Many thanks to Carolyn Srofe of Cincinnati, Ohio for submitting documents and photographs
pertaining to W. J. Srofe for our web site! And to EBAY seller Dan (CD112.4) for permission to
include the transcripts of many of Srofe's letters.
Lt. W. J. Srofe
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W. J. Srofe was one of the first to answer his country's call immediately after the fall of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor in April, 1861. By late-May Srofe had already mailed a letter from camp, the first of some thirty-five letters home to his mother, Sarah Myers.
William Jasper Srofe was born in January, 1842 (or 1841) in New Hope, Brown Co. in southwestern Ohio. His parentage is a bit ambiguous since his mother's first husband, David Sroufe, died in 1836, long before William was born. One family historian conjectures that he could have been an infant adopted from another Srofe family in the area. However, it seems unlikely that a widow without a man to support her would do this, since Sarah did not remarry until 1851. And, it is clear from the letters that William had an older brother, John V. Srofe, who also served during the Civil War, with whom he corresponded (John was born during the time Sarah was married to David Sroufe.)
At the age of 19, Srofe joined Capt. Peterson's Co. "K" as a Sergeant as it became a part of the 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment at Camp Dennison where Srofe had been training. Over the course of his five years of service, he rose to 1st Sergeant in December, 1862, to 2nd Lieutenant in March, 1863 and finally to 1st Lieutenant when he was transferred to Company H. From June, 1863 until at least the end of the year, Srofe was in temporary command of Company H, although this post would normally have brought with it a promotion to Captain. He was captured during the Battle of Sabine Crossroads (a.k.a "Moss Lane") on April 8, 1864 and taken to the Confederate prison pen, Camp Ford, in Tyler, Texas. He and another officer, attempted to escape in August, but were recaptured, and, as a consequence, were not exchanged with the rest of their regiment in October, 1864. Both languished on as prisoners at Camp Ford until May of 1865 - for a total of fourteen months in captivity. While many of the 48th OVVI's officers resigned upon their release from prison, Srofe remained in the service serving as Regimental Quartermaster while on garrison duty in Texas, and was mustered out with the rest of his regiment in April/May of 1866.
Srofe's letters offer an interesting perspective on the adventures of the 48th OVVI throughout the entire span of its existence.
Lt. W. J. Srofe, RQM
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They are well written, clearly the product of someone who had received a good education, and provide fascinating descriptions of the sights and events experienced by the 48th. His descriptions of combat, enemy soldiers, and the places he visited are particularly captivating:
A few days ago our caverly scouts reported a force of rebels five miles from here encamped on the prairie... They were the hardest looking & most distressed looking set of devils I have ever seen. Two thirds were without shoes or hats. Those without hats had tied a handkerchief around their heads. A great many of them had our overcoats which they had taken at different points.
However, the letters are far more significant and extraordinary for Srofe's frequent and articulate expostulations of his views on the political and social themes of the day. Srofe clearly knew what he was fighting for and why and was not reluctant to share his views in the strongest possible terms with his mother and brother.
Prior to leaving Camp Dennison, in December, 1861, he obviously shares the same enthusiasm and war fever exhibited by many of the young men of the time:
The iron arm of rebelion has been made to tremble and is now qualing before the stars and stripes and I do not desire to be sent home again without a fight or at least the pleasure of seeing the enimmy.
He did not have long to wait, as he saw "the enimmy" at Shiloh the following April. The carnage of this and subsequent battles appears to have subtly changed the tone of Srofe's letters from one of ebullience to a more determined patriotism. It is clear that Srofe feels an almost visceral need to connect his service and sacrifices with some deeper meaning as he writes:
I almost dispair and become hopeless. However I do not let these things trouble my mind too much. When I think my welfare is entirely dependent upon the future and that also of many of my friends and how [?] the future will be should this wicked rebellion prevail one [?]. And that the fortune of all and that own of our nation is dependent upon the success of our arms. When I think of these things it serves to arrouse my spirits with renewed determination and then I feel as if though I could fight while[?] the last armed foe [?]. There is sometimes a good deal of dissatisfaction in camp (but I hope you will not think that I am one of those that dispair so easily). When I see a man that gives way to these things so easily I allways feel like doing something for him & generaly find it a very easy matter to arrouse his spirits. To ask, to think what they have to fight for is generally sufficient. Yes to think what we have to fight for I think is sufficient to make any American's blood[?] boile with patriotism.
Notwithstanding his determination, Srofe is not always optimistic about how the war is going or support from the home front:
Our army is becoming more and more disorganized & discouraged every day... I am not whiped nor am I discoraged like some, but don't know where we will [be] whiped or not. My honest opinion is that it is a little doubtfull who will conquer. Wer we suported by the north as a people should support an army the contest would soon end. But those who are at thome lounging[?] around there peacefull firesides & enjoying the comforts of there home [and] its pleasures [?] look upon us as a an army of desperadoes & thives. This is enough to discourage any one. And many a good soldier has deserted the army on that account.
Srofe's patriotism is perhaps best represented by the following passage, which seems infused with a kind of dogged pragmatism:
I am not fighting for honor. Fighting for honor is entirely played out. I am simply fighting for the love of my country and for the downfall of rebel[ion?] I care not what my friends at home think of me. If they do not support me I shall over look upon them as enemies. I am not tired of fighting, when I think of the cause I feel more like it than ever. Two years is no time to fight. I have only got my hand[?] in. If I am fortunate I can surely fight ten years to enjoy american liberty.
As with many other white northern soldiers, Srofe is ambivalent about fighting to free the slaves. In his letter in response to a editorial by Horace Greeley in August, 1862, Abrham Lincoln wrote, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." Srofe echoes this sentiment the following February:
They call it an abolition war & as often as they call this abolition war they lie. I do not think that we are fighting for negroes, but if it is necessary to free them I say do it. I love the cause better than ever. It is the last struggle for national existence. This country can never be divided.
In the end, William Srofe's long and difficult war experience brings him to a greater appreciation for what our country had before it was torn apart by war.W. J. Srofe's letters are presented here with only minor editing for clarity, including the addition of minimally necessary punctuation. Insertions and annotations are made in [square brackets in italics]. In most cases only a transcript of the letter was available to us and the original images were not available during editing for comparison. However, a few letters are presented here with enlargements of the actual letter.
How I long to see this struggle end & to see our unhappy people again be made happy by peace. Oh! What a charm there is in the sound of that word "peace". Little did the American people know its worth and we may look forward and hope for its speedy return only to have our hopes disappointed and a realization of our worst fears. Would you like to see my return home? Would I be proud to enter old Ohio again? It is easier to imagine than appreciate such pleasures.
September 1861 - February 1862
April 6-7, 1862
April - July 1862
Corinth & Moscow
July - December 1862
December 1862 - January 1863
January - April 1863
Miliken's Bend & Young's Point
April - May 1863
On To Vicksburg
May - July 1863
September - December 1863
New Orleans & Western Louisiana
February - December 1864
Red River Campaign, Capture & Exchange
June 1865- April 1866
Post War Garrison Duty in Texas
What Happened to Him After the War?
W. J. Srofe holding his
grandson, J. Warner Srofe
William married Sarah Melisa Espey on 9 May 1867 and they settled first in Scotts Township in Brown County, Ohio and later in Lynchburg, Ohio where they raised a family of three boys and a girl: John A. Bering Srofe (the Berings were not only close friends but also related to W. J.'s wife's family); William E. Srofe; Charles E. Srofe; and Luie Anna Srofe. W. J. graduated from the Medical College of Ohio in 1868 and set up practice as a physician. All three of his sons became doctors as well. He died 21 November 1912.
Many of William's mementos from his time in the 48th Ohio were passed down through his grandson J. Warner Srofe's family. John B. Srofe, W. J.'s great-grandson, and his wife, Carolyn, have provided many of the images of artifacts, photos and letters for our web site for which we are immensely grateful!
To see more photos of W. J. Srofe and his family, visit his biography page.
William J. Srofe 's letters, documents and photographs are published here with
the generous permission of Carolyn Srofe and Dan (EBAY ID CD112.4). They may not be reproduced
in any form without their explicit permission.