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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Letters from homefront are window to life

McCulloch's wife kept him up to date on matters large and small.

Friday, April 15, 2011 - 10:54 am

Much has been written about Civil War generals, battles and bloodshed. Far less has been told about what it was like on the homefront, especially here in Fort Wayne.

Much of the information about how the war affected daily life back home passed between family members and friends via handwritten letters, many of which have since been lost.

Fortunately, family members saved numerous letters Susan Man McCulloch wrote to her husband, Hugh, or other family. Along with reports on the weather, crops, weddings or deaths, Susan McCulloch's letters during the Civil War years provide a unique window into life in a city somewhat divided over the war.

First, a little background:

• The McCullochs were among the leading families in Fort Wayne. Their large home, built in 1843, still stands at 616 W. Superior St.

A banker, McCulloch was appointed by President Lincoln in 1863 as the nation's first comptroller of the currency and tasked with managing the national bank system. He became Secretary of the Treasury during Lincoln's second term in office, a post he also held in the administration of President Andrew Johnson and for the last year in that of President Chester A. Arthur.

• Hugh and Susan McCulloch appear to have had six children, three of whom were born and living during the Civil War years of 1861-1864: Charles and Fred, who were in their late teens to early 20s, and Louise, who was about age 5 or 6 when the war broke out.

Susan's letters also speak of Hugh and Anna, whose last name reportedly was Vermilya. They are believed to have been taken in by the McCulloch's after their parents died.

• Susan mentions “Copperheads.” The term refers to Democrats who opposed the war.

• She also mentions “hundred days men,” which are soldiers who enlisted to serve for 100 days.

Here are samples of Susan's letters, excerpted from the book “The Fort Wayne Letters of Susan Man McCulloch 1836-1865,” edited by Clifford H. Richards:

March 4, 1862

Susan to her mother, Mrs. Frederick Halsey of Plattsburgh, N.Y.:

“Your kind letter and one from Anna Diele were received two weeks since and would have been sooner answered but for the duties which devolve upon me in our Soldiers Aid Society, which could not be neglected.

“Some of the Germans in Willich's Regiment were from here, and they wrote after their first engagement for lint and bandages and other hospital stores, which I collected and sent to them. Then our gallant 44th (Indiana Regiment) Col. Hugh B. Reed, Ann E. Thompson's husband, was in the thickest of the fight at (Fort) Donelson, and we have been sending hospital supplies to their wounded. …

“Mr. Case, our former Congressman, is lieutenant colonel of the 44th Indiana and was in the fight at Donelson. Col. Reed buried nine of his men who were killed, and then being ordered to Fort Henry, left a lieutenant to complete the list of killed and wounded, but they were so separated on different boats and in different hospitals at Mound City, Cairo, etc., that it will be long before we have a correct list. ... Our men never flinched but held their own, re-enforcing Gen. (George) McClellan when his division was so hard-pressed. ...

“Hugh is making quite a soldier. I hear from him often. He has not been sick a day. Both of Margaret Stratton's older boys have gone. Walter, the older, 19 last July, is our Fred's foster brother, you know. He is 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and well made and a very smart boy. Lewis, the second son, is 6 feet, 2 (inches) and weighs 200 pounds.”

May 9, 1863

Susan to Hugh:

“Major Walker is here, and I think will do good by talking to these Democrats and telling how the rebels treat Union prisoners. He says that soldiers taken from Belle Isle (Richmond, Va.) are so nearly starved that they have lost their reason, and all demented, thinking themselves still in Richmond. Poor fellows! He says they cannot live, except very few. He remembers the jailers and says, if he can meet them dying, they will die by his hand if he has the strength. ...

“The Copperheads on election day acted as meanly as they always have done every year, however, growing bolder. They appointed (word missing) Cody and J.B. Maier judges, and Henry Dils and Ike Campbell were allowed to take the ballot boxes home with them when they went to supper. After that, they allowed Mr. Caloris Anderson to witness the counting. ...

“We had but half a dozen Union votes from Sihler's Church, so says Louis. Sihler (pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church on Barr Street) having preached to them about the wickedness of war and this one being more bloody than those old German wars on Napoleon, appealing to their feeling for the widows and orphans and the poor maimed soldiers returning to us. When we spoke to them about voting for (Indiana governor candidate Oliver) Morton or (President Abraham) Lincoln, they were just like madmen. We could do nothing with them. ...

“On Wednesday night, we all illuminated and had a torchlight procession, but it was as much as their lives were worth to undertake every step of the way. Mrs. Colerick as usual ran out and hoorahed for (Confederate leader) Jeff Davis. I think it quite time she was sent where her sympathies are.”

Oct. 16, 1863

Susan to Hugh:

“Last evening, the Union people held a jubilee in front of the Aveline House, and they all felt good. Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Case made appropriate speeches, and the Glee Club did their best to inspire the loyal. The guns fired rapidly. The band played, and all went off satisfactorily. Some Irish tried to interrupt the speakers but were unsuccessful, though it was rather annoying to the bystanders. I hope you feel better now that Valladigham (national Copperhead leader Clement L. Valladigham of Ohio) is beaten. I do. Oh, how I wish they would push this war faster.”

May 15, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“Friday morning at 10, we attended the funeral of Lewis Stratton, who died in the hospital at Murfreesboro (Tenn.) on the 17th of April. Poor fellow! He had been trying for months to get his discharge, never having been well since he was wounded at Stones River, and was, like too many others, the victim of red tape. His discharge not being signed in time for him to be brought home alive … .

“On Friday afternoon, our Ladies Covenant was formed and, considering the number of Copperheads in the community, was very well attended. I think it will do some good, though only a drop in the rain.”

May 22, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“Chauncey Oakley has gone with his hundred-days men and there are several other companies from this district. But the Copperheads are so blatant here that I said the other day I wished (Confederates John Hunt) Morgan or (Nathan Bedford) Forrest would come through here and clean them all out, even if by so doing we should have our property laid to waste, too.”

May 29, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“Capt. Thomas of the 20th Indiana was buried yesterday. He had 14 bullet holes through his coat and six wounds, any one of which would have proved mortal. That regiment has seen hard service.”

June 2, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“We heard from Hugh last week. His letter was written on the 19th, but we see by the Cincinnati Gazette that his boat had a fight with a Rebel battery on the 25th, which lasted half an hour. No casualties reported, so I trust he is safe. He was well, he wrote, and as full of nonsense as ever. ...

“We hear from (Capt. Arnold) Sutermeister's (11th Indiana) Battery often. It is shelling out the Rebels at Dallas, Ga., (and) by the last advices, all well so far.

“I see Lulu (the McCulloch's daughter, Louise) in my absence for a moment has put a kiss for you at the bottom of the page. We all miss you so much, even old Chris groans that Mr. McCulloch is not here to enjoy the nice asparagus. He thinks it a miserable matter for you to be gone so long …

“I hope we shall see our way clear to live together if (Union Gen. Ulysses S.) Grant is successful. Everything else seems to hang on that, and perhaps we do, too.”

June 23, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“We hear full particulars of Sherman's progress from Mrs. (Eliza E. ‘Mother') George and also the dreadful descriptions of battle and hospital scenes. The old lady is such a favorite among the surgeons that they allow her, and are right glad to have her, in the advance hospital. She sleeps on a pantry shelf one foot-and-a-half wide or any other place, not being particular, and wears the same black dress until it is worn out, when we send her another. Of course, they are thin material and not very durable, for there can be no washing done in the advance. She says in her last letter that she and her supplies were the means of saving many valuable lives.”

Aug. 14, 1864

Susan (visiting in Cresson, Pa.) to Hugh:

“Friday, as we came out from dinner, a train passed with a regiment of soldiers, which we all cheered, and I felt in my heart that Fred was on board those cars, although my better judgment said no. He was going to Washington, and they would hardly send a Massachusetts 100-days regiment west. But my heart was in the right of it, for it was Fred's regiment, I see by the Pittsburgh papers. ... How I wish I could have seen him, if only for a few moments, which I could have done had the train stopped here.”

Sept. 8, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“You probably read an account in the papers of the attack of Copperhead rowdies on the Union meeting held on Saturday evening to celebrate the victory at Atlanta. Our ladies were many of them present and had their clothes injured by the eggs thrown.”

Oct. 2, 1864

Susan to Hugh:

“If we have continued success, the Copperheads will get to be totally quiet. They are so improved already. Pete Kiser was abusing a soldier yesterday in his store when the soldier caught up a weight and threw it at him, striking him just over the ear and wounding him seriously. … Our soldiers, after having fought the battles of their country, are not going to stand the abuse of each fellows, and I do not blame them. I wish the war was over for more reasons than one. My black dress is all cutting out.”