Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: A Captain in the Union Army, John D. Alexander

Born on February 6, 1839 in Bloomington, Indiana, John D. Alexander graduated from Indiana University with A. B. and A.M. degrees in 1861.  In 1860, while Alexander anticipated his graduation, Southern tensions reached their peak. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln.  In his “Recollections of Indiana University, 1856-1861” Alexander notes the intense atmosphere in Bloomington following South Carolina’s secession.  He recalls,

One fine morning a Red flag with One White Star was flying from the highest point of the University Building.  The whole town was thrown into a frenzy of excitement.  Students and people of the town soon filled the Campus – the flag was torn down and dragged through the street to Doctor Nutt’s residence – then to the Court House Square where speeches were made denouncing the ones who put the flag there and particularly South Carolina and the flag was burned.

Alexander taught school for a year and then enlisted as a private in Company E, 97th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers in August 1862.  On June 27, 1864, Alexander was wounded in his right hip at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia.  He quickly recovered, however, and returned to his company in October 1864.  Alexander and the rest of the 97th Regiment marched in Sherman’s army from Atlanta to Savannah, from November 15 until December 21, 1864.  The following letter is written by Alexander to his parents.  He describes his experience in the Battle of Grindswoldville in Georgia, the first battle of Sherman’s March to the Sea, as well as movements of the regiment and news of his promotion to Captain of Company D.  Just a note that within the letter, Alexander invokes some language of the time that would be offensive if employed today. See full transcription below the images.

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Camp Anderson, Geo. 9 miles South West of Savannah

December 18, 1864

My Dear Parents,

I am still alive for which I thank the Good Lord. We left Atlanta, Geo. the 15th of November.  The 15th Army Corps take the extreme Right of the Army. The 17th Corps the Right Center, the 20th Corps the Left Center and the 14th Corps the extreme Left. We were all to move on roads as nearly parallel as possible. Nothing of interest occurred until we struck the Macon and Savannah Railroad where we all stayed and encamped at night. The next morning – Nov 22nd our brigade 2nd under Gen Walcott was ordered to make a reconnaissance. Once in the direction of Macon we started and got within 2 miles of the Macon and Montgomery R.R. when the Rebels Cavalry under Wheeler attacked our Cavalry and whipped them badly. Our brigade threw out Skirmishes and we drove them back to Grindswold a small Station on the Railroad and finally beyond there. Our brigade then retired to a small elevation of ground overlooking an open field where we stopped to get our drummers. We were sitting round not expecting any danger when the Georgia Militia attacked our pickets and they commenced coming in and we went to making breastworks out of rails, bags, chunks, whatever we could get together. Before we had them done however, they came upon us in three lines of battle.  They came with a vengeance and some were killed within 50 yds of our works.  The fight raged with fury for three hours and when it ceased Such a sight! The Rebels literally lay in piles, 10 men in a place all killed together. Their loss was estimated at 2,000 killed and wounded. Ours only… [section of letter missing] The Brigade Genl Walcott was wounded early on…[section of letter missing] with a piece… [section of letter missing] Shall look… [section of letter missing] Command of the Brigade and behaved with much gallantry. He still commands the Brig. Capt. Elliott of Co “H” commands the Regt. After we left there we had our ups and downs. Dec. 10Crossed Ogeechee River on the 11th we were wakened by the Reb Battery and our Shelling. On the 13 of this month Fort McAllister at the mouth of the Ogeechee River was taken by the 2nd Div of our Corps. They captured between 2 and 300 prisoners, 17 guns, 200 artillery Horses, $2,000 worth of wines and cigars. That Opens our Communication we got mail night before last and I got your letters up to Nov 30″/64. Some from Bettie also and Sam Kate and Will married Hannah. I was glad to hear you got home safely from Sister Sophia’s. Did you get my photographs I sent home? I got my Commission to Captain night before last. Will be mustered today. I will be assigned to command Co “D” for a while. Then if Captain Oliphant resigns I will be transferred to Co “E” if possible. We only have to go on the front lines every 3 or 4 days. Tell Captain O – I will write to him this evening and more if I can. Give my love to All. I am in perfect health am as fat as a pig. Have had a pack mule to carry my Blankets and Grub and a darky to lead him and cook. I have 3 blankets Always sleep comfortable. The boys have been down to where the water comes up to get oysters and can hear distinctly the roaring of old Ocean. The country here is level and swampy. Give my love to Boone, Mary, Bettie, Felix, Mat, Lee, Sam, Sallie, and families and believe me you.

Affectionate Son,

John D.  Alexander Co “D”

In April 1865, Alexander was appointed Acting Assistant Inspector General of the Second Brigade by General John A. Logan in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He was mustered out of service on June 9, 1865 following the Grand Review of the Armies, a victory procession through Washington, D.C.  Following the Civil War, Alexander served as a lawyer in Bedford and Bloomfield.  He went on to hold several elected positions in state and county government. Alexander was also regular attendant to all national and state encampments of the G.A.R. His involvement in the G.A.R. led him to write a History of the Ninety-seventh Regiment of Indiana Volunteer Infantry in 1891.  In 1929, Alexander was the oldest living graduate of Indiana University. He died on February 27, 1931.

The above letter, along with 11 others, can be found in C23 John D. Alexander Family Papers. To learn more about Indiana University and the Civil War, contact the IU Archives.

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