GLADWIN COUNTY – This Civil War collection, hidden in an old shoe box for well over 100 years, consists of Civil War letters written by Nehemiah Phillips, Bugler, assigned initially to the 5th Ohio Battery. We intend to give our readership as clear an understanding as is possible of what this approximately 35 year-old inductee experienced, thought and felt before, during and after these historic bloody battles. 

This article will begin while he was assigned at Camp Rolla, MO. The town of Rolla was a strategic location because the Pacific Railroad ended there. The Railroad transferred troops and supplies from St. Louis to support the Union Army in battles located near the Missouri borders. One such battle was that of Pea Ridge, AR. Also known as the Gettysburg of the West, Nehemiah found himself in the middle of this heated battle.

First Civil War letter dated Dec. 23, 1861

Camp Halleck, near Rolla, Phelps County, MO.

Nehemiah addresses his letter to his “Sister and Brother” (John and Malvena Phillips Harmon), Watrousville, Tuscola County, MI (near Caro, MI). 

He begins this letter telling his sister that they have been at Rolla for just over a month and that the weather is good, rather warm for December, but the nights are very cold. It is uncomfortable in most of the tents as they have no fire inside. He mentioned that his tent was equipped with a “kind of a fireplace,” that helped somewhat but last night it was so cold he had a tent full of soldiers. “The orderly Sergeant, A. Beach, sleeps in our tent.”

Nehemiah stated his health is first rate, and so is Elvington’s (the younger brother of Nehemiah). He worries about the war and the possibility of war with “Old England”. His Captain believes they may get shipped out before the week is out. They have cancelled all furloughs including those of the officers and he feels the army is preparing his unit for some campaign as he wrote, “I hope that it is not for a campaign this winter, as it will kill off more men by sickness then would be killed, by the bullet.” 

He and the other soldiers received a lot of gifts from friends back in Canneaut (Nehemiah’s hometown in Ashtabula, OH) that were brought back by their Captain. “Butter, cheese, cakes, pies, chickens, clothes, blankets & C.” He wrote that he had his share and hoped to get more when Lieut. Chapman arrives early in January of 1862. 

His also relayed to his sister that his assignment has been “changed from the 5th to the 2nd Ohio Battery.”

“12 O’clock, Monday, Dec. 23 the sun is shining and it is growing warmer.”

N. Phillips

Second letter, dated March 27, 1862

Headquarters, 2 Division, near Keitsville (Keyteville), MO.

He states they have successfully driven the Rebels out of Missouri and into Arkansas since they left Rolla. His Division was laying in camp near Bentonville, AR, when on March 6 the camp got word that the Rebels were on their way. The Union army concentrated their forces between Sugar Creek and Pea Ridge when the Rebels “attacked on the 6th, 7th and 8th.” The Union forces found themselves “surrounded by the devilish Rebs under Generals Price, McCoullough, McIntosh, Pike and others with Maj. Genl. Vandorn Commanding with about 40,000 men.” Phillips wrote, “we had a narrow chance of it, I can assure you.” The Union force was able to break through the Rebel lines and on the morning of the 8th, with the aid of their cannons, the Union Army was able to beat back the Rebels, as Phillips put it, “we gave them a good drubbing out. The 2nd Ohio Battery came off on the 7th and 8th with honor and glory.” They saved the camp and army “on the evening of the 7th assisted by about 240 men Infantry of the 2nd Mo. Vol’s. and only four pieces of their Battery. They drove back about 700 of the Rebels and held their ground until it was too dark to fight…” The morning of March 8, the battle continued.

As Bugler, Phillips stood on top of a hill with Gen. Asboth, which allowed him to see the whole operation. He observed the Union army “chase the Rebels back as far as was advisable, then returned to camp, a victorious army but a small one in comparison to the enemy…We only numbered 11,000 and they at the least and according to their own statement, 37,000 strong…We were small but brave & determined and assured that we were in the right and with this motto our soldiers fought.” 

“Congress or die, our cause is just, and we will maintain it, at the hazard, and expense, if necessary of our lives.” He continued in his own words, “with such men as that, the stars and stripes are always safe.”

Research of the above battle, Confederate Maj. Gen. Van Dorn made a big mistake on the night of March 7. That day, when darkness fell, too dark to fight, the two armies went back to their camps. It was cold and Van Dorn, instead of allowing his troops to rest, ordered Generals Price and McCulloch, to leave their campfires burning; then under the cover of darkness, march their divisions around both left and right flanks of the Union Army and attack at first light. A complete surprise attack from the rear would put the Federal Army in disarray, assuring a victory for the Rebels. 

But the Union Army got wind of the Rebels on the move, sent out scouts and discovered the Rebs’ location and plans. The union army was able to break through the Rebel lines, reversed its front and was prepared to face the Rebels’ attack head on. 

With the movement of two of Van Dorn’s divisions, he failed to have supplies follow along with Price and McCulloch’s troops, so when the battle began, the Rebels were cold, tired, and ran short of ammo, food, and other supplies which were now behind the Union lines, leaving the Rebs’ two divisions totally cut off from any support.

After the battle, Nehemiah Phillips now finds himself part of General Asboth’s staff as a clerk. He likes the position because the General gives him a lot to do, and he now gets better food. 

“I eat at the same table with the General and his staff, and I am getting fat.” 

He tells his sister that he likes being a soldier, but hopes this war ends soon. He then asks his sister to tell all his friends he is still “alive and well” and concludes the letter giving his new mailing address as Rolla, MO, care of Lieut. Chapman, Ag. 2nd Ohio Battery.

Good bye, N. Phillips

In the next Shoe Box article, two weeks from now, Bugler Phillips is on his way to Vicksburg. During Vicksburg, he is so tired, he lays down to sleep in the middle of a battlefield with cannon and rifle balls flying overhead.

A reminder to all, no General meeting is scheduled for July or August. We will continue with our general meetings the first Saturday in September. 

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