Linda Thompson has shared with us scans of two Civil War letters she found among her father's things.
Her father, Walter Duncan, was a friend of the Slavens family in Pike County, Ohio.|
One letter is from Samuel Slavens, written about six weeks before the secret operation behind enemy lines that's become known as "The Great Locomotive Chase," which ultimately resulted in his death by hanging. The other letter is from Samuel's brother Reuben. Both letters were written to their sister, Elizabeth, her husband Clinton Peters, and family-- although Samuel opens his letter "Dear Brother." At the time, the Peters family lived at Gibson, a village in Union Township (east of Waverly), Pike County, Ohio, which no longer exists.
Samuel, Reuben, and Elizabeth were the children of Charles and Margaret (McClure) Slavens. In case you've stumbled upon this page via a search engine, and don't know the story of Samuel Slavens, this is it in a nutshell: In April 1862, a group of volunteer soldiers from three Ohio infantry units, led by a civilian scout and spy, went behind the Confederate lines with the intention of stealing a locomotive outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and running up the Memphis & Charleston railroad line to Chattanooga. Along the way they would cut telegraph lines, burn bridges, and destroy track, so that the line could not be used by the Confederates to reinforce Chattanooga during a planned Union attack on the city. While the raiders successfully stole the locomotive, wet weather foiled the bridge burning, and they were pursued by the stolen train's engineer and Confederate troops. The raiders' train ran out of fuel and all were captured. Six of the soldiers, including Samuel Slavens, their leader, and a civilian engineer, were hung as spies. Half of the remaining soldiers escaped from jail, and half were exchanged for Union prisoners. We have several pages of information and scanned documents concerning Samuel on our military page, and a roundup of books on the raid can be found on our bookshelf page.
The original letters have been donated to the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Ohio, so that they will be preserved and be available to genealogists, historians, and other researchers. John Haas, a historian at the Ohio History Center, reports that the Center has other Samuel Slavens letters in their collection. Scans and a transciption of another Samuel Slavens letter, written about a week before the mission, can be found here. Samuel's last letter, written to wife Rachel, can be found in chapter 5 of Charles O'Neill's book, Wild Train.
Transcribed below are the "new" letters found by Linda Thompson. Minor changes-- mostly adding periods and capitalizing the first word of a new sentence to improve readability-- have been made. Misspellings and errors in grammar have usually not been corrected; in general the spelling and grammar in the letters is excellent for a couple mid-19th century farm boys. A couple spelling changes have been placed in [brackets], and words that I could not make out are marked with (?). Comments have been placed in [brackets].
Two additional notes: Reuben references "Salt Creekers" in his letter. Salt Creek is a stream near Gibson. I posed the question to a Pike County genealogy Facebook group, but no one knew if Reuben was simply referring to people living in that area, or if there was a congregation or other specific church group there. Also, be forewarned that Reuben uses "the N-word" in his letter.
You can click on the (page number) to see a full-sized scan of the page.
Camp Norton, Feb 21 1862
Near Bowling Green, Ky
Dear Brother, I seat myself to inform you that I am well at present, hoping that these few lines may find you and the family all well. I have not had any letters from any of you since Reuben got here but one from my wife. I want you all to write often. Reuben has not received any letter since he got here and says that he won't write any more until he gets a letter. [unreadable, crease and discoloration of paper; appears to be stating he left Benson, Beason, or Beaver] Creek the tenth and marched nine miles and camped on the south side of green river. We stayed there until the 13(?) then we started for Bowling Green and marched fifteen
miles and camped at Bells Tavern. We had fine weather them two days. Our regiment was in the rear that day and was about 10 o'clock when we got up to to our camp. It commenced raining about dark and it rained awhile and it snowed all night. We had rather disagreeable place to sleep that night but next morning the boys was in fine spirits and we struck our tents and struck out for Bowling Green, which was 22 miles. We got within one mile of the river and camped in an old house and found both bridges burnt across Barren River. We started down the river to cross the river in a ferry boat, but when we got down to the ferry the cavalry was comming back and sayed that they was over in town
and the Rebels had all left the place. We went back where our wagons was and pitched our tents and stayed there untill Sunday. By that time we had plank laid on the railroad bridge so that we could walk over. Our brigade crossed over and camped in houses and stables. I was on piget [picket] guard that day and didn't moove with the regiment, but found it the next day. Camped in a stable. We stayed there until Tuesday noon and by that time we had a ferry boat built close to the turnpike bridge and our tents and wagons got over and then we got orders to march for Nashville. We marched four miles and pitched our tents that night. General Mitchel got orders from General Buel to halt, for Nashville had surrendered to our troops and all
are still here and General Mitchel says we will stay here and put up them two bridges across Barren River that the rebels had burned down. They had this place very strongly fortified. The had eleven fortifications made around Bowling Green and this place and they burnt the depot and part of this town. They burnt any amount of guns and pistols and provisions in this place. We got about three hundred barrels of flour and about six hundred barrels of mess pork and beef. Yesterday morning there was five hundred men detailed out of our Brigade to go and commence(?) work on the bri[d]ges but General Mitchell told the boys to go back to their quarters and take good care of themselves for the engineer had not come yet.
I must close. Reuben sends his love to all. Direct your letters to Bowling Green.
S. Slavens to C.J. Peters and family
Camp near Murfreesboro, Tenn, Feb 7, 1863
Respected brother and sister,
I will answer your kind letter of the 11(?) Jan. I was glad to hear that was all well. I hope when this reaches you, you may all be enjoying the same blessing and I also hope my dear father is well, for the last letters he was very sick.
I have nothing of very much importance to write at this time. We have pretty cold weather here now. It snows some and freezes hard at night. We just came off picket yesterday. We had a pretty cold time. Nothing of interest transpired while out. It seems to be the opinion of some, the Rebs will try to clean us out of this place but I think they will
have a merry time if they do it, for Gen. Rosecrans is not asleep. Our recruiting officers came up yesterday but they did not get hardly any men. Almost a failure.
You said that they had been joining church at such a rapid rate the only wonder with me is that they did not get you. I thought by what you said about the Salt Creekers, you was under(?) conviction. Well, that is all very well. I hope they will all do well.
As well Clint, there is one thing going on in Ohio and all the northern states I do not like to see. There is much wrongdoing at the seat of government. There is a set of men that would rather make any compromise with these traitors than to see the party in power settle the thing up right. I am in for quelling this rebellion. Any way to do that is now the
question. I do not much like the ideah of arming the nigger but that in my opinion will help do it. I don't care a damn how, so as we whip them and bring them to terms. They are a set of cut throats anyway, and men that sympathise with them in Ohio or any other northern state are a damd sight meaner than the Sesesh we are a fighting. If the soreheads will hold their tongues and let us alone we will come out all right. If not, I cannot tell how it will terminate.
Well, we have not been paid off yet, but will, I think, in a few days. We have made out our payroll for four months. We will take a bust? then I will try and send you some money. I must quit for this time. Tell Rosa I am waiting for that sugar. Tell Betsy them socks will come
in good play. No more at this time but remain your brother untill death.
R. Slaven C.J. Peters and family