Robert Christie of Blue Grass (Fulton Co.), Ind., and John Harvey Grable of Metea (Cass Co.), both served in Co. E, 29th Indiana Infantry, during the Civil War, seeing duty in Kentucky and Tennessee. Typical western soldiers, they were neither the most literate nor the least among their peers, writing home to describe their daily lives in the service, their hardships and hopes.
Perhaps what stands out most in the Grable and Christie letters is the degree of community felt between the soldiers in the field and their families in Indiana, and the rigors of service at such a distance from hearth and home often come through. From early in their duty, the 29th discovered both the intensity of resistance and the miserable happenstances of war. While still in camp in Indiana, Christie wrote home about a brutal, but not atypical incident in such a divided state. Last night, he wrote, a Captin and five men brought in a seches [secesh] from Plymouth, the one that stab a solder some six weeks ago. He was tried by civil law and discharged so the Colonel ordered him to be brought into camp. He swares that he will die before he will take the oath so I suppose we will have the job of hanging him… (Oct. 11, 1861). Their own men, it seems, later proved to be as dangerous. Christie witnessed an incident of the most intimate friendly fire. The man that was shot, he wrote, belonged to the 30th Reg. and was on picket when he was ordered to another place. He had to cross of the beat of another the night was dark and he did not see the guard nor him speak when the guard shot. he lived about half an hour. The one that shot him was a personal friend belonged to the same company…
For the 29th Indiana, however, disease was as great a foe as minie balls. Caught in a smallpox epidemic, Christie found himself quarantined in an effort to contain the outbreak. As for the smallpox there is a great deal of dispute among the doctors some say one thing, some another. As soon as it was found out ‘Crain’ was removed to himself about fifty yards from or to one side of the Regt. and the other five of us about the same disdance from ‘Crain.’ We waited on him day about for five days then a man who has had the pox took our place in waiting on him. The same man brought us what we wanted, our provisions part of the time from the ‘Co.’ part of the time from the ‘Hospital.’ We fared a great deal better than what we did when in the ‘Co.’ as for being guarded, there was no guard around the tent. We could go where we pleased around the camp. The ‘Surgeon’ told us we had better not go in the ‘Regt.’ as they were badly scared. We stayed there a week then the ‘Surgeon’ ordered us back to camp… Ironically, Christie fell ill with a bad cold and cough for three weeks but, as he wrote, I commenced getting better from the time I stoped taking the ‘Doctors’ drugs.
Grable found conditions little better, and duty no less arduous: on duty every day ferreting one day and picket the next. We never had as much dutey to do in our lives before we hafter just bea on the trate all the time and I think we have a very sickly place to camp. We git out water out of a well the same well that we got water out of last fall when we were camped heare after chickamaga battle. The colenel sayes that we will get to stay heare all sumer but I don’t want to for I now that it will bea the sickelyist place ever… (April 3, 1864)