69th Indiana soldiers writes of captured “Jeff Davis’s spy”

We have 3 Rebels in the Guard House, one Declares Himself to be Jeff Davis’s spy. Their Trial comes off to Day, and what will be dun with them I cant tell. I would Hang them if I had the sentence to pass on them…

Civil War Letters of William Corbin, Co. K, 69th Indiana Infantry

Civil War Letters of William Corbin, Co. K, 69th Indiana Infantry

This excerpt is from the William Corbin Letters (Cowan’s Auction).

Cowan’s auction description:

William Corbin letters, 1862-1863. 69th Indiana Infantry. 12 war-date letters. Also included are 3 small tintypes, one of which is identified as Corbin, and a CDV of the Lincoln family.

William Corbin spent much of his enlistment in the 69th Indiana Infantry slogging through the swamps and backwaters of the deep south, doing the dirty work of suppressing the rebellion, never seeing the full fruits of his labors because he was killed in action at the Battle of Port Gibson in May 1863. In a dozen letters to his parents, Corbin described his experiences from the time the regiment was raised at Camp Wayne, Richmond, Ind., in August 1862, through his death at the Battle of Port Gibson in May 1863.

Corbin was a typical soldier from a typical small Midwestern town; his writing is rough around the edges, but descriptive, intelligent, and quite effective at getting across. From his first week in camp, he seems to have taken to military life.  “We are getting along fine,” he wrote from Camp Wayne, “all seem to be Sattisfied. I am perfectly well satisfied. Soldiers are all alike, every one seems to be the others friend. We have plenty to eat and Drink.” Even at this early date, the war seemed close at hand: “We have 3 Rebels in the Guard House, one Declares Himself to be Jeff Davis’s spy. Their Trial comes off to Day, and what will be dun with them I cant tell. I would Hang them if I had the sentenace to pass on them…” 

Once the regiment headed into the lower Mississippi Valley, Corbin encountered a world unknown to him in Indiana. In March, he wrote: “I see a great many contrabands down Here. We have some very hard Boys along with us and the way they will talk is not very slow to the Negroes of this place and some of the Dirtiest looking Humans I ever saw is Here, But I will see something worse than this Before I get Back again…” From early in the year 1863, the regiment was involved in a steady round of hard labor and service under fire. Halting at a huge Louisiana sugar plantation on April 13, Corbin described one of the many small skirmishes: “Here we will have to Fight some before we go much Further. The Rebs were in force on this Plantation when we were on to them, we drove them Back, Killed one of them and How many was wounded I can’t tell. We had 2 Howitzers in Position, They (Rebs) Tried to shell us back from this place, but could not do it, we was to Spunky for them. A shells truck one of our guns was disabled when we took New Carthage we took $2,000 worth of Tobacco and a Quantity of Shugar… [The man whose Plantation we are on] is a Rebbel and has 4 sons in the Rebbel army. They are in sight of our Picketts and when we fight and they fight us were we are, they have to fire at their own House, which is a fine one…”

At Perkins Plantation, two weeks later, he was more interested in the flowers than fighting: “Thare must have been the Nicest Guarden on this place that ever was. Oh the nicest Flowers I ever seen. They smell so good. The nicest shade trees, but the House was Burnt By the Owner Himself so He cant Blame me for it. We capture some Rebbels some times, got several in a House for safe keeping…”

Corbin’s letters describe the usual round of illness characteristic of the Vicksburg Campaign, and offer telling little details, like two men who had recently awakened to find three foot long snakes in bed with them. But unlike so many of his comrades, neither disease nor wild animals took their toll on the young man. The final letter in the collection was written by James Elliott (otherwise unidentified), who informed “Brother Corbin” that “John Turner’s son that was wounded at Port Gibson he is getting some better, but William Matney & William C. Corbin died of their wound a few days after the battle. Our last night’s news confirms the capture of Vicksburg…”

Beyond the letters, the collection includes four photographs, including a widely popular carte de visite of the Lincoln family, and three tintypes: a ninth-plate set into the bottom half of a thermoplastic case and a carte de visite-sized image set in paper frame, both apparently of Corbin; and a carte-sized image of a young woman. Also an early facsimile reprint of the famed Vicksburg wallpaper newspaper, separated along many folds.

Apart from the poor condition of the facsimile newspaper, the items in the collection are generally in good condition with average wear and tear for Civil War correspondence.


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