1861: George Washington Cox Shinn to Elizabeth (Cox) Shinn

How Pvt. George W. Shinn might have looked
How Pvt. George Washington Shinn might have looked

These two letters were written by Pvt. George Washington Cox Shinn (1841-1862) of Co. H, 17th Illinois. George was the son of John White Shinn (1806-1868) and Elizabeth Reeves Cox (1813-1891) of Canton, Illinois. George’s father kept a drug store on the west side of the town square which was where George clerked at the time he enlisted. George’s younger brother, William Budd Shinn (1844-1916) served in the 132nd and 148th Illinois Infantry. A portion of the first letter is addressed to George’s younger sister, Lucy Catherine Shinn (1842-1898).

George was wounded in the Battle of Fort Donelson in mid-February. His injury is referenced in the book, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier [Letters and Diaries of Charles Wright Wills] on page 74 — “The last [liquor] I touched was with poor George Shinn just before the 17th [Illinois] left the cape [Cape Girardeau]. We drank to ‘our next shake hands, may it be at the end of the war, at home, and before three months.’ George was a No. 1 soldier. We boys all think everything of him. Tell him we all sympathize with him and wish him a speedy recover, and that his services may not be needed anymore.” [Letter from Point Pleasant, March 24, 1862]. Unfortunately George did not recover from his wounds; he died on 4 April 1862.

1861 Letter
Letter No. 1

Addressed to Mrs. John W. Shinn, Canton, Illinois

Camp Ross [near Alton, Illinois]
June 19th 1861

Dear Mother,

We have arrived safe at Alton. We got in about 10 o’clock yesterday morning and went immediately into camp about 2 or 3 miles from the levee. We have received our tents and have put them up. I am writing in ours. They are very good ones. Camp looks splendid — dotted all over with the white tents. There is about 3500 men in camp here — three regiments and part of another one. One regiment from Joliet ¹ — Col. [Charles Carroll] Marsh‘s; one from Freeport ² — Col. [Thomas Johnston] Turner‘s; and part of Col. [Frederick] Hecker‘s German Regiment ³ from Chicago. They expect the rest of his regiment from Dixon here yet and that will make 5,000 men with which to form the brigade, Captain [John] Pope and a man by the name of Hulbert [Stephen Augustus Hurlbut] has been appointed Brigadier Generals for Illinois. They are to take charge of the brigades formed in this state.

General [George B.] McClellan is to be here in a day or two and will assign our brigade to the charge of one of them. I hope it will be Capt. Pope as he is the best man. I guess he is the one that swore us in to the United States service. Col. [Leonard Fulton] Ross has just got back from Springfield. He went on business for the regiment. What he done, I have not found out. No more than that the Paymaster is to be here and we will get our pay on Friday.

We enjoy our new quarters first rate. Living in tents is more pleasant than in cattle stalls though the situation is not near so pleasant as it was in Camp Mather. We are soldiers now and have to live like soldiers live.

We do not see anybody we know here. I did see one man I knew — Doctor McChesney lives in Alton. He has been up to camp to see us. He is well acquainted with [Capt.] Trites.

We had a fine time coming down the river. Every town we passed and every house they were waving handkerchiefs & hats & cheering us on our way. I am sorry that we could not stop longer in Liverpool. I did not have time to see anybody or to bid half the folks goodbye. But such is the fortune of war and we must submit.

I received the cake & pickles and am much obliged to you for not forgetting I liked pickles. They are all gone long ago. We will get no more such things now we are so far from home. The Canton boys — those that belong to our mess — will not forget very soon the kindness of the Peoria folks. They sent us pies, cakes, strawberries, plum pudding, radishes &c for which we were very thankful. A saw Mr. Austin the morning before we left. He wanted to know the reason why I did not come down to see them and that if he had known I had been there sooner, he would have hunted me up, He did not find it out until the night before we left. The day we left there must have been 10,000 people on the levee to see us off. We did not like to leave there much where they had treated us so kindly.

Ours is much the finest regiment on the ground in camp here. I think our Colonel [Ross] the best looking. This is all now. I will write to Eliza & Budd in a day or two. I will write a few lines to Lucy on the next page. I suppose you will find that out. I must send two or three letters in one envelope to save postage. Goodbye. Your son, — G. W. Shinn

Camp Ross
June 20th 1861

Dear Sister Lucy,

I will answer your letter here and you must consider it just as good as though it was by itself. I have not got much to say as I have written mother nearly all the news. I want you to tell all the boys & girls that I did not see that I am sorry I had not time to stop longer at Liverpool for I would like to have seen them all. Bid them all goodbye for me. If anybody had told me two months ago that I would have been here in camp writing this letter home, I should have called them very foolish. But such is the change that time makes in hearts & homes & the fortune of war has separated us for a short time to be brought together. I hope in a happy reunion.

Goodbye. Tell Budd I am sorry I did see him before I left Peoria & bid him goodbye. Give my respects to sister Mary, Lucy Higbee, Helen, Miss Anderson & Miss Curries. Bid them goodbye. Love to all. Goodbye. Direct your letters to Company H, 17th Reg. Ills. Vol., Camp Ross near Alton, Ills. and I will get it.

Your brother, — G. W. Shinn

¹ Col. Marsh was given command of the 20th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

² Col. Turner was given command of the 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

³ Col. Hecker was given command of the 24th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Letter No. 2
Letter No. 2

Addressed to Miss Eliza Shinn, Canton, Fulton Co., Illinois

Camp Ross [Alton, Illinois]
June 23d 1861

Dear Sister Eliza,

I have at last found time to answer your letter. We are well — that is, all the Canton boys. Since we have got our tents, we have had to change our mess for each tent has to have eight in it. We have in our mess William [C.] Stockdale, William [H.] Trites, Jess Beeson, Brooks, [John] William Resor, [Christian] Dan Bliss of Lewiston, and a young fellow by the name of [Arthur D.] Parker who came with William Resor from Keewanee, and myself. Chauncey Black has gone into the Sergeant’s mess which is next to ours. Parker is in the hospital. He has got the measles and was pretty sick yesterday though he is better this morning. I guess he will [get] along first rate. I hope he will get well soon for he is as clever a boy as I ever got acquainted with.

Our camp ground here is not near so nice as it was at Camp Mather. We have no place to drill without going a mile or so from camp. Our parade ground is very poor. We have to climb several steep hills to get to it and then it is all covered with stumps. We are going to leave here in the morning for a new camp ground. Where it is, I do not exactly know. I have heard the boys say it is about six miles from Alton near the mouth of the Missouri River. What kind of a place it is I do not know, but I guess we will be very apt to find out before we are there a great while.

Alton is a great place. It is all full of hills and hollows though there is some nice buildings here. The country around it is rather good — everything is very forward. Harvest is commenced here. Vegetables are very plenty. Lots of new potatoes, peas, and other things of that kind. Our camp is full of peddlers nearly all the time. Women & children, boys & girls, Black & White, selling milk, pies, & vegetables. But as we have got no money, we do not get such things very often.

I guess I will have to stop and I want to tell Budd some of the news and this is all the paper I have. Give my best respects to Helen, Miss Anderson, & Miss Curries, and everybody else, sister Mary, Lucy Higbee, & all the other folks. Love to all, Jimmie & Charley & all the rest. Write soon. I wish you would send me some postage stamps. Good bye.

Your brother, G. W. Shinn
Private in Company H, 17th Reg. Ills. Vol., U. S. A.

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