HENRY ALBERT POTTER
CAPTAIN: 4TH MICHIGAN CAVALRY
Edited by Michael Palmer Ruddy, his great grandson.
1-7 Letters written August - December
Letters 8-13 written January - March 1863
Letters 14-27 written April -October 1863
Letters 28-37 written November 1863 - April 1864
Letters 38-53 written May 1864 - August 1864
Letters 54-65 written September - May 1865
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|This is a letter to Henry Albert Potter in the field from someone who is viewing the events in Ovid, Michigan, where Henry Albert Potter enlisted during the recruiting efforts for Uncle Abraham (not all rushed to the colors, it seems). He is writing to Henry Albert Potter, who enlisted in the 4th Michigan Cavalry, to tell him of the news. Potter is at Camp Minty in Detroit as the regiment is being readied to go to where the action is in Perryville, KY.|
|Ovid, August 7, 1862
Dear friend Albert
Yours came to hand yesterday
I am glad you enlisted when you did, it is all excitement here. Every man that is between 18 & 45 years of age is sick or going to be, or lost a finger, or a thumb, or a great toe. Any thing for an excuse.
One man has been down to get the Town Board together to appoint him Constable so he could stay at home. Another man has offered $200.00 for a substitute if he is drafted. Another man came 6 miles to tell us that he expected to have the palsy before another winter. It is really laughable.
This morning McIntyre, Knowles, Lounsbury, & Smith have gone. Fishbeck and a number of others are still coming. Charles Herdon has enlisted and a good many more from Duplain will enlist in a few days. The first call for 300,000, our quota will be filled this week. Next comes 300,000 more 9 months min. I think we are beginning to awake to the subject. It is time we have something to do to crush this rebellion & the sooner we go at it the better by far to do what we have to do.
I read a letter from brother John yesterday.
They are having warm times there. Rubi wrote yesterday
that he started with his regiment in two weeks. I do not
know what regiment it is. Gustav is in 2nd with Barber.
He is tryingto get a discharge. Rubi thinks she will come
here this fall. It is lonely enough here. Take good care
of yourself. We will try to keep everything straight
here. I should not be surprised if George Shepard, Binck
& Button enlisted.
|SGT Henry Albert Potter from Detroit, Michigan at the organization of the 4th Michigan Cavalry part of "Colonel Robert Minty's Saber Brigade". Maybe someone you know is in there. The letter gives a view of camp life before the reality of war.|
August 14th 1862
Dear John and Mary
We are having a rainy day in camp, nothing much to do, a line to you will probably be acceptable. We have been in camp now since last Tuesday. I have never felt better in my life than I do now. None of us have been sick except Frank Aldrich and Norman Smith and they are better. There are now five companies on the ground. They are full, I believe. Captain Wells, McFarlan, Fulton, Robbins and Shepard. Captain Horace Gray was our captain when we came here and Sherpard 1st LT. but Gray has a major's Commission now which makes Shepard our Captain. Captain Carter 1st LT, Hudson 2nd LT (brevet LT not appointed yet) I have the appointment as First Orderly Sergeant, which will be permanent, I think if I give satisfaction. John Gilbert is 2nd Duty Sergeant. I have been left in command nearly all the time. Shepard and Carter are down town busy making out the paper for mustering, and the bounty money. I keep the roll book. We have two roll calls, one at 5 o'clock am and at Retreat or Sundown. When we get organized we will have three. I give all passes from the camp, detail men for guard-mounting, march them to the guard house and deliver them to the Sergeant of the Guard and have to look after things in general. It keeps me busy all the time, but I don't mind that if I can only keep well. We have passed examination.
All of the Ovid boys were all right. We expect to be mustered in this week, but there is no certainty. I hope we will get to drilling soon. Colonel Minty was in camp yesterday. He is a pleasant looking man and well-liked by everyone. Our camp is 1 3/4 miles from the city, up the river opposite the barracks, and adjoining the cememtery on the west. A very pleasant situation -- have a view of the city, we can see the boats pass up and down the river. Elmwood Cemetery is a splendid place, there are monuments there that cost from $1000.00 to $3000.00 I should judge, some are 25 ft. high. The grounds are kept in good order. Gravelled roads, flower-beds and 2 fountains which are playing all the time. At the entrance there is a green-house with an artificial rock, flight of stairs and a grotto with vines clambering round it. I can't tell you anything about it only it is very nice.
Six Sibley tents are allowed to each Company,
besides a square tent for the Capt and Lt each. Not a
drop of rain can get in , we have plenty of hay and have
drawn our blankets so we can sleep in the hay. I have
never slept better than since I have been here, the tents
are pitched in the streets, we are on Clinton Avenue,
There was a fire about 1/2 mile from camp day before yesterday, a saw-mill burned -- it made an awful blaze. Estimated loss $70,000.00 -- thousands of feet of lumber were burnt -- riches take wings and fly away. Yesterday there were 3 fires brought out in the city, but the engines were on hand and put them out, -- no doubt the work of an incendiary...
Your letters just came to hand. I was glad to
hear from you that you are well. I won't write any more
now. Give my love to all, show this to Father if you see
him. Mary your needles and pins have come in good play --
thank you. There are 98 in company now.
|Henry Albert Potter enters into the war with his regiment, the 4th Michigan Cavalry. Obviously awed, he talks of the battlefield dead and the chaos in the wake of the battle. It has come as a shock to these young soldiers to see the real panorama of war. The diary for 1862 got burned up in a wagon train at Stones River, so these entries given here as a sample are all that remain.|
|Friday Oct 17, 1862
Camp near Crab Orchard
Dear Father, Mother, and Sister
We are in camp near a village named Crab Orchard. We received marching orders last Friday the 10th at Jeffersonville Indiana. Started from there about noon. Crossed the Ohio for the first time into KY. Only part of the regiment was ready, six companies. Louisville is a handsome city, larger than Detroit. It was rather disagreeable marching the roads were very dusty. The roads in KY are excellent. We took the road for Bardstown. Put up in the woods the first night. I have kept a kind of a memorandum every day since weve commenced this march. I will copy a day or two.
Friday Oct 11th
The clouds of threatening rain gave us a little shower last night, just enough to lay the dust. Passed quite a number of Sesesh prisoners that have been paroled. They are as dirty ragged set as ever I seen. Their
clothes are just the color of the ground. They look half starved. I talked with one who was taken prisoner at the battle of Perryville. He belonged to the 25th Louisiana. Was under Gen Bragg. He said Bragg was not liked by his men and ought to have been in hl long ago. Said he lied to them so often that they did not believe anything he said. Said they were 3/4 Union men in the county where he lived but they were impressed in the Service against their will. I asked him if he thought if they would come out ahead. He said they were bound to keep trying. He thought they were [in the] right. I asked if he would fight against us after he was exchanged. He said he knew they would call for him but "he wouldnt be there." He said the majority of the men were tired of the war and would be glad to come back in the Union again but the leaders were not.
Reached Bardstown about 3 pm, quite a pretty village. Passed 4 hearses on their way to Louisville from the battlefield of Perryville. 3 Generals and a colonel were in them. Major Genl Jackson, Genl Tesril? & Col Hewitt? were all the names I learned rather gloomy picture. The road is filled with army wagons and trains of 100 to 200 wagons are constantly passing to & fro. Put up about 5 miles beyond Bardstown.
Put up at Danville. Carter, Shepard and myself went in a Union mans house & got an excellent supper. He was well informed & flowing over with hospitality. Two little wenches with white aprons stood behind their mistress to pass the coffee & hoe cakes.
Monday Oct 13th
Tuesday Oct 14th
Suppose we talk about something else. I have seen soldiers, cavalry, infantry until it is no sight at all. We soon get used to these things and to hardships. Ive have had hard crackers and bacon since we commenced marching, and that is all pretty hard fare, I have felt well enough until the last two days. Yesterday morning I was quite sick. It was a bilious turn just the same as I have at home. The hard food and marching was a little too much for me. I did not ride my horse, yesterday but laid in an ambulance. Dr Bacon, our assistant surgeon is a very fine man. I feel a great deal better today. I am taking Swiss? Powders and quinine. Today we are lying still waiting for the rest of the regiment to come up & I am very glad. I shall keep still a day or two & then I will be all right again. You know I promised to write if I was sick. I might very easily have kept this to myself. John Gilbert had the ague last night, he is writing home today. We are writing under an Oak tree on a hill. Newman, Lounsbury, & Nestrin? Knowles are also writing. Those likenesses that I wrote about sending home have not come. The trunk was not sent. I will get them back again when our baggage wagons come.
You must have hard work to read this letter ,
I did not think of writing much when I commenced but kept
writing just as thoughts came to me. See what a mixed up
mess it is. And I have half done yet. Colonel Minty sent
out Lieutenant Carter & 20 men foraging last night.
They brought us in 8 sheep this morning. The boys drove
about 20 pigs a yard and delivered them to the
commissary. 3 men have passed me while I have been
writing one had 4 turkeys, one had 2 turkeys & 3
chickens, the other had some geese. If we stay here a day
or two eggs will be very high here next season I fear.
Colonel Minty asked very innocently of the cook this
morning where he got that mutton. Cook said he
didnt know. Twas brought there last night. The
colonel thought it was very singular . The colonel allows
the men to get supplies. He keeps an account of it so
that if necessary he can sign receipts for the same, if
they belong to a union man and he makes complaint. He get
a paper to show the facts and the government pays him for
all that is taken. If it belongs to a rebel he will
probably not make a complaint, for we should nab him. The
colonel knows that if he did not allow the men to get
forage in this way, that they would get it on their own
hook and he takes a wise course. The country through here
is very hilly. All that we have marched over is rolling.
Some places very rocky just fit for cattle & sheep
& nothing else. Around Perryville the country is all
laid waste. Fences torn down. Cornfields destroyed. I
never saw so desolate a place. Every house for 2 miles is
a Hospital. I tried to get supper at Perryville. Could
not get a
I have not got a word from you since I left
Detroit. I have written this makes three times. Mail is
very irregular. Direct to Company B. Fourth Michigan
Cavalry near Louisville KY and I guess it will come
through. Send the Tribune or Free Press every chance you
get. A paper here is a rarity. You must excuse me to Wm
Shepard, Elder Bassett and George Binck I promised to
write to them but I do not have time nor place. If we
ever get settled in quarters then I will have more time.
But now I cant. Give my love to Nancy, Faxon &
Family. I will write them as soon as I can. To uncle Em
& aunt Phebe, John and Mary. Let George Binck read
this if he can and Mary Longor. Give my love to all of
Mrs Longors folks, Mrs Gilbert, Shepard, Winfields,
& everybody. I would like to and hope to see you all
|Henry Albert Potter comes down with Yellow Jaundice. There is a lot said in the simple statement: "It was horrible." Eternally optimistic, expects to be out in a day or so. During the entire war he kept trying to get everyone to write him. The letters from home sometimes are the only bright part of an otherwise terrible day.|
|In the Hospital, New Market
Friday Oct 21, 1862
Dear Henry and Debbie
I will write you a line this morning. As I have time. I have been in the hospital 3 or 4 days with the yellow jaundice. No wise humid away from Louisville and kept on a forced march for 5 days, it was rather much for me. It is nothing but biliousness humor. I am about well now, Dr Bacon of Dewitt, Clinton county is the Asst Surgeon and a very fine man. We are in a Presbyterian Church in New Market, a dirty little village among the hills. There is about 30 sick now, none dangerous, a little rest will cure them. Our baggage wagons are camped about a mile ahead of us across the river on a rich old Sesesh farm. The Regiment is away after Morgan on a three days scout.
I am sitting in the pulpit with pen and ink in the desk where the word of truth has been preached from Sabbath to Sabbath, where prayers have been offered by pious hearts in time past. When Peace reigned, but now , what a contrast! War makes everything different, a change for the worse, it appears
There was a Sesesh paroled prisoner buried here this morning. A regiment of Cavalry was encamped around the Church. There was no acrimony whatever, but few even looked for a moment, he belonged to the 6th Arkansas, a poor deceived following of Jeff
There is a rumor in camp that an armistice of sixty days was being reached upon between the North and South, that a settlement may be brought, but I dont believe it. We know nothing for certain never. Rumors of this and that are flying at all times. ----- send a paper now and then it is a great rarity to see a Michigan Paper or read the news. You may direct to Company B 4th Michigan Cavalry via Louisville, Kentucky and I guess it will find its way, Headqs? follow us up.
On our march here we passed the battlefield at Perryville. The battle was fought on Wednesday, we reached there Saturday. What a desolation it was Sesesh bodies were still lying on the field. Some close by the side of the road, dead horses, dead mules, broken wagons were scattered around. Our dead were all buried. 2500 Sesesh dead were where they lay in a valley yet unburied, they were hurried away without giving them time to bury those killed. One passed 4 hearses on their way back , 3 generals and 1 colonel. That was a picture. I had read about it but never seen it before. It was horrible.
I can write everything and & I cant write anything this morning excuse me. I shall leave the hospital tomorrow, I think. John Gilbert has been some sick. Write as often as you can for (?) get much time. Give my love to all. I hope to see you again, from Albert.
[note written in margin]
[note in margin]
|In spite of the optimism in Henry Albert Potter's letter of Oct 21st, sixdays later we find him still sick in the Hospital in New Market, KY. The regiment moved on leaving him and several of his comrades in the hospital to tough it out.|
|New Market KY
Monday Oct 27, 1862
I had a good chance to get a letter in the office today. So I thought I would write a line. I am in the Hospital. I have had the jaundice pretty bad and then caught some cold. My throat has been very sore. I have put Oil of Hemlock on it so it is much better. I am going to get some Wild Cherry Bark & liquor, make some bitters. I guess that will straighten me. I have taken Calomel Rhubarb for the jaundice. Dr Bacon of Dewitt is the assistant Surgeon. A very nice man. We are in a Presbyterian Church.
There is sixty sick here. Two or three are dangerous. The regiment is about 30 miles ahead at Munfordville. We have had about 3 inches of snow here. I suppose up home you have had a foot, perhaps. It is a very pleasant day. The dust which has been very unpleasant has simmered down. They have had no rain here for three months of any account. It is a hard place to get postage stamps here. I wish you would send me a dozen or so when you write. I hope to be with the regiment when we get our Pay for I have not a cent. John Gilbert has been some sick. Bilious as well as myself, but he is with the regiment. I will have to stop.
My love to you all and
to my friends, Mrs Gilbert especially.
|Henry Albert Potter returns from New Market, KY hospital. He is recuperated from Yellow Jaundice and rejoining his comrades in Nashville, having missed the regiment's hunt for CSA General John Morgan's Cavalry. He details his method of laundry to his sister for approval and gets a chance to hob-nob with the upper crust in Nashville.|
|Saturday November 15th 1862
In Camp near Nashville, Tenn
My dear Sister
Having time this afternoon, I thought I would write a line home and tell you of my whereabouts. I am felling nearly as well as ever only I tire out very easy. I have a good appetite. Have just been eating dinner. Had some fried shoulder, sweet potatoes, cold beans, bread and coffee. So you can see we dont live so bad here. It is only when we are on a scout or march that we have hard feed. Then we take it as we can catch it. John G.[John N. Gilbert] is in the hospital at Mitchellsville. He is pretty sick, or was when I was obliged to leave him. He is not in with the rest of the sick but has a good bed in a house near the Station. As he was rather weak, the surgeon did not move him from the place I got for him and I was very glad of it. I have not heard from him since I left and am some uneasy, but hope for the best. Levi Fishbeck is with him he will see to him perhaps as well as I would. I wanted to stay but the surgeon would not consent so I had to come on here. We are camped just across the river from Nashville, the capital of Tenn. I have been through the city, it is a pretty place, about half as large as Detroit. The State House is a splendid building built upon a hill. You can see it 3 or 4 miles from the city in any direction. The country around here is very fine. Nice farm houses with their little cabins in the rear for the darkies. They have no barns in this country of any account. A great many houses have been burnt along the road. The chimnies stand as a bleak monument of the desolation of war. I said we were camped, I only meant a detachment of the regiment under Lt Col Dickenson [William H. Dickenson]. The regiment is not here nor has it been. They are scouting around after Morgan. We expect them in now every day. There was fighting night before last about 17 miles from here. We think the 4th was engaged, but have heard no particulars. Lieut J.M. Carter[Julius M. Carter] is sick. He is at home near here. He thinks of coming home to get well. Our captain, Frank Mix is now with the company. The boys all like him first rate. I have not seen him yet. We have not drawn our pay yet and I doubt if we get any until the 1st of January. I am clean gone done, no done gone, thats it. I am dead broke. I guess I can stand it though if I dont have it I wont spend it. There is due me now about $40. Mother, I intend to pay you all up as soon as Uncle Sam pays me. Please send down your acct and I will fork over. There must be a right smart of it by this time, I reckon. When you write again tell me about the farming how much wheat was sown and where? Did they sow Meditteranean on Rhodes farm? How many potatoes was there? And how much corn? Are the horses fat? And all these little things. They are all very interesting to me.
You ought to see me do my washing. I washed out a couple pairs of socks yesterday and 4 pocket handkerchiefs today. I rubbed them out in soap suds until I thought they were clean. I then rubbed soap on them after wringing them out and boiled them up in the cooking kettle and then rinsed them out in cold water, was that right? And to iron them rubbed them out with my hands. I am very precise about this for I thought perhaps I might make a mistake. I guess it was all right but the cooking kettle. I send you a Confederate note. It is not the genuine but said to be a facsimile. I sent John a paper printed by the rebel Morgan. It is quite a curiosity. When we came into Nashville the other day I had no horse. I had been riding in the ambulance but when we got in the City I got out and walked and by that means did not keep up with the rest. A gentleman came along in a carriage and I asked him if I might ride a piece with him. He said yes! With the greatest of pleasure! I got in and finding that he lived nearwhere the regt was going thought I would ride all the way. He was a strong Union man. Was a member of the legislature when Tennessee seceded. His name is Trimball. He invited me to stay to dinner. I thanked him very much and excused myself, but he urged me so that I went in. And oh! You ought to have seen the style. I hardly dared to step on the carpets with my dirty boots. He introduced me to his wife, son and daughter and Mr. Richards an aid of Gen Negleys was also there to dinner. For dinner we had three courses Soup first, made of mixed vegetables such as we have in the Army. It is a mixture of cabbage, carrot, tomatoes, peppers, beets and other things all cut up fine. And pressed into cakes about an inch thick and preserved in some way. The 2nd course was a pigs-head, souse, snout and all and sweet potatoes. The 3rd was fried beef, wheat and corn bread all the way through. Cold water to drink in silver cups. After dinner I thanked them very much and took my leave. A friend of mine was to the city to see his cousin as it happened his cousin lived in the next house a large two story brick (Trimballs house stands upon a hill, a splendid house and so richly furnished. So much silver plate etc) and Mrs Trimball happened
in. Had an introduction and in the course of the conversation found out that I was in the same company and sent over a very polite invitation to take tea. Isnt that beautiful! For lo! And behold come to find out Mr Trimball is Attorney General of the State. I think I shall go over and marry in the family wouldnt you? Amelia, I have written this little adventure just because I had not much else to write and to show you how the richest families are obliged to live here. On acct of the war sugar is 75 cnts a pound, brown. Coffee $1.00 and hard to get at that. Milk and eggs are out of the question.
Apples are 10 cnts a piece, but we bought some a 2 for 5 cnts in camp today. Gen Rosecrans headquarters is in Nashville. I have not seen him yet. The mail from the North is uncertain. I dont know when you will get this. I am sorry you have to stay at home when you might be at school but perhaps it is all for the best. By reading and thinking you may educate yourself to a certain degree but I think you might perhaps get a school next summer! You might set your mark there and try! Give my love to Emma and Anna and to Mrs Binck and all my friends. I am going to write to Mr Lancers the next I think. You may send a stamp or two in your next letter as they come very handy. It is about nine oclock. I am sergeant of the guard to night and will have to report myself. My love to you all.
|We find Henry Albert Potter back in the thick of things after his return to the regiment. He tells his mother not to worry about him getting shot and muses perhaps he will never see a real engagement.|
|In Camp in Nashville
Dec 2nd 1862
I received your paper today and Amelias letter last night and have received all of the letters, stamps and papers you have sent me, I think. I am feeling first rate again. We just got in from a three days scout yesterday. We went out on the turnpike to Lebanon after the rebels but they skedaddled before we got there. Sunday afternoon we came up to their pickets and had a light skirmish, no one hurt. Companies B and A were detailed as picket guard that night and it rained. Oh dear! We were not allowed any fires but had to stand it. I was wet as a drowned rat but did not catch a cold. So you see I am tough. You are foolish to think I am going to get shot or any such thing. Its time enough to think about such things when you have to. Mustnt look on that side. Well we captured some fine chickens on our scout and consequences was we had an excellent pot pie today for dinner and Lew Wilcox[Lewis H Wilcox] is baking some wheat pan cakes for supper. I must stop until I eat about a dozen or so. Well those cakes were not quite as good as yours for they were a little heavy being about ½ inch thick. But they tasted very good with sugar. Better than hard cracks. I heard from John yesterday he is getting quite smart. Able to walk some. By being careful he will soon be with us again. Alf Shepard[Alpheus F Shepard] wanted me to say for him that he was around. Billy Egleston[William H Egleston] has had a bad earache a day or two. He is well other ways. I dont want you to send me any more money. I was only telling how hard up I was. If rumors are true we will get our pay this week and then I can send you some. Give my love to George Rhodes. Tell him to improve his time at study, he will never regret it. Tell him to make my respects also to Mr Rhodes family. If Josiah lets old Charley go you must get a mate to Skip, dont go with out a team. Theres no use of it. Better get another mare to raise a span of colts for me. We take all the good horses we find on our scouts. It seems rather hard but it is right nearly every family in the country about here to Lebanon are rebels. Company B has not been in any battles yet and is not likely to be very soon. You must recollect there are hundreds of regiments and thousands of companies in this great army. We may possibly serve our three years out and not see a large engagement. I have sent the likeness. You may send it to Aunt Nep when you get thro. I will send another one home when I get a chance. I have no news to tell you this time. Tell GJB I would like to hear from him. I wrote Neiman Lancer a week ago. Write often as you can. I do not always have time to write. I always write every chance.
My love to all
[written around the margin] I recd Mr Gilberts letter. My love to them all.
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