Surnames/tags: Rank Merkel US Civil War
Letters primarily to Heinrich Rank from his brother Jacob Rank and his friend Christian Merkel. Iowa 35th Infantry, Company C (see http://iagenweb.org/civilwar/books/logan/mil704.htm for a summary of the 35th Infantry).
Heinrich Rank lived in the Wilton area of Muscatine County, where both Jacob rank and Heinrich Merkel enlisted.
Letters in possession of ? and transcribed by ?. The letters were probably in German as there are notes about translation in the text.
Columbus 11 January 1863
I received your letter dated January 4 and also the one before and learned that all are still well and that the package arrived , which made me glad. I received the newspaper and was happy to read it. We arrived in Columbus on the 28th but don't know how long we'll be here. It seems as if we might at least stay for the winter. I don't especially want to go on, for it is nice and healthful here, and also because this war is nothing but hunger and wickedness. Everything just revolves around money. Human lives are worth no more than a stone ........... General Davis of whom the paper writes that he threw many cannons and ammunition into the Mississippi is commander here, but we hear that he is before a court martial . This happened at ? #10, which is about 30 miles from here. Here, too, he played a dirty trick and if General Turfal(?) who commanded in ? before, hadn't come there, Davis would have taken the whole corps stationed in town Into the ramparts, which would have given the rebels a nice chance to steal the property. Columbus (it is consistently spelled Columpus) is located on the Mississippi and right next to== it is the fort. At the end of town, the terrain rises and leads up to a hill, about 200' high. The top of the hill is armed well with cannon and fortifications. The fort is very large and can't be taken from the Mississippi, because it goes straight down into the river. We were first stationed in town, but we now have better tents than before. Yesterday we marched from town into the fort, I can't quite estimate the number of troops, but in my opinion there are 7-8000 men here, and the 1st cavalry regiment. [Cannot decipher the rest]
Cairo February 27 1863
Dear Friend. Heinrich!
Your letter with the 5 dollars for me and a little something for your Jacob arrived safely. Thank you so very much for taking care of this so quickly, for we both have been waiting for this and at this time we see no chance of getting paid by the paymaster. Tomorrow, Saturday they'll supposedly make out the roll again, so maybe they'll do something after all. I don't have anything new to report, except that the 2 rivers, the Ohio and the Mississippi have risen incredibly, and the area behind our barracks looks like a small lake. We don’t hear much about Vicksburg, work on the canal goes on apace and it won’t be too long before a second try will be made to take this murderous enemy hangout. With God’s help, we hope that all will turn out to the best and in victory. It is quite possible that our regiment will be involved in this expedition, for I have heard that our colonel is trying to join the big army. Your Jacob is healthy and sends greetings to all. He would like to hear from Germany . Should you get a letter from there, let us hear about it. Many greetings to you and also your parents and all good acquaintances. Your friend,
They are building a cannonboat here in Cairo which is just about finished and the biggest one ever seen here in Cairo. It has 19 big cannons, one of which is a 180 pounder, and we hope that we'll soon hear about the great miracles it is doing. It's name is Lafayette. The wood is 3-4 feet thick and it is armoured with 2 1/2” peices of iron. Between that and the wood there's hidden gum elastique. It is 290 feet long.
Near Vicksburg, 16 Mar 1863
Dear Friend Heinrich:
I just have to write a few lines to you, for it’s been such a long time since I heard from you. I don't know why, but maybe this is the last time you'll get to see my handwriting if the hand of the Almighty will not protect me. You might have heard from your brother Jacob that we left.... Fort where we had been stationed for a while. We had a rough trip, got only half rations and sometimes not even that and marched from morning to night, and had to sleep in the open field without tents. We arrived at Richmond, Louis(??) and went on from there to the Mississippi River about 40 miles below Vicksburg. There a steamboat took us across to the other side to Grand Gulf which had been taken by our troops a few days before. From there we went to Jackson, Miss., which is located about 63 miles away from the river and is the state capitol of Mississippi. The negroes had told us ahead of time that it would be rough going to get there, for it is the last place where they can still get provisions, and also the place where the railroads merge. It was good for us that we weren't the first ones there. 30-40,000 men arrived before us, and we were half starved and could not have done much if we had met the enemy. On the 3rd day we heard cannon fire and our first troops, the Osterhaus and Steels Divisions had 3 hard battles with the rebels before we got to Jackson and formed the line of battle. We soon found out that we were, first in line this time, the other divisions had taken other routes because they were planning to do surprise attacks at various places. But, the enemy retreated and we spent the night in the woods. On the 14th we broke camp early in the morning. It started to thunder and rain and we had to take a bath in mud and water, sometimes up to the armpits because all the bridges were torn down. Then the thunder of cannons, you thought it was the end of the world - and all the while marching as fast as possible. You can imagine how we felt. When we reached the enemy lines we arranged in battle formation and the shell and cannon balls flew by our heads. One man from our regiment was killed and one wounded. They had to take off his leg. After a few hours of battle the rebels left and fled, abandoning there cannons and everything they couldn't carry or destroy. We marched into town with hurrahs and we had conquered all. We stayed a few days and ruined all the railroads. Then we set fire to the beautiful city so that very little of it remained. After that we went on to Vicksburg, where a great many more lives were lost, for there was massive resistance at the Black River. But our people pressed on toward Vicksburg which we had encircled so that no rebel could get through. We are stationed about 200 yards away from the fort, and the cannonballs just clear our heads since we are in a valley. Our people charged the fort twice, but couldn't take it as the ditches around it are too deep and too wide. We lost a lot of men already, and hear that the rebels did too, for our cannonballs fire at them all the time. I don't think that they'll be able to hang on for long. They'll either have to surrender or come out and face the music. Have to quit for now, and I hope that you will write to me soon. Once again I want to beg of you ; in case it is God's will that I shall lose my life please take care of my affairs as best you can. Give half of my belongings to my parents and the other half to my Heinrich. I know that you will take care of this as well as possible. I wrote a letter to Germany 2 weeks ago and told them the same thing. But I hope dear Heinrich that we will meet again in this life, and we'll celebrate with a fun day. With many regards to you and to your parents and the Lang family. Your friend,
Camp near Vicksburg 20 June 1863
Esteemed Parents and Brother,
I hope that these lines will find you healthy and well. As far as I'm concerned, I was well again when I got here, but a week later the fever came back and really laid me low. But it is better now. It wouldn't have gone away as quickly if I had been taking things the doctor had given me. I used my own medicine which I've carried in my backpack for a long time, and it finally came in handy. It helped Johan Schufer too. We just got paid for 2 months, got 26 thaler, 25 of which I am sending you. In times like these, I don't want to carry much on me. Most of the men in our company gave it to our captain, who sent it via express to Muscatine, to Mr John G. Gordohl/Garden/ where you have to pick it up. I had to pay 25 cents for the 25 thaler, so you don't have to pay. The weather is hot, and everybody's health is not of the best. There are bloody engagements every day....(unable to read two lines). Someone by the name of Grust from Muscatine was shot through the head by a musket. He is of our company and arrived here with me. He died 2 days later. This week another of the Wilton Company was shot, W.O. Phipps and he is badly wounded. Many in our regiment have died, or were wounded. At first we were within rifle range of the rebels. Now we are about 1/2 mile back, but still the bullets whistle above us....(end of page, obviously the end of the letter is missing.)
(this was written by Jacob Rank)
Camp near Bear Creek Aug. 1863
I find occasion to write to you again, since this morning we were paid for 2 months and since I mentioned in my last letter a few days ago that I was going to send you some money. Please go to Muscatine to John C. Gordon and receive 40 dollars (forty dollars). Postage has been pre-paid, and I hope that you’ll be able to handle all of this so that it doesn't get lost. I still had my pay from last payday on me. That's why it is so much more than usual. I don't know much to tell you about your Jacob, except that he is in the best health again, which I heard from others which came out of the hospital, and he will be back with us in a few days. I have tried to get leave to go to Vicksburg to see him, but it was denied because we still have so much work to do here. Have to clean up the encampment site where we will stay for a few months of rest and recuperation from the terrible ordeals we had after we left Cairo.
Dear Henrich, you'd be surprised if you saw our regiment now. You wouldn't even recognize us with the hairy faces with the skin tanned almost black. And then the skinny, emaciated bodies would stun you again. But let's thank God for our dear lives, which He has protected up to now, and let's hope that He will protect the whole regiment further. Our Company is still the largest, and we have barely 50-60 men who are fit for duty. We have regiments in our Division which have 200-300 men. Just now things are going pretty well for us. After we are settled in there will not be too much work. There's enough to eat and pretty good water and we can be in the shade all of the time, because we camped in a beech wood, with 11 men to a tent.
Dear friend, I wish that you will write to me as soon as you get this letter. Or, if you can't or don't have time, have someone else write so that I'll know where I stand. Please send me something: postage stamps, about 50 or 60 cents worth, for I have already had to borrow some. Many regards to you and to your father and mother. I hope you are all well and healthy, and that I will see you again soon. This is the wish of your friend.
Just as I finished this letter, your Jacob came. He looks pretty good and says that he feels better too, just a little weak still in the leg. I asked him about his money, if he wanted to send some home, but he said he didn't know if he was going to send anything this time or not.
Memphis, Tenn. 25 Nov 1863
Dear friend Heinrich!
I received both your letters dated 3 Oct. and 6 Nov. respectively. I note that you are well and I'm happy about that. I am physically well and - as you hope, (this is an exact, translation, seems to be something "between friends"). You write that you loaned out $100 of my money and want to know my feeling about that. I don't know what to say about that, but want to remind you that you promised to look after my affairs as well as possible and for that reason I don't think that you need to ask me. I'm sure that you know the man, and so I don't care who has the money. That's the reason I would have gone on furlough- I would have bought United States Bonds with the money which would have brought in a little interest and then nobody would have any bother - but it isn't possible right now to get leave and I'll have to be content with things as they are. Time goes on and I hope the hour of our relief (salvation) is near. Within 8 months we'll be singing another song and he who can sing along will be lucky. I can't get over it, and have to repeat your saying "God's will be done..." be it as further punishment or as a benefit for the people. I hope that God's will is to have this war end soon.
About 10 days ago our regiment left for Padacah Kentucky. Your brother Jacob was quite well when they left, but I have not heard anything of them since. Greetings to you and your parents, and please write to
Your friend Christian Merkel Overton Hospital Ward F Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis, Tenn., 29 Jan. 1864
A few lines written in haste just to let you know that we are aboard a steamboat to go down the river, don't know yet where. Many say we’ll be going to Mobile, and then there are rumors about going to Texas. Whichever, it’ll be the longest boat ride yet and many will not come back. We got paid this morning and I gave $40.00 which will be sent to Mr. Gordon in Muscatine where you can pick it up. Your brother Jacob sent something too, but I don’t know how much, then we took a package to the express (mail) which includes a top-coat of mine with red lining which I am asking you to please receive for me.
Please excuse the short and poorly written note, but we have not much time to spare. The railroad which we were guarding was abandoned, (it was) from Corinth to Lagrange. All Unionists were brought to Memphis or another place held by our soldiers so as not to fall victim to the guerrillas. I’ve not had a letter from you for a long time and I don't why, but please answer this one, and let me know if you got everything? I hope that these affairs which I have handed over to you are not too much trouble, and that you will deal with everything well if I should not come back. In that case maybe you should contact the consul (Which you can do by letter). As I told you, half goes to my parents and half to Heinrich. But I hope that I will come back and can deal with this myself. God has protected me for so long, I hope and pray that He will do so in the future. I'll write as soon as I get a chance again. I wish all those I know all the best.
Black River Camp, Rear of Vicksburg 7 Feb., 1864
Dear Friend Heinrich!
Since I promised to write to you again I am doing so. today, since I have time and opportunity for it. Of course Things are not the way you would like them to be and the way they were at home, where you could sit in a chair at a table and put your thoughts to paper - but (one is) a soldier now, in the field, a piece of wood, across the knees and sitting on a block of wood. All this in the midst of thousands. Some of them trying to cope with jokes and frivolity, others with deep thoughts and quiet observation. Some long for home and family, others feel lucky to be soldiers and to be able to perform youthful frolics and revels which can be done nowhere as well as in the service of Uncle Sam, Of course you can't blame them for that, for there are many times where there's nothing to do and you have to do something to pass the time.
Our trip on the Mississippi from Memphis to Vicksburg was not so good. We were often drenched with rain, for the boat was overloaded and it was not possible for all to find cover. When we arrived at Vicksburg we found out that the expedition which we were supposed to join had already left, taking along some men not originally meant to go. We marched from Vicksburg to the Black River, Were we are still stationed and expect to be for a while. This place here has to be well manned to keep the rebels away from Vicksburg, also the railroad bridge is going to be rebuilt so that one can get to Jackson from Vicksburg via the railroad. We are not able to find out how far our troops have advanced, but we do know that the rebels are retreating and that our people took Jackson 4 days ago. It had been heavily defended by the rebels. And we hear that the rebels have lost heart and that many of them are waiting for a chance to desert. All that are coming over are welcomed with open arms and I think that Jeff. Davis glory will soon be over.
I expect that you got my last letter in which I wrote that I sent $40.00 which can be picked up by Mr. Gordon in Muscatine. Please let me know soon. Your Jacob sent $40.00 also. My best regards to you and your parents. I hope that these lines will find you in good health. May the dear Lord help that this bloody war will soon end. This hopes your friend,
[This is a partial letter that was written by Jacob Rank to his father George Heinrich (aka Heinrich) and his brother Johan Heinrich (also aka Heinrich) as can be determined by the closure. This letter would have been written after April 9, 1864.]
Only one of our divisions participated and had the honor of displaying it's prowess ; the other stayed behind to protect the boats. On April 9, our division advanced, led by Maurer and Schmidt, and we entered into battle between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. The battle had begun already in the morning, but—?— troops were beaten back time and again. In the afternoon between 3 and 4 , our people came out of the woods and the rebels stormed against them and us. It was on a nice hill surrounded by a plain that this battle took place. When our artillery fought bravely and drove the 19th armycorps back.... and so it turned on us. We laid on ground because we had been commanded to do so and had to load, aim, and shoot from that position. But then came our old, brave Maurer, swung his saber and commanded our division to storm against the enemy. You should have seen this. In the thick of battle and among a shower of bullets, our gang yelled Hurrah and drove into them. When we came up to them, they ran as fast as they could and we followed them into the woods where they regrouped. There was an awful battle, their columns kept coming but we fought back and showered with bullets. We kept our ground, but at 3 a.m., we ware ordered back (against the will of the generals) but—?— insisted. The rebels retreated in a disorderly fashion, and instead of following them we had to hold back— not even the dead were buried, and not all the wounded were picked up. The rebels were in such a hurry that they left their cannons behind , because they expected another attack. What do you think of such a thing? We suffered 6 dead and 57 wounded in our company. The total loss all over I can't figure out. Christian Merkel is wounded in the leg, below the knee and is now in the hospital; Friedrich Schmuckller of our company also, Franz Peterker. He took 3 bullets and died almost at once.
More later, as soon as I find out more. Greetings to you all. Farewell
Your son and brother,
Excuse my poor handwriting, but I'm in a hurry.
New Orleans, 25 April 1864
I can tell you , it's no fun to go through something like this! When I jumped across the first dead body I thought " Good God, how is this going to turn out?" and soon after that I was shot in the left leg. At first I didn't know what happened, because I fell and jumped up and wanted to follow the others. When I first felt some pain and looked at my leg, I noticed that there was a hole in my pants and blood running out of it. Then I turned around to go to the hospital, but the bullets were flying hot and heavy and I was forced to drop to the ground until the worst was over. When it felt a little safer, I saw an acquaintance, I called out to him and he brought me to safety. The first night I had incredible pain, for the bullet got stuck in the leg , and the next day we marched backward (rearward) again. They gave me a donkey to ride so I didn't have to stay behind. Again, I had to go through quite a bit, but at least I’m glad that the bone wasn't hit. I was wounded on the 9th of April , and we didn’t get to New Orleans until April 15. That's how long we were in route. The hospitals in New Orleans are quite crowded right now with all the wounded, but most of them are already to walk again. My leg looks pretty good and the pain is less, but I can't get out of bed yet. Once I get to the point of being able to help myself, I'll try to come on a furlough. Please write to me real soon and don't wait too long, for I would like to hear from you. Greetings to all friends and to your father and mother, and if God wills , I'll soon see you again. With most cordial greetings, I remain your friend ,
U.S. General Hospital, Ward 9 , New Orleans, La.
I hear that the 35th Regiment suffered 64 dead and wounded
Overton Hospital, Memphis 16 May 1864
About two weeks ago I wrote you a letter from New Orleans where I was in the hospital and in case you haven't answered yet I just want to let you know that since 8, May I'm in Memphis, My leg got very bad an the trip up from New Orleans and I went through a lot of pain. But it's gotten better since I've been here. What I'd like to ask of you is this ; my finances are in very bad shape and I need money every day, and if I don't have any I really have to suffer. I had hoped that I would meet a lot of people I know in Memphis and that I could borrow some money from them, but they are all as poor as I am. Please send me 5 dollars, and if you don't have to write a long letter, just write a few lines and send them right away, for I'm as poor as a church mouse and wait painfully for the money. They always said that our men from Red River would be back and that we would get paid in Memphis - but I've already waited for 8 days and maybe it'll take another few weeks.
Many regards to you and your parents. Hoping to hear from you soon I remain your friend
Overton Hospital , Ward F Memphis, Tenn. Written in haste
Overton Hospital, Memphis
3 June 1864
Since I wrote 2 letters to you and still haven't had an answer I am writing a third time to find out how you are and what the reason is for not writing. I'm here at the Overton Hospital in Memphis since May 8 and I'm quite satisfied so far. I'm doing quite well, but the wounded leg is still giving me a lot of trouble and it will be some time until I can walk again. As I hear, you all have hard times to live through since I left, and I hope that you'll have peace and quite this summer so that you can recuperate. For a few days now I've been looking for you, since we heard that you’ll come to Memphis. Except for that, I'd have written to you sooner, since I’d like to know what happened with my things and I have not yet received a description register, even though I've written about one twice. I heard that Capt. Burmeister was wounded and taken to St. Louis and that his brother Heinrick was with him. Now I don't who's running the company to find out about this for me, for if you stay in Vicksburg for a longer time I must have my description list for I need clothes desperately.
Dear Jacob please write to me and let me know how everything is coming along, but if you know for sure that you are coming up , it will not be necessary. They say here that you’re supposed to come up on the White River. My very best regards from me and from all my comrades in the company. I hope to see you again soon. Your Friend
Overton Hospital, Memphis Tenn, Ward F
Settlement, 24 June 1864
(This is a letter to Jacob Rank from his friends , Michael & Eva Fish)
Dear Uncle Jacob;
Greetings and God's blessings to you. Your long - expected letter arrived on June 20 and we learned from it that your friends are alive and well. We were all happy about that, since we haven't heard from you for such a long time.
As for ourselves, thank God we are all healthy, which is the greatest blessing of all. My most esteemed uncle, I have no special news to tell you about. Our fields are doing well and if God the Almighty wills it, we will have a good harvest. The harvest will be later than usual this year, for the wheat just began to set, because we’ve had such dry weather. Nothing grew well for a long time, but we had a good rain last Saturday & Sunday, which really helped the wheat and rye.
You mentioned in your letter that you’ve had many battles and that your captain was wounded. They say that everybody went home and that there will be no more war.
Now my most esteemed Jacob, we were delighted when we got your letter, for we heard last week the all but 200 men in your regiment were lost. But now we know that not so, and thank God for saving your life up to now. Trust in the Lord, His mighty arm will protect you further and He will finally bring you home to those you left behind. And should it not be God's will that we will see each other face to face in this world we can hope to do so in Heaven. Many regards this time and write again soon.
Your Friend and Woman-friend Michael Eva Fish
Affectionate greetings to my brother from all of us, and we hope to hear from him soon if he is still alive. Greetings also to those of your comrades whom we know. Please excuse my poor handwriting, but I can't see too well.
Memphis, Aug. 16, 1864
Since it’s been too long since I’ve heard from you, I'll write to you and hope that I'll get an answer to my 2 letters. I imagine that you have a whole lot of necessary work to do. - Workers are scarce and yet the work has to be done. I wish I could relieve you for a while, for I’m tired of hanging around the hospital. My leg still looks bad, but there’s no more danger of it remaining stiff, but it'll be a long time 'till I can walk well again. Patience makes everything bearable, but quite often I run out of if. The bullet is still in the leg. It couldn’t be felt until the swelling went down. Now it looks as if it'll be cut out soon which means a new wound, but still a lot better than being dead. Yet I’ve heard of people and even soldiers who say that they’d rather be dead than lose an arm or a leg. I find that hard to believe, for I’ve seen many times how it is when such cripples get together (which is nothing unusual in Memphis), how happy they are and how animated, and that’s because they are still alive. Those who got away unscathed are not capable of such joy.
General T. Schmidt and Mower left for another expedition and nobody has heard anything about that so far. They went from here to Holy Spring and from there they were supposed to go to Columbus, Miss.- If that is so they'll have enough of a fight on their hands, for Columbus is an important spot for the rebels as it has a number of factories and also powdermills and who knows what else, maybe big cannon and fortifications. There'll be a hot time again. I don’t think that your brother Jacob will go along this time. I saw him after our regiment had marched on and he complained about rheumatism. Last week several hundred wounded and sick soldiers, who had been in local hospitals came up in the river en route, maybe, to St. Louis or Keokuck. I wanted to get away, too, but the doctor said no, he had to cut out the bullet first. Many of the "hundred day soldiers" are already in the hospital and most are looking forward to their discharge. The conscription effort is going on apace here in Memphis, several companies of citizen soldiers patrol the town and every citizen has to show a passport. If not, he is arrested, if he is under 45 years old.
Business is bad, therefore, and has to close down completely since nothing but government and military goods can come down the river. The business people had seen very little of the war up to now. They bought provisions cheaply from the North and supplied their rebel friends in the South with them, but that's come to an end.
I wrote in my earlier letter that I'll come on furlough as soon as I can walk better. Let me repeat that, God willing, I'll show up unexpectedly this fall. Please write to me soon, for I don't know for sure how long I'll be at this hospital. Best regards to your parents and to all good friends, and to you too Your friend,
Christian Merkel Overton Hospital Ward F Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis, 2 Sept. 1864
Most Treasured parents and brother!
Your esteemed letter dated August 3 didn’t arrive here until the 31st of August. I'm glad to hear of your health.
I just want to direct a few hurried words to you. Our regiment returned on the 31st of the month, there were no problems en route. Yesterday we got marching orders again and have to be prepared to march out any minute- Where, I don't know. My health is much better, so I'm going to join the march. But it is still questionable whether I can march a whole lot. Let's hope for the best.
Many regards, and keep well, Your son and brother
Send your letters simply to Memphis, 1st Division, 3rd Brigade I respectfully hope for an early reply
Memphis, Sept. 6, 1864
Dear Friend Heinrich!
I received your letter dated August 3, on Sept. 1.- Where it's been all that time, I can't understand. I had intended not to write for a while since you owed me a letter, and also since I had hoped to come home on furlough and to be able to talk to you in person. But that will just take too long, for I will not be able to undertake such a journey for the next 2 or 3 weeks. I am feeling quite well, thank God, and many here wonder that I'm in such good shape after all I've been through. They cut the bullet out of my leg about 10 days ago and I went through incredible pain again, but I'm glad that it was done, for my leg would have never gotten better. I'm already able to walk around a bit and I do believe that things will get better every day.
As of yesterday, we've had good news from General Sherman via the telegraph. Atlanta was taken. No further details, and I hope that soon there'll be similar news about Richmond and Mobile so that the copperheads will get their hands full. They are starting to run scared, we hear, for they have started a draft among them and want them to fight against their Southern brothers. A few days back, our first division under Gen. Mower with a few thousand cavalry went on an expedition to Arkansas. I heard that the rebel General Marmaduke really dug in close to the White River, which is being patrolled by our boats, and it is planned to flush him out. Your brother Jacob went along this time, and stopped by the hospital to see me before he left. He seemed quite well. They think that they won't be out for more than 2 or 3 weeks. Our 3rd Division also boarded the steamboats yesterday, but they are still at anchor. It is not known where they will be deployed.
Dear Heinrich, your opinions on war and peace don't coincide with mine, for the rebels have no interest in a peaceful settlement. And Jeff Davis says that peace will come if the North withdraws its troops from the South- but no Union which we have fought for so long. When we get together, we'll discuss all this, for I don't feel like doing so now.
I had news from Germany that everybody is still alive, Many would like to come here.- I'll tell you more details when I see you. Please write real soon, and see if maybe I could buy something for my money ; a piece of land or something else.
Best regards to your parents and to you from your friend
Christian Merkel Overton Hospital, Memphis
Memphis , Tenn 3 October 1864
As long as I can't come myself, I just have to write a letter now and again, especially since I don't know for sure if I'll go on furlough or not. Find it costs a lot, and then the doctor tells me that he has orders not to grant leave unless one is very sick and the leave would save one's life. So I don't know what to do. Thank God I'm doing quite well, and my leg is at the point where I can walk with a cane. But I don't think that I'll be able to do much for Uncle Sam this winter. The last letter I got from you was in August, but at the same time I sent a letter to you which I haven't heard from you yet. Since our regiment left Memphis I haven't heard from your Jacob, They went from here to Arkansas, up the White River to Brownsville, and from there to Little Rock. I wrote a letter to him about a week ago, but would be surprised if he got it. Heard later that they are marching toward Missouri. That state is hard pressed again by rebels and guerrillas, robbers and murders, and the worst atrocities are going on there. Here at Memphis all: is calm since old Forrest got beaten a few times, and the same troops are now in Missouri under Gen. Mower and Gen Schmidt. - I hope that they'll do the same to the old rebels Price and Marmaduke. People are saying that the war will be over soon, and even those who stick with the Southern party admit it. As for myself, I can't believe it yet, unless the dear God blesses, for with Him nothing is impossible. A lot depends on the Presidential election, although the Copperheads think McLellan is the peace candidate. I think that Lincoln will achieve a sure and lasting peace. How painful it is for those poor souls who have acted so bravely and loyalty and who are still willing to fight until the rebels are beaten to be told that the whole war is a failure - as if they didn't achieve anything at all. Up to now I’ve always voted the Democratic ticket, but this time I’ll go for old Abe if I live until election day. The party which promises peace and freedom to those robbers and murders of innocent Union families will never win. I think that the soldiers, the poor souls who have suffered so much and have heard the sighs of the wounded and the lament of the crippled should cry for peace more than those who enjoy living in the comfort of a home. Yes, the soldiers want peace, too, but an honest and lasting peace, not one that will end the night after the election if McLellan is elected and (war) will break out again and worse than the first time, even though the Chicago platform says that McLellan's election will bring peace.
Dear friend, I hope that this letter will find you well, and I hope that I didn’t speak against your opinions. But if so, please write soon and a long letter so that I'll have a chance to write to you again.
My best regards to you, your parents and all good friends and acquaintances. Your friend
Christian Merkel Overton Hospital Ward F Memphis, Tenn.
Memphis, 1 January 1865
Esteemed Friend Jacob;
Your long-awaited letter arrived yesterday, and I was happy to hear from you again. I’ve often wondered what things there were like and worried about your being among the wounded or dead. I read about your heroic deeds from day to day, and at first it seemed as if everything was exaggerated until I found out for sure and without a doubt. As the papers described it , the 16(?) did its job and did it well. Your 3rd brigade was especially outstanding in storming a fortification, and Col. Hill was killed during the attack.
As I see from your letter our company was lucky this time, and even though only 2 were wounded - for them it was hard enough, anyway. About 2 weeks ago a cavalry (?) squad commanded by general Crierson left Memphis. They returned last night, but I've not yet found out how they made out. They have to leave again today via steamboats to New Orleans, and supposedly on to Mobile from there. Another expedition left from Fort Hudson and supposedly arrived near Mobile. There are no special news from Memphis this time, all is quiet here right now and we hope to hear about you soon. If you knock down old wood once again, he'll have had enough and will avoid you if you leave him a hole to escape through.
Dear friend Christmas has passed once again and I have to say that I can’t remember ever having spent a more miserable one. It rained constantly and we not were allowed to leave the house, so we had to spend the holidays like a bird in a cage or a prisoner. I would have been glad to change places with you (can't read next 4 lines, seems to say that even though Jacob and his group had a rough winter, they were still better off...)
But today for the New Year things look better and the sun is shining quite warmly. This afternoon I'm planning to go down to the levee, to see the soldiers waiting to leave by boat once again. For not all of them come back. Haven't heard from your Heinrich for quite a while, and I think he's mad that Lincoln got re-elected, which is not my fault, after all
(Unable to read the rest of the letter which was written by Christian Merkel
Eastport. Mississippi 20 January 1865
This letter was in an envelope addressed to Heinrich Rank, Wilton, Muscatine County Iowa. There seems to be an inconsistency because the letter is addressed to "Most esteemed friend". It is felt that Jacob wrote this letter to his friend Christian Merkel, who in turn sent it on to Jacob Rank’s father or brother, both of which were named Heinrich.
Most esteemed friend;
I received your letter on the 15th of the month and will answer it now. I was most happy to hear from you again, especially that you are finally healthy again. Everybody has troubles of one kind or another. As I hear your holidays were also not good ~ although dry and with a roof over your head, still under lock and key! I have also never lived through worse holidays than the last ones. Even though at least I was outside and could enjoy the fresh air. it was no fun. It rained most of the time, or we had frost or snow - and short rations to boot. I would have gladly traded places with my dog if that were possible. But let us be satisfied and hope for the best. We only have a few more months to serve and won’t fall apart during that time.
We arrived here on the 9th of the month, and they say that we’ll be here for 2 months. Hope that’s true! This place is by the Cumberland river 25 miles outside of Corinth. We are busy building log cabins and trying to restore order to our housekeeping. I note from your letter that I made a mistake, namely: We had wounded John Hellwig, Jacob Hassler and Jacob Hofer. The former is still in the hospital, and the 2 later are back with the regiment. I will also note that I had no letter from home since I left Memphis, and I don’t know why that is so.-
Please excuse this scant and poor letter, this is the last piece of paper I have. Best regards from me and the whole camp. Write again soon.
Your friend Jacob Rank
Memphis, Tenn. 1 Feb. 1865
Dear friend Heinrich;
I received your long awaited letter and saw from it that you are healthy and well, which makes me happy. I've wanted to write to you several times, since I didn't hear from you for so long, but I didn't have any particular news to tell, so I decided to wait until I heard from you. I'm still in the hospital, but well enough to be able to stand guard, which is considered light duty and leaves me more freedom, for four hours a day of standing guard is not too hard and the rest of the time I can go and do where and whatever I want. When it gets warmer I think I'll go back to the regiment although I doubt that I'll be able to go marching ever again for my leg, although it is healed is still too weak. I'm surprised that you haven't heard from Jacob since the battle of Nashville.
I've had 2 letters from him and I am enclosing the last one, which I-received the day before your letter so that you can read for yourself how he is doing. I’m always corresponding with people in the Company so I always know where they are, how they are and what they are planning to do, and I'm with them body and soul when I know that they are heading into battle, I see all movements, attacks and happenings as if they were a picture and sometimes I think that its not right that I’m not along.
It's ridiculous that Dorfler and Friedle went back to Germany because of the conscription, as if they didn't get to be in danger of their lives there 10 times more than in the military. I think there's another reason for it, maybe they are seeking there what they didn't find here.
You ask about news from Germany. I haven't had a letter from there since the spring and I haven't even answered that one yet. Why? I don't really know, I've started to write at least 10 times and then put it aside. They say that my brother George and my sister Margaretha and her husband went to America. They write that Adam lives happily with his family and that he's planning to write a letter to all of you soon. That's all I can remember, for I lost the letter. Maybe your Jacob can remember more of it, for he read the whole letter.
Thank you for the New Year's wishes. I'm sending you the same and then some: health, peace and joy within the Holy spirit. I'll omit only the fun of battle lest you climb in the saddle when the war is almost over.
Farewell until we meet again, which won't be until my term of service is over, God willing. Please write again soon. Greetings to you and your parents from your friend.
Christian Merkel Overton Hospital Ward F Memphis, Tenn.
New Orleans, 28 February 1865
Most Esteemed parents and brother:
I received your letter dated the 13th, also the money and the postage stamps. Glad to hear that you are well and I hope that God will keep you and all of us for a long time. I'm sorry to hear about the accident of the horse, but it can't be helped. But don’t wait too long to put in for reimbursement, because, if you don't keep after these things they are liable to drop by the wayside.
We continued our trip from Cairo to Memphis, where I ran into Christian Merkel. I borrowed 4 Thaler (sic) from him because I didn't have any money at the time. If you arrive from a hungry country into a better one, you would be a donkey not to eat bread and other good food. From Memphis we went on to Vicksburg where we camped for 6 days, 5 miles out of town. From there we travelled southward by boat and arrived in New Orleans on February 21 and have lived there in water or mud ever since, for the place is mostly swampland, and it rained to boot, so you couldn’t expect anything better. Since yesterday we are at a better place, but I hear that in a few days we'll go to sea. No idea where to, but, God willing, I'll be able to tell you in my next letter.
About the question about what I'm planning to do when I get home again - I agree with your plans, Heinrich, because it's always better if two help each other out. But all of that can be deliberated and discussed - right now, I'm still somewhere in the middle of a boardgame and can only look forward to the future and the help of God. But do go on with your plans, and go ahead about the horses - everything you do as best as you can is alright with me. As for sending clothes, things are not ready for that. Let's wait until I get closer, because it's going to be too expensive to send them from here. I could have sent a lot from Eastport or Cairo, but at the former there was no Express office, and the later, no money. Also, it's not wise to send too much clothing when you don't know what is going to happen. Best regards to Jacob Lang and to all of you. Stay well! Your son and brother
...Lang is waiting for letters from home and sends best regards in the meantime.
Montgomery, 5 May 1865
Most Treasured parents and brother;
Your last letter was received on April 11 and was answered promptly, too, but since that time we could neither write nor receive letters, because we were cut off from all communication since we got here. A few days ago boats arrived with food and provisions and we got a chance to send letters again. Before that things looked bad for us because we only got half rations while we were marching and then we had to live off canteen rations, which consisted of cornmeal, some fresh meat and a little bacon. But we stayed quite healthy just the same.
On April 13, after Mobile fell into our hands we began our march to Montgomery. We arrived there on the 25th and slept in the woods a few miles from the city, and I think that we'll camp there for a while yet. This city and Selma were taken by the Willhaus Cavalry before our arrival. Now I have hope that peaceful days will soon be here and that we can shake hands with other soon...... (can't read) thinks it might be over by the 4th of July. The war is winding down and the wind blows from a different direction.... Rebel Soldiers in whole packs come through our lines, headed for home. So it shouldn't last that much longer for us too.
I hope that this letter will find you in good health, as it is leaving me doing well.
I hope to see you again soon
Your son and brother Jacob Rank
Camp Burnside, Indianapolis, Indiana May 26, 1865
Dear friend Heinrich:
You will be wondering why you have not heard from me for such a long time. When I received your last letter I thought it would not be necessary to write, since it was said that all soldiers in the hospital would be discharged (from the army) within a few days. So I fully believed at that time that I would soon be able to talk to you in person, but the order came that all those transferred to the invalid corps were to report there. That really embarrassed me, but there was nothing to be done. 40 of us left Memphis on May 14, and we arrived here on the 17th. There are 2 regiments of invalids here, the 5th of which I am a member, and the 43rd. When we arrived here there were a great many rebel prisoners here which we had to guard. But except for about 250 they are all gone now. They were supposed to be sworn in before the fall of Richmond, but they didn't want to. Now they want to be free, but they won’t have a chance. I don't know what they'll do with them. But when these prisoners are gone from here, something will have to happen with us; either they’ll demobilize us or transfer us elsewhere. The troops are under very strict discipline here, and each mistake Is harshly punished. Everyday there are 5 roll calls and 2 drills, so nobody's able to go into town.
There's a lot of talk of mustering-out among the soldiers, but I don't believe that it'll happen. And although there's all this talk about the war being over the big shots don't seem to be thrilled about it, because they've still not made enough money out of it. If there wasn't something strange going before, there sure is now - Why keep all these soldiers when it’s no longer necessary?
This morning I saw the doctor and told him that I would not be able to pull hard duty. He examined me and said he'd help me get a discharge. I hope it will be soon, for I don't like it with the invalids.
Dear friend, I hope these lines will find you well. Should you feel like writing to me do it soon, otherwise I might not get the letter.
Your friend Christian Merkel Greetings to your parents and all good acquaintances.
Burnside Barracks, Indianapolis, Ind. 15 June 1865
Dear friend Heinrich:
Your welcome letter dated the 8th of the month was received on the 10th and I was so happy to hear from you once again. I noted in my last letter that I'd be rid of my suffering shortly, but as it looks now as if it'll go on for a few weeks more as the miserable...(unable to read) are dragging it out as long as possible. The soldiers are unwilling (to go on) and many are taking off for home without asking anyone’s leave, even though they face the most severe punishment. I wouldn't be surprised if we had to last out our entire tour of duty. Dear Heinrich, since I’m all out of money, paper and stamps and can't expect to get any loans from strangers would you please send me no more than one dollar? I’ve not received any money for a while, and what I had, I’ve loaned out and can’t get back right now. Yesterday I received a letter from your Jacob and one from Conrad Braun from the same company. Those 3 letters took over a month to get here and I don't think that they’ll still be at the same place, or else I’d write back. If you know anything else please let me know, and in case you write to Jacob, please tell him that I send my best regards. The rebel prisoners which were here have all been set free, except for a few who are sick. It’s a shame to keep so many soldiers on duty when they are no longer needed. There are no other news on this end. I can't tell you how big and beautiful the city of Indianapolis is, for I've not been in town even though we are just a stone's throw away from it. I am well and hope the same for you.
What I'm going to do when I'm free again is a big question, which is bothering me right now, for my leg will never be again as good as it was. But I won’t worry about it right now, the dear God who has looked after me so far will keep me in the future.
Write me again soon, and don't forget the dollar. My best regards to your parents and to you, too from your friend
Christian Merkel Camp F 5th Reg. V.R.C. Burnside Barracks Indianapolis, Ind.
Selma, Alabama 25 July 1865
Most treasured parents and brother
Your last letter dated the 8th of the month was received on the 22nd and made me very happy, especially since everybody is healthy. As for myself, I'm still well and chipper, which must be considered a blessing for this time of the year. This incredible heat sometimes plays havoc with health, and I hear that it will even become worse later on.
The plan to be home on the July 4th did not come off, even though everybody longs to be there at that time and to take part of the festivities. I’m sure you are asking why the plans didn't work out. That’s easy to answer; The best plans go awry in this soldier's life, and we just have to be resigned to our fate
(Can't read next 4 lines at all)
It was truly a joy for everyone when we heard that we would all be discharged, and there was such a to-do that it's hard to describe: one brought this, the other that news, this went on the whole day long. But then all quieted down again, and now I do believe that we won’t be home before our tour of duty is up. Why it all takes so long nobody knows. Haven't heard from Christoff Merkel for quite a while now, he has not responded to the last 2 letters I wrote to him. I wonder if something happened there. If you write to him, please tell him that I received the sum of 18 1/2 thaler from John Hubert. He told me that it was not more than 17 1/2 thaler and he didn’t pay anymore. But the old (?) explained the whole thing to me and added another thaler, which added up to the whole sum. I would like to tell him all this myself, but I don't have his address, and it also isn't worth it since he, as you write, is about to be discharged. But tell him that I send best regards and when I get home I'll pay him the above sum.
On the 15th of the month we get 10 month's backpay, but none of us sent that money home since we all thought we'd be home soon. Incidentally, there is no longer any danger and we can save the fare.
There's nothing else to report.
Stay well, and I hope that this letter finds you in good condition.
Many, many greetings to you all, and to friends and acquaintances, too.
Farewell Your son and brother Jacob Rank