The Letters of Dexter D. Hill
Camp Smith near Nashville
Perhaps my silence may have almost seemed neglect, but I have not written because I could not consider myself a soldier until lately. I was kept in the camp at Madison until the 23rd of Dec -- I was on a permanent detail to remain there -- At the time I left, I was acting as clerk in the office at Headqrs -- A very pleasant place -- but I don't wish to wear Lincoln-blue and be a citizen. Leaving Madison Dec. 23rd, we arrived in Nashville after a journey of four days -- i.e. myself and a squad of 170 conscripts with whom I came -- all assigned to the 1st Wis. Cav. We are now camped about three miles from the city, on a series of little hills, covered with a forest of heavy timber, waiting for our horses and equipments. We shall probably receive them in a week or two and then guard a train through to Knoxville.
The weather with us is quite Spring-like, freezing nights and thawing days. Mud is plenty and of great adhesive power. Though some of the men complain a little, as yet we have known little or nothing of the hardships of soldering. Some of the men are already quite homesick. It seems to be the worst disease that can afflict a man in the army. For myself I have'nt thot. of such a thing. Though army life is in itself the most loathsome and unpleasant condition in which I ever found myself. The cause -- liberty, country and humanity make it a glorious thing to be a soldier, raising the meanest private above all vulgar destiny. I am glad I am here for "The post of duty is the place of safety" I am trying to see what the Master sent me down here for. There is enough that needs mending but how to go to work here, I seem a child. The fountain in my own heart is most dry all the time. The restraints of home are thrown off and wicked men delight to exhibit the naked deformity of their sin-polluted hearts. One must go among soldiers to know them. To reprove is often only "casting pearls before swine." These same men will take tracts eagerly and read them. They sing the grand, old hymns sung by saints now in heaven with real spirit. Yet they cannot be reached in any way to do them permanent good. I regret to learn that the regt to wh. we are going is without a chaplain. Perhaps you can throw out some hint that will direct me. I found J. S. Kendall in the hospital down in the city. He looks finely. I suppose he left about a week ago to accept a position as clerk in the Surgeon General's office at Washington. If I should get out of the army in two years, I think I should go back to Beloit and finish my course. Everything is so fragmentary. Now that I am away from my books facts become detached from their connexions and are sometimes really harassing.
The debt of gratitude I owe to those who have done so much for me will ever remain fresh in my memory.
Please remember me to Mrs. E. and all inquiring friends.
D. D. Hill
Please direct to Camp Smith
Cleveland Tenn., March 30th/64
Dear Professor Emerson
Your welcome letter of Feby was recd after some delay. We were all exceedingly glad to hear for somehow it is difficult to get much news from College and it is pleasant to know that we are not forgotten by those whose many cares continually call their attention to those who are present.
The 15th of the month we broke camp at Nashville and have had a real soldiers march for 12 days. Of course we had some pleasant weather with plenty of stormy chilly days when some of our men heartily wished themselves [savely] back again in Camp. Alma Mater's boys were glad they were there for we had become tired of lying in Camp. We came through several battle fields. That of Mursfreesborough was especially interesting. Lathrop collected pieces of shell &c but we have no way of carrying them or sending them north. At Stevenson, Ala. the 22on of March we encountered a severe snow storm. The snow falling to the depth of 14 inches. The next day we had mud and the next another snow storm. We crossed one end of Lookout mountain -- Quite a splendid sight -- But the writer who described Gen. Hookers Corps as "fighting above the clouds" in its capture must have had a lively imagination. Apl. 4th My writing was interrupted here by an order to go on a four days scout. There were eighty of us commanded by Capt. Jones of M., in whose company I am. On Saturday we were attacked by the enemy about 10 miles from our camp. We had quite an interesting time. The enemy getting between us and our command and being in heavy force in front. We took a path through the woods and across the fields and got away with the loss of only 13 men. Some of these may yet come in. I was sent to Chareston with dispatches -- A small village on the R. R. 10 miles north of Cleveland. I found the ride of a dozen miles through the enemy's country, at full speed, quite exhilarating. Our Brigade of Cavalry turned out and the enemy went back to Dalton again "right smart." Shepard and Lathrop were also in the scouting party and enjoyed it much. This is our first experience in anything like fighting. We are now back again in Camp. We are all assigned to Co. M. Capt. N. Jones was a student at Beloit in the Scientific Department, some years ago. He appears to be well qualified for his position. Shepard and Lathrop wish to be remembered to you.
D. D. Hill
Please direct to Co. M.
1st Wis. Cav. via Chattanooga.
Camp 1st Wis. Cav. near
Cartersville Ga Sept. 9th 1864
Dear Prof. Emerson
I believe I have written you once or twice but perhaps you have not recd. them and I have concluded to try again. The mails have been somewhat interrupted in our rear of late. With the present exception the mail has come through with surprising regularity. Letters, papers, packages of clothing &c reach us in four or five days from Wis. Though of all the army our Division of Cavalry under Genl McCook has been most changeable. Now we are scattered along the line of the R. R. running from Kingston to Atlanta guarding the road and ready to intercept any body of rebel cavalry who may attempt to disturb our rear. We have lively times chasing bushwackers and if we do catch one he is not likely to bushwack much more. We are on the go almost constantly. We have been back here about three weeks. Before that we have been in the forefront of Shermans army all the campaign. We were in the battles of "Red Clay," "Dalton," "Resica," (our regt opening the ball.) "Burnt Church," "Dallas," (Fighting here seven days), "Big Shanty" we were the first troops to enter it.) "Lost Mountain" where our Cavy. Division unsupported by Infantry or artillery except a battery of light guns wh. always goes with us, stormed and captured strong earthworks. "Powder Springs" and then at the "Chattahoochee River" Sometimes we have been on the right wing of our army, sometimes on the left wing sometimes we are sent far back to the rear after reb. cavalry. These engagements I have mentioned were in a measure all regular battles. Besides these we have been in numberless skirmishes. When our army crossed the Chattahoochee river, our Cavalry was thrown forward on the extreme right wing. We skirmished with the enemy driving him steadily back for two or three days when we were ordered to take a position known as "Masons Church" and hold it. We succeeded in getting the position after some heavy skirmishing and fortified it with sails & logs making an extended line of breastworks. We remained here three or four days the rebels charging our position every day. At 2 o'clock in the morning of July 26th we were called up and marched out of our works. We re-crossed the Chattahoochee river and started on the raid to the south of Atlanta known as Genl McCooks raid -- supposed at first to be one of the most disastrous things in this Campaign. On the 28th our regt was sent away from the main body to make a diversion in their favor so as to allow the rest of our command to reach the west point R. R. and destroy it. We skirmished eight miles going directly towards Atlanta. We then came to a little village called Campbelltown well fortified. We charged right through the town driving the rebels out. We went on swimmingly 2 or 3 miles when we encountered an overwhelming force. We charged them with great vigor but the charge was repelled and our shattered and confused column was hurled back upon itself. Maj. Paine of Milwaukee, comd the regt, was killed, his body falling into rebel hands. We were obliged to fall back and were not able to join the rest of our command as we had hoped. Genl McCook went first to "Palmetto" and destroyed the R. R. and a vast amount of stores, then to "Fayetteville" where he destroyed the other R. R. Five hundred loaded wagons, Three thousand mules, vast quantities of military stores. He succeeded in getting back within twelve miles of the Chattahoochee river when he was surrounded and worsted in an engagement with the enemy. A part of his men charged through the rebel lines and fought their way out the rear were killed or captured. "Jim Brownlow" Col. of 1st Tenn. Cavy and son of Parson Brownlow of East Tenn, led several important charges in person. We started on the raid with 3400 men. The missing have straggled in till the total loss is only about 800. Many of our men had nothing to eat but green corn for four days and came in bare-headed and bare-footed without their horses or arms. Genl Kilpatrick took our place on the right and has had lively times. When I entered the service (being of a sanguine temperament as you know) I was very anxious to see the elephant. I have now seen the show -- seen enough to satisfy me for a long time. This war is a horrid and awful thing. All my ideas about it were incorrect till I came and saw for myself. I can join with the almost universal prayer of the soldier give us peace, sweet peace! Still I have not forgotten that infallible wisdom has said it must be "First pure then peaceable." We hope northern copperheads will be prevented from making a dishonorable peace. We have warm disscussions almost every day upon the Presidential election. Here the vote will be nearly unanimous for "Faithful Abraham." The rest are McClelland men. Most if not all the men among the soldiers want to fight it out to the bitter end. Death! to traitors we say. Yet the pomp and glitter and large talk we have at the north are all died out here. He who talks loudly about patriotism is hooted at here. We know that war don't consist in gay banner prancing steeds and martial music.
We are all three of us in excellent health and hope to come back and finish our course in college together. If we live to be an hundred years old we shall not forget some scenes we have passed through together. I cannot help feeling that God has yet something for us to do at home in helping fallen man to rise. We all try to do our duty here But I don't think any of us are blood-thirsty warriors. There are such men here.
I am confident you are tired of reading so I will forbear any further infliction at present.
D. D. Hill
Co. M. 1st Wis. Cavy.
Office Field Medical Purveyor Dept. Cumbd
Chattanooga Nov. 21st 1864
Yours of Oct. 10th is received. Truly "Change is the title all things earthly bear. If the class of '65 continues to diminish as it has, I fear Beloit will not have a Commencement next year. Perhaps the class improves in quality as it diminishes in quantity. It will not be difficult, nay impossible, to fill the places of such men as Southworth and Barber in that moral reformation which is apparently to follow this terrible, civil war. Yet they have fallen nobly. When passing over the spot where Barber fought in the battle of Stone-river, I seemed to be on holy ground. I love to remember that a fiercer battle was fought in the silence of his room at Beloit and it was a victory won. The re-election of Pres. Lincoln causes little or no comment in this part of the army. Everybody seems to have taken it for granted. I have not heard even a cheer for the result, and the "boys in blue" have an almost chronic habit of cheering. You will see by my date that I am not with the regt Though I have exchanged the soldiers proper equipments for a certainly very unwarlike weapon, yet I trust I am still doing my country some service. The army is suffering from want of faithful and intelligent men to transact its business. For Ex. Though in the service a full year I have never recd any pay. Of course neglect and incompetency is the cause. I am daily surprised at the ignorance of officers. Many a good, patriotic man has had his patriotism soured by the apparent neglect of the government. The business of this office is to receive and issue Medical Supplies to the different Army Corps in the Dept of the Cumbd I do not know how long I shall stay here. Shepard is in the "Inspector Generals Office" of the Chief of Cavy. I think he is at Nashville. We were both in Atlanta but came north when the city was being evacuated. The weather here though not cold is damp and disagreeable. The mud in the streets is about the consistency of thick porridge We have had very little pleasant weather for two weeks. The govt issues daily on an average four thousand rations to refugees from Atlanta and intermediate points. They are mostly women and children scattered around the R.R. depots on the vacant space between the tracks, most of them without any shelter. Their condition is horrible. Some of them are loyal, most of them have brothers, Husbands or sons in the rebel army.
There are quite a number of negroes employed about this office. I have organized them into a school and have the honor of being their teacher two hours each evening. I have ten in all, male and female, old and young. Some of them show rare abilities. All but one or two are enthusiastic scholars. The most imitative creatures I ever saw. George a little, wooly-headed four-year-old black as ebony, learned the entire alphabet except one letter in two days, at the same time learning how to count five. I have taught them thus far with spelling-books. I have been teaching them nearly a week. I am quite sanguine.
Please direct to Your's Affectionately
Omit the regt entirely in the direction D. D. Hill
Care of Dr. Craig Field Med. Purveyor Chattanooga. Box 87.
Field Medical Purveyors Office
Chattanooga Feb. 14th 1865
Dear Prof. Emerson:--
As my last to you has remained a long time unanswered, I have come to the conclusion that it was lost or that your reply met a similar fate. I have just returned from the dedication of a little Chapel built here by the Christian Commission. The material was sent here and the house was built entirely by the voluntary labor of the soldiers. It is one of the portable houses used by the Com. at ports and it is very neat and pleasant.
A part of every Sabbath the colored friends are to hold meetings in it by themselves. The Com. is doing an immense amount of good at this points. Among other other good things they have lately arranged that every soldier who dies here shall be buried with military honors and religious ceremonies. Some member of the Com. goes to the Nathional Cemetary at 2 o'clock every-day and the corpses are brought there at that hour. Too many of our slain heroes are allowed to die like dogs with no burial and no anything. I could tell you of some horrid scenes wh. I have seen.
My duties have been such this Winter that I have usually had my evenings to myself and I have devoted them to reading of such books as I could get, spending an hour or more each evening in teaching a "squad" of Contrabands. I have had some fifteen of them of all ages sexes and colors. They continue to come and all take hold with a will. Most of them are entirely ignorant and have to be taught their letters like children. Some of them have astonished me by their mental acuteness. All have learned to read. Some of them now read the Testament fluently and well. I find some of the most devout and devoted Christians among them which I have ever met anywhere. So many seem determined to continue our national injustice to this deeply-wronged and long-suffering people that it seems as though a just God must blot out our guilty nation.
My classmate Shepard is at Nashville in the Inspectors Office of the Chief of Cavalry. A good position which he is filling with honor to himself and "Alma Mater." Lathrop is still doing duty in the regt
You see by the Caption of this where I am. This Office is a part of Genl Thomas'es Headqurs. I am detailed here as clerk. There are thee [sic] more in the office who do nothing but write. It is the business of a Medical Purveyor to receive medical supplies and issue them to the different parts of the army as it needs. We accompany the Army on a Campaign. We expect orders to move now every day. We have a large wagon train attached and our business is quite extensive and important.
I hope I shall be worth as much to the country here as in my Regiment. I think more for even tolerable clerks are scarce.
D. D. Hill
Please direct to
Care of Dr. Craig
Field Med. Purveyor Chattanooga
Dept. Cumberland Box 87
Nashville Tenn. March 20th 1865
Dear Prof. Emerson:
I was made glad by the receipt of your letter of Feby 20th about a week after it was written. I did not answer immediately as I had recd intimation that I was soon to be ordered to report for duty in a new position but I did not know where and so could not give my proper address. March the 17th I recd my orders at Chatt. to report here for duty and arrived here the next morning by daylight on the R. R. I hope to acquire some valuable information here doing my duty at the same time. I hate to give up the idea of finishing my course at Beloit But as the years go on and the war still continues my hope recedes. It wont do to spend my whole life in getting ready to do something. While I am writing a procession of negroes is passing for they are having a grand jubilee today. The first banner bears the inscription, "Nashville order of Sons of Relief." All the members contribute and any needy or unfortunate "person of Color" is assisted by the treasurer from the common fund. The procession is an immense one. All are decked out in all the finery they could lay hands on -- Flags of all sorts, sizes and shapes. Here are some of the inscriptions on them.
"We ask not for social but political equality." "We can forget and forgive the wrongs of the past." "We aspire to elevation through Industry, Economy, Education and Christianity."
You can hardly imagine how strange it seems to me to see plenty to eat in every variety. I am so unused to the sight of Chatt. and elsewhere in the front for so long that I could not refrain from expressing my surprise at seeing so much of everything -- So many pretty children and elegantly dressed ladies.
Economy is kept in the background here by nearly all classes.
Mr. Barber's family (about whose address you inquired) are rejoicing in the conversion of a daughter, The only member of the family not heretofore loyal to Jesus.
I should like to go Wauwatosa just at this time for many old acquaintances have accepted Gods heavenly teaching. But the furlough is impossible. The address you wish is,
Milwaukee Co., Wis.
I do hope and trust that before this the whole Christian element in College is in active effort. This whole South is one sink of moral pollution. You will think that strong but it is too true. I can't believe that the cities of the plain were much worse than Nashville. Men are murdered on the public street every night. Intemperance is fearful. Please remember me to Mrs. E. and be assured that I am ever Yours Affectionately
D. D. Hill
Office of the Judge Advocate
Headqrs - Dept. Cumbd
Med. Dir. Office Nashville Apl. 27 1865
Dear Prof. Emerson:
Yours of April 6'' was recd several days ago but circumstances have prevented me from replying at once.
Truly your letter is full of good news. It would have been delightful to have been at Beloit during the religious interest. It is a pity my class should not share in the blessing. The mother of one of those who are not christians has had her heart set on his being a minister for years. I have always had a hope that he would be converted at Beloit.
Almost everybody here feels our national bereavement. A few rebels have expressed their joy at the sad event and several have been killed for their rejoicing in public. While I regret anything like mob violence yet I think such wretches have lived long enough. The respect shown to Mr. Lincoln is almost unanimous even here. All good men feel that he stood among our great men at the national capital (as Goldsmith says)
"As some tall cliff whose awful form"
"Swells from the vale and midway leaves the storm"
"Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread"
"Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
We soldiers are all in a "furor" to see the end of the Rebellion now it is so near. I think there never was so much impatience as now. Everybody talks of home and dreams of home and longs to go home. People at the North seem to think we shall soon be back too but I fear all will be obliged to wait for some time yet. It takes a long time to do a very little business in the army. Day before yesterday (the 25'') I recd some pay. The first I have recd except a little as a reward for extra duty at these Headqurs I served 17 months and one day before I recd any pay. Excellent training for a man who is to be poor minister, Isn't it? I did almost hope once that I could be home so as to be at Commencement but the chances are against it.
My former classmate Freeman from Rockford, now Capt. in the 12'' U.S. Cold, has been staying in the city on business for several days and we have passed many pleasant hours together. He is much esteemed by his brother officers to all appearance. Hayden also, from Milwaukee, is with his command just returned from Knoxville and now camped outside the city. He is clerk at Brigade Headqurs and is quite well.
Orders have been issued here for all work on warehouses and buildings of every sort to cease except in cases where it is actually necessary for immediate use. Surplus clerks and employees to be discharged at once. Such work has been prosecuted heretofore almost regardless of expense.
D. D. Hill
P.O. Box 1074 Med. Div. Office
Headqurs Dept. Cumberland
Head-Qurs Mil. Div. of the Tennesse
Medical Directors Office
Nashville Tenn. July 1'' 1865
Dear Professor Emerson:
When your letter of June 6'' was first recd I thought I should be out of the service so soon that I had better refrain from writing for a few days.
The orders then were that dismounted cavalry should be mustered out. My regt came here from Macon and turned over all their animals and took the proper receipts from the D. M. Yet, Genl McCook Commanding our Division of Cavalry decided that our regt was not dismounted, claiming that there was some informality in the order on which the regt turned over its stock. But that order was issued by Maj. Genl Wilson Commanding all the Cavalry in the Mil. Div. of the Miss. And I don't believe it was informal.
This is the way Generals manage everything for their own emolument regardless of the interests of the Govt or the wishes of the men.
McCook must keep his Command together or he will soon be without his position and its pay for he is only a Volunteer officer (being but a Captain of regulars) How long this thing will go on we cannot tell. Col LaGrange has gone to Washington to get a position in the regular army. Report says he has been made Major and assigned to duty on Wilsons Staff. LaGrange promised to use his influence in getting the 1st Wis. Cav. discharged but everybody who knows him is aware that his exertions will be modified by his self-interest.
Some of our shoulder-strap-men are frank to say that they don't want the regt to get out of the service though they know there is nothing for them to do for the Govt. The men are nearly all homesick. With many of them it has become a disease. They say they enlisted for the war. The war is over and they want to go home. The Govt cannot afford to break its promises. The sooner the army is returned to civil life the better. Plenty of men can be found who will enlist in the regulars. We don't want a large standing army at all. This part of the country is perfectly quiet, and the people are fast becoming well satisfied to live under the old Union.
For my own part I want to return to my books but I am comfortably situated here and am trying to read and study a little. I have but little time however.
God's providence called me into the army and he will send me home when the proper time comes. These petty Generals can't evade orders from his Headquarters or delay their execution for a moment. I often think that perhaps I was sent into the army to prevent me from entering a calling which I could only have disgraced. My classmates were left to pursue the path we had all chosen while I was turned away. Certainly Beloit is a better place to prepare me for the Christian ministry than the army. I believe in trusting in Providence fully. But it don't do to trust to Providence and one's friends where we ought to use our own commonsense. In hearing an Army Chaplain preach in one of the churches here a few sabbaths ago, I could not help thinking of Dr. Todds remark "What a pity to spoil a good Deacon in making a poor Minister." How many good men seem to have "mistaken their calling."
Many of my friends are advising me to omit my remaining college course and go at once to the Seminary. It seems to me that one ought not to rush into the sacred calling half-prepared as a horse rushes into the battle. Still he who is always getting ready to do something, McClelland-like, will die and leave his mission unfulfilled. What shall I do? My class will soon be Alumni and I can no longer call myself one of them. Perhaps I shall never be able to speak of Beloit as my Alma Mater. But while I have been in the army (not to speak of those other years) she has shown a mothers sympathy and affection for me. My class seem to have always thought of me as one of their number. Frequent messages from you and others have shown the great interest taken in Alma Mater's boys. More than you can know or my words can express these expressions of sympathy and solicitude have cheered us on and raised us up above the weariness and fatigue of soldier life.
Though these two years have obscured and partially obliterated the gift yet, they have deepened the consciousness that almost everything I have worth possessing I have recd from Alma Mater. And I can say of her as Burns did of his friend.
"The monarch may forget the crown"
"Which on his head an hour has been,"
"The bridegroom may forget the bride,"
"The mother may forget her child"
"That smiles sa'e sweetly on her knee."
"But I'll remember thee Glencairn"
"And a' that thou hast done for me."
But my letter will grow out of proportion, if I don't stop soon.
Lathrop is in the same office with me. I got him a position as printer. He will speak for himself. Shepard is at Macon.
Please remember me to Mrs. E. I hope to answer your next in person. But there is no certainty nor even probability of immediate release.
D. D. Hill
Head Qurs Mil. Div. of the Tenn.
Medical Directors Office
Nashville Tenn P.O. Box 1074
Wauwatosa Aug. 1st 1865
Dear Prof. Emerson,
Your kind letter of July 18'' is recd having been forwarded to me from Nashville. I arrived here on the 27'' ult. and recd a warm reception.
I am greatly obliged to you for interesting yourself so much in getting us discharged. We got almost discouraged. But the Chief Mustering officer of the Cavalry Command finally took up the matter and we were discharged at once.
I am now free to pursue my studies again but am in some doubt as to the propriety of going at once to the Seminary rather than first finishing my College Course.
I shall come to Beloit next week and very much desire to have a talk with you about it. Indeed, I cannot decide until I do.
I expect to be there by Thursday or Friday. Mr. Shepard is at home. We came as far as Chicago together. Mr. Lathrop is also at home and came with us. I sent him the very interesting account of Commencement which was enclosed in my letter. They will both return to Beloit next term.
Hoping to see you soon I will not trouble you with a long letter.
D. D. Hill
Wauwatosa Aug 21st 1865
Almost immediately upon returning home on Saturday I decided to return to Beloit and finish my studies there as you advised. I got me a Mental and a Moral Philosophy and have been trying to study them but have made poor progress, having had a severe attack of the jaundice and indigestion. I am some better now but as yellow as a mulatto.
Please remember me to Mrs. E. and say to her that I found it impossible to either avail myself of her kind invitation and bring my friends to tea or send her a note of explanation.
Your's with respect
D. D. Hill