Write soon. Direct to 3rd Wisconsin Vols., 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Slocum’s Corps, Army of the Cumberland via Louisville, Kentucky.
¹ Hunter is referring to the 12th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, originally called the 3d Tennessee Volunteers (African Descent). This regiment was organized in Tennessee during the summer of 1863. They were sent on 2 September 1863 to the Elk River Bridge, near Derchard, and placed under the command of Col. Charles R. Thompson. They drilled there and pulled guard duty at the railroad crossing until early November when they reported to Nashville.