by Diana Dretske

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John Y. Taylor letter to his sister Isabella Low

Days before the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, on September 20, 1863, Scottish immigrant, John Y. Taylor of Company C, 96th Illinois, wrote a letter to his sister Isabella Low in Lake County, Illinois. John and his older brother, James M. Taylor, had enlisted together on September 5, 1862.

Letters were an important way for soldiers and their families to remain connected and to share news. The stationery John used for his letter was imprinted with a patriotic image of a Federal shield surrounded by a star and compass. The outbreak of the war brought a surge in demand for Federal, pro-Union stationery.

Transcription of Taylor’s letter written about September 18, 1863:

Good Day.

We the Reserve Corps are about 30,000 strong … the actions in front We hold ourselves in readiness to march in five minutes from the time we are called on to any point in the front.

Yesterday we could hear cannons all along the lines in the direction of Town [?] Yesterday deserters came in very fast, faster than I ever saw them before. Last Sunday night [next page] I saw about 400 of them all together who had just come in from the enemy having hid in the mountains till our army came up then they came down and give themselves up and are sent to Nashville or Louisville where they are [unreadable] let loose often taking the oath Allegiance. The most of them [unreadable] well enough dressed and look [as] if they had been well enough fed.

Bragg in his retreat has destroyed an amazing quantity of railroad property and from Nashville to Chattanooga there is not a village that looks half as civilized (excepting Murfreesboro) as your village of Antioch and most of those below Millburn.

I reckon I sent for a humping [?] box last heat [?] didn’t I? You and Mary will have a gay old time getting it [unreadable] if you have the spoondoodlicks [sic, spoondoolicks] handy. It may be some time before I see it now for it has a long ways to come “via” government team and at present they had as much as they can do to get supplies for us.

Lots of our troops are on short rations here at present. We thought we would live like fighting cocks after we got into Georgia or Alabama – but there is no great plenty here yet – though there may be further south. Hope so for I have to forage and live on the country when we can do so.

I understand you have a right smart of young Ladies boarding with you this fall. I hope you and they may have a pleasant time of it. You will have company [unreadable].

James Murrie is still at Tullahoma in Hospital. When last I heard from him he was getting better and thought he would be with us soon. No more at this time.

Give my respects to enquiring friends. Remember me to the boys.

With Respect Your Affectionate and [unreadable] Bro John Y. Taylor

P.S. “Write soon”


Source: Taylor Family (James M.) Papers, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Manuscripts Department, Springfield, Illinois.