The Civil War Letters of Sylvester Kenyon, Woodford County, Illinois

courtesy John R. Kenyon

The following letters were written by Sylvester Kenyon, during the civil war 1862-1865. They were addressed to his sister Sarah Kenyon of Cazenova township, Woodford County, Illinois, as well as to other members of his family.

FAMILY HISTORY Letter #1 (Nov. 10, 1862)
Letter to sister, Sarah
Letter #2
(Nov. 18, 1862)
Letter to sister, Sarah
Letter #3
(Fall of 1862)
Letter to  brother, Alfred K.
Letter #4
(January 5, 1863)
Letter to sister, Sarah
Letter #5
(Jan 10, 1863)
Letter to sister, Sarah
Letter #6
(Feb 14, 1863)
Letter to sister, Sarah
Letter #7
(May 28th 1863)
Letter to sister, Sarah and other family members

Letters 8 through 22 (Page 2)

The History of the 77th Illinois Volunteer Regiment


Sylvester was born 14 Sep 1843 in Fox River (now Aurora), Kane County, Illinois. He was a son of David A. and Huldah P. (Wilson) Kenyon. His parents migrated from Vermont in 1837 to Woodford County. They later spent two years in Kane County, where Sylvester was born. They returned to Woodford County when Sylvester was about two years old, where he spent the remainder of his youth. He had three brothers, Orson, David Darius, and Alfred, three sisters, Orillia who married William E. Frink on 15 March 1860, Sarah A., who after the war married George W. Sickles and Hulda Ann, she married William Mouton on 12 Jun 1864. They were all living in Woodford County during the war years.

Sylvester enlisted 22 Aug 1862 in Company F of the 77th Illinois Infantry Volunteers in Lowpoint IL. He was enrolled by Capt. Crandell. He was mustered out of the service on 10 July 1865 in Mobile Alabama.

He married Lizzie Butterfield 15 Sep 1875 in Woodford County. They later moved to Butler County Kansas, where they raised a family of five children. Arthur Sylvester, Abner, Ransom, Ira S. and Linda who latter married Earl Petersen. He died 27 Dec 1929 at 86 years of age.

The original letter were obtained by Paul E. Anderson, great nephew of Sylvester, while on a visit with relatives in Kansas in the early 1960ís. They were photo copied from the originals, at the Regional Archives at Illinois State University at Normal IL, where Paul had taken them for safe keeping. They were typewritten and arranged by John R. Kenyon.

The letters were copied nearly word for word, as they were written, with very few correction made. Some commas being added to facilitate reading. Due to the faded ink and age of the 130 year old letters, some words and sentences were nearly illegible.

Letter #1

Nov 10, 1862
Nicholsville, KY

Dear Sister:

I received your letters, all three of them. I was at Covington when I received your first letter, and I received one from Will at the same time, and the next day I answered Williams letter, and the next day I got your letter. I wrote Orson one before I got any letter from home, and I have not got any answer yet. I have not got my answer from Will yet and he was at Frankfort and I was at Lexington, only about 50 miles from each other. I received your other letter while on the march from Nicholesville to Richmond KY. That day we marched almost eight miles from Nicholsville and then marched right straight back again to the same place, and then struck out for Richmond and marched about three miles further that day which made 19 miles and 16 for nothing. And after we got to Richmond we had to stand picket guard every other day, and we had to drill every day that we was not on guard, so you can see how much time I have to write.

We got to Richmond a week ago last Sunday and stayed til Tuesday morning then came back to Nicholsville and we are on the march now, we got there a little before night. I am writing this letter by candlelight for we expect to go in the morning. I have answered your first letter, but it was wrote in a hurry. I am well and all the rest of the boys that came from up there. I donít want you to worry about me for I have plenty to eat such as it is, and I can buy a pie or cake once and awhile. I see some pretty hard times marching, but thats no more than I expected. We have prayer meeting every night and I go to that. I am sorry that I did not get to see Uncle and Aunt, and cosen ? (cousin) Fred. I want you to write as often as you can, for I like to hear from you , it almost made tears come to my eyes when I read you letter. I will write as often as I can.

Good By dear sister
From your brother Ves
Direct to Lexington KY, as you did the other.

Letter #2

Tompkinsville KY
Sat. Nov 18, 1862

Dear Sister:

I received your kind letter last Sunday, but was on the march at the time so I could not answer it then. I have been in the hospital taking care of the sick ever since until yesterday, when I gave out from overwork, but feel better now. Since last Thursday I have slept but three nights, so you can judge how I felt last night.  

Lewis Whitman and C.S. Simons of this Co. were taken with pneumonia last Thursday, we marched from Glasgow and brought them in an ambulance, which broke down almost as soon as we started, and then they were put in a lumber wagon which almost killed them jolting over the rough roads. They were worse at night, and when we got there Sunday it was raining, and although we took the best of care of them that we could, Charlie Simons died yesterday and was buried today with military honors. and Lewis is getting better and I hope will get well.  

Charley Simons was a Corporal, and of the largest and by far the handsomest man in the Regiment, he was a young man and loved by all. He had not an enemy in the Company.

Tompkinsville is the county seat of Monroe County KY. If you could imagine Metamora, 50 years older and no more new houses built or repaired, and the town stood in the roughest part of the country around Dry Run, you form some idea of the place. It has the blessings of good water which is denied the more northern parts of the state. You donít know or canít imagine what it is like to be without water, when we marched from Louisville to Frankfort, I have driven hogs out of their wallowing places and drank the water gladly, so dreadful was the thirst caused by heat and the rapid marching and the dust. There was no better water to be had. Since leaving Frankfort the water has been plentiful, but except this place and Bardtown it is of poor quality. I would rather have a drink from my well or from Fathers than any I have seen here. Richmond Creek would be called first rate water here, but we have got use to it so we donít mind it now.

(May have been a missing page.)

Letter #3

Probably fall of 1862
To Alfred K my little brother

I received your letter with great pleasure and was glad to hear that you have been such a good boy and have helped the boys gather the corn, and to write such a nice letter to me. You must help Dry do the chores this winter and go to school and learn all you can. And when I get home I will fetch you a little drum perhaps. I donít know of any song to sent you now, but maybe I will sent you one sometime. You must be a good boy and write to me as often as you can. I will have to bring my letter to a close as it is getting dark.

So Good Bye Alfred


Direct your letters to Louisville KY

Kiss Didle and Fedy for me  (Probably pet animals)

Letter #4

January 5, 1863

Dear Sister:

I once more take the opportunity of writing you a few lines, to let you know that I am still in the land of the living, and that I received your letter of the 21st, and was glad to hear from Will, and to hear that he got thru as well as he did.

We got on the boat at Memphis the 21st, and I have not been off yet. We went down to Vicksburg with the intensions of taking it, but when we got there, they found the rebels were too strong, I suppose, so they were ordered back to the boat, and we are now steaming back up the river again.

I am just getting over the measles, I commenced feeeling bad the day we left Memphis and keep getting worse for three or four days, and one morning I woke up with the measles, out as thick as they could be. I am just getting so I can write a few lines to you. I would have told you more about what (fortunate ?) a time the boys had at Vicksburg. if I felt well enough. I am gaining every day. I think I will get well again.

If there is any time when a soldier thinks of home it is when he is sick, many times when I would be laying a dozing, I would think I heard mothers well known footsteps approaching my bed, and I would turn over to see what she had for me, and when I would turn over, and I would open my eyes and find myself in the boat far from home. I could then think of what it was to be at home, and to have a kind Mother to take care of you.

But we need not think about having these blessings about us. I donít want you to think that I am getting home sick, or any thing of that kind, for I donít feel anymore like like going home, and leaving this war unsettled than when I first enlisted. I wrote more than I expected when I commenced.

So Goodbye Dearest Sister

From your Brother

Direct your letter to Memphis

Letter #5

Jan 10, 1863
On the Arkansas
First Fort

Dear Sister:

I once more take the opportunity of writing you a few lines, to let you know how I am getting along. I am gaining slowly, although I am not fit for duty yet. And I expect it will be some time before I am as stout as I was before I got the measles. I expect I was flesher while I was at Memphis than you ever saw me, and now I am thinner (than) than you saw me for some time.

There was four men died out of our regiment, three of them from the measles. Frederick Bolander is very sick with erysipelas, I am afraid that he will not live, and Jacob Rediger has been sick ever since he got on the boat, and he just began to get better and he took the mumps. And Francis is just getting over the measles.

William Moore donít get much better, there has been a (geadele) ?? of sickness since we have been on the boat. It is a very unhealth place for soldiers, and I will be glad when we get into camp again.

We have had quite a battle up here, we came up the Mississippi from Vicksburg to the mouth of the Arkansas River about 40 miles and landed this side of Fort Henmon with all of our forces_ _ _ _ _:

(The rest of the letter is missing.)

Letter #6

Feb 14, 1863
In camp near Vicksburg, Miss

Dear Sister:

I received your letter of 25 Jan. and 1st February. I received the first several days ago. I was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you where all well. We are still in the camp where we was, it is so rainy, nasty, muddy weather. I am tolerably well, except for a bad cold. I am not more than half as stout as I was before I got the measle. But I think when I get over my cold I will begin to pick up a little faster.

The ground is very flat and low around here. You must have had a bad winter up there. We are still at work on the canel, we have some 200 or 300 hundred negroes at work on the canel. Sunday the 15th it is still raining, it rained all night last night. My cold is better today. We had another gunboat run the blockade night before last.

I canít think of any news to write, maybe you think we are down here where the news is, that we ought to send you some, but this is the devilist place for news I ever saw. Eaphrom Stodard is clerk in the hospital at Memphis, and A.D. Stoddard is nurse, and John Smith is cook in the hospital, and is still doing first rate the last time I heard from him.

Lietenant Hammers is getting well again. John Rediger is just getting so he can do light duty. We have company drill once a day when the weather is fit.

General Landon has gone home, and our colonel has taken his place, and on the absence of our Lieutenant Colonel, Our Major is acting Colonel.

You wrote in your last lettter that Will has been exchanged, and had to go right off again, but in your last letter you did not say anything about him, whether he had gone or not. I will have to close for now.

You may send me some postage stamps if you have plenty.

Good bye dear sister

Letter #7

May 28th 1863
Vicksburg, Miss

Dear Sister and Dear ones at home:

I received your welcome letters of the 4th today. I got fathers letter before yours and yours was mailed first.

We are laying around under the hills back of Vicksburg, we have not had any more fights since we made the charge last Friday. That was a great loss. But not quite as bad as I thought was before. There was a great many of our men taken prisoner, that we thought were killed. We had only two men killed out of our company, and one of these was my best friend Francis. Oh how I will miss him, and how I dread to write the sad news to you. I was told that he was shot through the head and killed dead. I never saw him after he was shot, we had to leave him there, and I presume he lay there two days before he was buried. The rebels sent out a flag of truce to get permission to bury there dead, and they buried our men that day, close to the fort. I suppose they buried Francis.

Hammond Sifort was not hurt, he was taken prisoner, and is now paroled. We had four men wounded, but they are all able for duty. ? He was shot through the arm. The others were struck by powder and burned a little. There were four of our men taken prisoner. You will be yet to get the news in the papers about the fight, better that I can tell it.

I am not discouraged, I think that Vicksburg will be ours, but I think that many of wasnít missing, the rebels keep coming over every chance they would get. There was 14 of them over the day of the fight. They seem to think we will take Vicksburg.

I was glad to hear about the Stalks and how they are getting along. You did not tell me how much you were to get for G------.??(Probably the name of a pet animal). I donít know why Dry donít write oftener and tell me all about those things.

Apples are getting big enough to cook, wheat is ripe enough to cut, where there is any, and corn is about waist high and young potatoes are as big as hens eggs. I will have to close, hoping that we may see each other soon. So goodbye to all.

From Sylvester K.

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