Date in History: 1861-64
In 1861, young Jeremiah Swart left his parent’s farm on the shores of Lake Koshkonong to join Company A of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. He never returned home. Below are excerpts from five letters that he wrote to his parents, Martin and Amanda Swart. The spellings and punctuation remain as they appear in the originals. The final two letters are from private Swart’s commanding officer 2nd Lieutenant Justus Williams. The first Wisconsin Cavalry was offically mustered out in July 1864.
Ripon Sept 27 1861
I arrived here safe and sound, and now sit down to write you a few lines. The prospect is now that we will stay here this winter. The Colonel has been to Madison to see what the state will do for us. He got one hundred sabers and blankets. he dose not know when our uniforms will come. Tim is here, Andrew’s Brother was thrown out. I wish you would send four or five dollars if you can if it is convenient. I do not know but we shall go to Kenosha by and by, I wish I had my flannell shirts now. If you see any one coming up here you may send them if not why never mind about it. I do not think of any thing to write at present. Write as soon as you get this and let me know how Mary is.
Camp Benton St. Louis April 20 1862
I received your very kind and welcome letter last eavning and now hasten to reply to it. I was glad to hear that you were all so well and doing well. My health is good. I have not been unwell since being in St. Louis. . . . We have got our horses at last. They are a good lot of horses, a good deal better than I expected we would get. We have great old times drilling them I tell you. A good many of them are very ugly. It seems that if the farmers have a horse to sell they sell their ugly ones. All those that they can’t manage they sell them to the cavalry. I had pretty good luck in getting a horse for myself. He is a good horse perfectly gentel although he is pretty high spirited. . . There is a good many sick in this regiment. There has been five deaths since we have been here. I call this a very unhealthy Country. The water is so impure if you would like to see a sample of the water I will give you a receipt for making it. You may take a pail of water and then take two or three pounds of yellow clay and put it in the water then stir it until it is well dissolved and you have it just as we drink it. We eat most anything we can get. Horse beef is our principle diet. The potatoes are very poor being very watery and tast very obnoxious to me. But for all that we live and get fat on it. . . .
Patterson, MO Nov. 26th, 1862
This morning finds me well and in the land of the living enjoying myself finely and busy writing to Lizzie in Winona and as I was writing your letter was handed me so I have changed the program and will answer your letter right off. Uncle Hewitt delivered me five dollars and one pail of butter and I now return my sincere thanks and gratitude for your kindness but the butter is all ate up. . .
Mother you ask me when I think that I shall be at home as near as I can tell. I think when we are disbanded and when that will be I can not tell nor have I the least idea. You had not better wait for me to go to west point with you next Christmas but go and enjoy yourself while you can and have no thoughts of me for I can take care of myself as I am now twenty two years of age. I think I ought to to don’t you think so. I hope though that we may yet go some Christmas if not this and that will do just as well . . .
If you should see any one coming down here you could send some things safely enough if you should find such a chance. You might send me some stockings as it is getting winter and those we get here are miserable things very thin we can average one pair a week. And if you could send me a pair of hip boots one sole and a half size eight made at Morrisons boot shop in Fort Atkinson they would be thankfully received but do not put yourself to to much trouble or expence to do it . . ..
Bridgeport, Alabama Sept. 29th 1863
It is a very long time since you wrote me a letter it is now over three months a very long time for a poor old soldier to wait for some news from home. It seems as though I could not stand any longer. I feel as though I had not one friend left for the last week I have been quite unwell so nearly down sick there is no fun in. I am so weak that I can hardly lift my saddle my horse and today I feel most miserable. the fact is I am just all worn out by hard marching and fatigue that I or we all have underwent in the last month. and believe me when I tell you that in that time we have not unsaddled our horses more than two nights in that time having to remain in line of battle all night with not more than an hour or two sleep of a night. . .*
I received a letter from Oscar yesterday it was a good letter as good a one as I want to read. He said Grandma was at our house. tell her that I have not forgotten her that I think of her often and long and often would think I would give a good deal to know if I should see her again and what a good talk we would have. I hope that she is well. Give her my love tell her to think kindly ever of old erring Jerry that I was never as bad as I seemed that there is a small place that is soft in my heart yet. I have not quite given up the ghost yet. I think that there is a long if not a happy life for me yet. . . .
*Swart is writing soon after his regiment’s involvement in the Battle of Chickamauga in Tennessee.
Winchester, Tenn Nov 4th, 1863
I received your letter some days ago and I ought to answered it sooner. please excuse me and I will do better in future. my health is not very good. I am troubled with this chronic dioreah and feel pretty poorly I tell you. . . . My thoughts to day are poetical. I give you a few.
Al Alone I am sad and dreary O how bad I feel When this cruel war is over Waiting for a good square meal.
Poor old Jerry hungry as the Devil for something substantial. Never mind there is better times a coming I know. Well grandma I am sorry to say that I am offraid you will be disappointed in seeing or hearing noisy Jerry this fall. it will be near another fall ere that comes but I am all tired out and will have to stop righting for this time so good by.
Headquarters Co. “A” 1st Wisconsin Cavalry Madisonville, E. Tenn. February 26th 1864
Mr. M. Swart
I have to inform you that your son, Jeremiah D. Swart a member of Company “A” 1st Wisconsin Cavalry died in General Hospital No. 4 Knoxville Tenn of Chronic Diarrhaea, a disease he has suffered very much from having been sick since September 1863 though most of the time able to be with the regiment. January 14th he was sent to Hospital at Knoxville where he died [on February 4th] as above stated.
I am very Respectfully your Obe’dt Servant J. Williams, 2nd Lieut. Co. A
Headquarters Co. “A” 1st Wisconsin Cavalry March 29th 1864
Martin J. Swart
Yours of March 9th was received this day. It is true that your son J.D. Swart a member of Company “A” 1st Wisconsin Cavalry is dead . . .
Many graves have been made for our comrades in arms that would not have been had Government consulted the interests of her sons and that of their parents as she has her own interests. I will not censure government for any Act passed. Yet I do think much injustice is done through ignorance and much by ambitious fame seekers of this war. Tis utterly impossible to correct all wrongs. Had not the furlough system been so outrageously abused had not so many abused the priveledge by defrauding government of its just desserts the sick and wounded would have suffered far less. I tried many times to get Jerry in Hospital but we were at the front where every man was kept as long as there was a possible chance for his recovery. I deeply sympathize with you. . .
Your obedient Servant J. Williams, 2nd Lieut. Co. A 1st Wisconsin Cavalry.