The following letter was written by Robert R. Campbell (1835-1922) who served as the regimental quartermaster of the 4th Michigan Infantry. Robert was a native of Glasgow, Scotland. His parents were Robert Campbell (1802-1888) and Ann Muir (1806-1884). Robert emigrated to the United States with his family in 1842 when he was only six years old.
In the 1860 U. S. Census, 24 year-old Robert was enumerated in his parents residence in Augusta township, Washtenaw county, Michigan. His occupation was recorded as “teacher.” He was married to Lavina Louise Childs (1841-1913) on 21 August 1861. Lavina was the daughter of Hon. Aaron Childs (b. 1806) and Hannah F. Bemis. Lavina’s father was elected to the State Legislature in 1870.
Robert’s younger brother, Gabriel Campbell (1838-1923), served as the Captain of Co. E, 17th Michigan Infantry. Gabriel graduated from the University of Michigan and later attended the Chicago Theological Seminary. He was a professor of Mathematics at Dartmouth College from 1883-1910.
Robert was promoted to Regimental Quartermaster in September 1862.
Camp near the river
October 13th 1862
My ever dear one,
This is some of Uncle Sam’s paper, but it is at my disposal until he finds me something better which we will soon have in abundance. It is now after dark and I am all alone, which is a little wonderful, but don’t expect to be so for a great while. If you were here just now and could hear the grand strains of martial music which is to be heard in nearly every direction, I know that you would experience some grand feelings and emotions. It is a delightful evening and the glimmer of campfires in all directions with soul-stirring music filling the air makes it a truly magnificent scene.
Camp life seems to agree with me well thus far and with things in general I find no room for complaint, except one thing — there is one man in the regiment — a lieutenant — who has his wife with him and that you know will keep him from being homesick. If I could only be with my wife, all would seem right. But after all, just as I have always thought, this is no place for a woman. There is but this one in the regiment. She is a fine lady and appears to enjoy it very well. Whenever a lady comes into camp, you ought to see the staring — every face is turned toward her. She is a perfect curiosity and all who can want introductions.
Communication seems to be about cut off from here. We have received no mail here for about a week. Usually we have it every day.
The rebels keep flirting around. They are quite numerous again just over the river. Our senior captain Jeffords (an old schoolmate of mine at the seminary) was fired at while he was in charge of the regiment on picket duty. Gen. Porter has given orders to shoot back in all such instances and also to fire upon all rebel officers.
Quartermaster [Henry] Grannis has not been promoted as was expected. He was yesterday relieved from the position he held as division quartermaster. He felt a little downcast about it, but Webster has agreed to give him a place in the regiment as captain which he has accepted and he is now going home on recruiting service for a short time. Webster is going to send by him to the Governor and have things fixed all right.
I am rather busy just now preparing the quarterly returns. It takes a good deal of figuring and turning and searching to get all straightened around right. I have to attend to almost every wart of the regiment — clothing, eating, tents, horses, forage, guns, ammunition stationery, &c.
It is getting late. The Chaplain [Rev. John Seage] has just come in. He is a fine sociable man and takes well with the men. We talk a good deal together. Webster has just been in and says, “What have you written?” He always wants to know. (Well, good night dearest) — Husband
Morning has again come and I will endeavor to write a little more although in a few minutes I will to attend to some tents which have just arrived.
Night has come. The day having passed off about as usual. The inspector has been here and inspected the men, their equipments, books, &c, &c. At one time the assembly was sounded for to see how soon they could be called out into line of battle. The men were at ease in their tents. At the first sound of the bugle, you ought to have seen the hurry and preparation. It seemed but a few seconds until all were equipped, formed into companies, and hurried forward about twenty rods and formed into line of battle. The whole occupied but about two minutes.
My visit to Harper’s Ferry was quite an interesting one — principally from having heard so much about it. I went on horseback alone with the teams after forage away around over the mountains. There is some wild and grand scenery by the way, though all the way traces of armies.
A confederate surgeon, who is attending some of their wounded here, accompanied me part of the way. He was very gentlemanly in his deportment. It seemed so peculiar and we both felt it to be thus together, conversing, when in fact, the service in which we were engaged called for each others destruction. He acknowledged that he was out of place in being there, but regard for the wounded excused it. While crossing the bridge taken by General Burnside in the last battle — which such a short time ago was swept by such an awful tempest of grapeshot and bullets — he asked what our army would have done, had they destroyed it as the greater part of our army had passed over it after it was taken. I said they would all have forded the river as a great part of them did. But the feelings are so queer that neither of [us] knew exactly how to talk.
I found the seventeenth regiment a few miles below Harper’s Ferry and passed the night with them. [My brother] Gabriel was hearty and well, and all seemed to be enjoying themselves in general, although it was rather cold and chilly that night as well as rainy and made some of the boys feel a little homesick.
Harper’s Ferry — so much renowned for past as well as present events — is located upon the Blue Ridge where the Potomac and Shenandoah unite in passing through the mountains. The scenery is indeed grand. The rivers appear to have worn a chasm through the solid rock several hundred feet in depth with a corresponding width. I crossed the river upon the narrow pontoon bridge. The first thing [you see] upon crossing is the great range of ruins where the government buildings were burned. It must have been an awful waste. The town of itself is rather insignificant with crowded narrow streets. I rode over some of the hills and viewed the surroundings where the late armies have been and still are. The camps on the distant hill sides could be seen by the thousands.
But I am again interrupted and it is about bedtime — so goodnight.
Thursday morning 10 o’clock A. M. I am now writing within hearing of the cannon’s roar. Last night about midnight, orders came for nearly all the troops in the corps to cross the river taking with them two days rations. I went down to [the] river and saw them crossing by the thousand. It is a grand sight. I don’t know where they are going but they appeared to be going in the direction of the cannonading. The baggage has not been called for to move as yet and may not at this time as we have only been called upon for a recognizance and I think they will be back within a day or two. The roar of the cannon is very distinct, although perhaps ten or twenty miles from here. There is a heavy roar every few minutes.
Webster received a letter from home this morning just as he was starting. He had not time to inform me as to its contents. Said I might tell [my brother] William that there are no vacant places just now such as he would want, but says that if he will have patience for a short time, he will get him a place. The place of Quarter Master Sergeant is filled by an old member of the regiment. It is a rather difficult place to fill. Don’t let him go as a private. The mail carrier is waiting for me to finish. I only received one letter from you yet. I have written to you about half a dozen times. My love to you, my dear wife, and little one. — Robert
(P. S. You ought to hear the cannons just now.) (Excuse such hasty scribbling. I’ll write again soon.)
P. S. Report has just come that the battle we hear is between Sigel, Heintzelman, and the rebels about ten miles from here. Our troops have gone to join them. The rebels, they say, are having the worst of it. (Good day my dearest one.)