1862: Samuel Hildreth Putnam to Eliza (Whipple) Tucker Putnam

This letter was written just days after the Battle of Shiloh by Lt. Samuel Hildreth Putnam (1835-1911), the son of Douglas Putnam (1806-1894) and Mary Ann (Hildreth) Putnam (1808-1842). After attending Marietta College, Samuel assisted his father with the operation of the Harmar Bucket Factory in Harmar, Washington county, Ohio. In 1861, at the age of 25,  he enlisted in Co. L of the 1st Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. He rose in rank from Quartermaster Sergeant to 1st lieutenant of Co. D, and was with the escort of Gen. George H. Thomas, commander of the 14th Army Corps.

Samuel wrote the letter to his step-mother, the former Mrs. Eliza Tucker, a daughter of Levi Whipple of Zanesville, Ohio. She died in September 1862.

[Note: There is a very large collection of Samuel H. Putnam’s letters housed in the archives at the Marietta College Library]

“I thought we saw some mud in Kentucky but we did not see any at all to what we have passed through this week [in Tennessee].” — Lt. Samuel H. Putnam, 1st Ohio Cavalry


Savannah, Tennessee
April 12th 1862

Dear Mother,

We have been traveling every day since I wrote you the next day after Brother Ben left me for home.

We arrived at Waynesboro [TN] last Sunday evening & expected to remain there three or four days until the whole of Gen. Thomas’ Division arrived but we had not been in camp but a few minutes until we received orders to hurry on as fast as possible (we could hear the report of the cannons plain for all we was thirty-eight miles away from the fight). Our men wanted to start immediately but we rested our horses & trains until three o’clock the next morning when the whole of our regiment pressed on & arrived here Monday night, leaving no guard with our train & we had to work it along as best we could. I thought we saw some mud in Kentucky but we did not see any at all to what we have passed through this week as it has rained nearly every day & the road is lined with wagons & nine batteries of artillery which have cut the road all up, made it mirey & the wheels sink down to the axletree. Some teams had five mules out of six mired & down & we had to hitch on other mules to them & pull them out by the neck.

We have been ever since Monday morning until last night at dark coming thirty miles. Some nights we did not stop to camp until ten o’clock & we started out mornings as early as possible. Out teams’ teamsters are all worked down & discouraged. Some places we had to unload some of the wagons twice within a hundred yards & then it took ten mules to pull out the empty wagon from where it was struck. I took it very cool as I was not stout enough to render any assistance but I am gaining my strength every day & now feel as though (Richard was nearly himself again) so when any of our teams was stalled, I would lay myself down upon a pile of rails or a log & go to sleep. Or if it was too cold, I would ride on to the first house & sit by the fire until all of the teams came up.

The Tennesseans are all together different from the Kentucky people. Here we go right into a man’s house without knocking & take a chair or bench — whatever they have to sit on — and draw up to the fire & commence to give them hark about this rebellion. If you was to knock & ask them to let you warm, they would tell you their wife & daughter was sick in the only room where there was a fire & you could not warm.

We are now awaiting transportation to take us up to the battlefield where our men are & we are promised barges & a boat to tow us up tomorrow morning. I reckon they will be glad to see us as they have been sleeping in the rain for a week & nothing but their blankets over them. ¹

This town puts me in mind of Howell, Ohio, as it looks just like it. Nearly every house in it is now used for a hospital for the wounded soldiers. Our regiment was not in the fight as they did not arrive until dark. Gen. Halleck passed up past here last night in the night with quite a lot of fresh troops.

Gen. Beauregard send word to Gen. Buell that he would water his horse at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, next Tuesday evening. ² I reckon if he does he will have a warm, good time wading through our troops.

Major Dearing “fought like a tiger” at Shiloh according to his men.

I hear that the Ohio 77th Regiment was very badly cut up [in the fight at Shiloh]. They have two hundred & eighteen missing but I expect you have the names of the killed &c. before this will reach you and all of the particulars. I saw R. P[rescott] Hill today. He says Major Ben [Dana Fearing] was not hurt any but he fought like a tiger. Said he was surrounded by fifteen rebels but he cut his way out. ³

This battle has been named Shiloah (interpreted a messenger or the beginning of peace).

Enclosed find a secesh postage stamp which Col. Smith got at the Columbia Hospital when he went in there & took possession of the town. I have not seen a paper since we started on this march until today nor I have not received a letter from anyone since brother Ben left me.

From your son, — Sam

¹ On 18 April 1862, Samuel wrote his father from Pittsburg Landing saying, “We arrived here with all of our teams & transports yesterday forenoon. we was all glad to get up with the regiment again as we have been separated from them for ten days. By rights we would not have been here for three or four days yet but by close watching, hard work, & a little trickery, we got possession of the transport boats as all of the Woods’ & Nelson’s teams have not arrived here yet & ours was the last division that came into Savannah. Our regiment is camped about half a mile back from the river in the woods, which was thick with underbrush & trees but our men have cleared off what ground they want & made quite a respectable looking camp out of it. Teamsters have made roads all through the woods & it is the greatest place I ever saw to get lost. It bothered me even to keep the road to water my horse. [Samuel Hildreth Putnam letter Douglas Putnam, Sr, 4 April 1862 — Marietta College Library]

² While it is true that Beauregard was reported to have said this to his men, the statement was made prior to the Battle of Shiloh as opposed to Sam’s letter implying it was yet in the future.

³ In a letter to his father, Samuel said, “The 77th [Ohio] is about two miles our from here [Pittsburg Landing] & I think I shall go out and see them tomorrow. Jack Hemickle was here a few minutes today & he is full of talk about The Fight, hairbreadth escapes, &c. He is greatly incensed at the report in the papers of their actions in the fight. He says it is all false as the loss the regiment sustained shows.” [Samuel Hildreth Putnam letter Douglas Putnam, Sr, 4 April 1862 — Marietta College Library]



Griff View All →

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries.

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