Shoe Box letters

GLADWIN COUNTY – Two weeks ago, in our last article, Bugler Nehemiah Phillips had returned to camp in Rolla, MO, resting after a hard-fought battle at Pea Ridge, AR. He took time to write home because our first letter in this article was written by his father, David Phillips, who told his daughter, Malvina Harmon, that he had received four letters, two from Nehemiah and two from Lieut. Chapman, a neighbor who served with Nehemiah in the 2nd Ohio Battery. In this first letter, David writes to his daughter about the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. We want to make it known that Nehemiah’s father’s level of education was obviously not the same as that of his son’s. The reader will notice that some of the quotes below will have misspelled words and improper grammar, but they are important to the article just the same.

Dated April 16, 1862, Conneaut, Ashtabula County, OH.

To: Mr. John and Malvina Harmon of Tuscola County, MI

“Dear Children,”

“Yours of 2 March was duly received and I was glad to receive so kind of letter from a child.” David then goes on to talk about the condition of his farms. We say “farms” because he recently married Elvira Clark in 1861 (a second marriage for both), the second farm belonging to Elvira. Like other farmers during the Civil War who had sons serving in the Army, he had to hire a farmhand to tend one of his farms. This man, named John Hatch, left abruptly and David found his farm to be in “considerable trouble.” His orchard was “nearly destroyed by the sheep and cattle.” He “found two dead lambs, and one hog.” This helping hand John, (now MIA), was paid to gather 50 bushels of wheat, but only completed 23 bushels along with 100 ears of corn. David also mentioned he “let out his farm to a Mr. ‘Carny’ and he let out his wife’s farm to Elder ‘Strats’ and he made 900 lbs of shugum (sorghum) on it.”

David now changes the subject to the Battle of Pea Ridge and “the boys in the army.” He stated he had “received four long letters last weak and two this by Lieutenant Chapman.” He mentioned Lt. Chapman is recovering at home with a bullet wound to the side. “…they had a very hard time but only lost one man and wounded Chapman. Nehemiah gave a full description of the battle it filled four sheets of paper and a map of the ground where it was fought.” David then states his son, “Nevie” (nickname for Nehemiah), “is with General Ashbouth in his staff.” 

David continued Nehemiah’s description, “our batery went in to the battle, when our army was retretin.” The retreating army was told, by an unknown officer, to hold, because if they continued to retreat, they would be “cut to pieces.” This same unidentified officer then relayed, “we are going to change the program and sure enough they did.” The 2nd Ohio Battery, assisted by about 300 of the infantry from Missouri, “drove 7,000 rebels to flight.” Yet another unknown general told his men, “never expected to see Cunnout, a live.” A very proud papa boasted to Malvina about her brother’s battery, “the papers are puffing them very highly for their bravery.”  

David also mentioned that he received a letter from his other son Elvington, who was in the same battle, but from his perspective he quoted, “bullets around him sounded like a swarm of bees around his head....Rebels threw about 21,000 balls at them in less than 5 minutes.”  

In conclusion, David shared with Malvina the status of all her siblings, saying he had received over a hundred dollars cash money sent home by Elvington. He jokingly identified his two sons, Nehemiah and Elvington, as “very fleshy and healthy.” Another brother “Alic”, was “adoing nothing,” because his “wife sick most of the time,” and Orville and Zilpha’s families were well.  

“My respects to all.  

“From your affectionate father, 

“David Phillips”  

July 20th, 1862, Rienzi, Mississippi

This letter was an answer to one Nehemiah Phillips had recently received, and it is addressed to his sister Malvina.  Nehemiah wrote that he had written several letters since he left the 2nd Ohio Battery. At this point in his deployment, Nehemiah is letting his sister know he has only received a single correspondence from his wife.  

Also, he reminds Malvina that one year ago today he “was in Conneaut” (his home town in Ashtabula County, Ohio), and “enlisted into the 2nd Ohio Battery as a bugler for three years unless sooner discharged.” Now it is up to “Uncle Sam to decide,” if he remains a soldier for the remaining two years. He is not tired of his new position in the Army, but he is unhappy with being idle with “nothing to do but eat and sleep.” He wants more active duty and feels he would be more satisfied with his assignment. His belief is if they had more work to do, then the soldiers would be “more healthy and better satisfied.” The inactivity makes the men more homesick. Nehemiah expresses his thoughts that inactivity breeds low morale, and may even be worse than losing a battle.  

A little frustration now seems to be settling in on Nehemiah, as he writes that he wishes they would “end this damnable war.” He believes it to be a war of, “Speculations and Politics,” and he wishes they would just let them move forward “under good and energized generals, but not from

See Shoe Box on B-5

 the political generals.”  “I am uterly disgusted with the whole proceedings. I have seen enough to satisfy me.”  

He also heard that President Lincoln has requested another 300,000 troops.  Nehemiah hopes that these new troops come to “our rescue, and help us out of this war & by so doing they save our country from getting into a war with England & France, which is certain to come if we continue this war another year.”  

The day is Sunday, July 20th, and Nehemiah now wishes he was home and attending church with his family.  The solemn time while sitting in the shade of the trees writing to his sister arouses a prayerfulness within him.  He states he has not been to church since he enlisted because the services were in Dutch and he didn’t understand them.

He read in a recent newspaper that Gen. Curtis’s army is now in Helena on the Mississippi River, about 90 miles below Memphis.  He also wrote that he is looking for a letter from Vink (nickname used for Elvington, his younger brother).  He said he is “anxious” to hear from him and the others from the 2nd Ohio Battery.  He has heard rumors that Vink’s unit was “all cut up and taken prisoner.”  He has written to his brother two or three times, but has had no reply. (How scary that must have been for Nehemiah).  He writes that he is contemplating rejoining the Battery unit, because being assigned to headquarters leaves him with very little to do.

Stating that his health is very good, Nehemiah comments they have green corn now. (Our research shows us that “green corn” is a maize that is grown in the Southeast portion of our country along the Mississippi River).  Peas, beans, and other garden foods are scarce because “it has been very dry here this season and the gardens have dried up.”  Nehemiah mentions that he has “had some ripe peaches this year, but I must say that the Farmers around here have got a very poor variety of peaches, the common sorts, is all.

“Well I must close.  Give my respects to all of my friends, yourself included. 

“Your Brother Soldier, 

“N. Phillips”



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