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Civil War Letters of
Capt. William Boyd

103rd Illinois Infantry

Field Hospital near Atlanta, GA – Aug. 8th 1864

My dear Wife,
Your kind letter of July 26th came to hand safely on the 3rd inst. by Maj. Willison who arrived here on that day.  I need not say that this particular letter gave me pleasure.  They all do, and you need have no delicacy, or hesitancy, in writing to me the actual state of your feelings, and your condition, thou otherwise, there is nothing between us that we should withhold from each other.  I am truly sorry to know that you are still as weak, and so poorly fitted physically to perform all the duties of your household.  I trust that your disease may have to be different from what you are inclined to believe, that it may not be so serious, and that you will recover from it and have many happy days yet in store for you. Your letter finds me still in the hospital, with my eye still unimproved. There appears to be something strange about it. The surgeons do not seem to know what to do for it.  My own opinion is, that there can be nothing done for it in the field which will improve it, the eye is considerably inflamed, and during the forenoon of each day gives me great pain in the fact it affects my right eye to such an extent that I can scarcely use it.  This is from sympathy with the injured one.  In the afternoon I do not suffer so much with it, and at night am almost entirely free from pain in it.  I have been blistered on the back of the neck, for that purpose of drawing the inflammation away, and I am using the salve you sent me, also an eye wash which the surgeons have prepared, in connection with it, neither one of which, nor all combined, have has any effect that is perceptible yet. I am unfit at present for any kind of duty.  I am not allowed to exercise much, as that would heat the blood and have a tendency to increase inflammation.  Therefore I must sit around in the shade, with my head down, and pass the time as best I can.  Time passes more slowly and tedious to me here, than any other situation in which I have ever been placed.  I cannot pass the time in reading.  That causes me extra pain.  I can do but little writing, and that must be done in the afternoon, and I would prefer it should be cloudy then, you thus see how I am situated.  The campaign continues, and I cannot get into my own tent so that I might rest, or attend to my company business.  Affairs at the “Front” are very much the same as when I last wrote you.  There has been no heavy engagement since that of July 28th, our lines have been changing however since then, and instead of being on the East side of Atlanta, we have moved around until we are on the West side, with our right nearly reaching the railroad leading to Macon, GA and Montgomery, Alabama.  We have been steadily gaining advantages on them, and we have hopes that ere long Atlanta will be ours.  I pray that this may soon prove to be true, and that we may be permitted to go into camp and recruit our health, and rest ourselves.  When this does take place, it is my settled purpose, to settle up any company business as soon as possible (which will take along time in my present condition) and if my eye has not improved by that time, I shall tender my resignation, or apply for a sick “Leave of Absence”.  If I am unable to be with my company, to command it whenever it may be required to go, I see no good reason why they should retain one in the service, but I would advise you to build not particular hopes on my permanent return home this fall, although I shall make the effort as I have said, it will take a long time however to close up my business, even though the campaign were to close tomorrow, and still longer to get papers through, you need have no fears of my being drafted if I were to return home tomorrow, I would not be a fit subject, I will again state (as my letters may not all reach you) that I did not see Brother Asahel when he fell, but was told by those who were near him, that he was shot through the head, and died instantly.  I don’t know that he spoke after he was struck, I rather think he did not.  I have not seen the testament you speak of, but presume he had it with him.  He wrote a letter on the morning of the charge, intending to leave it with some of the boys who were unable to go with us.  This he put into his jacket, and forgot to leave, as he intended.  On the morning of the evacuation I sent two men to see if they could recognize the bodies of our “Fallen Comrades”, they reported to me that the bodies had been buried, where Bandle and Miller had fallen.  I was not permitted to visit the place my self as we were under orders to be ready to move at any moment.  Poor Emily, she has my heartfelt sympathies, in her bereavement, and as far as I am able shall have something more substantial if agreeable to you.  I shall close up his papers with the War Department as soon as possible, so that his pay may be collected for her.  With my hearts best wishes for you all and my prayers for our mutual safety, I am as ever,

Your Loving Husband,
          William Boyd

Field Hospital near Atlanta, Ga. – Aug. 14th 1864

My dear Wife,
I have just had the pleasure of receiving and reading another good letter from you bearing date of Aug. 4th.  It is about the only enjoyment I have now, the reading of your letters when they come to hand.  I cannot enjoy myself reading the papers on account of the pain it gives me, and it would also be injurious for one to do so.  I still remain at the hospital being unfit for field duty.  I would like very much to be at home now too, while I am not on duty, but I cannot think of leaving at this time (and I don’t know that I could get the chance if I were to try) as there is a great deal of business connected with the Company that must be attended to as soon as this campaign closes, and there is no one acquainted with it but myself, and if I am not able to attend to it myself, I shall have to superintend its execution.  This business all devolves on me alone, as Lieut. Fox has not been fit for duty since he returned from his Leave of Absence, and I only am acquainted with the details of the business, and all the papers that are to be made out for the Dead and Wounded, and the Returns of Clothing, Camp & Garrison Equippage, and Returns of Ordnance & Ordnance Stores, for which I am responsible, this will occupy my attention for some time after we do get into Camp.  It is on account of this that I do not want to go home at this time.  My eye does not improve any that I can discover, when the sun shines, it is with great difficulty that I can keep the other eye open sufficiently to go about, for the greater part of the time I keep the light excluded from both eyes, this is about the only way that I can get rest from pain.  You say in your letter you would like to know how I was spending the 4th of august, while you were attending Divine Service at your quiet home. I will answer to the best of my recollection.  I spent the day around the hospital, at times listening to the rattling of small arms on the skirmish line, and occasionally the deeper tones of our twenty pound Parrots, and others of smaller calibre which keep up a desultory fire nearly all the time.  This is a great contrast to the way in which you spent the day.  I should love to enjoy by your side, the many sermons and prayers you have been permitted to hear.  In such a campaign as this we have very few opportunities of hearing the preaching of God’s Word.  We have services at the hospital however, which are very acceptable.  Today we had a good sermon from the Prayer of David, “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me”. The sermon was delivered by Chaplain Gage of the 12th Indiana Infty. There is an agent of the “Christian Commission” here, who holds prayer meetings during the week, and preaches some to us on the Sabbath.  As a preacher, he does not amount to much, but he is in earnest in a good work, and therefore ought not to be overlooked.  In regard to our living here, we are pretty well supplied. The table which is set apart for sick officers, receives its share of the Sanitary goods which is being so liberally sent to the sick and wounded soldier, by their Christian and loyal friends of the North.  Today we had some good potatoes for dinner, this was certainly a great treat at least to me.  I am in hopes that your late ones will come to maturity, so that I am permitted to visit you this fall, I shall have some of your own raising.  We have had a great deal of rain this summer in this part of the country, had it been distributed equally in the North, I presume your crops would have been better than they are.  I would like to help you eat some of your garden vegetables, but must make myself content with what I have.  Our position is very much the same as when I last wrote you.  Though our lines are continually advancing on them, there has yet been no decisive action.  The Copperheads are making their last great effort to defeat us, but I feel that they are the ones that will suffer defeat.  Oh, that the day may soon arrive when the soldiers will be allowed to return to their homes and settle with them.  In regard to the shot gun , you may sell it if you wish, it cost me $17.00 and I would like to get the same amount for it, as it is well worth it, but you may sell it for $15.00 if you cannot get any more for it.  The Shot Pouch and Powder Flask is extra of the gun, and cost one $150.00.  You can perhaps sell all together, as I shall not need the accoutrements without the gun.  If you dispose of the gun and wish to purchase a pistol, let me advise you what kind to get.  I would prefer the Smith & Wesson, Pocket Pistol.  It is quite small, very convenient, and very effective, when necessity requires its use.  It is a pistol that a lady can carry very easily, it can almost be hidden in a gentleman’s vest pocket.  The pistol will cost something like $20.00.  You had better have some one see to procuring it for you, also a box of ammunition with it, they are dangerous little weapons, and if you should get one, you would do sell to receive a little instruction in the mode of handling, if I should return home this fall, I shall procure one for my own use, but my paper is about full and I must close hoping this may find you improved in health and in good spirits, and praying that this cruel war may soon be ended, and that you may ere long have the pleasure of clasping in your arms, Yours Loving Husband,

William Boyd

In the Field near Atlanta, Ga. – Aug. 18th 1864
My Dear Wife,
It has been but a short time since I wrote you before, but as I have nothing particular to do, I thought I could not pass the time to greater advantage than by informing you how and where I am.  I will state in the first place, that my eye continues to pain me a great deal, and that I am still unfit for duty, although I am with my Regt.  I was ordered to join my command three days ago, and I obeyed the order, although I did not report for duty, it was not the intention to order me on duty when I was ordered to join my command, but the hospitals were ordered to be cleared out preparatory to some movement which is expected to take place.  There a grand demonstration made in our front today for the purpose of misleading the Rebels.  This was at 10 a.m.  There is to be another this afternoon at 4 o’clock.  The shelling and musketry continued heavy for about one hour without doing us any harm, it is rumored that there has been a heavy fight on the extreme right of our lines, resulting in another success to us.  I only give this as a rumor, but hope it may prove true.  My health continues good as usual, and hope that this may find you enjoying the same.  My love to you and the children.  Ever, your Loving Husband,

William Boyd

Field Hospital near Atlanta, GA – Aug. 21st 1864
My Dearest Lucy,
I have again had the pleasure of receiving and reading another kind letter from you, written on the 12th inst. I am pleased to know that your health continues as good as you represent in this letter, that you are still able to attend to the affairs of your house, and all connected therewith.  You need not have made any apologies for your letter.  Your letters always interest me.  I know it is hard to write a good letter when we are suffering pain, this I know from my own experience in that last few weeks, but I know to whom I am writing, and if my letters are not polished, they will be more the less acceptable, as I always aim to make a simple statement of facts, and facts need no outward adornment to establish them. I like your letters for their simplicity and straight forwardness. There has never been any attempt to make things appear in any other light than the true one.  I do not speak this for purpose of flattery, far be it from me to use that which I condemn in others.  I believe there is no secret between us, nothing that is hidden from each other, this is as it should be.  Our union would not be perfect were it other wise, but enough of this. I will tire you with my nonsense.  I received the Union that you sent me.  I sincerely rejoice to know that there is a paper of the right stamp published in Lewistown, and wish it success.  It would get a great many subscribers in the Regt. if we were paid off, so that the subscription price could be sent. You will notice that this letter is addressed to you from the hospital again, not from the “Front” as was my last one. After remaining with the Regt. four days, Surgeon Morris (of the 103rd) sent word to me that I had probably better return to the Hospital, where I could take better care of myself, as I was altogether unfit for duty.  I accepted his proposition, and returned immediately. My general health still continues good, but the time passes very slowly with me,  my eye giving me pain continually, with no prospect of any improvement. I am not permitted to do any reading, and it is very difficult for me to do much writing. I still live in hope of the campaign soon closing, so that I may settle up my business and visit home. At least and from present indications, I do not think it will be long ere we shall be able to say “Atlanta is Ours”.  I would really enjoy eating with you, some of your garden vegetables of which you speak , but I am not suffering now from the want of them, as we are using potatoes, pickles, onions, dried fruits, and blackberries furnished by the Sanitary Commission.  This is truly a Christian Commission, God Speed It.

Your Loving Husband,
           William Boyd

(Enclosed, is photograph of Surgeon Morris)

In Camp near Eastpoint, GA – September 12th 1864
My Dear Wife,
     It affords me great pleasure to date my letters once more from camp.  We are once again in camp.  The summer campaign is ended, and we are permitted to rest for a short season, or, until another campaign is inaugurated.  Our camp is situated about six miles south of Atlanta on the Macon Railroad and near to the junction of the Montgomery and Macon Roads.  We have been moving our camps for the last three days, getting into line.  Our last move was made today.  We have very good grounds here, and hope that we shall have no more changes to make until we make a final move from here.  It would be useless for me to attempt to give you a description (or attempt to) of the last grand move that Sherman made, which so bewildered the Rebels as to cause them to retreat in great haste from Atlanta, giving us possession of the city, and victory.  It was a bold and stupendous move, thus cutting loose from our supplies, and exposing our lines of communication, but the master mind of Sherman had weighed the consequences, and the results which followed this movement has been the crowning victory of the campaign. We are having an armistice of ten days, commencing today, for the purpose of exchanging citizens. Sherman has ordered all disloyal citizens south of his lines and all loyal citizens are to be sent north.  This armistice is for the purpose of exchanging disloyal, for loyal citizens, so that they may both be sent to their proper place, as Sherman does not intend to supply the citizens with rations. Both classes therefore must go to their friends. The supplies that will accumulate at Atlanta are to be exclusively for the use of the army. This is but just and right. Atlanta will be made a military post, and no other business than that connected with the army will be transacted in it.  he railroads have enough to do to supply this immense army, without being used to run in supplies for all the citizens who immediately flock to us on our occupation of any place, calling on us for help after they have given all they had to the Rebels.  This thing of supplying Rebel citizens is (to use an army phrase) “played out”. You no doubt think strange of not hearing from me oftener of late, my excuse for this seeming neglect was in our inability to send mail during this last move.  I wrote a very short note one week ago today, informing you of my safety.  I had not time to write anymore.  I gave the note to Capt. Post, who was there on his way home on wounded furlough.  I received your letter of Aug. 28th this morning, and hasten to acknowledge the receipt of it.  I trust that ere this reaches you, you will have recovered from the disease that you feared was taking hold of you, and also that dear little Ida may have regained her usual health and spirits.  The little ones do have some strange ideas, would not I look well standing up before an audience, making a speech, but joking aside, I hope the time is not very distant, when I shall be able to see you all, and have you see me and then we can talk the matter over in a quiet way of our own.  You need not look for me at any particular time, as I do not know positively that I will be allowed the privilege, but I shall make the effort, it will be one month at least before I can get all my business done and get my papers through, still I live in hope that all will turn out right.  Yet, my eye does not improve, and I fear that so much writing will be injurious to it.  It is getting dark and I have no candle, so I must close for this time.  Your Loving Husband,

William Boyd

Camp near East Point, Ga. - September 20th 1864
My Dear Lucy,
     It has been one week since I wrote you last, and I cannot say that I have anything particular in news, to relate.  Your kind letter of September 2nd came to hand in due time and as usual, was gratefully received.  Your letter found me still enjoying as good health as usual, but not improvement in my eye, it still continues weak.  I was pleased to learn that you and Ida were getting along so well, and that there was not immediate danger of your being seriously ill.  I am getting along with my business pretty well, and shall make the effort ere long to return home, but it will not be until October. Lieut. Fox (the bearer of this) has been successful in getting his resignation through on account of disability, and returns home tomorrow.  Please excuse this short letter, as I am not fitted to write long ones, hoping that I may be equally successful in my efforts.  I remain as ever, Your Loving Husband,

William Boyd

You will please explain, and enlarge on my letter to Carrie as I am hardly fitted now to write a letter to any one.

Copyright © 2007 Mark A. Miner