The following group of letters was written by Pvt. Johnson White of Co. B, Fourth Michigan Infantry. He was the son of John White, the Fife Major of the regimental band.
Johnson White was from Johnson, Lenawee County. At age 19, he enlisted in Co. B, 4th Michigan Infantry on June 20, 1861, at Adrian, for 3 years. He was a farmer by occupation. Mustered June 20, 1861. Transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps, 16 March 1864, suffered from chronic diarrhea. Resided in Oakville, Oregon, after service. Born in Michigan.
[October 5, 1861]
With pleasure I improve the opportunity of writing to you to let you know how things are a getting along. We are well but don’t feel very well pleased about the amount of news that we get from home. You cannot think much of us or you would try and let us know whether you were all dead or alive. We love to hear from home as well as you do from us & better for we are far from anyone that we know and you are where friends are plenty.
We have not yet had the order to march. Can’t tell how soon we may have it. It is very warm in these parts. We went out on dress parade the other night, double quick some, and our captain give out on the field and was crazy all night and they thought that would not pay and quit. In short, we are used like hogs more than soldiers.
The talk is now that our regiment is not legal and must go through the whole mill again but when they come to try us, they will find out that we are not fools yet. They have abused [us] too much for to try to get us to swall[ow] any more. We have not had any money yet and don’t think we will get any for a while. Some of the boys are homesick and I don’t blame them for wanting to get what they want to eat once more in this world. There is no more life in us than a pack of mules. But we feel nice over it. We still are trying to do our duty. It is a hard place to do anything good. I have got so that I hate the looks of some of the boys that are always swearing or gambling. We see so much of it but never mind it. 3 years will soon be around and we will be set free. Now tell the folks that if they do not write that this will be my last in a good while.
(My love to all enquiring friends. Goodbye. Live in hope.)
November 5, 1861
Dear Sister and Brother,
I sit down to night to pen a few lines to you to let you know how I and the rest are getting along. We are all quite well at this time and truly hope you all enjoy the same blessing for I think that the greatest blessing that we can have.
I was sorry to hear about Dan and Ed Munson but we all must take our turn as it comes. I would like to be at home to see you all but that is out of the question so we will not waste paper talking about it. Tell Barney to get a good job and I guess that I will come home and help him do it. I am very sorry that you all feel so lonesome about us for we are doing well. We make our little 50 cts. a day — work or play, sick or well, drill or no drill — but our turn will come sometime and then our fun will be done maybe. But all these things must be brought into consideration.
Tell Barney and the rest of the boys to take good care of the girls till we get back. tell them that the Michigan girls go ahead of any that I have come across yet and I am sure that such girls as that had ought to be used well. You spoke of my cutting a dash writing to the young ladies but I say what rational, intelligent being would not do so if they could hold correspondence with any nice young lady like those in Summerfield. Bless my heart, I think it is a nice thing but I suppose you have heard enough about that. I told our folks to give you some money or stamps and then you must try [to] write often. You have done well but I would like to have a letter from you every day.
I was glad to hear that your corn was good and wheat. I would like to see one good price of wheat or corn for you might as well look for a needle in a hay stack as for a field of wheat.
The band aren’t playing and they play nice but I get so sick of music — that is, band or field music — that I do wish that I never would hear another note. It is nothing but rumble jumble all of the time, night and day. In the first at sunrise, we pile out and slam off reveille. Then in about 16 minutes the officer of the day will cry out, “Boys, first call!” for company drill & in about an hour after, beat a call for guard mounting. Then a little while [later], beat a call for Battalion Drill. Then when they get at that, the band or the field music is at it all of the time. Now you can tell how much time that there is not music playing.
Jim, you and Barney must help Major all you can on that house for I want that to go up just as soon as it can, let it cost what it may. Barney, if you don’t help some, I won’t come home and see you never. Now it is by candlelight that I am writing this and this side of the paper is not marked off and I think I will have to draw it to a close. All be good boys and girls till we meet again, if we ever do, and then and there such a time as we will have was never thought of.
Newell tells me to give you a description of how noisy they are and I will do it. Every morning they deal out to each man ten rounds of blank cartridges and all of the regiments around here — and that is a good many –will get out and go at it and then of all the noises that I ever heard that beats the whole thunder and lightening is o name for it — rattle battle, slash, smash, bang, slang, speech, smash, ringle jingle, slam bang went a million guns and no one killed and not only the little guns but them golderned big guns. They make more noise than the bill calls. They will set out sometimes and slash one of them big bullets right past a fellow’s head just as if it was fun but I told them that I did not think it was fun and for them to quit such fun around me and don’t you think that one fool in our regiment stole a shell somewhere and carried it right into his company and touched it off with a match and you know that they are a dangerous thing to play with. Oh, I tell this an awful crowd of boys and after he had touched off the shell the first thing he looked for was a lot of little dogs [?] that he had in a barrel.
No more. From Johnson White
to Margaret Close & Jim [Close]
December 2, 1861
Dear sister and brother,
I sit down tonight to answer you letter of the 28th. We of course was glad to hear from you but very sorry to hear that you was so unwell. Margaret, I truly hope that you will recover but that is not for us to say. If our time on earth is ended, we must bid farewell to all on earth and leave it with cheerfulness if possible. The only way is to put your trust in God and all will be right — either to live or to die. I am in hopes that we all will live to see each other on earth once more but there is a great chance for to be disappointed.
Margaret, I will not go into the particulars of the matter as I do not get much reliable news. The news that I get is just the same as that which you get — nothing but paper news. The papers say that we are giving them fits — as Bill Women [?] used to say — down South but we don’t know any more about it than you do. Margaret, I want you to have one of the pictures that I sent to our folks and just as soon as I can get to town, I will get a good one and sent it to you. I promised to send you one the morning I left you and I will so it. Tell F. J. Cary that I often think of him and our old times such as hunting mink — that big one that we used to come through the willow prairie. I want him to kill him this winter, if possible. Now Margaret, I don’t want you to feel hard toward me about that likeness. You get that one from our folks and I will send you one soon in full U. S. uniform. Now I will have to stop for Newell. Please write soon and excuse. — J
December 13, 1861
I can’t say that I received your letter for I have not had one from you. Oh I have had a few lines in someone else’s letter but never one directed to me. Now I am well and very sorry that the same blessing is not yours. Oh Margaret, you don’t know how sorrowful it makes me feel to hear of your protracted illness but the only way for us to do when we are visited with such sad feelings is to banish them by prayer — the only true way to find enjoyment. I well remember the promise I made you the morning I left the old place with the expectation of never beholding all her beauties again. But now somehow or other I feel different & don’t feel so now & I promised to send you my likeness and I will do it. I did not know but I could get a good light colored one but it is black like the rest of them. But black, white, or what, it looks natural. I am glad that you are all getting along better than you did when we were at home. I want you all to play your part on the peaches [?] this winter for there is a far sight for us having any this winter, but we have plenty of other things — plenty to keep us alive and tough.
Now Margaret, you must take care of yourself and get as well as soon as you can for we all feel bas as long as you are sick. You must get well so that you can write some letters. You write the best letters of anyone else because you write all of the news and that is what we want. I must stop for Newell now. Write soon and don’t delay.
To Margaret & James
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
February 19, 1862
Dear Brother & Sister,
Although you did not write to me, I shall endeavor to write a few lines to you and see if we can’t get a word to you some way. You say you have not had a letter from me in a long while and that is bad for I have [written] to you a great many times and am sorry you did not get them. I wrote one to you last week and if you did not get it, be sure and tell me in your next letter.
Now, before I go any further, I must tell you how bold the mice are getting in my tent. At first they dare not show their faces till after we had gone to bed. But now it is entirely different. You know the old saying, practice makes perfect — and they have practiced their impudence so long that in broad daylight they will step right out no difference how many are in the tent at the time and they will wrestle, box, dance, run races, and fight or anything that comes in their head. I believe they are sesesh because they are not half as bold now as they were before the great victory in the West.
We are all well and hope these [lines] will find you the same and more. The mud is about 6 inches deep here now and still raining and how much deeper it will get, we can’t tell. But there is a right smart chance for it to get considerably deeper.
We get letters from Mother often now-a-days and it makes us glad to see her so prompt in writing to us. I got a letter from Marriel’s [Harriet’s?] folks and answered it and Newell put a small letter in mine and the next letter they wrote — I suppose through the influence of Margaret — they directed to Newell and it made me a little Scots. And just for a joke, I did not answer it at all nor did I read the one they sent me neither. I don’t know but that was putting on too much dignity but however it can’t be helped.
I thought I would take a half a sheet so I could fill it up and I am afraid now I can’t think of enough to fill it. I got a letter from a nice young lady in Detroit and you may guess how good I felt about it. She wants me to correspond with her and me thinks I shall do so. What do you think about it? Well, if I don’t do my best, I can’t think of enough to fill this. Oh, I must tell you about Newell. He saw a young mulatto the other day on picket and he is talking about her all the time. I am afraid he is a going to try to marry her and you must write and advise him and try and get little Mary Logan to write to him if you can for he thinks a great deal of her. Now do try and do something for the poor boy or he will disgrace us by marrying a black individual.
Cliffburn [General] Hospital
[Washington D. C.]
September 27, 1862
Dear Sister and family,
I acknowledge I have not answered your letters as prompt as I should have done but I have been about three thirds edgeways towards you and Jim about that infernal operation of Sarah and Barney J. Cary, and to tell the truth, I have not got entirely over it yet. I do not take anyone’s word for it — only your own. The way you wrote about it was enough to show that you both were in favor of a match between them and for what reason under heaven, I don’t know. But so goes the world.
I am truly glad to hear of the drafting for I don’t think they will take Major and the rest of the boys around there. I want to see them come into it. They are no better to be shot at than the rest of the boys that left the place. But if any man will paint himself black & keep from going had ought to be shot with 12 good sound charges of musket balls.
I have not got much to write and don’t feel much like writing anyhow. You can see that plainly by the way I write. Write soon. No news.
To all, from Johnson
P. S. That question you asked me I will answer when I get home. — J. White
Convalescent Camp near Ft. Barnard
April 11, 1863
Dear father, mother & family,
With pleasure I take my seat to write a few lines to you. I am well but Newell is not very well. He has been sick some three days. I am in hopes that he will get along. He is better now than he was yesterday. I was so glad to hear from you for I do not get letters from you oftener than once in two weeks. But I am glad to get them that often if I can’t get them any oftener. I was very sorry to hear that Major was sick but I am truly in hopes that he may soon recover. I do feel thankful that we have all been spared thus far. While many have fallen around you and me, we have been spared. Truly we have no one else to thank but God.
They are having a protracted meeting in the camp. They have prayer meeting at 8 A.M. and at 2 P.M. and preaching at night every day of the week. I am detailed as drummer in the camp [and] have plenty good times in general. I don’t know hardly what to think about that wrong [?] of Jo’s. Father, I think that he had ought to have his pay. He worked cheaper than he would work for anyone else and why not pay him? I am glad that that money got home all safe but there was five dollars that you said nothing about. I sent 5 in a letter before I sent the 17 and you did not say anything about it. Please write in your next about it.
I hope you may get your bounty but I doubt it for you did not serve two years and I think you will never get it. If the Lord spares my health a few more months, I will get it in spite of these teeth.
It is in the papers that Charleston is taken. I don’t know how true it is but hope it may be so. The weather is very nice here now it the first this spring.
I have had two letters from Patrick. He is post master of the regiment. The boys all want me to come back and help them in the drum corps. I fail to see it. Just not now. I have wrote all that I can think at this time. I look some for a letter from you tonight. Write soon.
Mr. Major L. White, First Michigan Mechanics, Co. L
Distribution Rendezvous, Virginia
February 7, 1864
Dear Sister & family,
With pleasure I take my seat to give you an answer to your much welcomed letter which came to hand in due time. I did not expect it so soon but there is half in writing prompt if one gets a letter and does not pretend to answer inside of a week, it makes a great difference. I have only got one letter from home since I got back. I don’t really know what to think of them.
I must say I was greatly surprised to get a letter from that quarter of the globe but not only surprised but much pleased. You asked me to send my answer in your letter if I did not have any objections. Truly I have one at all as long as she has none.
I suppose ‘ere this shall have reached its destination our regiment will be at Adrian as they passed through Washington the day before yesterday. I might have another furlough if I would reenlist but I propose to be free a little while first and then if I feel as disposed, all right. But I don’t apprehend any danger of such a change in my mind. I am real glad that Barney is at home for Sarah can enjoy herself as well. She did not feel exactly right when I was at home but I did not dream it was on that account but so goes the world and so let it be.
I am very sorry that you have the opinion of me that you seem to have — to think that I am trifling with her. I never gave her any encouragement at all but used her as a friend. I do think she is a real good girl and a smart one, but don’t allow her to blind you in that way. She thinks more of Allen’s old boots than she does of the whole race of Whites. I think by what she wrote that she thought that I was trying to cut Allen out but she is mistaken. If my disposition had been ever so good to do so, prudence would not admit of such a course. I think that one of the meanest things on earth.
With regard to Morton, there is no love — but I think a great deal of him. I am real glad that he is having a grand time. I thought that he was still at the Sym’s place.
I kinda think, Margaret, you will have a job reading this but I am getting in a hurry and want to fill it up. Now a word to Wilson and then a close.
Wilson, have you got your light lit yet? And what did the dog have _____, &c. &c. Wilson, I want you to go to school steady and learn all you can for the time is not far distant when you will wish like your elder brother that you had have improved every flying moment, but alas, it will be too late. Just take a fool’s advice and lesson. Take interest in your studies and you will have a hard time find the day when you will regret it. There, I have nothing more to say. Sarah is good enough for Barney.
Write soon. Direct as before.
John White’s orders transferring him to the Veteran Reserve Corps. in March 1864.
Rendezvous of Distribution, Va.
March 29, 1864
Special Orders No. 71
2. The following named enlisted men belonging to the Det. Vet. Res. Corps. are hereby relieved from duty in Drum Corps of this camp. They will report at once to the Commanding Officer of their company.
Lewis M. Larkin, Co. G, 6th Regiment V. R. C.
Johnson White, Co. K, 6th Reg. V. R. C.