Below are letters written by David W. Poak, of Co. A, of the 30th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, that mention the 78th Ohio in one way or another. Poak enlisted on 12 Aug 1861 as a sergeant and was promoted to lieutenant 13 Jan 1863. The 30th Illinois was brigaded with the 78th from 18 Dec 1862 to sometime in December of 1863. Before that they were in the 3rd Div but 30th Illinois was in the 1sr Brig and the78th in the 2nd Brigade.
Camp near Davis' Mill, Miss. Jan. 8th 1862
It has been sometime since I last wrote to you and you will no doubt wonder at my long silence but I tell you that here has been no opportunity to send any letters and even now I don’t know to any certainty that they will go. The only mail we have recd for sometime was yesterday morning at our camp near Coldwater. I recd 7 letters among others two from you. The last letter I wrote you was from Water Valley bearing date of Dec.20th .Our stay at that place was not of long duration, for on the evening of the 21st just when we were getting supper recd orders to get ready to march immediately. We got started about sundown and marched back towards Oxford 8 miles. The idea of making a retrograde movement did not suit the boys but they could not help it. We got to camp that night about 9 o’clock cooked some supper, and then lay down on the ground without tents over us .Was up next morning by four o’clock, and was ready to march at half past five but did not get off until nearly eight .All the bridges and trestle work between Water Valley and Oxford were destroyed as we fell back. We got to Oxford on the morning of the 22nd about one o’clock. Remained there until the morning of the 24th when we took up our line of march towards Abbeville where we arrived about dark that evening .The next morning Christmas our company was sent out into the country foraging. Perhaps a few extracts from my diary of that date would not be uninteresting to you. The extracts that I shall give you were hastily written whenever a leisure moment presented itself and are very defective in many points so you need not show them. The morning Christmas we were allowed to remain abed or aground ( for we were sleeping on the ground without any tents and but one blanket to two men) until after daylight which was rather unusual for us. On getting up instead of finding the Christmas breakfast we used to at home we found that ours consisted of a tin of coffee some hard crackers and some boiled beef, this latter however running short before our appetites were satisfied .We were compelled to roast some fat bacon,(familiarly called by the soldiers Sow Belly) on the end of a stick and finish up on that. Shortly after breakfast our company in conexion with one from the 20th and one from the 78th Ohio Regiments were ordered out foraging .This we found dry work as the country had been scoured by the troops as they went southward. We went out about 4 miles from camp got 7 good cows ,3 calves ,six hogs,4 barrels corn meal and other things to tedious to mention. The property we took belonged to Capt. Lee of the rebel army. We arrived in camp about 4 oclk p.m. Found out they had been looking for an attack during the day, and felt some anxiety on our account lest we should be taken .Had fresh Pork for supper which we relished exceedingly well as we had eaten nothing since morning. Rebel army reported in heavy force at Oxford .Expect to march in the morning. Our wagons came from the opposite side of the river this evening, so we have our tents. Contrary to all our expectations we remained near Abbeville until the 3rd of the present month.
During our stay at this place we were first on 3/4 rations, and then it was reduced to 3/8 rations. The last two days we were there we drew nothing from the government. Our Brigade did not feel the short rations near as much as the rest of the Division as they were on the north side of the river and did not have a good place to forage. We sent out large forage trains every day which brought in lots of provision, and as then were ten miles close by we had lots of corn meal and flour. The first full rations we got was on the 4th of the present month. These short rations were caused by the rebels cutting off our communication with the north. I suppose you have heard all the particulars of the surrender of Holly Springs by Col. Murphy. This is decidedly the most disgraceful thing that has ever happened our Western Army. I cannot but think that Murphy is a traitor and that he sold the place to Gen.VanDorn. He was warned the night before that the rebels were advancing and were within 3 miles of the place. Still he made no preparations to defend the place. There were strong brick buildings at the depot , and any amount of cotton ,so that he could have blockaded the streets and kept any cavalry force at bay until the reinforcements which he knew was coming to his assistance could have got there .But enough of this. I will go back and give you a few incidents of our march. On the evening of the 3rd of this month we recd orders to cross the river. This we did arriving at our camp about 8 o’clock at night and in the midst of a heavy shower of rain. While we were setting up our tents it rained as hard as I ever saw it, and the wind blew so that it took four of us to hold up the tent while the others staked it. After we got it up and went into it we found the ground covered with mud and water at least 4 inches deep. We placed in a few rails and thought we would spend the night sitting up but tired limbs and sleepy eyes soon overcome us and we concluded to try sleeping on the rails. My partner went out and brought in a large lot of brush and He and I had a middling good bed but the rest lay down where it looked impossible for a man to lie let alone sleep. But all I guess slept middling comfortably notwithstanding their hard beds and wet clothes. The next day was spent in drying the blankets and clothing. The next morning we had orders to start at half past seven o’clock, but did not get off until one. We marched to Holly Springs that day [letter ends abruptly here]
Jackson Tenn June 12th 1862*
I again take my seat to pen a few lines for your perusal. It has been sometime since I last wrote to you the cause of it was that we were moving round and had no mail route established. We are now in the city of Jackson sixty miles north of Corinth at the Junction of the Mobile and Ohio railroads. This is a beautiful place. The nicest we have been in since we left home. The town stretches over a large extent of ground. The houses are not built close together like they are in most of the cities but each house has a large yard around it and this yard is full of flowers, shrubbery and shade trees all kept in the nicest style. The citizens are all secesh of the rankest kind but I will stop here and tell you something about our march from the camp before Corinth. We left there one week ago yesterday and marched out about 14 miles on the Purdy road. The next day we marched about 10 passing through Purdy (which is quite a nice place) and going about five miles beyond it. The next day we marched to Bethel a small place on the Mobile and Ohio railroad about two miles distant from our last camp. The next morning we got in the cars and started for this place. Our force consisted of 9 companies of our Regt part of the 78th Ohio and 3 companies of the 18th Regt Ills. When were came within a mile and a half of the town two companies of the 78th and companies “A” and “F” of our regt were deployed as skirmishers to advance into the town and find if there was any force of the enemy there. We advanced and got into the centre of the town before anyone was aware of our presence. Then came the running to and fro. Men, women and children could be seen running in all directions everything was turmoil and confusion. After we got in the main street we marched down to the Court House where finding out that there were some rebel cavalry camped down at the fair ground our Co started double quick to get them but when we got in sight of their camp we saw 8 or ten of them leaving in great haste. When we got to their camp we found they had left everything. They had been eating dinner and their rye coffee was still hot on the table. They had been in such a hurry that they had not even taken their guns with them. We 15 or 20 guns, five wagons and 14 mules and a considerable amount of camp equipage. I found a cavalry saber which answers for a sword. The next day after we came here Col Marsh’s brigade came in. The citizens were looking for us the day before we came and a number of them were out in line to fight us but the next day they were taken so by surprise that they did not think of fighting. We have found and are still finding large quantities of stores belonging to the south. We found secreted in one cellar 50 barrels of flour and 27 Hogsheads of sugar. We are having very pleasant time here now fruit is plenty and is getting ripe. The dewberries are ripe and there are the nicest patches of them here I ever saw. We gather them and get pies made of them. Blackberries are also plenty but are not yet quite ripe. Peaches and apples are also abundant. Times are very hard here. Salt is worth from 40 to 50 dollars a sack. Coffee is worth from 1.50 to 2.00 dollars a pound and other things in the same proportion.
The news of the battle before Richmond on Saturday and Sunday is here and there is a rumor afloat that it is taken but it is not confirmed. I rec’d a letter from Polly yesterday written on the 1st. I will answer it if I can but if I don’t get time this will have to do for both of you and I want both of you to write to me. Excuse bad writing for I have done some awful thing in this letter.
Write soon and often. Send me some more stamps, I cannot get any here.
From your brother.
On Board Steamer Fanny Ogden*
Eagle Bend, Miss Mar 23rd/63
Your very kind letter bearing date March 8th came to hand today and found me exceedingly glad to get it. My last was written on the 16th while at Lake Providence and if I remember correctly I told you that part of our Division had embarked and predicted that they were going to Yazoo Pass. In this I was mistaken as they only wound up the river about 5 miles and debarked. I have understood since however that Gen Logan had orders to proceed as I told you before but after embarking and cutting the Levee received orders to await them until further orders when he was compelled to move up to find a camping ground. On the 17th while we were eating supper received orders to break up Camp forthwith and go on board a transport. We embarked that night and the next morning moved up and joined the remainder of the Brigade. When we were left behind at Lake Providence it was the general opinion that we were going to be put in another Brigade so when we came up and they found we were not changed the 78th Ohio Reg turned out, presented arms and gave our Regiment three cheers. They also placed guards over some board fence and would not allow any man to touch a board until we came. I mention this merely to show you the good feeling which exists between our two Regiments as it is rather uncommon for Illinois and Ohio troops to get along well together in our part of the army. During our stay at this last place called “Camp Logan” or “Berry’s Landing” we enjoyed ourselves firstrate but were not allowed to remain long as on the 22nd (Sunday as usual) we received orders to once more go on board the boats. Everything being in readiness at 5 o'clock we steamed down the river arriving at this place about nine o'clock. This morning commenced unloading but had not proceeded far when we got orders to stop. About 10 o'clock Gen McPherson and Logan arrived and after viewing the place for a while started down to Gen Grants Head Quarters leaving us orders to remain on board until they returned. The idea is for us when we leave these boats to march across about ¾ of a mile Bayou where there are boats to convey us to Yazoo River but the ground between the river and Bayou is very swampy and there being no good road built artillery cannot pass and Gen Logan does not want to move infantry out without some batteries. The weather last night and today has been decidedly damp and the plantation on which we are landing presents nothing but a continuous sheet of water so you may imagine we are going to have a delightful time. When we leave here I understand that we are going to leave all our camp equipage. This looks some what as though a Fight somewhere was intended. The entire army is closing in on the flank of Vicksburg and I think that during the next few weeks some hard fighting will be done with what result remains to be seen but I am middling confident of success and hope for the best. Vicksburg once reduced I will think that we have done a big springs work. You spoke in your letter about seeing May Fullerton. Which May was it? I remember the I Bob’s May It was the day I left home and she told me she knew I would not stay away two weeks. I wonder if she believes it now? I would like to meet all the young folks again that I used to associate with. I think I could put in a pleasant time. How are soldiers received back there now? I think when they all return they will be at a discount for some of them have certainly acquired habits that will not be very pleasing to the good folk at home.
I received quit a compliment from Col Shedd a few days since on my military deportment since I have been in the service but my candle is burned out and I will have to wait till morning. Tuesday morning Mar 24th/63. Gen McPherson has not yet returned from Young’s Point so on that score I have nothing more to tell you. Last night we had more rain which added greatly to our comfort and the beauty of the surrounding scenery. I forgot to tell you last night that I wrote a letter to JR Miller a few days since in answer to one I received from him while in Illinois. I felt almost ashamed to write to him after having neglected it for so long but I thought if a letter from me would interest him any, better write it late than never.
You said in your letter that you had recd a letter in the Current from W. Ben Cunningham and he did not appear to like the army. If he does not like it in his present position what would he think had he shoulder his musket and fight. What has become of Bob Brewster. I never hear his name mentioned now. Does he still live in the Cottage? I expect were I back there now while the Boys are away I would hardly find any person I know. I would like to run across the Jackson once. It would do me almost as much good as to go home. The Superior carrying the two Generals is coming back and a few minute will decide what we are to do.
I have since learned that we are to dissent back in the morning and first now have recd orders to send all our camp equipage to our old camp. Wont we have a nice time in these swamps? Comment is unnecessary. I will write you the first opportunity.
Your Brother, DW Poak
Camp 30th ILL Infty
Near Jackson Miss
July 13th /63
Yours of date 28th June came to hand on the evening of the 12th July and found me busily engaged in preparing to move from our camp at Bovina. On the morning of the 13th at 5 o'clock we broke camp and started in the direction of Jackson Miss. About 7 o'clock A.M. crossed Black River at the point where the Rail Road Bridge used to be. About 2 oclk P.M. reached the old “Champion’s Hill” battleground where we camped for the night. During the evening I rode all over the contested ground and found many things that looked very natural besides many marks that showed plainly how stubbornly the place was contested. In one grave I saw 8 of our Regt buried while in another just alongside were several others buried with members of the 34th Indiana Regiment. It was at this point of the field that our Regiment lost most heavily. The 34th Ind belonging to Hovey’s Div was driven from their position on the brow of a hill where our Regiment was sent to retake it which we did with heavy loss. Our soldiers that were killed there, were very neatly buried but I am sorry to say that the Rebel dead were very carelessly interred. I saw one place where 50 of them were had been thrown into a ditch and some dirt thrown over them. The heavy rains since that time have washed away the dirt and now their remains lie bleaching under the scorching rays of a southern sun.
On the morning of the 14th took up our line of march and came to a small town on the Rail Road between Jackson and Vicksburg called Clinton distant from the former about 10 miles, where we remained last night and until 9 oclk this morning. Last night Col Shedd and I took supper with an old friend of his who used to live in Aledo Illinois. Notwithstanding that he was a man of considerable means our supper was of a very ordinary character owing I suppose to the scarcity of provisions in this country. This morning about the time the Division was leaving I called on an old Lady and her daughter with whom I had become acquainted when passing here before and spent an hour very pleasantly. During my stay they gave me a plate of ripe figs to eat. These were the first I have ever eaten in their natural state and I cannot say I like them very well. They are very abundant through this country and are just commencing to ripen.
Today we came to this place about 3 miles from Jackson where we are now encamped. Gen Johnson is in the City with a force variously estimated at from twenty five to forty thousand and Gen Sherman has the place invested. The familiar boom of the cannon and the sharp crack of the sharpshooters rifles are constantly heard. I don’t know what we will do but suppose we will move up to the line tomorrow. I have not heard any news yet about the position of affairs at this place so I believe I will leave my letter until I find out some news.
July 16th If I stopped writing yesterday evening to wait until I would learn some thing about affairs here. I am certainly concerning again too soon as I know nothing more now than I did when I quit. News came in yesterday evening that our men were skirmishing at Clinton with some rebel cavalry and Gen Mathias Brigade of our Div was sent back to reinforce them immediately. This morning three Regts of our Brigade and 1 Battery of Artillery started for the same place on double quick. The 78th Ohio Reg of our Brigade remained at Clinton yesterday when we left so I suppose if there has been any fighting there they have been engaged. The rebel force is supposed to consist entirely of cavalry under command of Gen Jackson (one of the men we whipped at Britton’s Lane last fall) and their object is no doubt is to try to capture a large train of commissary store which is now on its way out here. Our rations have all to be transported from Black River to this place on wagons and I expect the Rebs will bother us all they can by making raid on our trains. Matters in front appear to be very still. I have not heard over a half a dozen guns this evening. On our march out from Black River was one of the most novel spectacles of the war. The two great armies that had so lately met in the terrible shock of battle, marched out side by side, the one with quick elastic step, buoyant & flushed with victory. The other pale and dejected & humiliated by defeat. The one with bright uniforms, banners floating to the breeze, music playing, bayonets glittering in the sun. The other clothes in rags and stripped of all their paraphernalia of war. Their Officers and men and ours mingled freely together. They acknowledged the genius of Grant and the bravery and perseverance of his army but warned us that the “Last Ditch” that ever receding point of rebel desperation was awaiting us at Jackson. We traveled together until we came to Edwards Station when they took the road leading to Raymond and we continued on our way into this direction. Their Officers are trying to get them into a parole camp but the majority of the men appear determined to go home and swear they will do so at all hazards. Large numbers of them have already left the main today and gone home and I very much miss my guess if Gen Pemberton ever succeeds in getting the one half of his army into Camp. The most of them are very strong in their denunciations against Pemberton and swear they will shoot him as soon as they get out of our line.
The weather for the past few days has been very cool and pleasant, the nights most exceedingly comfortable for sleeping. After dinner for the last hour the cannonading and musketry in front has been quite heavy. I have not learned the cause. The rebel line of works is very near the City and if there any inhabitants in the place I think they will have a rather warm place to stay. They will not have the large hollows for protection that they had at Vicksburg. The people through this country feel rather badly about the surrender of Vicksburg but appear to think we cannot take Jackson. They have great confidence in Gen Johnson and in his ability as a General. Vicksburg has however learned them a lesson. They have found out that this Yankee Army is not such a trifling thing as they had supposed. You can see that they are fearful about the result of the next engagement between our two armies. When we passed through here before on our way to Vicksburg they appeared glad to see us going thinking no doubt we would be entirely annihilated but now they would much prefer not seeing us coming. You spoke in your letter about getting a letter so & so & wanted to know what I thought of it. Tell me who it was from and then I can answer you better. I recd a letter from Lyd at the same time I recd yours which I will answer soon. When you write to Will Officer give him, as well as all the rest of the Boys my best respects. We have good news from the east if it only proves true which I most sincerely hope it will. If matters continue favorable as they have been for the last two weeks I think the Confederacy will play out within the next year.
I am getting along fine in my present position. Everything moves along pleasantly. The Company Sergeant formerly belonged to our Company and is a firstrate young man. The Quarter Master Sergeant is also very pleasant and agreeable and understands his business firstrate. I have written all I can think of at the present. Give my respects to any enquiring friend.
D. W. Poak
Tell Emma Williams that I answered he letter immediately after its reception and sent, if it has never been recd it is no fault of mine.
Vicksburg Miss July 28th /63
You cannot imagine my joy when a few evenings since I was the happy recipient of two letters penned by you hand. One bearing the date July 9th and the other July 12th. But now comes the try of war. Your letter have been recd and read and doubtless you will be looking for something in return while I am at a great loss to know what to write. During the last two months being used to so much excitement, now that everything is quiet it appears impossible for me to write. Yesterday I took my pen and wrote about a dozen lines to you when I gave up in disgust at the effort. How I may succeed today remains to be seen. Well my last I believe was written from Near Jackson Miss on the evening of our arrival at that place. Our stay there was destined to be of short duration. The same evening of our arrival at that place one Brigade of our Div was sent back to Clinton, a point on the R. Road between Jackson & Vicksburg distant from the former place 10 miles. In the morning when our Div left Clinton the 78th Ohio Regt was left behind to garrison the place and to guard the road against incursions of cavalry or guerrillas. Some of the Citizens seeing this small force left there and knowing that Jackson with a heavy cavalry force was hovering round in the vicinity, went out and informed him of the facts and requested him to come in and “gobble them up.” That day he did advance on the place and in the evening just at dark drove in on our pickets. That night he camped close to our lines doubtless thinking that all he had to do the next day was to come in and parole them but what must have been his surprise the next morning at daylight to find instead of one Reg, five. They brought their force up as if to make an attack and then beat a hasty retreat. The following morning after our arrival at Jackson our Brigade returned back to the same place where we remained until several days after the evacuation of Jackson when we took up our line of march for this place arriving on the 23rd inst. We are now encamped on the North side of the City near the river bank and with a few rods of their inside line of works. Our location is not as pleasant as it would be if we had some shade but as a general thing, there is a pretty good breeze blowing which tends to make it somewhat more agreeable. The view from our camp is beautiful. We have a view of the River for about w miles either way including the landing at the City. I cannot imagine since I have seen the positions and number of rebel batteries commanding the river at this point how a single transport ever succeeded in getting by. Where the river makes the bend just above the town the boats have to come within 20 Rods of this place to keep in the channel and immediately opposite the bend and on this side of the river there is planted at the waters edge a battery of very heavy guns. How all these guns could miss I cannot imagine. But this is nothing. The river is for miles is lined with artillery both on the bluffs and on the low ground near the water. A short distance above and within sight of our camp lies the wreck of the “Cincinnati". Workmen are busily engaged either in raising her or taking the guns, I cannot tell.
Our Army is being furloughed to the amount of 5 percent and large numbers of soldiers are daily leaving for home. I do not expect that I will get to go home this fall as no Officers are allowed to go except on surgeon’s certificate of disability. Our Lt Col made application a few days since and it was rejected so unless different orders are issued it will be useless for me to attempt to go. Should matters take a change and there be an opportunity to I have the promise from the Col that I shall go first if I wish.
Our Brigade is being paid off and we are expecting our pay today or tomorrow for the months of May and June. The weather is very warm and until within the last few days, has been very dry. We have had since we came here a couple of very refreshing rains which made the air much cooler and relieved us for a short time of an immense amount of dust. Mosquitoes are plenty and extremely savage in this vicinity. I have a mosquito bar which protects me but I pity those who have none. The men through camp look as though they had contracted small pox, their faces being covered with red lumps, the effect of the mosquito bites. I am getting along finely in my new position. I have made arrangements to draw a large lot of clothing and camp equipage tomorrow or next day. This drawn (page has a hole and is unreadable) I will have little to attend to for sometime. Our Regiment baking is in operation again and we have soft bread in abundance which is quite a luxury after living so long on hard bread. The health of the men is excellent so far. I fear though that we will have a good deal of sickness this fall. A good many of the troops are leaving for other points. I think that our Div and perhaps our Corps will remain here to garrison the place. Enclosed you will find the congratulatory orders of Gen McPherson and Logan to the troops under their command after the surrender of this place. Please tell me which you think is the better.
I have nothing more at present
My respects to any enquiring friend
D. W. Poak
HdQrs 30th ILL Infy Vicksburg Miss Jany 7th 1863
I am almost ashamed to acknowledge that I have again received two letters from you I had written none to you nevertheless it is a fact. Yours of Dec 16th came to me a few days since and the one written Dec 21st arrived today accompanied by one from Lydia. I have not had a busy time before since I have been in the Army and I have since 1864 command. We have a great many more Returns and Reports to make out at the end of the year than any other time. To add to this we have been recruiting “Veterans” for the last week and as soon as I would get commenced at anything some one would come in and want something and I would have to stop. I think by the end of the week everything will be straightened out and I will have a little more leisure. On New Years day the officers of our Regiment had a meeting and resolved to make an effort to reenlist ¾ of the Regiment as Veteran Volunteers. So the next morning each one set to work and in the evening of the 5th we had raised ½ a man over our quota having 245 out of 326 the latter being the number to reenlist. What do you think of that for the Old Thirtieth? We can beat the “Home Guards” yet. We are very busy making out the Muster out and Muster in roll now in order to get pay. We expect to leave for Springfield Illinois between this and the 20th of this month to be furloughed from there for 30 days. The Pay Masters that are to pay Veteran troops arrived last night. Our Regiment is the only one in this Brigade that went in entire. In the 2nd (our old) Brigade three Regiments went ??? the 32nd, 68th and 78th Ohio. We have been having exceedingly cold weather for the last week, colder than any we had last winter I think. Good wood is a scarce article in these parts and as we are unable to get coal this winter we are sometimes rather scarce of fuel. I think I told you in one of my other letters that Mrs. Shedd and Mrs Strang have been making preparations to give our Regiment a dinner on New Years day. When that day came it was so bad they had to postpone it till some other day. Having waited now 7 days without getting a suitable one they today divided out the eatables among the men. As it is now nearly 10 o'clock I guess I had better close for the night. Friday evening Dec 8th 1863 finds me seated before an unfinished letter notwithstanding I promised myself when I quit last night that this should be finished and sent off in this mornings mail. But as what cannot be cured must be endured. I suppose we will have to let it go this time providing I make the promise so oft made before that I will do better in the future. Our Division was to have been reviewed today by Maj Gen Hunter but for some cause or other was not. The other Regiments of our Brigade were drawn up in line for over one hour waiting for him but he did not make his appointment. The most of our Regiment being out on duty, ??, did not have to turn out. Today was a good deal milder than yesterday by tomorrow the weather will more than likely pleasant. Gen Maltby had a detail from our Regt today sawing some cuts off the tree that the surrender of Vicksburg was made under, these cuts he intends sending to Gov Yates and I understood that they were to go with our Regiment. One of the Boys gave me a key today made of the wood of that tree. I suppose I might call it the “Key to Vicksburg”. I have not hear of Duff yet concerning that land but I have understood from other sources that it has been sold to another person. If it was done before he heard from me. I am not very particular I would just about as leave it sold as not. The things I have brought from home have disappeared since. It would be a very great breach of discipline for a soldier to save anything this long. They adhere strictly (especially in such cases as this) to the old Motto “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” I believe I have exhausted all subjects I could think of so I believe I will close. I shall tell you more about the trip to Illinois in my next. Write soon.
*Letter mistakenly dated the previous year