About Cyrus E. Ferguson

Cyrus E. Ferguson (1830-1918) was a 33 year-old painter from Linn County, Iowa, when he enlisted as a private in Co. A, 15th Iowa Infantry, on 24 July 1863. Given his age, the 1864 date of enlistment, and his comment that he “didn’t enlist to fight,” it seems probable that Ferguson enlisted not so much out of patriotism but for the bounty he would receive. He may have enlisted with the understanding that his duty would be limited to that of a musician in the regimental band though it does not appear he did so until after the Atlanta Campaign. He is reported to have been grazed by a musket ball in the abdomen at the Battle of Big Shanty, Georgia, on 16 June 1864 though he makes no mention of it in a letter he wrote to his wife on 4 July 1864.

It is clear that by the beginning of 1865, he was serving in the band which and was detached to duty in the Brigade Band by early 1865. He was mustered out of the service in July 1865. The letters in this collection include one that he wrote during the Atlanta Campaign in July 1864, just two or three weeks before his brother Amos, also of the 15th Iowa, was captured. The last eight letters span the months of June and July as Cyrus describes the final days of the 15th Iowa. Cyrus addressed all of these letters to his wife, Martha A. Bryant. Their children’s names were William Potter Ferguson (1857-1891), twins Fannie Lunette Ferguson (1860-18xx), Ella Luette Ferguson (1860, died infant), Myra Ferguson (1862, died infant) and Grace Geraldine Ferguson (1864-1921).




Many of Cyrus Ferguson’s letters have been sold on the internet lately. A synopsis of the content in these letters follows:

On or about May 1, 1864 Ferguson expresses his anguish at leaving his wife and their home. He describes the regiment’s arrival in Cairo, Ill. and subsequent departure by steamboat for Paducah, Ky. He writes they were ordered to Paducah due to reports that the town faced attack by Gen. Nathan Forrest’s Confederate cavalry. He adds, “Forrest was not there and had only sent in a flag of truce.” He reports that the 11th Iowa “came down on the same boat” and it appears “there is no danger of any general fight here anytime soon.” [Letter in Special Collections, Filson Historical Society]

[War-date Union soldier’s letter, 4pp. 8vo., written by Pvt. Cyrus E. Ferguson (signed C. E. Ferguson), Co. A, 15th Iowa Vols., [n. p. n. d., but Paducah, KY., ca. Mar. 8, 1864], in part: “My feelings condemn me for enlisting. I don’t know if I am wrong. If I am please forgive me…I can’t help it now…perhaps it was just what I ought to have done…but the bitterness of parting with my dear ones at home had not been felt…I know now how to prize home…I dreamed one night that you were sick…that I did not help attend to you & you died…I remember your tears when we parted, but I feel that we have not parted for three years…our tents are struck but we are not called in yet…went on board the John H. Dicky & landed at Cairo where we lay as thick as we could be stowed…when our boat was ordered to leave for Paducah…Forrest was threatening that place again. We got there about nine o’clock in the morning. The Ohio River was very rough…we were ordered to load our guns…Forrest was not there & had only sent in a flag of truce to exchange one of our surgeons that they had captured for one of theirs…we wait here until it comes up here [the boat] with more guns & ammunition…where we go is more than we can tell probably up the Tennessee River…the 11th Iowa came here on the boat with us & two other regiments on another boat…there is plenty men at Cairo…”]

June 8-21, 1864 “In the field in the rear of Sherman’s army (June 8, 1864) — “When I wrote last we were at Decatur, Ala. We took up our line of march for Rome Ga. Maj. Gen. F. P. Blair [is] in command of the 17th Army Corps hired a guide, gave him a horse to ride…equipped & armed with two good revolvers. He started on & the first thing he done was to take us off on to the wrong road & them leave us with horse and all the traps. We got back to the right road the next day…came to a town where we heard of our guide again. He had passed throe there in the morn & complimented F. P. Blair on his sharpness or rather on his stupidity…which has become evident to all who have been…in his command…let him hear the curses that are heaped on him…this war might have been over…had it not been for this political favoritism. These pimps at Washington must have office of some kind…no matter whether he is qualified or not or whether he is a blasphemous whore monger, drunkard or not which…F. P. Blair is most likely the former…we traveled over mountains & some of the worst country…we have been marching over 3 weeks & only stopped 2 or 3 days in all…we started on to join Sherman, Clem & sow others went in the cars to Kingston, the junction in the road with the Atlanta road. There we came together again…today we stopped about noon…we are in the rear of Sherman’s army, the advance being some 15 miles ahead…there is skirmishing going on every day…our corps will probably get a chance after we rest up…there is a railroad bridge destroyed over a branch of the Ala. river that must be rebuilt before much more will…[end here]…[June 9th]…Dear Willie, I am away down in Georgia. I have been marching over mountains that is something you cannot see in Iowa. A mountain is a great high hill, some places steep & rocky, all covered with trees of all kinds. Sometimes they were 8 or 10 miles wide on the top & people live up on them…Dear Fannie…I have seen a good many little girls, but they all looked dirty & as though they didn’t have much that was good to eat or wear. Fannie has plenty…so she must be a good girl…C. E. Ferguson…”.

The second letter (complete signed C. E. Ferguson) is datelined: “In line of battle front of left wing of Sherman’s army, 25 miles from Atlanta, June 11th, [1864],” in part: “…you may be surprised to see the heading of this letter, yet it is true…we can plainly see the rebel lines & the rebels themselves…they keep pretty hid, occasionally firing is going on…cannonading can be heard off to the right…our lines are…30 miles in length…there is an open field between us & the rebels & our forces are planting artillery here to drive them off…there is a very large force of rebels in front of us…they keep popping away at our lines with musketry…the artillery are making a strong line of defense. There is [an] order to hold the ground in case we are pressed…I do not think Col. [William W.] Belknap [brigadier general in two month!] has treated us…right…he may fall as far short of his ambitious desires…but we may slip from under his hands before that time…we will…let him help himself the best way he can…if more respect was paid the law of God we would certainly succeed better…our officers this morning while forming us…from our brigade commander down swore profanely. This may look brave to some but I was raised to think different…”.

The third letter begins while in line of battle at Kennesaw Mountain, in small part: “June 17th…we have lain still today…last night after we were relieved the rebels charged the line of works that we occupied & were driven off…we are laying back…in a safe place where only an occasional bullet whistles over us…men that have been blowing & blasphemousing & getting drunk, pale when danger comes. Others continue their swearing right in the face of danger. They seem to think that being soldiers frees them from all obligations whatever…but on the field is the place to show who are cowards & who are not…(June 18th)…there has not been much firing today…Thomas gained some ground yesterday…(June 19th)…our lines have advanced & we are to do the same…we fall in & march on towards the mountain…occupy the first range of hills [that were] occupied by the rebels. They had fell back. This we done at night. Co. A placed on picket where we remain 24 hours…(June 20th)…we got up early & advance still further…our forces planted batteries on the ground where the rebs had had theirs& are now shelling their works on the mountain…they crack pretty loud. On our right heavy fighting is going on. The cannonading is terrible…our batteries play fiercely all day to keep them from sending reinforcements to the right. The rebs only threw two or three shells at us…we have lost but one man…(June 21st)…there is no firing going on…except an occasional shot from the pickets…this mountain the rebs are in is called Kennesaw mountain…most of our company were skulking round putting in a shot when they could…some think that the rebs are evacuating the mountain…it must take time to get the rebels out of the mountain holds. They have to be flanked & shelled out. We cannot charge on them safely on account of the ground…C. E. Ferguson…”.

July 11, 1864 “In line of battle, front of left wing of Sherman’s army 25 miles from Atlanta”. He opens by saying that “we can plainly see the rebel lines, & the rebs themselves, but they keep pretty well hid,” followed by much tactical commentary: “our lines are said to be thirty miles in length so there might be fighting on the right we don’t know anything about…..We are not in advance today, the order of advance & reserves are changed every day to give every regiment & Brigade their turn……unless they [the rebs] mass their whole strength on one or the other of our wings or center, & that can result in no great good to them for Sherman’s army has rather too many men here for their comfort.” Ferguson goes on to damn Iowa Colonel Belknap with the following comment: “I do not think Colonel Belknap has treated us anything like right, but he may fall as far short of his ambitions desires as many another have done & I suppose in his good time every thing may come around right, but we may slip from under his hands before that time…” [Colonel Belknap would later serve as President Grant’s Secretary of War, and be impeached in disgrace.]

July 17, 1864 contains commentary concerning troops movements, including mention of Gen. Thomas ”gaining ground”, and heavy action all round, but not touching the 15th Iowa, which lost only one man. Then in the section of the letter dated July 21st, Ferguson writes that: “I am told that this section of the mountain the rebs is on is called Kennesaw Mountain. We were relieved from picket duty last night after lying in some old houses doing nothing all day. The most our company were skulking round putting a shot when they could get a chance, but me & S both happened to be on reserve, & as we didn’t enlist to fight we wouldn’t expose ourselves though there was little danger if a man was careful.”

August 7, 1864 “Near Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 7th,1864, — …last night we had a perfect carnival among the batteries, ours & the rebs…they shelled at each other & made a terrific din…they don’t do a great deal of killing. They knock each other works to pieces…their men fight just as well as ours. I never dreamed of their making such reckless…charges as they did on the 22nd & 28th July, right into the jaws of death. On the 22nd our men…were behind a line of breastworks & the rebels come in on their left so that the works din’t protect them…this gap had been left open throe the mismanagement of some of the officers…it was then that I felt [?] for the balls were flying thick. I couldn’t see any place to get between them, however I run with the rest & run pretty fast too till the regt was ordered to form in line again…it was then that I slacked up to a long walk for as long as one man runs they…all run…I squatted done…but I had to get up again & run…we had to…look after wounded men…on the 28th we kept more [?]…there is picket firing today also some artillery. No reply from the rebs only with musketry. It is believed they are leaving here & I shall not try to stop them…their commissioners propose a return to the Union letting what slaves [that] have been freed already go & hold what they now have….making their emancipation a gradual thing so that by 1900 all the slaves would be free…I believe they can be got to something better…this war will have to stop soon for everybody is tired of it…if Lincoln sticks for the total abandonment of slavery…I don’t think he will make the White House next term…he must wind this war up by presidential election…we are longing for this campaign to end…our men are getting worn out…for they keep crowding the works closer to Atlanta…till Atlanta falls…there seems to be some fighting going on to our right this afternoon…”

December 14, 1864 “Camp near Savannah, Ga. — …we are getting near the coast…we left Marietta on…Nov. 13th & marched to within 3 miles of Atlanta…the R. R. buildings in Atlanta are all destroyed & judging from the heavy columns of smoke…a great deal of the town was burned. The expedition is made up of the 14th, 15th, 17th & 20th Army Corps, each Corps traveling a road by itself…in line with the others. The 15th Corps was on the extreme right, the 17th next…then the 20th & the 14th on the left. On the third day the 15th Corps skirmished a little…we would hear a little cannonading on our left…it was the intention to avoid all fortified points on our march…at one point the rebs opposed our crossing a river but their forces was small…this was at the Oconee river. We struck the Macon & Savannah R. R. at Gordon & we destroyed this road nearly to Savannah…occasionally a lot of niggers would come along with us & they were put in the Pioneer Corps to work the roads when necessary, any amount of wrenches & children would follow if allowed to, but it is worse for them than slavery for we cannot take care of them & the children have to suffer for some of the nights have been very cold…we marched up to within 3 miles of Savannah where we come to the reb’s first line of works, which we reached on Saturday Dec. 10th. Our brigade formed in line of battle & commenced advancing but a swamp…prevented their further progress. We lay in the swamp until the next day…we moved further out to…open communication with the fleet at the mouth of the Ogeechee river…we had to run the gauntlet of a rebel battery for about 3/4 of a mile…the rest of us staid behind & waited till night. The moon rose full & clear. Our route lay across an open field with water on each side. The General always rides at the head of the Brigade. I march right behind him & his staff with the advance guards…about 8 o’clock we started out of the thick pine woods into the open field. All was silent, no talking was allowed. We passed safely over. The 32nd Ill. regt…was in the advance & was nearly over when the 1st Minnesota Battery moved up to cross & the rattling of their wheels told the rebs we were there & they opened on us…Ft. McAllister was taken from the rebs without much fighting…”

December 17, 1864 “Camp on Ogeechee river, 12 miles from Savannah — …I don’t know where our position will be yet for Sherman has not got his lines…established yet…you need not look for Savannah to fall right off…the rebs cut a canal & flooded the swamps round here…there is not…a hill anywhere within miles of here. It is a flat sandy country with plenty of swamps…the trees are covered with hanging moss…you take me to task for my Copperheadism. If you were here you would think as I do…our army is doing more to demoralize the negro race than the Southerners do. Wenches follow the army for no good & the obscene language that passes between them & our soldiers is disgusting & sickening…I have the highest position in the Brigade as musician…[General] Belknap is a great man to stick to…if he suits him & I have given no cause for complaint since I have been detailed as bugler. The 15th has a one horse bugler detailed since I was & I heard Belknap tell the commander of the regt. that he was of no account…[and] he had better take that other Ferguson, meaning Glen which he would have done had not this fellow crowded himself in ahead & he is a sort of a little puppy favorite with the major…we have a great deal of fun with our conscripts. The 15th got about 500 & or greener set of soldiers…as soon as Sherman gets his lines fairly drawn round Savannah another expedition will be fitted out against Charleston…we have not seen saltwater yet, but hope to one of these days for we are not many miles from it…Dear Willie…we have had a nigger boy to cook for us. He makes some fun sometimes & then again he is lazy. Last night I eat my supper in a nigger house they are clean tho’ & will do anything…for us. They have a boy & girl. Today we had a roost turkey & it was done first rate too…your mother can show you on the map where we are now…Dear Fannie…it is 55 weeks today since we left home & we are away down in Ga…it is so warm here the most of the time…little girls like you go barefoot & some of them have no shoes to wear…I don’t know whether our transports are in the mouth of the Ogeechee or on the coast. Savannah is 18 miles from the sea coast & we are working round it. We have got all the R. R. cut…they have in there…from 10,000 to 25,000 men. Sherman is confident of success. He has been along with the 17th Corps most of the time…”

22 January 1865 Ferguson describes a visit to New York to secure new instruments for his regiment, apparently from the renowned bandmaster Harvey B. Dodworth: “I have got my instruments selected & packed at Dodworth’s.. . . Our instruments, music & everything will cost us between 6 & $700.00. They are of the first class brass instruments, rotary valve except two second hand instruments that I got, one an A-flat base, the other a B-flat tenor which Dodworth had taken & repaired. I did not expect to get all rotary valves but find that the piston valves have played out & I could scarce have got them in the city. I have been to all the stores pretty much & find the prices to vary but little while the quality does considerably.” He also expresses his dislike of the residents in the city’s Soldier Home and the city in general: “the most of the soldiers are such stinking, lousy brutes that they don’t know how to receive decent treatment nor how to behave themselves otherwise than in their low vulgar profane way. . . . I had rather run a paint shop in Cedar Rapids than be one of the upper ten of NY.”


A scratch between us

On the way towards Atlanta
July 4th [1864]

Dear wife & children,

Nothing new has taken place since I wrote until the night of the 2nd [when] we pulled up & left the place we occupied so long. We marched out at night & took a course round to the right. We marched all night & a good part of Sunday. The rebels left the [Kennesaw] mountains. Our forces were getting too far in their rear. We saw no rebels on our way. We went to the right & towards the Chattahoochee River. We are not far from the river now. We come up to where a small force of rebels were skirmishing with our advance but they were soon driven back & we went into camp for the night & were not disturbed through the night. We are here yet & I don’t know what we [will] do today.

Yesterday our left wing had a good deal of fighting to do & took a lot of prisoners (reports say from 3,000 to 7,000), I don’t know how many. There is cannon firing off to the left this morning but I don’t know whether there is any fighting or not. I expect this is for Johnson [Joseph E. Johnston] had not got across the river yesterday & if he didn’t slip across last night, our forces will plague him all they can for it today. I don’t know whether he will come to see us or not. Most likely not for he can’t go to see all the folks at once.

Marietta was taken yesterday, I believe. I see the special reporters had it taken long ago & several other reports that were not true, but you can see how fortunate we have been in escaping fights. Why is it? I don’t say this to brag, but it looks well in our favor. Tis true we don’t know what may happen yet, but we are hopeful & believe that there is more than mere luck in it. Rebel prisoners say that here will be the last stand — or rather on the other side of the Chattahoochee River. It will be a scratch between us which will get possession of the railroad bridge. We have pontoons with us. It has been reported that part of our forces had to get across the river on the pontoons but I guess that is not true yet. But they are hard pressed or else they would not have left that mountain for we could not have taken it very easy.

(9 o’clock) We are ordered to fall in. We marched a short distance & our company & four others were deployed as skirmishers. We soon got into business. We advanced & drove the rebels for some distance, when they opened on us with artillery — throwing grape & canister among us. We fell back a short distance & made a stand & fired away at them awhile & they at us. But they were like to gobble us so we fell back across a field to our reserve & our brigade then moved up & advanced slowly, driving them again & they have about ceased fighting now for it is nigh almost dark.

Amos & myself did not advance with the brigade & they found the enemy too strong posted to risk an attack at so late an hour, so they fell back & threw up a line of breastworks & rested for the night. Among the wounded today are Jim Sweeney in the thigh, early in the day; Perry Gephart ¹ in the hip just before we were driven back; a man by the name of [William] Watson ² in the thigh — these were in Co. A.

You need not believe one quarter that Perry Gephart will tell for he will be sent home most likely. I know of but one man killed in the regiment. I had got somewhat overheated & Capt. W ³ ordered me to remain back, which I did, but the hardest fighting was over then. I can no longer say that I have not been shot at & that I have not fired a shot at the rebs, for I did put in a few to celebrate the 4th with & there was plenty coming thick & fast to us but we came through without a scratch.

I said that [illegible] what Perry Gephart says but you [illegible] everything that he tells for there is no man in the company showed more fear or tried harder to escape being hurt, & you cannot believe what he says for he blows awful & the whole company is down on him. This days work may be yet go down as a battle, but in our past, it was only heavy skirmishing which is a kind of Indian style of fighting. We fight under cover or to get round [illegible] trees, fences, stumps, or anything that we can hide behind & shoot as you go. The skirmishers go in advance of the main force to find out where the enemy is & is [illegible] keep falling back [illegible] and no general engagement [illegible]. If they are strongly posted & make a stand, then the skirmishers fall back on the main force & they advance or not, just as is thought advisable.

(July 5th) About 8 o’clock we were ordered to fall in which Amos & I did, but the company were ordered to leave their knapsacks behind & Capt. W ordered Amos & I to stay behind to guard them. The brigade advanced followed by other troops — our regiment in advance. We soon heard firing, then yelling, then…

[portion of letter missing]

…will turn up next. I wish we might be spared the necessity of going towards Atlanta again for there is nothing attractive in that direction. I don’t see what we can do there anyhow for we can’t advance any further & our distance is so great from our base we are in danger of having our supplies cut off any time & they hold our pay back because there would be no safety in sending it home from there. I know that you need the money to the the children some fall & winter clothing & I am perplexed to know what to write. If I only knew what way we would go from here, I might tell better what to depend on.

Well I was doing well enough at home & should have staid there to take care of my charge but I got it into my head that there would be something grand in going off big musician. Mind it was not to fight, & I trusted the promises of a set of whiskey drinking officers & am now paying the penalty. But enough of this. I have always got out of bad scrapes sometime & think I will out of this sometime before many years.

I must stop for I will have to send it out soon & I will write again as soon as I get a chance. Having charge of the regimental mail bothers me so I have no time to write more at present. You asked about what I wore on my feet. I have a pair of shoes that I drew that I have marched over 200 miles besides everyday wear besides & they are good yet & easy on my feet, so you need not worry about me for I shall not suffer for clothes. You will not get the old pants I sent you for, for the nigger was snailed at Louisville, Kentucky, & put into the government service. Goodbye all of you at present & here is hoping for something better in future. Goodbye dear wife. — C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie,

I tried to make a picture of Kennesaw mountain for you & it looks something like it did on the side that we seen it most from. You must be a good boy & I will try & make you another picture some day. Good bye dear Willie. Tell Jim, uncle Clem wants some stamps. He forgot to write it himself. Goodbye. Be a good boy. From Pa.

Dear Fannie,

I must say a word to you and I would send you a picture but I have not time to make one. I will make you one next time. Willie must show you his. Be a good girl & I will write to you all again as soon as I can. From Papa.

¹ Regimental records indicate that Perry M. Gephart [or Gebhard] was wounded at Nickajack Creek.

² Regimental records indicate that William Watson was wounded at Kennesaw Mountain.

³ Capt. Robert H. Whitenack.

Anxious to get home

Head Quarters 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, 17th Army Corps
Camp 5 miles from Washington D. C.
June 1st [1865]

Dear wife & children,

I received a letter from you night before last. Was glad to hear from home again. We have had a good deal of wet weather. I have been twice to Washington since we have been here — once for fun [and] another time on business. Gen. Belknap took command of our division on Monday. Gen. Giles A. Smith goes to Texas in Gen. Weitzel’s command. He takes command of a division of colored troops & I think also of white troops.

Gen. Wm. W. Belknap
Gen. Wm. W. Belknap

We are under marching orders for Louisville, Kentucky. We expect to start tomorrow. We may not  go to Louisville at all, & we may go & stay there two or three months. But why should we? There is nothing for us to do. The supposition is that we are to be sent there because it was the headquarters of the Army of the Tennessee when it was organized & that we must go there to be mustered out. I suppose they have to distribute the troops through the country somewhat before mustering them out. We don’t know yet whether we are to be kept awhile yet or be mustered out right off. It is supposed we will not get our pay until we get to our states, but get along if you can without drawing that money from the bank for I think it will not be long before we are paid anyhow.

There is yet a possibility that the report of Amos’ death may not be true, but it most likely is true. I can find no one who knows certainly that there were any prisoners sent back to Andersonville. They were sent south on what is called the Gulf Road from Savannah to a place called Berkshire & it was supposed they were sent from there to Andersonville, & that is as far as I can learn. Also those who have been in the prison say that they never number the graves there at all, so I say there is yet room for doubt about the truth of the report. I don’t wish to get up any false hopes but just show the facts in the case. To tell the truth, I am unwilling to believe the report. There has been no official report of it to our company commander yet. ¹

(Later) The prospect now is that we will not start tomorrow. Other troops have not got out of the way yet. To our astonishment, we drew some sanitary fare last night & we are now on soft bread instead of hard tack.

I am anxious to get home but can’t find out a thing about our prospects. Gen. Belknap told me we would go to Louisville but that was all he chose to tell me & perhaps all he knew — at least he said he knew no more about it than I did. But officers are no particular about the truth. I have orders to keep the band filled up & in good trim, but the vanity of the officers in making a display at Keokuk or some other port would prompt them to require this anyhow.

Those stripes of black velvet were on a trim of pants that an orderly got at Columbia, South Carolina.

The weather is tolerable hot here now.

Widow's Pension for Sabrina Ferguson
Widow’s Pension for Sabrina Ferguson

Amos’ wife will be entitled to a pension of $8.00 per month if he proves to be dead. I don’t know any more to write so I will close. Goodbye. I will write again perhaps before we leave here.

Yours in camp, — C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie,

I have not got started home yet & don’t know how soon I will, but you must keep a look out for I will be at home within a year & six months or longer & nobody knows how much sooner. I hope soon for I want to see you all. Goodbye. — Pa

Dear Fannie,

Don’t you get in too much mischief lest I come in on you & catch you at it. Be a good girl, Fannie. Goodbye. From Papa

Amos Ferguson's Grave at Andersonville National Cemetery
Amos Ferguson’s Grave at Andersonville National Cemetery

¹ Pvt. Amos W. Ferguson (1833-1865) was a younger brother of Cyrus’ who served with him in Co. A, 15th Iowa Regiment. Cyrus and Amos were the sons of James E. Ferguson (1799-1859) and Margaret Baird McGrew (1801-1886) of Streetsboro, Portage County, Ohio. The Ferguson’s left Ohio in 1847 and relocated in Linn County, Iowa. Amos was captured on 22 July 1864 at Atlanta, Georgia.

Sabrina “Mina” (Walradt) Ferguson (b. 1840) applied for a widow’s pension (claim no. 147,387) on 2 March 1866. Her pension of $8 per month was to commence on 29 February 1865 — the day after her husband died at Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The attorney representing Sabrina was J. W. Whittam of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Like a passel of hogs

Camp 6 miles down the river from Louisville, Kentucky
June 15th 1865

Dear wife & children,

After a hard trip from Washington [D. C.], we have landed here knowing just as much about what is to be done with us as we did before. We were put aboard the cars at Washington like a passel of hogs or cattle. The band were put on board an open coal car without seats or anything else to protect us from sun, rain, or dirt, or to rest us on but to sit right down on the bottom of the car. It was very hot. Once it rained on us.

Soldiers transported by train passing through Harper's Ferry
Soldiers transported by train passing through Harper’s Ferry

We left Washington at night, didn’t see Baltimore, crossed the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry at noon, got into Allegheny Mountains at night & kept among them till we got through them, which was when we reached Parkersburg, [W.] Va. on the Ohio River. We started Wednesday night & got to Parkersburg Saturday morning, got aboard steamboats at noon & started from there about 5 o’clock, leaving our second Eb flat soprano & second alto behind, leaving hard work for me to do in the way of playing for I was not very well. But they let us off a little easier on that account.

There was a large crowd of boats & plenty of racing. One boat was sunk on Sunday but no lives lost. The 11th Iowa was on it. The same boat run into ours in the morning but didn’t do us any damage. We got to Cincinnati at midnight Sunday night [and] stopped only a few minutes. Couldn’t see much of the city. Got to Louisville about noon Monday, got off the boats, & come out here in the woods some way. Fine beach timber here but the ground is low & wet. Also it is raining by spells. Today it is hotter than an oven.

We signed our pay rolls today & may be paid here. I don’t know but I am sure it is time we were paid again. One rumor says we will be sent to the state first; another that we will be paid up to the 30th of April & kept here or sent further south. But these are only rumors. We are not allowed the satisfaction of knowing anything at all & in consequence, never know how to prepare ourselves which is greatly to our inconvenience — often putting us to a great deal of trouble which might just as well be avoided. But this for a time only. The time of being hacked about as so much stock is bound to be over some day.

This much I have written in hurry & have not had time to give many particulars, but nothing to note occurred on the way more than I have told. You can write to me & direct to C. E. F. &c., 15th Iowa Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 4th Division, 17th Army Corps — or C. E. F., 3d Brigade, 4th Div. 17th A. C. This will be sufficient for there is no telling where we will be next.

Goodbye, — C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie & Fannie,

I have been traveling on the cars & steamboats again & am now in Kentucky. Get your mother to show you on the map where we are. When we were on the cars, we passed through several tunnels through the mountains. It was dark in these so we could not see each other. Then we would come out on the other side of the mountain & some of the mountains were very high. I hope some day to come home. Then I can tell you all about it. I am very tired & will have to stop writing. Goodbye dear children. From your Pa

For the sake of display

Louisville, Kentucky
June 24th 1865

Dear wife & children,

I received a letter from you today. I started a letter to you yesterday. You don’t say yet whether you got those boxes yet or not. We are anxious to know. We don’t know any more about what will be done with us than we did yesterday.

There is a report that all furloughs are ordered to be stopped. This makes some men rave but I think it is a good sign. George Martin will likely be home on furlough soon. There is such a percent of the men of each regiment furloughed. It would take two from the band & they would have to be drawn by lot. As this would disarrange us somewhat, we were not allowed our percent but our brigade commander tried to get the whole band furloughed & now I suppose they will fail of it on account of this order to stop furloughing men. But I think there is something better for us or else worse. But recollect I have not said we would be mustered out for we have no such warrants at all. I don’t believe that we will be mustered out yet for awhile. We may be furloughed after awhile, but I can’t tell.

Col. John Shane, 13th Iowa
Col. John Shane, 13th Iowa

The officers are putting on style now. The Col. of the 13th Iowa [John Shane] ¹ has his wife here & last night we had to tramp out & play for dress parade for the sake of display, & this morning we had to play for guard mounting for the brigade. All this makes the boys swear, but don’t get us out of the scrape.

There are plenty of Irishwomen peddling pies, cakes, onions, bread & all such stuff so that a man can live pretty well if he has money. [The] government furnishes a little better now than it did. Also, there are some apples which are beginning to get ripe & we can’t break off stealing all at once, however much it may be against our principles to steal. Smith of Cedar Rapids is never out of cooking apples & it is generally after 8 o’clock in the morn before he gets his breakfast he has so much cooking to do.

The paymaster is paying the 13th [Iowa] today & tomorrow will pay the 15th [Iowa].

The weather is not & threatens rain. The grain is ripening fast. There are large fields of it all round here. I don’t know any more to write. I will close this & put it in the mail tonight. So goodbye.

— C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie & Fannie,

There is a flock of ducks running round here & they went into one man’s tent & eat a half a loaf of bread for him.

Yesterday I saw a couple of niggers buy some pies off an Irishwoman. After they eat them, they said that the pies were not good. “What do you mean by saying that?” said the woman, “They are good enough for you, you black devils. Don’t ye be a talkin’ that way round here so I can’t sell my pies & cakes.” Our nigger cook has left us & gone back into South Carolina.

Tell your mother to get you some fire crackers for the 4th of July & you must be careful & not get hurt nor hurt anyone. Be good children. I would like to be at home with you on the 4th but can’t come yet. Goodbye from Papa.


You will need to use extreme caution with Sabrina & make no promises to her whatever. Remember, I am not home yet. Her case is one of thousands, but it comes nearer to us than others. She has my sympathy. I feel very bitter in regard to his case & what I have written in regard to Capt. W is not secret. I excused him at first but found him to be a sneaking liar & will treat him accordingly if he crosses my path. More anon.

From your husband, — C. E. Ferguson

¹ Col. John Shane was described as “one of the largest of the Iowa colonels, his weight being two hundred and ten pounds. He has sandy hair, (perhaps red) a florid complexion and blue eyes, looking out through a large, round, good-natured face. He is of an easy, jovial nature, relishes a joke, and is fond of good living. He ranked fairly as a soldier, and was popular with his command.” [Source: Iowa Colonels and Regiments by Addison A. Stuart]

The romances of war

Louisville, Kentucky
June 27th 1865

Dear wife & children,

I received a letter of yours last night written June 12th. I had got one before written June 19th so the one I got last night must have been delayed somewhere, but you don’t say yet whether you got those things we sent from Washington [D. C.]. You either forgot it or we have missed some letters. Be particular & let us know.

Gen. Andrew Hickenlooper
Gen. Andrew Hickenlooper — “told me he would do his best to have the whole band furloughed.” — Cyrus Ferguson

As for being mustered out, we don’t know yet whether the present order mustering out 15,000 of the Army of the Tennessee will reach us or not. Gen. [Andrew] Hickenlopper now commands our brigade & told me he did not know yet to what extent it would go in the brigade but promised me that as soon as as they were mustered out, if it did not take us, he would do his best to have the whole band furloughed. So the only consolation I can give you now is there is a small prospect that we may be home some way or another in about a month. That is the best I can do now. It may turn for better or it may be for worse. Just keep easy & bear in mind our time is half out & no fighting to do.

We are now enjoying some of the romances of war, viz — a picturesque camp, gay uniform, no fighting or marching.

Just now one of my men came to me bringing another letter from you written on the 24th — 3 days ago. You say you got the pants but you don’t say whether you got the band music & cloth that I sent in the first box. Why must I inquire so often before I can find out whether anything I send gets there or not?

I am going to send you $5.00 in this letter & I want you to answer immediately whether you get it or not. We were paid 8 months pay & one installment of bounty ($400.00) Saturday. I received $157.00. I will send home $100.00 soon We have to buy some clothes for government shoddy is not fine enough for a brigade band — only on the march — & now style is the thing. The officers talk of buying it for us but I don’t know whether they will or not.

Gen. William Worth Belknap
Gen. William Worth Belknap — described as “blunt and plain” by Ferguson. He apparently loved waltzes and abhorred filth.

Gen. [William Worth] Belknap has gone home on 20 days leave of absence. He commands our division now so we don’t see so much of him. But he comes round once in awhile & we sometimes go to his headquarters & play which pleases him highly — especially if we play two or three waltzes. And if he were here, we could not dress too gay to suit him for although blunt & plain himself, a dirty slouch round his headquarters would be subjected to some of his choicest cursings for his filth.

I have got my sick man a furlough & now he is more calm. We have to play for guard mounting every morning & after that the men scatter off — some to town to get drunk, & others into the shade to sleep, while a few write & practice a little.

Sabrina should put her business into the hands of an attorney as it will require considerable work for her to secure his pay. Official notice has been received of his death & forwarded to his company. It was furnished by a man in prison who stole a copy of the hospital record by night & concealed it and brought it away with him. His accounts & final statement will have to be made out by his company commander & I am not able to tell what process will have to be gone through to bring matters out right. Whittam has had a great deal of such business to do & will probably be one of the best men to attend to it she could get. I think I won’t write anymore now for the simple reason I have no more to write. I shall write again soon & don’t forget to answer.

Yours &c., — C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie & Fannie,

I guess I won’t get home to have 4th of July with you this time but when I do come, we can make it all right. In the mean time you must be good children. Keep out of mischief & out of danger. Don’t fall in the well nor get stung. Learn your lessons well & I will come home this summer if I can. Goodbye from Papa


P. S. I don’t know about the picture. It will cost too much I am afraid. I don’t know as I look different. I have no picture of you nor any of the children. I hope to see the original some day.

H. Frank Woodward was on Sherman’s staff. I never saw him nor do I believe he was there for Sherman often passed us on the march & if he could have been along he was in the cavalry escort which he was not.

No novelty to us

Louisville, Kentucky
July 4th 1865

Dear wife & children,

I received a letter from you today. We had just got through our work for today which was playing for the brigade while Gen. Sherman reviewed it. It is very hot. He rode along the line & then back, then made a short speech, bid us goodbye, & was off. It kept us till noon, however we were in one of those nice shady lawns that we read of to be found among the old estates of Kentucky.

Sherman Reviewing Troops
Sherman Reviewing Troops

But here is the big thing. Yesterday morning we were rooted up at half past one o’clock in the morn to go to the city to escort Sherman from the boat to his quarters in the city, this honor having been assigned to the 3rd Brigade — or as it is better known — “the Iowa Brigade” — which is our brigade. When we reached the city, it was just light enough for us to see to play. We marched down to the boat landing, but Sherman didn’t come off for about 3 hours so we had to wait. When he did come, he was thronged with citizens to get sight of him.

There was to have been another band there to assist us but it didn’t come so we had to play from the time that Sherman landed from the boat over a distance equal to, if you were to start at Ely’s Mills & march down to Carpenter’s Block, then turn & march out to the Paddington House in the grove, over the most miserable, rough & muddy streets we have ever yet marched. We thought Washington [D. C.] bad but Louisville is worse yet. Then we made another turn & commenced again & when opposite the house Sherman was to stop at, we wheeled out & played till the brigade passed, wheeled in behind the brigade, & followed it part way out, then scattered round, some going onto camp while others (Clem, & I among them) stayed in town awhile & went out when we got ready.

Gen. Sherman
“…a sight of Sherman is no novelty to us. We have seen him so often and in so many different places that it has ceased to be a curiosity.” — Cyrus E. Ferguson

Having had the distinguished honor of escorting Gen. Sherman to his quarters & performing our duty on the occasion to the entire satisfaction of our commanding general & all concerned, it cannot be doubted that we have atoned for past military sins, & done something to tell of at least when we get where we are not known. However, a sight of Sherman is no novelty to us. We have seen him so often & in so many different places that it has ceased to be a curiosity. Yet this must have been a big thing — at least our brigade says it was.

Today Sherman bid us goodbye saying that before we saw him again, the Army of Tennessee would exist as an organization only in history. One year ago today we were fighting the rebs & then I doubted whether it would be right to live on equal terms or have such a hell-born race as these southrons under the same government with ourselves, but others that different, & I had to take it out in grumbling. But they are whipped & a more contemptible, sneaking hang-dog looking race I never saw. This makes all the news I have to tell in this letter so goodbye again.

— C. E. Ferguson

Well Willie & Fannie, I suppose you are having your 4th of July today. I had a hard 4th last year. This year not so hard. There is shooting going on today but not like last year. A boy put a firecracker under a big dog & torched him off today & made a lot of men laugh. I hope you will have a good time today & not get hurt. When I come home we will have 4th over again. Goodbye children, from Papa


I said I never wrote a letter or said anything for anyone’s good but what a wrong construction was put on it & I say so still. So far from meaning all my harsh language for you. I only meant it for you as far as you deserved it. The sayings of others I only get from you & can only answer them to you & you can take your share & leave the rest. And as to twits [?], I thought I used plain English. If I was at home, I would put a stop to some of the devilment that is going on there, I think, & as for Jim’s remarks, you would be repaid if you could hear some that Clem makes about him. Also, if Christ himself would come & live in the family awhile, he would be picked at & found fault with so you need not worry about that. And if … [rest of letter missing].

Clem & Smith are doghunting. Don’t forget to tell about the money.

Hold your patience

Louisville, Kentucky
July 6th [1865]

Dear wife & children,

I received a letter from you today & hasten to answer it. Yours was mailed July 3d. You said that both boxes had got home safe. That thread was Columbia thread. The pants I never wore much but we had to have a lot of extra clothing on hand so as to keep clean & I did not want to be bothered with so much so I sent them home.

I cannot tell yet how long it will be before we get a chance to go home, but we will I think stand a good chance to get home in the course of a month or six weeks. But our times are very different from what they were this time last year. Then we were short of rations & poor what we had. We were marching & working night and day & mixing up a little fighting every day with it. Now the prospect is pretty fair that we will not be kept a great deal longer in the service. The grub we get is poor enough but we can make it a little better by coming down on our own pockets a little. We have to do more playing than we did in time of war but less other hard work.

The weather is very hot. I have not had time to look up Dr. Carpenter & don’t know how soon I will go to town again.

Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville is one of the dirtiest cities I have been in — that is, in the streets. Some of the streets look very well & others stink so as to be almost intolerable. Everything is high-priced here too. Farmers are cutting their grain & corn is beginning to tassel out.

But this is better. The order to muster out the rest of the Army of the Tennessee is here & unless something turns up, that takes us. But recollect it will take some time to do it. So hold your patience. We are going on with our business as usual but some of the soldiers are making trouble & a great many are deserting. By this, they lose their pay that is due them & are dishonorably discharged from the service. But this last order will stop a good deal of deserting for the men will stay until discharged if they only know they will be discharged soon. Otherwise they don’t care enough for a dishonorable discharge to stop on that account.

I guess that is all the news I have to write this time & it I hardly dare to believe myself. Write again for there will be a good many days — if not weeks — before we are out. So go slow.

— C. E. Ferguson


I always do forgive you for writing such letters & hope you are done writing such. I have not thought you extravagant but have been pleased that you worked along so well & sorry that you were obliged to pinch along so to make ends meet.  I never said you were of no account & not worth caring for. You said it for me, but let us end this & here I am as ever yours, — C. E. Ferguson

I wrote to Sabrina to tell her how to do about his pay but if she has gone ahead it was useless.

Dear Willie & Fannie,

I have not time to write much to you now & I don’t know what to write. I must write some music yet this afternoon & have got to play for dress parade in the evening. I would like to tell you when I am coming home but I can’t so be good children. I will write again soon.

Goodbye from Papa

So near home

Davenport, Iowa
July 23d 1865

Dear wife & children,

I wrote immediately on our arrival here but I expect you had to wait to get the letter almost as long as if we were at Fanisville yet. But you must have it before this time & are aware that we are in Davenport, Iowa — there to receive our final discharge. It does not seem possible that we are so near home but it is so.

Yesterday the 16th [Iowa] Regiment got here & we escorted them to [     ] & then back. The 13th & 15th [Iowa] are to come yet but will get here this week in all probability. But we can’t get home before some time next week — perhaps about the middle of the week. The 16th [Iowa] were nearly all captured a year ago yesterday & their entrance into Davenport was quite a contrast to their entrance into Atlanta. I can call to mind very distinctly the scenes of the 20th, 21st, & 22nd of July 1864 & it hardly seems real that I am sitting here in Davenport in full view of the river at the ferry crossing writing home while last year about this time I was sitting with my back to a tree engaged in the same business while the shattered remnants of our regiment were throwing up breastworks expecting another attack from the enemy. But the news I was writing then was bad. Now I have not much of any kind to write & nothing so very bad at least.

I did not go to church today because I didn’t care about going in military clothes & had no other kind to wear. Most of the boys as fast as they are paid & discharged lay in heavy in the jew clothes but I don’t intend to buy anything here for I have luggage enough. It consists of a woolen blanket, an India rubber blanket, one pair pants, two shirts, a short blouse, 6 sundry small things.

It is raining a little just now. Clem & myself have a room by ourselves. It looks over to Rock Island. It is a hatch house but everything is crowded. The fare in camp is poor. It is tolerable here — nothing extra.

H. H. Clark is in town in the insurance business. He tells me Eddy has come back to the Rapids.

This is the first Sunday that we have not played since we have been a band. Last Sunday morning we played for guard mounting for the last time. We will have to in this service.

Monday, July 24th

It rains again today. We look for the 13th tonight or tomorrow morning & for the 15th about Wednesday night, but there are some other regiments coming here & if they get here first, we will have to wait for them to get out of the way before we can be discharged. It may keep us beyond next week. We cannot possibly get home before the last of next week & perhaps not then. But our time will come after awhile. We will drop in on you one of these days. Goodbye for the present.

— C. E. Ferguson

Dear Willie & Fannie,

It is raining where you are. Can you find where I am on the map? I can see a good many steamboats nearly every day for we have a room where we can look out on the Mississippi River. I see boys not as big as you are wading in the edge of the river every day. Sometimes they get drowned. When I come home, I can talk to you which will be better than writing to you. Be good children. Goodbye. From Papa

P. S. I forgot that receipt after all in the other letters & will go now & get it. — C. E. F.


Tell your mother that I respectfully decline her pot of beans as we have more of that kind of stuff now than we did. They are decidedly government grub which I will not eat when I become a citizen, but her other condiments I will pay my respect to.

Also, it would be the height of folly to offer [my sister-in-law] Sabrina a home with us. You never could make it work. Remember that after while grief [over the loss of her husband] would wear away & her old ways would come back. No! it is not our duty to offer her a home with us. I will be willing to assist her in any way I can, but to offer her a home is to offer her what I have not got myself. I know you better than you know yourself. In the first moment’s of grief you are willing to make any sacrifice but you are human & would tire out after while. Let her act for herself. I will help her what I can, but she must learn to depend on herself.

Our band will be disbanded

Davenport, Iowa
July 27, 1865

Dear wife & children,

The 15th got here day before yesterday; the 15th is expected today. The 24th came yesterday — also the 19th. The 13th Post Master brought me a letter that had gone to Louisville. I got one yesterday morning that you wrote last Saturday. It didn’t start till Monday.

It rained yesterday & last night or in the morning about 4 o’clock. All at once came in a dash of wind that shook our boarding house, tore away a shed in front of it & passing on, ripped up & smashed in the roof of a large vinegar establishment, & what further damage it done, if any, I have not heard.

If the 15th [Iowa] comes today, we are done playing but will have to wait awhile to get our pay & discharges.

Friday, July 28th

The 15th will be here tomorrow morn — ought to have been here today. It is the officer’s fault.

One year ago at this time we were indulging in hostilities right up to the handle & put in our time in dodging bullets, hiding from shells,, while our regiment was mowing down the rebs & laughing at the fun.

I saw Dr. [Henry M.] Lyons & Capt. W. W. Smith ¹ today. Our band will be disbanded tonight. Some of the citizens here think we beat Strasser’s Band ² bad but we know they can execute more difficult music although our band takes the best.

There [are] several regiments ahead of us, so if we get home the last of next week, we shall do well. I shall probably write again. Goodbye.

— C. E. Ferguson

Goodbye Willie & Fannie from Papa

¹ Henry M. Lyons was the Surgeon of the 24th Iowa Infantry; William W. Smith was the Captain of Co. G, 24th Iowa Infantry.

² Jacob Strasser of Davenport, Iowa, enlisted as a musician in the 44th Illinois Infantry and was later transferred to the Regimental Band. He and other members of his band were accomplished musicians before and after the Civil War.