26 items, including: Maj. Silas Grimes, 31st Indiana Infantry (7 letters), and Pvt. Joseph S. Taylor, 22nd Indiana Infantry (5 letters).
Harrodsburg was a typical small town in Indiana during the Civil War, sending many of its sons into service in the 31st Indiana Infantry, while at the same time spawning numerous southern sympathizers. The Taylor Family Papers includes over two dozen letters and documents relating to Harrodsburg’s Robert Taylor (presumably no relation to the languid actor), almost half of which are letters from his son and son-in-law in the army.
Silas Grimes, Taylor’s son-in-law, served with the 31st Indiana, a regiment that saw hard service in Kentucky and Tennessee. Grimes’ letters are most distinguished by the dialogue he carries on from the front lines with his father-in-law and, by extension, with the people back home in Harrodsburg, regarding his motives for serving in the military. Slavery was an issue for Grimes, but clearly not a motive for serving, but neither did he have any truck for the Copperheadism endemic to Indiana. When writing that he would come home in spring, for example, he noted that he did not mean to imply he would do so dishonorably or “on account of the Proclamation,” but only that he would make every effort to come home unless, as he put it, “the folks don’t turn to[o] much Secesh at home. I don’t want to fight Rebels abroad for two years,” he added, “and then go home and find Rebel sympathizers right among my own relatives… Don’t let the Negro corrupt your patriotism. What if evry Slave in the United States be freed and the Government saved, I would think it all right myself. The first thing to be done is to save our Country and then we can se what is to be done with the Negro. It becomes necessary now that the Slaves should be taken from disloyal Slaveholders. Slavery has been the main stats for the Confederacy while they have turned out evry effective white to fight us they have had the Negro to raise their subsistence… if it had not been for Slavery we would have had no war. The war was waged by Southern aristocrats upon the laboring class of the North simply because they thought they were to good to live under the same administration that the laboring people of the free States lived under…”
A week later, Grimes continued: “I am in for no compromise, nothing but an unconditional surrender on the part of the Confederacy would suit… I don’t expect to change the minds of men at home neither did I wish for that purpose. Traitors are Traitors…,” and in November, his father picked up the theme, but with an even harder edge. “I don’t indorse the acts of Abraham the first,” he wrote. “I am opposed to secestion and all so abolitionism. They are both violaters of the constitution of our country. I don’t believ that ther ever wold hav bin any seceshionist had it not hav bin for the abolitionist party. I believe the made the rebbles…”
The members of the 31st did more, however, than concern themselves with motives, they were a fighting outfit that took part in a number of major battles, including Shiloh, Murfreesboro, and Chickamauga. As the 31st fought below Nashville during the hard month of July 1863 — the precursor to Chickamauga — Grimes wrote: “for two months we were skirmishing and fighting regularly. Since that time we have driven the enemy on an average of two miles a day having marched 120 miles from our starting point two months of that time our Regt was never out of range of the enemys bullets, balls continually whistling over us day and night had no assurance at night… many a poor fellow was killed while sleeping. Our regt has lost 25 killed and 1000 wounded…”
Near Atlanta, on Aug. 10, 1864, Grimes wrote an excellent account of life in the Atlanta Campaign. “We are still fighting a little every day, have not possession of Atlanta the place we started out to take but it must soon fall. We are so close to the city that we can se the whole thin. It is a large place looks to be about as large as Indianapolis… ladies occasionally come out from the city for protection. They say our cannons are tearing everything to pieces killing women and children but we cant help that. They must leave the place if they want the Artillery firing stopped. We have great reason to be thankfull for our success generally this summer, yet our success in this department has been run by some very hard fighting. We have been under fire from musketry and Artillery since the 5th day of May. Whilst writing this letter balls frequently whistle over my tent by so they don’t hit me it is all right…”
Grimes’ brother in law, Joseph Taylor’s letters from the 22nd Indiana, contain less bloodshed, but provide insight into the vicious partisan struggle in the border states and deep south, more generally. In a lighthearted vein from Otterville, Mo., he joked with his father about soldiers camping near their home: “I guess you have learned something about soldiers. You complained about loosing your chickens. That is nothing new to us. Don’t think hard of them for that for I will get as ma[n]y back here in Missouri…”
Pursuing Confederate forces from Missouri into Tennessee, on May 26, 1862, Taylor wrote: “Tha are a fighting a little every day but haven’t braught on an genral ingagement yet. We will be marched out to the line to day or tomorrow. I expect thare will be Bloody times before this fight is over…” The land, he later added, was devastated. From Corinth, Miss., in June, he described the desolation: “you can see a grate many houses here that you can see no body but a few blacks. Som times you see white wimon and children but no men an ast them whare their men are som will tel you that their men has volunteered in the rebel armey an som will say that their men was prest in the rebel armey.” Taylor died that autumn at the Battle of Perryville.