Luke Barnes

This lengthy and captivating letter was written by Private Luke Barnes (1840-1922), the 23 year-old son of William Francis Barnes (1807-1882) and Martha Green Peaslee (1807-1895) of Leonidas, St. Joseph county, Michigan — formerly of Adrian, Michigan, where Luke was born on March 3, 1841. Luke’s older brother Joel Henry Barnes (1835-1910) is mentioned in this letter several times. Joel served in Co. K while Luke served in Co. C of the Fourth Michigan Infantry.

Luke wrote this letter to his older brother Judge (“Jud”) William Barnes (1838-1908) of Leonidas, Michigan.  It includes a description of President Lincoln’s grand review of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Army Corps on 8 April 1863. The review was held on the James Sthreshley Farm (called “Grafton”). Less than two weeks after writing this letter, on April 17, 1863, Private Luke Barnes would be found guilty by court martial for falling asleep while at his post. On April 18, 1862, Luke had accidently shot and killed his captain, Abram Wood, while on picket duty at Yorktown, Virginia.


Alfred Waud’s Sketch of the Grand Review on 8 April 1863


Headquarters Army of the Potomac
5th Corps, 1st Division, 2nd Brigade
4th Michigan Regt. of Infantry, Company C
Camp near Potomac Creek
March [April] the 6th, 1863 A. D.

Dear Brother,

As I have a few leisure moments to spare, I will improve them in writing to you. I received your kind letter of the 25th of March and was pleased to hear such pleasing news from home and especially to know that you still put your trust in Him “who is able to succor them that are tempted.” My health is pretty good and I am proud of it too. Health is one of the greatest blessings of God and we ought to cherish it and try to improve it. Joel’s health is very good and he seems to be pretty tough but there is no telling how soon he may be sick for his constitution is badly shattered and I fear he has seen his best days. He has impaired his health by drinking liquor and being up so much nights. He is the same wild, reckless man he was at home and I guess he will always remain so.

You sent me a list of the letters which you have received from me and I perceive by it that my mail does not all go through and I also see that the 20.00 which I sent last pay did not reach home and I have partially made up my mind not to draw my pay next pay day for it is not safe to send money either by mail or express and I think will wait awhile and as long as it is in the pay masters hands, it is safe and you can get along somehow until a couple of months. Then I can send you 50 or 60 dollars and maybe more. And furthermore, it will go farther than it would in little dribbles, don’t you think? I do! There is lots of money to be made here in the army and if I was not a soldier, I would make at the rate of 100 or 200 dollars per month buying goods at Washington and Baltimore and selling to the soldiers. There is a good many speculators here in the evening and thousands are getting rich every day here in the army, but I am satisfied as I [can] be. I get honestly and earn every cent.

I received a letter last night from Charles Bishop and shall answer it as soon as I get time. His letter is what I call an abolition letter. He has written several to me and is always finding fault with “the Army of the Potomac” and it does not suit me for we have it hard enough without being found fault with. It is my opinion that he is one of the fence crying “Copperheads” of the North who are always finding fault with us and are not man enough to come here and help us fight for the Union. Such fellows put me in mind of what Christ said to the Pharisees or rather Lawyers in St. Luke, 11th Chapter, 46th Verse, “Woe unto you also, you lawyers, for you load men with burdens grievous to be bourne and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers, and it is so. So with these Copperheads who are very anxious for peace and want to have the Union saved, but they themselves will not touch the burdens of the war with one of their fingers. And I say to them what Christ said to the Pharisees in Matthew, 23rd Chapter, 33rd Verse, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell.” There is a class of people in the North who are willing to have peace on the rebel’s terms and are arming themselves to resist the draft. Now I have got a private opinion of such fellows and I will whisper it in your ears. It is this — they are a set of cowards and I could take my little Springfield Rifle and put on my bayonet and drive a hundred of them to the Pacific Coast. For my part, I do not see peace until the rebels are cleaned out and we can have the good old Union saved. How long would peace last between the North and South if the [paper torn]… form a separate government and weakening the strongest nation on the face of the earth. It would not last so long as it would take to run a mile for the southern people are a hot-blooded race and have a deadly hatred to all northern people and would be insulting and abusing and quarreling with us all the time. Such a peace would be worse than the bloodiest war that was ever known. This is my opinion and I am not alone. The men of the North (that is the civilians) are asking the question, “Why don’t the Army move forward?” I would say to such, come and see for yourself and you will will satisfied that we have good reasons for not moving. The main reason why we do not advance is the roads are kept in a bad state by rainy weather and it is next to impossible to move our artillery and you know as well as I do that it would be perfect madness to attack the rebels without artillery. We are all anxious to move forward and would like nothing better than to fight the rebels. The army is in excellent condition and in first rate spirits and I for one feel pretty confident that we will whip the rebels the next time we fight them.

I have been playing ball today and had a very good time. It is very good exercise for soldiers although we have to drill twice a day besides having dress parade at 5 P.M.

I seen a list of prices of our clothing today and will copy it off and send it to you. Our clothing costs more now than when we first enlisted and I expect to have some to pay for at the end of the year but I am bound to have clothes to make me comfortable it if takes half of my pay to foot the bill and I do not believe you will blame me for it either for I have it hard enough at the best. Oh how I do wish you could just step into our camp tonight and hear the different kinds of music — some singing, some fiddling, and some talking of home. Some [are] arguing about the war, some telling of their adventures in battle and of their many hair-bredth escapes from the rebels. It is quite comical to listen to it but it is an old thing to me and therefore I care but little about it. In one tent next to mine, the boys are singing, “My Country Tis of Thee &c.”


Stephen Foster’s “Willie, We have Missed You” Sheet Music

Our preacher has to have preaching on the Sabbath day but maybe he will come back again. I hope so. Now and while I think of it. I will tell you what I want you to send me. It is the book entitled, “The Young Convert.” It is the book that I used to have when I was at Sister Mudges and I think a great deal of it. If you have not got it, send me “The Path of Life” or some other good, interesting book. You see it is very hard getting religious books here in the army for the sutlers and peddlers have nothing but novels and it is not a good practice to read them, don’t you think so? Joel and I want you when you get time to write off for me the song, “Don’t be Angry, Mother” and every other nice song such as we used to sing in the family circle in days of yore. I often think of the many happy times I have spent by the fireside at home and long for the time to come when such days shall be renewed once more. Maybe we will never sing those songs again but one thing is very certain if ever I live to come home, I will have one good sing if I never have another. You will help me, won’t you Joel? Mother will sing The White Pilgrim and The Wounded Lover and we will sing The Old Play Ground and Willy, We Have Missed You, ² and Hard Times Come Again No More. Such songs will be very appropriate for the occasion, don’t you think? So I do.

Now I must go out to roll call and as it is late, I will not write much more tonight. There will be a service tomorrow. The 5th Corps is going to be reviewed by the President and we have orders to be ready to march to the reviewing ground at 8 o’clock in the morning and then I will give you an account of it. I expect it will be a grand affair. There was some troops reviewed today off to the left of us for I heard the artillery salute quite plain. I suppose it was Lincoln reviewing some other corps. ¹ Now good night and pray the God of Peace may be with you is the prayer of your brother, — Luke Barnes

April 7th. Now for another trial at this letter which I commenced yesterday and have been so busy that I could not get time to write. We had our review today but it was only a Brigade Review. “Uncle Abe” came around and give us a squint and then trotted off with a lot of officers at his heels. We had to wait about 2 or 3 hours for him to come and it was pretty cold and the boys did not relish much for we had to stand still and shiver when he passed us. The Colonel ordered 3 cheers for the President. Some of the boys did not cheer and what did was very faint. This shows that the President is not a very great favorite with the Army of the Potomac for the boys do not like him much since he has misused our Little Mac.

Now Jud, I shall have to get to bed for the lights will soon be ordered out and if mine is burning, the guard will arrest me for you see we are not allowed to burn lights after taps. But if I get time, I will finish it by tomorrow night. Tomorrow I shall have to wash my clothes and therefore cannot write much. I was lucky enough today to buy a half a plug of tobacco on time for one dollar which I have to pay next pay day. You see it costs a heap here to chew tobacco but I do not like to quit as long as I can get it and I doubt not but that you would do the same if you were here.

Win Brown is here tonight. ³ He came over to see the boys. He is from Menden and used to belong to my company when we were at Adrian but our Captain would not take him because he was too young. He now belongs to the 7th Michigan.

Jud, the bugle blows for lights out and so I shall have to quit. So good night and happy dreams to you. May God take care of you tonight is the prayer of your brother, — Luke!!!

April 8th. Well, well, what is coming next. We have just got in from another review by “Old Abe” and the boys are not very well pleased with him for it is no very desirable job to be reviewed so often — especially when we have to go three or four miles to be reviewed. But the “Rail Splitter” must have his curiosity gratified even if the whole army has to go without rest. But I must tell you how we got along with the review. We started this morning at 8 o’clock and went over in front of the long remembered and bloody city of Fredericksburg where so many brave soldiers spilt their blood in the cause of Freedom and Union. The battleground was in plain sight and we could see the numerous tents of the rebels on the opposite side of the river. It was a grand sight and no mistake and I wish you could have been there and seen it too. Well, when we got there, we formed double column at half distance and then after changing positions until we got all right, we stacked arms and rested. But the weather being pretty cold, the boys went to sparring and wrestling and jumping and scuffling in order to keep warm. Well we had a pretty good time getting our clothes muddy but we did not mind the mud but the most fun was when the band struck up a tune and got a large crown around them and the General called “Attention!!!” Then the boys scattered right and left and in one minute everything was as still as could be, You had ought to have been there and seen the boys run to their several regiments. You would have been surprised.

Well about 1 o’clock the President got along and passed in front and rear of each division and then taking his position on a little rise of ground, the army commenced moving to pass in review and although we are the 1st Division, yet we did not pass until nearly the last ones. I counted over 50 large regimental flags from where I stood and they looked nice, I can assure you. Well, after we had passed in review, we started for camp double quick and got here about 4 o’clock, tired and hungry, and I hope we will not have another review in a twelve month.

When we were coming back, I seen a large tent with the words painted on it, “United States Christian Commission” and I think it is a place to get tracts and religious papers. I am going over there some day and see and try and get something to read. Now Jud, I am pretty tired and will just close my letter until candle light when I will proceed to answer your letter.

Now then for an answer to your letter. You spoke about your being 25 years old and not having done any good in the world, but I am glad you are going to try and be more useful in the future. It is our duty to do all the good we can while on earth to improve the cause — or rather I should say — to forward the cause of our Redeemer and Jud, I too am going to begin to live more useful and try to do some little good in the world. For my part, life has been poorly spent. I will try by example as well as precept to do good to my fellow man. But as for complaining about living a single life, if I was in your place, I would get married before the soldiers come home for if you do not, the “solger boys” will cut you out and that you will not fancy much, I reckon. Now Jud, let me tell you how to get a good wife. When you find a gal you like pretty well and suits you, just ask mother if she will make you a good wife and she will tell you truly and then you can depend on getting a good wife. Maybe Lucy would make one and probably if you did not steal her affections before I come home, I will try and see what I can do. One thing is certain, she is a good house keeper and has had experience and it is my opinion she would make some man a good little “doll.” What do you think of it. Jud? But I am carrying the joke too far and so I’ll let it drop like a cold or rather hot potato. I suppose Lucy will be a little angy when she sees what I have written but she will soon get over it I guess. I am sorry that Frances is not a good girl to mother. I had made up my mind to send her a nice present but will have to wait until she is a better girl. Tell her that when she gets to be good to mother, I will send her something nice but not before.

You said it was snowing there the day you wrote. I will look over my diary and see if it was stormy here. It did not storm here in the daytime but it rained a little at night. There is a little snow on the ground here yet and probably it will snow more before long. It is the strangest climate here I ever heard of.

Now about the box which I want you to send. I think it is safe to send it for there is a great deal of express comes here but the safest way to send it is by Adams Express. I will tell you the directions on the next page. Now Jud, as I want to write a few words to mother, you must be content with what I have written for she wrote to me and therefore it would be no more than fair that I should write to her. So now I must bid you farewell hoping that you will write soon and do the best you can and remember that we will not always have to scratch our thoughts to one another on a piece of paper — that is, if we both live and God being [paper torn]… but for the present we will have to put up with what we can get. Give my respects to all enquiring friends and don’t forget to take a good share for yourself. Good night, Jud. May God take care of you until we meet again is the prayer of your brother, unworthily, — Luke Barnes

Dear Mother — I hardly know what to say to you but I was happy to receive your kind note. It always makes me happy to receive a line from you for I know you love your children and I love you too — dearer than I can tell you. But Mother, I will one day if I live, prove my love to you. I will do as you say and look to God for strength. I am glad you received my picture but it was not a very good one. Now Mother, I have not time to write more this time so goodbye. God bless you is my prayer. I remain your son, — Luke Barnes

List of Prices of Clothing in the Army

Forage Caps  $0.56
Uniform Coats  1.45
Pants  3.55
Blouse unlined   2.40
Blouse lined  3.14
Shirts    1.46
Shirts Knit   1.30
Drawers    0.95
Drawers Knit  1.00
Socks   0.32
Shoes sewed   2.05
Shoes pegged  1.48
Overcoats   9.50
Blankets   3.50
Blanket rubber   2.55
Ponch rubber  2.90
Oil Cloth  2.10

All soldiers are allowed  3.50 per month or 42.00 per year for clothing.

Direct your express as follows (Viz)

To Luke Barnes, Co. C, 4th Michigan Regt. of Infantry
2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac,
Near Stoneman’s Switch, Virginia

¹ Lincoln reviewed the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac on 6 April 1863.

² Here are the lyrics to Stephen Collins Foster’s song, Willie, We Have Missed You, published in 1854:

Oh! Willie, is it you, dear,
Safe, safe at home?
They did not tell me true, dear;
They said you would not come.
I heard you at the gate,
And it made my heart rejoice;
For I knew that welcome footstep
And that dear, familiar voice,
Making music on my ear
In the lonely midnight gloom:
Oh! Willie, we have missed you;
Welcome, welcome home!

We’ve longed to see you nightly,
But this night of all;
The fire was blazing brightly
And lights were in the hall.
The little ones were up
Till ’twas ten o’-clock and past,
Then their eyes began to twinkle,
And they’ve gone to sleep at last;
But they listened for your voice
Till they thought you’d never come;
Oh! Willie, we have missed you;
Welcome, welcome home!

The days were sad without you,
The nights long and drear;
My dreams have been about you;
Oh! welcome, Willie dear!
Last night I wept and watched
By the moonlight’s cheerless ray,
Till I thought I heard your footstep,
Then I wiped my tears away;
But my heart grew sad again
When I found you had not come;
Oh! Willie, we have missed you;
Welcome, welcome home!

³ Winslow Brown (b. 1844) served in Co. I, 7th Michigan Infantry. He was a resident of St. Joseph County at the time of his enlistment in August 1861 at Mendon. He transferred to the Invalid Corps in August 1863. He was the son of Eldridge and Betsey (Gill) Brown.

This three page letter was written by Private Luke Barnes to Samuel Gorton of Colon, Michigan. The letter was written from the U. S. General Hospital in Annapolis Maryland. He had been captured by the Confederates after suffering sunstroke and falling out on the march near Aldie, Virginia on June 26, 1863. He was held prisoner until his release and sent to Parole Camp in Annapolis, and from there sent to the hospital still suffering from sunstroke. Joel, who is mentioned in this letter, was Luke’s brother serving in Co. K of the Fourth Michigan.


U. S. Gen. Hospital
Annapolis, Maryland
May 21st [1864]

Friend Samuel,

Your very kind letter of the 12th was gratefully received and it made me glad to hear that you and your family was well. I am not very well today but some better than I was yesterday for yesterday I had the shakes and a high fever so that I was confined to my bed.

The news, I suppose, will be much ahead of my letter so I will omit them — except a few particulars.

There has been some hard fighting in the Army of the Potomac and my regiment suffered severely. I have seen the names of over (80) eighty, the most of whom are wounded. I was talking with an officer of my Brigade this morning and he said that there was not an officer left in the 4th Michigan. All were either killed or wounded. I have not heard a word of Joel and feel very anxious about him.

The weather here is very warm and it is nice weather for crops. But Samuel, you need not expect a long letter this time for I am not very well. Besides, I have 5 or 6 others to answer.

There is a great many wounded men here and it makes much work for those who are able to work. I do not see any Bull Frogs here but would like a good one.

I am in hopes that this will find you all well. I send my love to Aunt Dide and Mrs. G. Also to Clarence and my respects to all enquiring friends. Please write soon and give me all the news.

I remain yours truly, — Luke Barnes

[to] Samuel Gorton