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Mary Crowell Letter - Introduction and Index

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Introduction to the Mary Crowell Letter

By George Rugg

Mary Anne Tucker was born on 30 October 1835, the daughter of the farmer Abijah Tucker and Maria Clark Tucker, of Strafford Township, Orange County, Vermont. At some point in the 1850s Abijah Tucker moved his family west, to Nora Township, Jo Daviess County, Illinois, in the far northwestern corner of the state. By the time she wrote the letter here transcribed, on 28-29 April 1862, Mary Tucker had married a New York native named Lucius Crowell—the first of her four husbands—and was living on a farm in Nora, close by that of her father.

The letter is written on a folio-sized folded sheet, and is directed to an unidentified cousin Mary, back in New England. Much of it is given over to news of Mary Crowell's two soldier brothers and other locally recruited members of Co. E, 15th Illinois Infantry, recently engaged at the battle of Shiloh (6-7 April 1862). The "R" of the letter is the younger of the two brothers, Cpl. Rufus B. Tucker (b. 1841), who was mustered in to Co. E on 24 May 1861. The older of the brothers, Pvt. Henry Z. Tucker (b. 1837), was also an original member of Co. E. By the standards of the time, then, both men were veterans, though as was the case with most of the troops at Shiloh, neither had prior experience of combat.

When it fought at Shiloh the 15th Illinois Infantry was attached to the 2nd (Veatch's) Brigade, 4th (Hurlbut's) Division of Grant's Army of the Tennessee. Early on the first day of the battle, though, Veatch's brigade was separated from the rest of Hurlbut's division when it was ordered away to the Federal right, to support the divisions of Sherman and McClernand in repulsing the Confederate attacks then taking place. Moving into a position some 30 yards behind McClernand along the Purdy Road, Veatch's men watched as the brigade to their front broke before the sustained late-morning attack of Confederate Brig. Gen. Sterling A. M. Wood. Chaos ensued as the position was stampeded by fleeing Federals, with Wood's troops close on their heels. Moreover, the 15th Illinois, situated on the right of Veatch's line, found itself flanked as another of McClernand's brigades was pushed back. The regiment held for a time, despite losing its staff officers (Lt. Col. Edward Ellis and Maj. William Goddard, mentioned in Crowell's letter), most of its company commanders, and upwards of one hundred men. Ultimately it broke; most of the survivors remained separated from the brigade for the rest of the day. The great majority of the casualties sustained by the 15th Illinois at Shiloh—more than 160 overall, out of perhaps 500 engaged—must have occurred during this attack.

Crowell's letter, of course, is primarily concerned with the casualties in Co. E, since all its men were recruited in Jo Daviess County, and most were residents. Crowell states that "Co E. suffered most of any in the 15[th] reg. 10 killed & 20 wounded," and these figures, probably derived from lists published in newspapers, appear to be more or less accurate. Army records show that ten members of the company were in fact killed at Shiloh, and that another nine men died of wounds suffered in the battle. Crowell mentions all four casualties from Nora: two dead (Pvt. Emory Cowen and Cpl. Lycurgus Haskel) and two wounded (her brother Rufus and 2nd Lt. John W. Luke, who was the company's ranking officer in the field and who was in fact wounded in both legs). In any case, Co. E was decimated at Shiloh, and communities across Jo Daviess County were left with the sad consequences. Crowell describes the halting process whereby news of the battle and its casualties reached the county: broadly painted newspaper accounts, followed by the receipt of letters "that some were wounded and some killed," and eventually the return of the furloughed wounded and the arrival of the bodies of the dead. Crowell summarizes the experience for her cousin: "I think we can now realize what war is."

The 13,000 Union casualties at Shiloh dwarfed those of any previous battle and led to widespread criticism of Grant, both within the Army of the Tennessee and across the North. Crowell writes:

I wish you could hear R[ufus] tell about the battle he says all wee read is not half as bad as it realy is. he had thinks the Gen. is to blame about the great loss, as there were no Picket Guard out, and he knew well enough that the rebels intended to attact them the Genrals head quarters were at Savannah 10 miles from the battle field, and R says he did not see Gen Grant on the field the first day, and he was there all the time. he was wounded in the early part of the day. so were nearly all of them the attact was so unexpected there was a great many more killed than need be if every one had done his duty. R sayes he hopes Gen Grant will be hung

Some of this is unfounded, and echoes the outrage first voiced in an article published by the correspondent Whitelaw Reid of the Cincinnati Gazette. In fact, Grant was culpable precisely because he did not believe an attack possible, and so took inadequate defensive precautions. But the 15th Illinois' casualties did not occur because the men were taken by surprise; moreover, Grant was on the field by around 8:30 AM on 6 April (and even had personal interaction with remnants of the 15th Illinois later in the day, seeking to direct them back into line). And he did, after all, win the battle, acting capably enough once the attack occurred. Ironically, Grant was himself a resident of Jo Daviess County just prior to the war, when working as a clerk in a family-owned leather goods store at Galena.

As it happened, both Rufus and Henry Tucker survived the war. Mary Crowell's husband, Lucius, enlisted in the 96th Illinois Infantry later in 1862, and died at Chattanooga on 3 November 1863.

Provenance note: The Crowell letter was purchased by the University Libraries via ebay in 2007, from Schmitt Investors Ltd. of Northport NY.

Bibliographic note: Col. James C. Veatch's Shiloh battle report (2nd Brigade, 4th Division, Army of the Tennessee) may be found in the Official Records, Series I, Vol. 10, Part 1, pp. 219-222. There are two Shiloh reports for the 15th Illinois Infantry, one written by Capt. Louis D. Kelley, covering the events of 6 April (Official Records, Series I, Vol. 10, Part 1, pp. 226-227) and one written by Lt. Col. William Cam, covering 7 April (pp. 225-226). The most extended first-hand account of the 15th Illinois at Shiloh is in Army Memoirs of Lucius W. Barber, Company "D", 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Chicago, 1894, pp 50-61. Barber's narrative, though, is very ambiguous regarding time and place, and not at all objective. For an informed summary of the regiment's actions in this most chaotic of all Civil War battles, see O. Edward Cunningham, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, Gary D. Joiner and Timothy B. Smith, eds., New York, 2007, esp. pp. 230-232.

Index of Letters

MSN/CW 5058-01LetterApril 28-29, 1862Nora Township, IllinoisMary Anne Tucker Crowell

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