These letters were written by Sgt. Israel Markham (1825-1872) who enlisted on 1 September 1861 to serve three years in Co. L, 7th Illinois Cavalry. He remained in the service until 15 October 1864 when he was mustered out at Springfield. When Israel enlisted, he was described as standing just short of 6 feet tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a the dark complexion typical of a farmer. He claimed Vermont as his native state and Randolph, McDonough county, Illinois as his current residence.
Israel was named after his father, Israel Markham (1787-1848) of Rutland county, Vermont—later Rochester, Racine county, Wisconsin. His mother was his father’s first wife, Louisa Leaman (1789-1837) who died in 1837 while the family resided in Cass county, Michigan. After Louisa’s death, Israel’s father remarried a woman 34 years his junior named Thankful Sperry (1821-1909), who gave him several more children.
Israel relocated to Neosho county, Kansas, after leaving the service, married Amanda Hoffman (b. 1833) in 1868, and had two children before his death in 1872 at the age of 46. He was buried in Walnut, Crawford county, Kansas.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Addressed to Miss Sarah Markham, Hendersonville, Knox county, Illinois
Postmarked Memphis, Tennessee
March 4th 1863
Miss Sarah Markham
I received your letter on the 1st. There has not anything of importance happened since I last wrote you speak of my forgetting my friends in Knox county. I think of my friends there as much or more than any. You say you do not know what to write, it being the first time. Write about anything—Charles’ colts, the old farm, the old neighbors (those that I know), or the gossip of the neighborhood. It is not important news that we want to hear from home—we have enough of that here—but something domestic, something that will remind us of civil life.
You say you was provoked at me for not writing sooner. You know that the rest of the girls cannot find time to write an answer under about a year and I like to get an answer immediately. I always write to get an answer. I thought that I would write to you and see how long it would take you to answer. You done very well this time and I will be glad if you will continue to do so. I was glad to hear from Marian and hope she will write often. I would like to hear from the rest too. That army worm I will not write anything about at present. I was sorry that Emiline took the course she did. Those likenesses you may keep until I come back if I ever do and if I do not, you may always keep them. I would like to know which ones you had. I had Sylvia’s and Louisa’s and Olive’s and three or four of my own—one that was taken several years ago I want. Keep careful [with it] for it shows how I used to look when a boy.
I get a letter once in awhile from Sylvia. Cooper has sold his farm and the last that I heard he expected to buy in Racine county. They was all well. Thankful had sold the old homestead and moved out near Delavan. Louisa was in Indiana. George and Alexander was with their mother the last that I heard which has been a long time. I do not know their post office address.
We are comparatively idle now. The roads are so bad that we cannot move very well. The guerrillas prowl around like so many wolves. Our men brought in four yesterday. Our forage party saw some today [and] shot at one and knocked him off from his horse but he got up and skedaddled.
My supper is ready and the boys are eating it up so I must close.
From your friend and cousin, — I. Markham
Direct to Cairo, Co. L, 7th Illinois Cavalry
Well I have had my supper, fed and watered my horse, and I feel better. I will write a few lines more. The prospects of soon closing this war looks gloomy at present but I still hope that the rebellion will soon be wiped out. If it was not for the Copperheads, the rebels would have been discouraged before this time.
I want you to look around and find me a woman. I think that by the time I get out of the army, I shall be old enough to marry. Now, if you can find one that just suits, I will be under many obligations. You know she will have to be about right—good looking, amiable, and intelligent—character above suspicion and affectionate. But enough of this. The light is going out so goodnight. Write soon. Letters from home is conducive of much happiness. I expect my spelling will be condemned.
— Israel Markham
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Addressed to Miss Sarah Markham, Hendersonville, Knox county, Illinois
Postmarked Memphis, Tennessee
August 13th 1863
Miss Sarah Markham
It has been a long time since I heard from you. Our mail that had collected at Lagrange while we was down in Louisiana was sent via New York about 3 weeks before we got back and that is the last that we have heard of it.
I got a letter from Sylvia day before yesterday and she said that if I get a furlough and came up there, that she thought that she would come back with me as far as your house.
I don’t know when I can get a furlough but I have some hopes of getting one in a month or two. My health has not been very good since I landed here the 23 of July.
I saw Comstock at Vicksburg. I sent an album by Mr. Dobbs to you to keep until I see you. We are camped near Memphis and I expect that we will stay here 3 or 4 months. I saw Mary Putnam’s brother at Port Hudson. Azial Putnam belonged to the 6th Michigan and was wounded in the foot the 25th of May at Port Hudson and was in New Orleans in a hospital at the time that I found out that he belonged to that regiment which was about four days before I left there. I saw the regiment several times before he was wounded and enquired if there was any from that fort of Michigan but could not hear that there was.
I would like to hear from you and all of the rest of your folks. What is the reason that Charles don’t write? Is it because I don’t write my letters to him? I expect that all of you will read any letters and it don’t make any difference which of you they are directed to.
I have some notion of sending my horse to Charley to take care of. He is pretty well used up and I have got another. I wish he would write and let me know what he thought about it. If the horse could run on pasture two or three months, I think he would be as good as ever.
I have nothing of interest to write and will close for this time. Write as soon as you receive this. My respects to all. Yours in haste. — Israel Markham
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
September 9th 1863
Miss Sarah Markham
I received a letter from you today and was much pleased. You are not aware of the amount of pleasure that a soldier derives from letters that are from friends at home. Camp life is a dull life and a lonesome one. I also received a letter from you last Saturday that was written last spring. It had been via New York & Baton Rouge.
Since I wrote to you, we have moved to Germantown and from there to this place which is 30 miles from Memphis on the railroad towards Lagrange. I was on picket last Saturday and on camp guard yesterday which was the first duty that I have done since we landed at Memphis (July 23d). I am not very well yet. I am sorry to hear that the frost has damaged your corn so much.
Our regiment has done considerable scouting lately. Tell M____ that I would have liked to have been there to have cuffed her ears when she refused to write a few lines to me.
You say that you got a letter from Eliza. I have a notion to go to Oregon or Washington Territory when I have served out my three years which will be about a year from now. If Eliza writes anything about the country that would give any light to a solitary wanderer in pursuit of earthly comfort and happiness, I wish you would write it to me.
I have fully made up my mind to cross the mountains a year from next spring if I should live long enough. You perhaps think that I am making calculations a great ways ahead. Well, perhaps I am but I have nothing else to do and besides, it is no new notion with me although I never before quite made up my mind that I would go. Perhaps you have heard of my calculations.
I receive frequently letters from sister Olive. She writes a good letter. Her letters compare well with yours in agreeableness of style and communicativeness of unstudied and sociable ideas. Perhaps you think that a sociable idea is a queer idea but the idea that I mean to advance is an idea advanced for the sake of sociability. For instance, she writes that she wishes that I would send here a negro wench to help do the washing and then went on to ask questions and make statements concerning the negro race, when in fact she did not want a negro lady about her, She did not know anything about them—perhaps never saw a half dozen in her life.
I have often thought you and the girls sometimes laugh over some of my awkward, improper sentences and poor spelling, but you should remember that I never studied grammar and some words that I could once spell, I have forgotten how to spell. Since I come into the service, I have many times felt the need of an education. But when I see men that cannot read (there are many in this country), if I cannot thank God that I am not as other men are, I am thankful for what little I do know.
Now about this war, there is no use of saying anything about it. Old Abe took the job of putting down the rebellion and I engaged to help him three years and to risk my life when called on during the three years. I thought the cause worthy of that risk and that every free man should do all in his power to put down this rebellion and with it that great and wicked institution slavery. But after all, if the old man does not get through with the job within about a year, I think that if I live, I shall return to civil life and let someone else take my place. I hope that I may yet have the privilege of eating victuals cooked by a white woman and never after this next twelve months to be obliged to eat victuals gamed up by a big, greasy, cornfield nigger.
I shall have to close as it is near night and I am going to take a ride with the officer of the day to visit the pickets. Goodbye for the present. Write soon. My respects to all of the family. Your cousin, — Israel Markham
Direct to Cairo. Co. L, 7th Illinois Cavalry
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Addressed to Miss Sarah Markham, Hendersonville, Knox county, Illinois
Postmarked Memphis, Tennessee
December 17th 1863
Miss Sarah Markham
I received your letter yesterday with pleasure. I was sick in the hospital which it still more agreeable to know that I yet had friends that had not forgotten me. I went to the hospital the 3rd of this month. My disease was chronic inflammation of the liver. The doctor said he thought for awhile that I would bid him farewell but I am getting better. I walked to camp today three or four hundred yards.
Our regiment had quite a fight at Moscow the 4th of this month. ¹
You speak of a mysterious letter. I say never answer any such letter.
Did Eliza say in what way Oregon was played out? It is strange that so great a country should play out so sudden. I would like to know what ails Oregon. Have you built a new house since I was there?
I have nothing new to write. The weather is very cold today and everything looks cold and gloomy out doors. There is but little stir in camp. It is really a dull time.
Answer this short letter and write as soon as you can. Give my respects to all of the family. No more at present. Your friend and cousin,
Israel Markham, Co. L, 7th Illinois Cavalry
By the way, we have moved to Lagrange since I last wrote to you.
¹ A reference to the fighting at Wolf River Bridge near Moscow, Tennessee. Lt. Col. George W. Trafton submitted the following account of the action: “In accordance with orders from Col. Hatch, I left LaGrange with the regiment about 10 a. m. of the 3d instant, following the Ninth Illinois Cavalry toward Moscow, where we arrived soon after 12 m. We halted about half an hour there, then started again on the road leading toward La Fayette. The Sixth Illinois Cavalry was in advance, the Ninth Illinois Cavalry next, and the Seventh in rear of the Ninth. We had proceeded but a short distance when I heard firing in the direction of the advance, which soon became quite heavy. The artillery also opened fire. The Sixth Illinois Cavalry and part of the Ninth had crossed Wolf River Bridge. I started forward to report to Col. Hatch for orders, but learned before I got to the advance that he had not come up yet. I immediately rode back to the regiment and ordered them to “prepare to fight on foot with all possible celerity.” As soon as they were dismounted, I ordered them forward on double-quick. When we got to the bridge it was so clogged with horses, ambulances, wagons, and artillery that it was almost impossible to get a man across it. Several of the horses had broken through the bridge and were fast, and the bridge was so torn up that it was impossible to clear it. I ordered my men across, and succeeded by jumping our horses, crawling under wagons and ambulances, &c., in getting about 50 men across. About 25 men swam across. Several were knocked off the bridge into the river in trying to cross. I found it impossible to get any more men across without their swimming, which so injured their ammunition as to nearly render it useless. At this time the artillery of the Sixth was in a critical position. It had very little support and was entirely exposed to the enemy, who were coming upon it with a charge. The artillery was stationed at the west end of the bridge, and my object in rushing my men over there was to save it. Consequently, when I saw the enemy coming upon it, I ordered my men to fire and charge, which they did with a hearty good will. I will venture to say there was never a braver charge made by a handful of men than was made by the few men I had with me against the overwhelming odds; the enemy could not stand it; they gave way, but soon rallied again and came pressing down on us from both flank and the front. Still my men stood by the artillery, resolved to die by it rather than see it captured. The artillery itself had all this time been dealing out grape and canister to them by mouthfuls. The artillerymen of the Sixth deserve great credit for the way they fought there. The contest over the battery lasted nearly an hour, and was sometimes almost hand to hand; in fact, some of our men were knocked over by the butts of the enemy’s guns. The bridge had during this time become cleared, and the artillerymen ran their pieces back across the river, and what men I had there followed them. All our regiment, except what got across the river, were deployed on the right. I immediately, after recrossing, ordered them to the left to try and secure the led horses of the Sixth, which were still across the river. They suc- ceeded in securing part of them; many of these were already killed or captured. About this time the Second Iowa Cavalry came up and engaged in the action. Col. Hatch had come up soon after the action commenced, but was severely wounded soon after his arrival. Our line was now formed on the east side of the river, and pressed down to the river. The enemy gave way and fell back. About this time Morgan’s brigade of infantry came up and crossed the bridge. I ordered our brigade of cavalry “to horse,” and the cavalry, with the howitzers, followed them. The infantry drew up in line about half a mile from the bridge, but our brigade passed on after the retreating rebels. About 3 miles from Moscow we found the enemy had taken the Mount Pleasant road. I ordered the Seventh Illinois Cavalry to reconnoiter that road for a mile or two, and then rejoined the column, which moved on toward Collierville, where we were instructed by Col. Hatch to go that night. The regiment had gone but a short distance when I heard sharp skirmishing in that direction, and ordered the Second Iowa to move to their support, which they did. But the Seventh Illinois routed and was pursuing what proved to be a strong rear guard of the enemy left on the road. I immediately ordered both regiments to their places in the column, and proceeded to Collierville, where we arrived about 10 o’clock at night. I would mention G Company, of the Seventh Illinois Cavalry, as displaying great courage and determination in the contest over the artillery at the bridge, where a few of them defended and held their position against an odd tenfold. Capt. Stiles, of said company, was severely wounded there, and 1 of his men killed and 6 wounded. Our casualties in the fight were 1 man killed and 10 wounded, including Capt. Stiles, above mentioned.” [OR, Ser. I, Vol. 31, pt. I, pp. 586- 587.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
May 10th 1864
It has been a long time since I have heard from you and I would like to hear from you soon as you can make it convenient. It is not necessary that you should altogether forget me. My health is now very good. Since I last wrote to you I have been to Wisconsin to see Sylvia. I found them all well. I intended to come back that way and stop and see you and also our relations in McDonough but the weather was cold and unpleasant and my health was not very good so I gave it up hoping that within a few months I should be able to make you a visit and stay a week. I think now that about next September I shall be free to roam.
Las December I came near my last in the hospital. The Dr. afterwards said he thought that I was going to bid him goodbye. I have done very little duty since. I have been able for duty for the last two months but while I was gone home, my horse was played out and I have not got another yet.
I have not heard from our cousins in the 2nd [Illinois Cavalry] for the last ten months. Our regiment has mostly reenlisted and gone home. There is near three hundred of the non-veterans here. We are camped near Memphis and are having a very comfortable time. All those that are mounted have a considerable scouting and picketing to do—occasionally a light skirmish.
I can’t think of anything to write that would be interesting. All is quiet and dull. We are all looking anxiously forward to the time when we expect to see friends and home. I am afraid that many of us are losing much of our patriotism in consequence of our hatred of camp life and our strong desire to be again with our friends. I expect that I shall be perfectly wild when I get home again. I will not know how to act or what to say. The rain is now pouring down, the air is so refreshing. How much the happiness of man depends on his health, the atmosphere, and surrounding circumstances. Can a man rule his own destiny or make any arrangements to insure his own happiness here in this world if a contented mind of any discernment that may not be made discontented by unavoidable circumstances. It is true that many borrow trouble. I have done it years ago but not lately. I enjoy life better now than I once did when I had nothing to make me unhappy.
It is true that I am sick and tired of camp life and long for a change for the better. Still I think that I am about as happy as the happiness of mankind will average. Now Sarah, you must write to me as soon as you get this. Be a good girl. Remember me to Mr. Comstock.
Give my love to the family. Hoping that you are all well and happy, I remain your friend and cousin. — I. Markham
Direct to Memphis, Tenn. Co, L, 7th Illinois Cavalry
I will send a photograph to you. It is poorly taken. The light shows in my face so that I scowled a little and one eye is squinted. You must not make fun of it.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
May 28th 1864
Dear Cousin Nettie,
I was agreeably surprised yesterday by receiving a letter from you. You do not know how reviving it is to me to receive letters from my friends. If you did, you would not allow any sop-head to detain you a moment from writing. You said you could have went with me to Sylvia’s. If you want to go and see her, you can go next fall when my time is out in the army which will be in September. She would be very glad to see you.
John told me when his time would be out but I have forgot. If he was not discharged, you might go up there or, well as not, before you settled down for life. It would be only one days journey.
What can I write interesting? This is a beautiful cool morning—all quiet—no excitement—not anything interesting except news from Grant is rather favorable now. I get so lonesome that I hardly know what to do with myself.
We have but little to do and a very good time generally and I would enjoy myself very well if I could be contented. A contented mind is a continual feast. You think that the women could crush the rebellion. I think they are generally very good at suppressing the rebellious disposition of their husbands but tears and smiles would have but little effect on these southern rebels—especially if administered by the wives and sisters of Yankee soldiers.
I would like to see a regiment of lady cavalry with extensive hoops armed with sabre and carbine mounted on dashing steeds, on dress parade but I would not like to see them (if northern girls) charge on a rebel host for fear some of them would fall into the arms of the rebels. How provoking that would be to us. It would create more excitement than the nigger question. Women do not appear to be in their element here in the army. A man in our regiment tore down his wife’s tent yesterday, sent her off, and went to the barber shop and tried to borrow a razor to cut his throat off—cause: jealousy.
I went out yesterday two miles to arrest one of our soldiers. He had married a poor girl and was living off from his father-in-law—a poor, feeble old man. He would not do anything for himself or anyone else. I found the family in a wretched condition in a miserable tent. The soldier’s wife had the measles bad. They ha been married about four weeks. He had left that morning telling his wife that he was never coming back. Women almost invariably get into trouble when they get into the army.
We expect the regiment back here in a few days. Our time will be out the 20th of September and then I expect to go around and visit some of my friends if I have my health. How I shall spend the time between now and then is uncertain. Everything is uncertain in war. We have but little say what tomorrow will bring forth.
How does Elizabeth and Johnson get along and where are they living?
What is Charles doing? How is Uncle Horace’s health? Why don’t Maria write? I will have war with her when I see her. And Mary, what has she to say for herself? She might say as much as good morning or howdy or something to let a fellow [know] she has not forgotten him. If I can come up there, I will have a day of reckoning with all of them. Give my respects to Uncle Horace and all of the rest. Ever your friend and cousin, — I. Markham, Co, L, 7th Ills. Cavalry, Memphis, Tenn., Non-Veteran Company
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
June 14th 1864
I received your letter of the 5th yesterday and was glad that you was more prompt than usual and hope you will continue so. Don’t do a generous [ ] and then say you done wrong.
My health is very good. We are in the same camp that we was when I last wrote to you. Our veterans have returned [from veteran’s furlough].
Last Friday [10 June] I went to see three soldiers shot. There was between ten and fifteen thousand soldiers and many citizens present. The day was very hot. Many was sun struck and all suffered more or less with heat. The ceremonies was sublime and impressive. I will not attempt a description. It would not be interesting or agreeable. ¹
We have suffered a very heavy loss here in comparison to the number of men engaged. The Battle [of Brice’s Cross Roads] took place near Guntown beyond Ripley last Friday. We had about ten thousand men on the expedition. We lost about five thousand men, sixteen pieces of artillery, two hundred wagons, and several ambulances. There was about a hundred of our non-veterans out. Two or three were killed and several wounded. There was only four of Co. L out and one was wounded and one missing. There was two colored regiments out. All admit that they fought well. The most of them were killed or captured. A few of them covered the rear of our retreating column.
The report is just now being circulated that Old Forrest is coming into Memphis. If he should come and take us all around via Richmond, it would be a sorry joke–a hungry one too. I guess he will not try Memphis this time although he has a large force. Part of the 10th and 17th Army Corps have landed here from Red River. There is now quite a large force around Memphis.
Gen. [Samuel D.] Sturgis was in command and the boys say that he marched his men up to the rebels a regiment at a time and the rebels whipped them in detail.
I can think of no more at present to write. So goodbye for this time. Give my respects to all.
Your cousin, — I. Markham, Co. L, 7th Illinois Cavalry, Memphis, Tenn.
¹ June 10, 1864. Three soldiers of the 2nd New Jersey Cavalry had been convicted of the rape of a mother and daughter who had been under their protection while at a picket post. After their court martial they were ordered by Maj. Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburn, commander of the District of Memphis, to be executed the following day by a firing squad from their own regiment. The entire garrison of Memphis was called out to witness the executions adjacent to Fort Pickering.