John White was 48 years old when he enlisted as Fife Major in the Regimental Band of the 4th Michigan. He enlisted on 20 June 1861, at Adrian, for 3 years. Farmer by trade. Married father of eight. Johnson White was his son. Mustered June 20, 1861. Mustered out at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, August 10, 1862. Suffered from sun stoke during war. Resided in Oakville, Oregon after service. Born in Tennessee.
[Minor’s Hill, Virginia]
December 16, 1861
I will finish my letter to you I commenced to our folks who had not room in the one I had. I was over town and got an old B___ to take my picture and she did not understand her b__. She burned the eyes out of my head to all appearance. I was in a hurry and paid her fifty cents and started. Thought I could get another one taken and thrown this away and fetched it along and throwed it down and finally thought I would send it to you. Will keep from anyone looking at it. I was not ready to have it taken at all. I had not got my bugle on my cap or my sash around me. I just stepped in to see how she could take on and this mean black one. My sword ought to have been on the other side too — had it reversed. My gloves out of my hand and meant to have my pipe. Johnston ought to have had his drum [but] he did not take it. Newell ought to have had his musket. None of us looks according to our place. I want to get mine taken where the boys got theirs in Alexandria. He is a good artist.
I had to buy me a watch. I got a good hunter warranted one year — a beautiful one — a lever. A new one cost $15.00. I had to pay for one and I wanted a good [one]. I bought a gold watch and had it a good while. They said I might have it cheap for they was the sutlers. We had been to work for they said I might have it for $20.00 and gave it to me to keep time. By and by they said I could have it for that price if I would give it to my wife when I went home, I was a small lady’s watch. I looked at the 20 a few weeks and gave it up so I have to have one. I have to time the whole of the calls — reveille and tattoo and all. So I done the best I could. It has cost a great deal since the last payment. The next I hope to have more to spend. Tell them to go to Monroe and get the box of clothes and to the express office and get the letter. It cost me fifty cents for the letter to go but I have a receipt for the money if it is lost. This is the safest way to send money. They may look at Adrian for the next. I did not think it the nearest when I sent this and to I thought of the bundle.
We are as well as common. I have a cough like I had at home, It worries me a good deal. It is a hard place to get clear of a cold.
We are in sight of the secesh smoke. So we would see the smoke of their cannon this afternoon and the thunder of their cannons. I don’t know what it is as yet. We think a fight is up. I looked all the afternoon for the long roll that means go. We don’t feel bad at all to hear this.
I have heard our folks went out today and heard from part of them. They went to Fairfax, found lots of camps, and a great many signs they had left at the sight of our men. I have not heard from the cannonading and know about our stripes of guilt on our shoulders and colors. Johnston was off a few days ago and found men quarreling. He went up to them and they was stripped off for a fight and he spoke to them and the moment he told them to be still, they looked at him and seen the guilt shoulder straps [of his band uniform]. They began to beg to the captain to let them off and they would go home. He told them he wanted to let them. They put out for camp as fast as possible. They was of a regiment — remember how regiment is spelled. Our folks spells rigiment — down to the chain bridge. They took him as they went along for a captain.
I was in town 2 days. I passed some over the river and was saluted by the big ____ and all this style is not common among musicians. Only one of the big bug school marms across the river and back. She went all through town. She thought she was doing well to get passed when it is hard to get a pass. She felt highly honored to over to town with an officer. This is the effect of the guilt stripes. To explain this I had been over and come back stayed on the Virginia side and was going home in the morning and Parker was acquainted with her. She wanted to go to get a bonnet trimmed. He said Major White could pass her and told me to go back so could as well as not. I never was looked at so much in one day in my life. She was a rich man’s wife. She was dressed to fits and that made them look so sharp. I don’t know but she caused thousands of salutes to me.
Tell Barney this joke and give him my respects. Tell him I will write to him when I get time. He may thank his Maker he turned back when he did. I would like to see them get any to enlist after they get out of this. The small pox is raging terribly in Georgetown and Washington on lots of regiments. You won’t see it in the papers. I thought I would speak of it. I don’t know as you ought to say anything about it. We have been vaccinated. We don’t borrow trouble about such things. Don’t hear it spoken of once in 3 days. The same as today when the enemy was cannonading. t/4th of the soldiers was c____ing and did not stop to even speak of it. Some was looking out [and] said let them come. I tell you as before, fear has left us entirely. Jim, we have all the oysters we want come in fresh. I eat 20 for 5 cents. Good ones at that.
— John White
To Margaret and Jim [Close]
This letter was started by Johnson White but finished by his father, John White. It was written to Johnson’s sister, Margaret (White) Close and her husband Jim.
Minor’s Hill [Virginia]
February 12, 1862
This morning I seat myself to let you know how we are all well. We received your letter and was glad to hear from you.
This is a beautiful morning. We have had some bad weather for a few days but not as much snow in all winter here as you have in one week. There is no signs of a move yet. The roads are so bad that they can’t move artillery and there is no use of infantry going without artillery.
I got a letter from home last night and was sorry to hear what troubles that mother has to undergo and it is all of your doing. Now Margaret and James, why will you be the cause of so much trouble when you can easily avoid it. You must know that she is getting old and can not stand these trials a great while and how would you and I feel to be the cause of hurrying her to her grave? Now, I do hope that you will look at it and not persist in bring her gray hairs down with sorrow to the grave. As for me, I am far from home and can not do any good — only by the pen. But if I were there, I think I should put a stop to this trouble in some way or other. Oh how sorrowful to think of her after spending all of her days in bringing us up and then to see us turn around and be the means of so much unnecessary trouble. I feared this long ago and often spoke of it but was laughed at and I least thought that any of the family was in favor of the like — not that I have the least disrespect for Barney. But my God, look how her friends would feel. But there is no use of me multiplying words about it. All that I can do is to pray for you all and I hope that my prayers may be answered and that no such a thing may happen in our family. And I do wish that you would not do anymore to help such a thing along and I must leave some room for Father to write hoping that you will remember that you have kind parents that would not withhold anything in the world that would benefit or add to your enjoyment and that it will be the means of making them miserable for life. Now you may not be good at taking a hint and I will tell you I have it from good authority that you are trying to make a match between Sarah & Barney Cary. Now please, read this and keep it to yourselves and let no one see it or read it.
Write soon, — Johnson
This subject Johnston and I have talked over and over again. Johnston has been afraid since that winter they went sleighing so much together. I told him it was nothing but he has stuck to it and now we have to believe so much that we have heard it from such a source that when our Summerfield neighbors writes it to us that it has become a common talk abroad. We hear from someone often. There is letters coming to camp all the time although our folks did not write for a long time. we hear from Michigan almost every day or two. These that give us our information on this, they did not seem to do it to hurt our feelings but merely to let us know what was afloat. Some of our friends live in Summerfield and I will not say how many is in Blissfield. We have plenty to tell such a thing as that although you may think you are sly about it. I heard of it before we left home. We have looked on coming home and trying to take comfort if we was spared to get back.
The troubles of the war and the camp life privations is enough for us to contend with one of my age and it seems to be for Johnston — as young as he is — too much in this troublesome time. We have in reality all we ought to endure. Jest think, [we] go to roost and dare not take our pants and socks and arrange all our clothes and all so we can grab them at a moment’s warning. Often when we go to bed — or rather pine poles with some of the limbs under us — we listen for the long roll to call us to battle till we drop to sleep. When it comes morning and we have been protected through the night, how thankful we do feel to the God that kept us safe. Our time is — as it were — from hand to mouth. As I said when we lie down at night, we are so close to the enemy that we can hear all the rattle of guns and it is a common thing to have our tent jar with cannon for some hours. Sometimes the snares will jar on the drums. We know full well this is fighting. How would you sleep, Jim? Night before last the cannon was thundering away when the commissaries come in to talk to me a little while and listen for the long roll to call us. We was talking — Johnston had gone to sleep before it began. He waked up and scolded for us keeping him awake. I told him I expected the long roll. He said we need not be awake to wait for that. If it was beat, we could then wake. So it was cannonading last night. We have not heard yet what was done. This is what we have to stand in suspense all the time — seeing or hearing something to liven or harrow our feelings.
And now to the anxiety about our folks’ welfare at home. We keep back anything that is calculated to hurt our folks feelings. We don’t write any worse than it is now. You must acknowledge we have a great deal to feel bad about. I like Barney J. [Cary] well in his place. All these things I have told you about is only sport to company with that match so much talked about by Cary’s and Johnson’s folks and the neighbors. If this is the case and Sarah is bound to ruin me and her mother and some of the rest that is opposed to such a match, they are not calculated for each other. I want her to let me know it. Johnston and myself don’t want to come home any more. Our home is done there. They want us to enlist in the Regular Army. We will laugh at this in the course of going not home but misery that we anticipated as comfort if we should live to get there. I would not let your mother or the little chap want for anything. We get $200 bounty at first and that would get your mother and the children to some place nearby us where we are stationed. We enlist for five years, we can have one furlough for 20 days. They want to have us right off as soon as they can get their complement out of the volunteers. We could do it like a book. The recruiting officers are here. It would not take us long to be transferred to the Regulars. You can tell by this time whether we mean what we say or not. You need not ask the neighbor about that.
I am glad I had a chance once to prove to you that I meant what I said. Tell you mother not to fret about us for we are doing well and have not seen small pot at all. Have been over town where it is plenty but paid no attention to it nor it to us. We have wrote all the time. I can not see why the letters does not get along.
You ought to hear the thundering of cannon all around us today. This is for practice. We don’t mind it at all. That thing troubles me so I can’t write today. We want to hear about it soon as may be. I have thought as much of Sarah as any of my children. She must be cruel-hearted to her mother and if she would throw herself away to spite someone else, I can’t see what else it can be. She knows she could not take any comfort with him. Keep this to yourself. Don’t let your mother know of it if she hain’t, for she can’t believe it hardly if she would see it. I am not so blind as not to believe if this takes place the family is broke up for keeps. If I get in for five years with such sorrow on one that would be the extent of my life most likely, — John
Write soon. Tell our folks to write often — particularly your mother. She gains fast. We can read it good. Tell Major we will direct to him after this. I thought it best to direct to your mother.
This letter was written by Fife Major John White to his daughter Margaret and her husband James Close. It contains a great description of Fort Woodbury — a 275 yard perimeter lunette with a stockade gorge that was built, in large part, by the 4th Michigan Infantry in August-September 1861. Published history states that the fort was named after Brigadier General Daniel Phineas Woodbury but members of the 4th Michigan claim it was named after their Colonel, Dwight Avery Woodbury [see Eri House letter of 1 September 1861].
March 3d 1862
Margaret, this is for you.
We are well. It did snow yesterday and rained all night. It is foggy this morning, I don’t think of anything at all to write.
We are here on Minor’s Hill and the war news is still good. We will move soon. Mc[Clellan] is coming in to the field this week. Then all will go ahead.
I will speak of our bed. I got a lot of good straw and put it under us. We thought we was a going to sleep so fine. It raised us up from the poles we had been sleeping on so long. We got on the soft straw. It was a cold night and could not sleep ______ and could not rest at all. Our bed was not solid enough after we let it pack hard. We began to rest better. Johnston will scold if I go to level it for fear it won’t be solid. I stayed in town and had a feather bed. I did not sleep — only a little all night. I am in such a hurry this morning I can’t write. I guess I will wait for tomorrow’s mail. I am sorry I undertook to get this ready this morning. I did not half write to suit me about the bed. It is curious we can sleep best where it is hard as a board or poles. We don’t stir up our straw but let it pack flat and hard. I think I have not slept on only on bed in 8 months. If we would come, we would have to sleep on our hard floor beds for a long time. I would like to have our tent home with us if we live to get home. We will not stay here this week before we move ahead.
This [flag] pole on the post — Johnston cut it — is a tall pole. That little tent by the band and post officers is ours with the little flag out from the front door. This is not as it was when that other was taken. We changed about __ the fort was done out around them guards on top is a ditch outside the wall where them cannon is on that is high and ditch 12 or 14 feet wide and deep. The store house is North — or that right gun points North. The right hand points to Georgetown and the left to Washington in plain sight across the river. It is a high hill on the river side. There is an embankment from our fort on the right to what we call the DeKalb Fort near a half mile. Between our fort and the river is two forts called Fort Corcoran — I forget the other one on our left. I forgot the name. So it is a solid mass of batteries all along.
I took off one shirt yesterday and got a cold so I can hardly speak today. This is a mean place to take a cold. Always have a sore throat when we take a cold. This seems to be a trait of the country. If I was home, I should think I might have inflammation of the lungs. I feel better this afternoon. I had some hot coffee and sweet sausage. It makes me homesick the way I feel. I have had the rheumatism all through this stormy weather. If the weather would clear up, I would feel better and more contented. The weather is cloudy and misty — not cold. I will lay this away for awhile [till] I think of something more of interest to write. I feel so mean today, I can’t write. I want you and Jim to treat your Mother as kindly as you can for I think she worries about us some and she can’t stand [it] like you younger ones. You must consider this and be patient with her. Tell her to write often. She improves fast, It is hard to write on this paper, It has been handled so much worse than it would be some other time. My bones aches so bad today.
March 4th. It rained all day or nearly and very hard through the night until ____. I think I never heard it blow a rougher wind. It has fell and looks fine this morning. I am better this morning. I am very hoarse yet.
There was hundreds of cavalry passed by this morning. I don’t know where they was going — only in the direction of the enemy. It [is] quite a sight to see a thousand of them — well uniformed — and their horses well dressed. I did not look at them this morning but heard them like cars, their feet roars like a train of light cars. Such things is no curiosity to us — we have seen so much of such things. We are sick of seeing soldiers in any shape or sick of band music — we have seen or heard so much for anything of the kind. We don’t like to bear the name of a soldier or a band. These things have become a nuisance to us. I like the heathen in the state of nature, but not the basest of heathen in the shape of white and professed to be enlightened people.
There is nothing I can think of to make a letter interesting telling anything over a dozen times is no use. Newell was on guard last night. It was a rough time for the guard although they will laugh about it. Newell is rather unfortunate. he gets a hard night every time.
I must hurry for the mail. Write soon. Give my respects to son Daniel and Rachel and all of my friends if you can’t find any more, I guess they are. Tell Jim to write. Tell what the weather [has been]. We want to know that to see how it corresponds with the weather east of the mountains. Half past eight o’clock.
From your father, — John
[to] Margaret and James Close