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Henry H. Maley Letters - Introduction and Index

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Introduction to the Henry H. Maley Letters

By George Rugg

Henry H. Maley was born in Iowa Territory in 1842 or 1843, the son of William M. Maley and Elizabeth Althinia Stevens. By 1852 William Maley had established a farm in Henderson County, Illinois, in Township 11N 4W (near the community of Oquawka on the Mississippi). In the 1860 census the Maley farm is valued at $1000; Henry Maley was still in residence, with his brothers Charles (b. 1852) and Thomas (b. 1856), and a 21-year-old hand named Charles Wilson. Henry Maley is identified as a farmer, 17 years of age when the household was enumerated on 13 July 1860; the census also indicates that he had attended school within the year.

Maley enlisted on 8 August 1862, and on 1 September was mustered in to Company K of the 84th Illinois Infantry, for three years service. He remained in that unit for the duration of the war, never rising above private. From November 1862 to war's end, the 84th Illinois served in the Army and Department of the Cumberland (commanded by William S. Rosecrans and, subsequently, by George H. Thomas). For the greater part of that time, from October 1863 to May 1865, the regiment was attached to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division of the Army's IV Corps. The 84th fought at Stones River (where it suffered very high casualties); at Chickamauga; in the battles for Chattanooga; and in the Atlanta and Nashville campaigns. Maley himself was with the regiment during all these actions, with the exception of Stones River. He was wounded at Nashville, on 15 December 1864, and spent time in the hospital and on commissary duty before rejoining the regiment on 7 February 1865. He was mustered out with the regiment on 8 June 1865.

The Maley collection includes fifty wartime letters, written by Henry Maley to his parents in Henderson County. Eight of these appear to be fragments, lacking either a first or second sheet. None of the original envelopes have survived, and there are no enclosures of any kind. The earliest of the letters, dated 19 August 1862, was written from Camp Quincy, Illinois, during the regiment's organization. The remaining 49 letters were written in the eleven months between 2 July 1864 and 29 May 1865, and so provide a fairly continuous account of the final year of Maley's service (the longest interval between letters being 24 days). At least 19 of the letters were written during two of the Western theater's decisive campaigns: Sherman's drive on Atlanta (May to September 1864) and the Nashville campaign (November and December 1864).

By 2 July 1864, Maley and IV Corps were already some two months into the Atlanta campaign, having advanced with the Army of the Cumberland (accompanied by the Armies of the Tennessee and the Ohio, under the overall command of William T. Sherman) from the vicinity of Chattanooga to a position northwest of Marietta, Georgia, about 25 miles from Atlanta. Fourteen dated letters (2 July to 5 September 1864) describe the final two months of the campaign, from the battle of Kennesaw Mountain on 27 June to the battle of Jonesboro (31 August). The city was occupied on 2 September. The month following marked a break from campaigning. Six letters (10 September to 2 October 1864) date from this time, all written from IV Corps' encampment three miles southeast of Atlanta. In early October IV Corps left the city, sent north to shadow John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee, which was moving into the Union rear against Sherman's lines of supply. After a month of near constant marching, much of it over ground covered that summer, IV Corps encamped near Pulaski, Tennessee, between Hood (then in northern Alabama) and Nashville. Five letters survive from this period: one written on 17 October from Snake Creek Gap, Georgia, and four written in November from Pulaski.

On 21 November Hood began moving north into Middle Tennessee, initiating the Nashville campaign. IV Corps abandoned the Pulaski camp and withdrew northward, joining with XXIII Corps to repulse Hood's repeated assaults at Franklin (30 November 1864). The victorious Federals then pulled back into Nashville, and together with the troops already in the city, attacked and effectively destroyed the Army of Tennessee on 15-16 December. Five of the Maley letters were written from Nashville; three of them (4 to 13 December 1864) prior to the climactic battle, and two (21 and 25 December) from Cumberland Hospital, while Maley was recovering from the wound suffered on the 15th.

By mid-January 1865 Maley was out of the hospital and back in Pulaski, detailed as a commissary guard with other wounded from Nashville. In early February he rejoined IV Corps in Huntsville, Alabama, where the 84th Illinois was serving as the city's provost guard (arresting "all that hasent passes and every one that don't walk strate.") Two letters survive from Pulaski, written on 18 and 27 January, and six survive from Huntsville, 8 February to 12 March. In mid-March IV Corps was ordered to East Tennessee. Maley took the cars to Knoxville and marched east into the mountains, ultimately encamping on Lick Creek just east of Bull's Gap, along the rail line between Knoxville and Lynchburg. Here trestles were rebuilt and track relaid, prior to what was presumed to be an advance into Virginia. But Lee's surrender made such a move unnecessary, and by 23 April Maley was back in Nashville, where he would serve out the war. Three letters survive from the expedition to East Tennessee (17 March to 8 April 1865); five survive from Nashville (27 April to 29 May 1865). Finally, three of the Maley fragments cannot be precisely dated; all were written from the environs of Atlanta, between August and October 1864.    

Maley wrote his parents diligently, not just to keep them informed of his circumstances but to encourage them to write in return. (He does not seem to have relished the task; as he says in the letter of 13 August 1864, "I hope the time will soon come when we will not have to write home.  that we will be there and then we can tell what we want to with out writing it."). The letters themselves are not overlong, seldom exceeding the four pages of an octavo-sized folded sheet. As a farm boy on the prairie, Maley probably attended school only irregularly. The single surviving letter from 1862, written shortly after he left home, is noticeably more tentative than his efforts of 1864-65; frequent letter writing allowed for the development of Maley's skills, even if his spelling and grammar remain somewhat idiosyncratic. As one would expect, Maley's prose style is highly colloquial. Yet his writing can be engaging, especially when informed by touches of humor:

Milking in the rain is nothing to soldiering when you git dun milking you can go in out of the rain and we have to take it all the time we can stand it if any boddy can it is only one more year and then we will eat up your good things as fast as you can cook them if you have nothing but corn bread it will be better than the folks live on down here for they do not know how to make it right they mix it up with water and no salt when it is baked you could nock a man down with a chunk of it and never crack it. (10 September 1864).

Even though the letters are addressed to Maley's parents, there is nothing deferential in their tone. Nor is there any indication of an interest in religion; even passing allusions to the deity are absent from the letters, except for two references to Illinois as "gods country".

All Maley's letters strive to summarize for his parents the events of the period since last he wrote. Like most soldiers, he relays a fair amount of second-hand information, especially when describing matters of strategy and command. Maley calls such hearsay "nuse," and is well aware that it may be partially or wholly untrue. After explaining Johnston's replacement by Hood as commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, he observes: "I have wrote more nuse in this letter than any other. there is some of it I dont believe but I thought I would write it all so you would have an idy how things is here." (25 July 1864). More commonly, Maley seems to confine his "nuse" to items he finds credible. He is disdainful of the rumor-mongering prevalent in the camps:

Their is lots of talk one can here any thing they want to I can give you a sampel I herd one of the boys say just now that he herd that Grant was killed and Ritchmond was taken.  all such stuff as that you can here all the time it has got so common that we dont think any thing of it,... (28 September 1864).

This essential skepticism — a veteran's skepticism — is evident throughout the letters. There is certainly no reason to doubt Maley's conscientiousness as a witness, even if the news passed on to his parents is sometimes erroneous.

Much more of the letters' content relates to Maley's immediate experience. He is always careful to recount his movements, with a specificity that suggests he kept a log (though this is not mentioned in the letters). His tactical accounts of the regiment's engagements, while relatively brief, are quite consistent with existing records; he does not seem to have been given to willful exaggeration, in this respect or any other. During the ten-odd weeks of the Atlanta campaign covered by the letters, the 84th Illinois was involved in many skirmishes and minor actions, but was mostly spared direct engagement in the campaign's more catastrophic battles (though news of these is always conveyed in the letters). The first action involving the 84th Illinois described by Maley was an advance on the Confederate lines at Smyrna Camp Ground, northwest of the Chattahoochee River, on 4 July 1864 (letter of 9 July). This attack did not seek to carry the main Confederate works, but succeeded in establishing entrenchments 300-400 yards away; the Confederates withdrew during the night. The regiment emerged unscathed, in part because (as Maley says) the Confederate gunners overshot the attacking troops as they moved rapidly downhill. The 84th Illinois was next engaged on the evening of 20 July, along the south fork of Peachtree Creek (letter of 21 July 1864). The soldiers of Company K were among the skirmishers who attacked the rifle pits lying before the main Confederate works; these latter were taken, and 43 men made prisoner. (The regiment was not involved in the furious fighting that took place that same day along Peachtree Creek, which saw Hood's attacks repulsed by other elements of IV Corps). During the night of 21-22 July the Confederates evacuated their works, and Maley's brigade pursued, ultimately establishing entrenchments 2 to 2 1/2 miles northwest of Atlanta (letter of 25 July 1864; Maley says this advance occurred "night before last," which can be correct only if the letter is misdated). The 84th remained in this general position for about a month, as Sherman laid siege to the city. Skirmishes were conducted in the sector, but there were no assaults on the main works. Two such skirmishes are described in the letter of 5 August. Each of these involved members of Company K — though not, apparently, Maley. The first, on 3 August, was a success, gaining 26 prisoners. The second, on 5 August, was a failure.

The next action described by Maley occurred in the campaign's final days. On 25 August Sherman had broken off the siege, wheeling to his right, around the city, to sever the last remaining rail lines to the south and so force Hood out of Atlanta. The letter of 5 September describes the long, counter-clockwise march to the Macon Railroad, and the fighting that ensued. On 1 September the regiment formed to attack, near Jonesboro, but darkness fell and the Confederates withdrew. The next day an attack was made, four miles south at Lovejoy's Station, with the 84th Illinois in the front line:

it was an awful hot place we had to charge near a mile and it was as bad ground as the pasture and you can have an idy how it would be and all of us with big loads on I never was mutch nearer give out in my life their was a great many gave out.  We got up to the rebs skirmish pits and stopped the rebs begin to throw grape at us and we thought it would not pay to go any further

As Maley says, the attack succeeded only in carrying the rifle pits 500 yards in front of the Confederate lines. Several of the company's wounded are identified (one of whom, Joseph Purnell, later died). That night word reached the Union armies that Atlanta had been surrendered to Maj. Gen. Slocum.

The 84th Illinois played a supporting role at the battle of Franklin. The brigade as a whole was assigned a position west of the Centerville Pike, on the Federal right; the 84th formed part of the second line, about 100 yards behind the regiments to the front. As it happened, the Confederate attacks were successfully beaten back by fire from the front line; as Maley says, in the letter of 4 December 1864, "the 84 did not git to shoot any only some of us that was on picket." (Companies K and B were sent out as skirmishers after dusk). The situation at Nashville, two weeks later, was very different. IV Corps was at the pivot of Thomas's "grand wheel" which, on 15 December, enveloped the left side of the Confederate lines besieging Nashville. IV Corps attacked southeastward, with the 84th Illinois, at its brigade's right front, operating against a pronounced angle in the enemy lines in the vicinity of Montgomery Hill. The battle report of Lt. Col. Charles H. Morton describes the regiment's advance:

When the brigade moved out of camp at daylight on the morning of the 15th in obedience to orders, I took the advance, and after passing through the fortifications on the Hillsborough pike filed to the right and took my position in the front line on the right of the brigade, some 200 yards to the west of the pike and about the same distance in front of the [Federal] works, . . .  I advanced in line of battle, guiding right, somewhat over a mile under a severe artillery fire from the enemy, by which I had 6 men wounded. My command halted under the shelter of a stone fence, within 300 or 400 yards of the enemy's works, where I remained about an hour and a half, . . .  About 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the order being given to advance, I crossed the Hillsborough pike by the right flank, and ascending a hill entered the rebel works in time to see the enemy retreating in disorder, some of their artillery being abandoned and left in their works at the point where my command entered. I continued to advance by the flank until orders were received from the general to halt and form in line. (Official Records, Series I, Volume 45, Part 1, pp. 218-19).

It was at this point, apparently, that Maley received the "little tap on the sholdier" that would keep him in the hospital for the next month. The attack at Nashville was his last battle.

Maley's letters often provide word of fellow soldiers, especially those known to his parents. Company K of the 84th Illinois was organized in Henderson County, as was Company G; most of the men in these units were county residents. Maley mentions more than twenty men from these two companies, most of whom were evidently familiar names to his mother and father. Written of most frequently is Sgt. James F. Fryrear of Company K, called Frank, a close acquaintance or relation of the Maleys (the 1862 letter opens with the statement that "Frank and I are well and hope you're the same). By July 1864 Fryrear was "back sick" in Chattanooga; he was subsequently sent to Quincy, Illinois, where he died on 26 September. In addition, Maley occasionally provides word of the 10th and the 16th Illinois (both attached to XIV Corps during the Atlanta campaign); each of these regiments included companies recruited in Henderson County.

Maley's writing is not much given to introspection. Of his thoughts or feelings about serving in a blue uniform, the letters have relatively little to say. He is especially reticent regarding the broader issues relating to the war, neither espousing nor condemning causes or ideals, Northern or Southern. As far as can be determined he viewed fighting as something like an obligation, a circumstance the soldier neither seeks out nor attempts to avoid. As he writes just prior to leaving Huntsville:

Well we have had a good thing some time we will have to give it up now it is very likely we will git to fight some yet before our time is out I think I could git a long with out fighting any more. I guess we can do it if we have to. (12 March 1865).

Still, it is quite clear that Maley takes pride in his service record, as an old soldier in "one of the braveest armys their ever was" (8 April 1865). And if the letters are seldom reflective, they can be, on occasion, quite judgmental. Maley is sometimes dismissive of those lacking his own combat experience. Of the 138th Illinois, a 100 day regiment whose Company D was organized in Henderson County, he says:

I wrote a letter to sqair morgin [James W. Morgan] the other day if he dont answer it I will scratch him off of the list it must stick him up some to think he is in the gritty. 138. Ill. I saw a piece in the Oquawka papers a bout their grit if they will come down here they can git the grit taken out of them some what. (5-6 August 1864).

And of the 83rd Illinois, a garrison regiment then stationed at Fort Donelson, Tennessee:

it would go hard with them to come front and live as we do after living well so long I could not pitty them any I should think they could stand it one year in the front as well as we have two years they havnot don their country mutch good I dont think. (22 August 1864).

More common in the letters are criticisms leveled at officers. These are not indiscriminate: Col. P. Sidney Post of the 59th Illinois, briefly in command of Maley's brigade, "is good to his men and that is more than I can say of all", and most general officers are not criticized. But Maley is sensitive on the subject of privilege; "if an officer gits under the weather a little he gits clear of duty", but "if one of us poor devels git sick we have to go as long as we can and when we cant go any longer they will say that fellow is playing off he cant never git a furlow." (22 August 1864). Of the officers of Company K Maley says little, except to suggest that Captain John B. McGaw purloined some tobacco included in a letter for the absent Frank Fryrear (21 and 28 July 1864). The German captain of Company G, Frederick Garternicht (or "Gartersnaick") "can not ride home on the same train [with the men] after they are mustered out" (29 March 1865). Commanding the 84th Illinois throughout the war was Col. Louis H. Waters:

L H Waters said that he thaught we would start home in two weeks I don't believe it he has told to many such things and they didnot come true.  he said last night he wanted us to drill so we could make a good show when we got to Springfield I dont give A cuss A bout makeing A show of my self I have done enough of that dow here I dont think the boys will try much when they get there I can drill well enough. (29 May 1865).

Generally speaking, Maley accepts the exercise of authority when he deems it well-intentioned or purposeful. But much, to him, appears arbitrary, especially orders relating to what he terms "pooting on stile." As he says of picket duty at IV Corps' camp near Atlanta, after the city's fall:

we have to poot on lots of stile when we go on picket the orders is to walk a bout and not set down and carry our gun at a right sholdier shift.. I think that is going in steap.. when the rebs was shooting at us we could do as we wanted to.. (18 September 1864).

Maley is not notably critical of the Confederate army or the Southern people, with the exception of the freedmen, who are spoken of disparagingly in letters from Pulaski and Huntsville. He expresses satisfaction with the reelection of Lincoln, though, and is antagonistic towards the "copper heads and rebs" who oppose him (17 November 1864). And he would condemn to death a fellow soldier who cheered at the news of Lincoln's assassination: "I think he aught to be shot now in the place of being drumed throug camp any man that will do that way aught to be killed there is some up north that aught to be served the same way only wors." (5 May 1865).

For all Maley's impatience with the army, for all his calculations, in the letters of 1865, of the weeks and months remaining to be served, he does state, on two occasions, that he would be willing to reenlist — provided others who have not yet served do so first:

it is only six months more and then they can go to the devel for me until the rest comes out that is at home then I will come a gain if the war is not over it is as much to one as another. (22 February 1865).

Most of Company K arrived home on 17-18 June 1865. Following the war Maley farmed in Henderson County. In 1873 he married Cordelia Rise (b. c1844) — perhaps the Delia mentioned in the letter of 27 April 1865.

Bibliographic note: The regimental history is L. A. Simmons, The History of the 84th Reg't Ill. Vols., Macomb IL, 1866. The narrative is disappointing but the volume does include a useful "personal record" of the regiment's members. Brigade and regimental reports relevant to the engagements described by Maley during the Atlanta and Nashville campaigns may be found in the Official Records, Series I, Vol. 38, Part 1, pp. 256-290, and Series I, Volume 45, Part 1, pp. 208-228, esp. 217-220). See also Anthony Van Gessel, "A Fellow Will Do Most Any Way in the Army: The Civil War Experience of Henry H. Maley," Senior thesis, University of Notre Dame, 2005.

Index of Letters

MSN CW 5023-01LetterAugust 19, 1862Camp Quincy, IllinoisHenry H. Maley
MSN/CW 5023-02LetterJuly 2, 1864Camp near Marietta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-03LetterJuly 9, 1864Camp on the Chattahoochee River, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-04LetterJuly 15, 1864Camp on the Chattahoochee River, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-05LetterJuly 21, 1864Camp Near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-06LetterJuly 25, 1864Camp Near Marietta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-07LetterJuly 28, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-08LetterJuly 30-August 1, 1864Camp Near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-09LetterAugust 5-6, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-10LetterAugust 12, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-11LetterAugust 13, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-12LetterAugust 17, 1864Camp Near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-13LetterAugust 19, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-14LetterAugust 22, 1864Camp Near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-15LetterSeptember 5, 1864Camp 28 miles south of Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-16LetterSeptember 10, 1864Camp east of Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-17LetterSeptember 13, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-18LetterSeptember 18, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-19LetterSeptember 23, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-20LetterSeptember 28, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-21LetterOctober 2, 1864Camp near Atlanta, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-22LetterOctober 17, 1864Camp near Snake Gap, GeorgiaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-23LetterNovember 15, 1864Camp at Pulaski, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-24LetterNovember 1864Camp at Pulaski, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-25LetterNovember 17, 1864Camp Pulaski, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-26LetterNovember 20, 1864Camp Pulaski, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-27LetterDecember 4, 1864Camp at Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-28LetterDecember 9, 1864Camp at Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-29LetterDecember 13, 1864Camp Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-30LetterDecember 21, 1864Cumberland Hospital, Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-31LetterDecember 25, 1864Cumberland Hospital, Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-32LetterJanuary 18, 1865Pulaski, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-33LetterJanuary 27, 1865Pulaski, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-34LetterFebruary 8, 1865Camp at Huntsville, AlabamaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-35LetterFebruary 16, 1865Huntsville, AlabamaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-36LetterFebruary 22, 1865Huntsville, AlabamaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-37LetterMarch 4, 1865Huntsville, AlabamaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-38LetterMarch 8, 1865Camp at Huntsville, AlabamaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-39LetterMarch 12, 1865Huntsville, AlabamaHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-40LetterMarch 17, 1865Camp at Strawberry Plains, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-41LetterMarch 29, 1865Camp at Lick Creek, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-42LetterApril 8, 1865Camp at Lick Creek, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-43LetterApril 27, 1865Camp at Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-44LetterMay 5, 1865Camp at Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-45LetterMay 17, 1865Camp Harker, Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-46LetterMay 19, 1865Camp Harker, Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-47LetterMay 29, 1865Camp Harker, Nashville, TennesseeHenry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-48Letter[August-September 1864]Henry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-49Letter[August-October 1864]Henry H. Maley
MSN CW 5023-50Letter[September-October 1864]Henry H. Maley

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