The Civil War: Soldier Calls Own Troops Dirtiest Brutes

Great-grandfather writes of life in Union infantry, includin dirt and lice.

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My mother was Ella Fagen Robinson (1887-1973). In her possession, she had a series of letters written during the Civil War by her grandfather, Abraham Bennett, during his service with the Second Iowa Infantry, Fourth Division, 15th Army Corp of the Union Army.

October 1864: "John W. Moore and I bunk together. We have a good bed of straw, plenty to eat, plenty of river water to drink. I was put on top of the stagecoach at 8 p.m., where I stayed until daylight. We have two days rations. I haven't been examined; we passed between two doctors and held up our hands; that was all. I must tell you what I got – an overcoat; beau pants; two shirts; two drawers; two pair of socks; one fine hat with the eagle-bugle and a fine feather on it; a splendid blanket; and a good oil cloth to keep warm and dry.” 

"I am at Nashville now in the biggest house I ever saw – five stories from the ground. I am sitting on my knapsack, writing on my knee." 

Later: "The big house I was in ... in Nashville fell down (two nights after we stayed there). It killed 300 men. You see, I was lucky." 

January 8, 1865 – from Savannah, Georgia: "1 have got some good hope of going home in the spring. We got the news today that Georgia has called her state militia home." 

January 31, 1865 – from the field in Georgia: "We are the dirtiest looking brutes you ever saw after a few days' march ... and lousy is no name for the lice. They pretty nearly eat some of us up some nights." 

February 10, 1865 – from South Carolina: "We marched 22 miles today ... we are sweeping the country of everything – horses, cattle, hogs, flour, meal, potatoes – burning the dwellings; burning up fencing; just cleaning it out." 

March 13, 1865 – from North Carolina: "One-third of us is bare-footed; our shoes are worn out, and we can't draw any until we get communications. My boots are worn out so I have to tie them on my feet with pieces of rope." 

Abraham Bennett marched in the review of Union troops in Washington, D.C., on May 25, 1865. He received his discharge in July 1865. Although Abraham had complained only of blistered feet, and a slight cold during the course of his letters, he had contracted a fatal fever – possibly typhoid or malaria – while in the South, and he died at home on Sept. 11, 1866. He was 29 years old.

Hope Robinson
Yale, Iowa 



Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.