Many thanks to Ralph Baughn and Sue Boggs for submitting
John Richardson's letters to our web site!
When John E. Richardson joined Virgil Moats' company of volunteers in Defiance County, Ohio in the Fall of 1861, he was one of the older recruits in the company. At 39 he was already married and his wife, Rosetta, had just given birth to their first child, Ophelia. John and Capt. Moats' wife, Eliza, were cousins, and even though he was only an enlisted man and Virgil was an officer John shared a tent with the Captain. (Virgil Moats also wrote many letters to his wife during the war. They are published in an out-of-print book Shiloh to Vicksburg: Dear Eliza.)
Of the letters John and Rosetta exchanged, 57 survive, covering the entire span of the Civil War and John's time with the 48th OVVI. The letters are reproduced here both as scanned images and transcriptions. Except for the insertion of necessary punctuation, the transcriptions retain John's "inventive" spelling as it adds much to their charm. Where clarifications are required, editorial comments are inserted in the text in italics within square brackets.
While typical of letters Civil War soldiers wrote to loved ones while far from home, John's are unique in their endearing qualities. Again and again, John writes that he is becoming "unesy" about his little family when their letters to him are delayed. "if the folks at home could see the boys collect around when the male cums in and see thare faces when they get no letters thay would write immediatley. if i can her that you and the baby ar wel i can standit." In one particularly poignant passage, John writes to his wife to comfort her fears about losing her eyesight.
if the worst cums to the worst and you loos your eye site you wil be the same to me as ever but i dont beleve you wil loos thoes pretty eyes of yours that i have looket into so often. i cant beleve it. [...] wal rosa dear dont borrow anney trubel about your eyes. if the almiti sees fit to deprive you of them i have nothing to say aganst his will and i wil luve you and take care of you better than i have before if posable. wal i must cloes this letter. i declar i have not roat anney thing about ophelia. tel her she must be a good girl and if her mother goes blind to take good car of her until i cum home. then we wil be happy once mor.
Rosetta seeks to bring John closer to the daughter that he scarcely knows by dipping Ophelia's tiny finger in ink and making an impression on her letter. But as John plaintively observes, "i wood rather see the finger than the mark."
John's attitudes toward race and emancipation are those shared by many of his time. While the letters do not reveal his precise reasons for enlisting, his occasional patriotic expositions are clearly heartfelt. As with many soldiers who joined the army to preserve the union, John has a hard time with the concept of fighting to free the slaves. In one letter he talks about Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation:
i heard that old abe was agoing to put his procklaymation in forse and if that is so i shal be reddy to desert the first chance i get. i did not cum down her to free the nigers for thar ar a goodeal better off whar thay ar than they ever will be anywhar else and thar is a good menney that thinks as i do about it.
However, John's point of view seems to shift in a subsequent letter as he struggles to assimulate emancipation into his concept of union:
i dont know how this war is agoing to end but it is mi firm convicktion that it will end in a short time one way or the other and i dont car much only i had a little rather not get whipt. cum to think it al over i had rather stay in the army 2 years longer and fight them every other day than to let them whip us and i think that you would to for the same prinsabal that wil enslave a black man wil enslave a por white man and before i would work with them or over them i would emagrat north whar they would freze to deth. i beleve the nigers ought to be set free and sent so far south thay would never never find thar way back.
John's letters are also often playful and full of humor:
i sleap with the major of the 48 regt. who do you sealp with? ophelia i exspect. wal i would like to sleap with her to.
i got mi likeness taken this morning. how do you like the lookes of it? i think it is to dark but the boys al tel me it is a good one but I know that i am not as black as that is. i ma be tho if i have to stay her this summer. it wil do for ophelia to play with. i got it for 50 cents while other ones have to pay 1.50. you see thay dont charge as much for good looking persons as thay do for commons ones.
All in all the Richardson letters offer an endearing and intimate view of what it was like to be an enlisted man in the 48th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infatnry regiment. When placed within the context of the historic events John and Rosetta experienced first-hand, they provide a revealing glimpse into the attitudes and feelings of a typical Ohio farm family during the Civil War.
October 1861 - February 1862
April 6-7, 1862
April - July 1862
Corinth & Moscow
July - December 1862
December 1862 - January 1863
January 5-14, 1863
January - April 1863
On To Vicksburg
September - December 1863
New Orleans & Western Louisiana
December 1863 - February 1864
Matagorda Bay, Texas
February - December 1864
Red River Campaign, Capture & Exchange
What Happened to Them After the War?
John E. Richardson
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW
John & Rosetta Richardson had five children by 1880: Ophelia (b. 1861), James O. (b. 1867), George I. (b. 1869), Leroy E. (b. 1875), and Frank M. (b. 1878) After the war, John became a salesman and traveled to many states, probably selling farm machinery. As during the war, providing for his family's financial needs continued to be a challenge for him and the Richardsons were never well off. Rosetta probably lived in Defiance all her life and was active in the Woman's Veteran Relief Union No. 14 there. One of John and Rosetta's other children, Merle, served in the Spanish American War. Echoing his father, he sent letters home to his mother, one with a lock of his hair and a swatch of his uniform. In the late 1800's John moved into the Old Soldiers and Sailors home in Sandusky, OH "for a rest." Rosetta died April 2, 1902 while John was still at the Home. John Richardson passed away in 1911.
The Richardson's daughter Ophelia married and had two children: Pearl and William Stump. John Richardson's Civil War letters were passed down to Pearl, then to her son, Curtis, and then his daughter, Barbara, and finally to her daughter, Sue Boggs.
Based on the numbering of the letters by Rosetta, it appears that there were originally as many as 80 to 90. Perhaps more will turn up one day!
John E. Richardson's letters are published here with the generous permission
of Ralph Baughn, Rochester Hills, MI. Ralph owns the original letters and retains
the exclusive copyright to them. They may not be reproduced in any form
without his explicit permission.
Many thanks to Sue Boggs for providing the background
information on the Richardson family.