1862 March 14: “Captured 2 spies the other day who had been all among us”
Ed Levings writes about the Battle of Pea Ridge (he calls it Sugar Creek) and speculates on what might be in store for the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, what life at Fort Scott is like, what other regiments are there, and two spies that were caught.
The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Fort Scott, March 14th, 1862.
Dear Father and Mother;
It is a lousy, wet day, and the air rather chilly and I do not admire paddling around in the mud, so I will take this opportunity to reply to your welcome letter of Feb 24th, received this morning, and the first since our arrival at Fort Scott. I can find no words to sufficiently express the delight we felt at its receipt, for there are no letters more dear to us than those coming from Father and Mother. You are anxious about us as ever as you must be and long to know what we are doing, eager to get any information pertaining to us. I have no certain news to tell you, matters remaining much the same as at my last writing, March the 8th. One of the boys has just come in, saying he has heard an Officer read a report stating that a battle has been fought with Price, at last, at Sugar Creek in which Price [Sterling Price] was wounded, his army cast to pieces and Rains [James S. Rains] and McGulloh [sic: McCulloch, Ben] killed;1 and that all the Wis. troops are ordered to St. Louis. I do not know whether to credit this news or not, but I understand the 13th [Wisconsin Infantry] has received such an order. I will try to acertain [sic] before closing. If this is true, we shall march back. Well, so be it. It would suit us much better. We should not have to make as many long marches and undergo the hardships that would await this Hunter-Lane Expedition. [David Hunter and James Henry Lane] But Lane’s expedition is “played out,” I believe.2 All I can say is,—some one has blundered.
Perhaps, you will be interested in a description of our location, and and the country round at and the fortifications. The country about here is fine and the land excellent and there is an abundance of timber on the stream, which runs through the Valley in an Easterly direction. It is larger than the Kinnickinnic3 and is well-wooded, flowing into the Missouri [River]. Fort Scott is nothing but a collection of old buildings, but is not without defenses. On the hills one mile south East is a large formidable breastwork of Stone commanding the Valley,—a mile to [the] West is an earthwork and still fatrther West and about 80 rods from our camping-ground, is another stone breastwork partially completed. All were small last summer, before Price went to Springfield, when it was expected he would take the place. He did take 90 miles, and also 2 prisoners, who, to save their comrades, testified there were 10,000 troops at this place and 5,000 at Fort Lincoln. The prisoners were taken off on the hills and [oops—our photocopy cuts off this word].
At Drywood [sic] 7 miles distant the Kansas boys fought the Rebels and had a bloody battle last summer.4 There are two Kansas Regts. at that place. Near the hills on which is the first named breastwork is the Camp ground of the Ohio boys, a little to the West is 9th Wis; next, the Kan1st; next, the 13th Wis and lastly and on the Creek is the “bloody 12th.” We are now in our tents. Have been living on hard bread, beef, pork, rice, sugar, coffee. We are in messes now. Our mess consists of those in our tent and the two Lieutenants, 16 in all. Take turns at cooking, two at a time, for one day. Have just bought a bushel corn meal and now have pudding. I have also got some butter, and occasionally “top off” at meals with a pie or some eggs. Salt is worth at this place the snug little sum of $25.00 per barrel. Yesterday it was as warm as it is up in Pierce Co. in May. We are about 1 degree south of St. Louis, 69 miles. Should have got our pay had we staid [sic] in Leavenworth a day longer. Have expected we would get it here,—may get it when we got back, if we go back. [paragraph break added]
March 15th. Well, the fight with Price is confirmed, our men losing ca 1000 men. But I guess we shall not go back yet. News has also come that the Potomac is cleared of Rebels, they having been driven back to Richmond without any loss to us, our forces in advancing having produced a perfect panic among them. Good if true. We are going to clean them out now. The 9th Wis captured 2 spies the other day who had been all among us taking note of our location, numbers &c. Papers, with the names our officers, giving our numbers, describing our encampments were found concealed on their persons. They will probably get a “fie-out”5 for their deeds.
The 5th Kansas Cavalry arrived to-day.
March16th It is Sunday but it does not seem much like Sunday. There is no Church to go to and I feel sad I am deprived of the privilege of going to church and that there is so little respect for the Sabbath among us. I have to struggle to hard to resist the many evil influences around me but I hope by God’s grace to overcome. I make but little progress in the Christian life I am sorry to say. God help me to live in his fear always. Remember us at in your morning and evening prayers is my request.
An Indiana battery arrives yesterday, but the creek being swollen, it could not get across. Came in to-day. Guess we shall push on somewhere but don’t know where. Left Leavenworth supposing we were to reinforce Curtiss [sic: Curtis, Samuel R.], but it does not look like it now. Homer is writing to you now and will send you a letter. Our respects to all and love to you, Dear Father and Mother. Write us soon. We have but a tri-weekly mail here, so write often. Direct, Fort Scott,
1. The battle that Ed is referring to is the Battle of Pea Ridge, which took place on March 8, 1862, in Arkansas. This should not be confused with the small skirmish that took place at Little Sugar Creek, also in Arkansas, on February 17, 1862. Ben McCulloch was indeed killed at the Battle of Pea Ridge, but James S. Rains was not killed there.
2. In January of 1862, General Lane had returned from Washington, D.C., to Kansas and tried to wrest control of his Kansas Brigade from Major General David Hunter. Lane wanted a military expedition into the southern states, which he would lead. Hunter, however, also wanted to lead the expedition and issued a general order on January 27 to that effect. By mid-February, Major General Henry Halleck had gotten involved and put a stop to troop movements, thus ending the Lane Expedition.
3. For our non-Northwest Wisconsin readers, the Kinnickinnic River is a 25-mile-long river that begins in Saint Croix County and flows through Pierce County, emptying into the Saint Croix River. The city of River Falls is situated at a large waterfall on the Kinnickinnic.
4. The Battle of Dry Wood Creek was fought on September 2, 1861, in Vernon County, Missouri, between Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards and James H. Lane’s Kansas Jayhawkers. Lane surprised the Confederates, but the Southerners’ larger numbers forced Lane’s troops to retire to Fort Scott, which Lane then secured for the Union.
5. We think he means that they will merely get a cursing out.