This letter was written by Private Herbert Maynard Anthony (1838-1864) of Co. G, 39th Illinois from Camp Mather in Chicago, Illinois. Herbert was the son of David Anthony (1809-1898) and Cynthia Maynard (1806-1859) of Bedford, Calhoun County, Michigan. His brother, Byron D. Anthony (1840-18xx), who later joined Co. H, 17th Michigan, is mentioned several times in this letter. Despite the impression that he was going to receive a commission as an officer, Herbert never rose above the rank of private.
The 39th Illinois was organized and mustered into service on 11 October 1861 at Camp Mather — a temporary encampment on Indiana avenue near 26th Street on the south side of Chicago. Pvt. Anthony re-enlisted in his regiment on 25 January 1864 and was killed on 16 May 1864 in the Battle of Drury’s Bluff, Virginia. The following summarizes that engagement:
“In January 1864, the regiment was made into “veteran volunteers” due to soldiers enlisting for three more years of fighting after their enlistment ran out. This allowed them to go home, where they recruited and re-supplied and came back to the army to be involved in the great campaign to take Richmond by the Army of the James in May, 1864. The 39th would be once again in Virginia under General Benjamin Butler.
The 39th got off transports in Virginia a large regiment under Colonel Thomas Osborn. The regiment numbered approximately 500-600 men, with a third of those men being fairly new recruits. Osborne’s men were in Colonel J.B. Howell’s Brigade consisting of the 39th, 62nd Ohio, 67th Ohio, and 85th Pennsylvania of Terry’s 1st Division, 10th Corps.
In their first big fight at Drewry’s Bluff on May 16, they came up late from guarding wagons and were sent to the far Union left flank. They threw up some earthworks and attempted to refuse their left flank which was, in fact, the end of the Army of the James. That morning of May 16, the Confederates hit the front of the 39th’s position and were repulsed. The 15th Virginia Infantry and portions of Corse’s veteran brigade of Pickett’s Division moved upon the 39th’s left flank and slammed into their flank, causing a close range combat that resulted in the capture of the Sgt. Major Reese Bishop and the death of Adj. Joseph Walker of the regiment, as well as approximately 200 casualties.
The regiment was the last to leave the field that day.”
Camp Mather [Chicago, Illinois]
September 6th 1861
This pleasant Sunday afternoon finds me seated in my tent with a fiddle box in my lap for a table & with all of the boys making all of the noise in their power trying to write to you after so long a silence. I plead guilty to the crime of negligence in writing but in extenuation I must urge the fact that the accommodations for writing here are so poor that I dislike to write a letter & as Byron was here only a few days since he will probably give you all of the news that I could think of & perhaps much more.
You will see by the post mark of this that we are still in Chicago and I do not know but we shall stay here this winter. There is talk almost every day of our going tomorrow but we do not get started as yet & it is impossible for me to tell when we shall go.
As to our uniforms, we have not received it yet but plenty of talk of it since Byron left here. We have received some things — among them our overcoats, drawers, belts, knapsacks, haversacks, cartridge boxes, cap boxes, more shirts, stockings, &c. &c.
We have been out on inspection drill today as we have to do every Sunday. We were all required to have accoutrements on so as to be dressed as much in uniform as possibe. We are all drawn up by companies when the Colonel with the field officers inspects each man & if he does not look about so he must give an account of himself — & by the way, we all of us generally look just about so.
I was out to see Amos one week ago today. Was there from Saturday night until Tuesday morning. Had a good visit [and] found Amos busy as a nailer making molasses. Seems to be doing well at it. He makes some as good as any I ever saw. He gave me two gallons to bring into camp with me & I can tell you it relished well with us all. It is the first time I had been out since I came here.
Tell Byron we have shipped our little greasy Doctor & are divided into messes of about fifteen so I have to take my time at cooking. We like it much better than as it was before. We can cook the victuals to suit ourselves which was more than we had before.
Monday noon. I did not have time to finish this last night so I will improve the time between drills to finish it. There is talk now of our being a regiment of skirmishers and so we had to drill for that today and as there was no lieutenant on the ground, they appointed your humble servant to fill his place. I have not received my commission yet but probably will fore soon.
Tell Byron that I received a letter from him a few days since & will try & answer it before long but I thought you had been waiting the longest & I must answer it first. Henry Brown was here to see me a few days since — the first person I have seen from there since I have been in Illinois.
Write soon & direct as before to your son, — Herbert
Well I must allow that this looks hard but such as it is. You can have it for what it is worth.