TRANSCRIPTIONS OF JOHN B. RICE LETTERS

From Rice Family Collection, Hayes Presidential Library

 

John B. Rice, son of Robert S. and Eliza (Caldwell) Rice, was born in Fremont in 1828. After studies at Oberlin College, the University of Michigan, Jefferson Medical College and Bellevue Hospital in New York City, he returned to Fremont to practice with his father. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. Rice was appointed assistant surgeon of the Tenth OVI. He was later promoted to surgeon and assigned to his home regiment, the 72nd OVI. He served with the 72nd throughout the War, with occasional assignments as Division Surgeon­in­Chief of the Fifteenth Army Corps.

The following selection was taken from the larger collection of letters written by Dr. Rice to his young bride, whom he married in December, 1861, just prior to the 72nd's departure from Fremont. She was Sarah, the nineteen year old daughter of Dr. James W. Wilson. He was ten years older than his bride. His letters never expressed the horrors of war or the sufferings endured, but only his concern and love for her.

Dr. Rice proved to be an excellent physician, whose concern for his men was of the highest priority. By his orders, all of the wounded of the 72nd were moved several times during the Battle of Shiloh so that they would remain behind the lines as the entire Union Army retreated. Due to his hard work, none of the men were left to suffer and die alone on the battlefield during the terrible night of April 6th. Dr. Rice always believed that much of the sickness suffered by the men of the 72nd could have been avoided had they been allowed to leave the Pittsburg Landing site following the Battle of Shiloh. He felt the unsanitary conditions where so much death had taken place caused excessive disease among the men.

 

Camp Shiloh, April 15th [1862]

My Dear Wife,

I have had no opportunity to send the note written yesterday, and before doing so today will write a few lines further. There is no news of importance. We are still in the old camp. The health of the Regiment is getting better. Have sent nearly all the sick down the River to the Hospital, which relieved us very much.

You will hear many accounts of the late battle, and some conflicting ones. Wait to hear the official reports before you form your opinions. The seventy­second did as well as any other regiments in the advance, which received the whole shock of the rebel columns. The 72nd never retreated a step, except in obedience to orders of the superior commanders. This regiment stood for two hours and kept back vastly superior forces ­ during which time [first?] to speak of other losses later in the day; we had killed [42?], including Col. Canfield and Capt. Wegstein, and 64 wounded. The order to fall back came from General Sherman ­ and was not executed until we were attacked, both on our right and on our left.

As to myself, I am conscious of having done my whole duty. The regiments had all fallen back and formed lines of battle in the rear before I left the camp. I could have saved all my personal property, but I was determined to carry out with me all our wounded and sick ­ which I did ­ in all amounting to about 80 ­­­The division surgeon in recognition of my services on the field, has signified his approbation of my course by desiring my appointment as acting Brig. Surgeon, the duties of which office I have been performing ever since the second hour of the battle, when Brigade Surgeon Casey was taken prisoner. He was taken while trying to take with him his wounded & sick. I should not have left mine, but would have preferred to share their fortunes. On grounds satisfactory to myself I have determined to stick to the regiment rather than to have any other place, and I have therefore sent in my declination this morning. I have the gratification to know that Col. Buckland speaks in complimentary terms of me in his report to Gen. Sherman; a compliment from such a source repays me for all the labors, dangers and losses I have sustained.

And now I must close, I am ready for new duties, and new dangers ­ and whatever may befall me I shall not be disgraced.

Your affectionate husband,

Jno B. Rice

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Camp Shiloh, Apr 19th 1862

My Dear Wife,

I have had no leisure to write you anything more than a few lines at a time, only to inform you how I am getting along since the great battle. You know that I have had so much work that must be done ­ so much to occupy my mind, in the discharge of duties of no slight degree of responsibility ­that you will overlook what may have appeared somewhat like negligence. But need I now assure you that you are always uppermost in all my thoughts ­­ My dear Wife, you can never know how my heart was moved when I thought of you in moments of the greatest danger, I think I can say that I am not cowardly. I know that I would much prefer an honorable death to an dishonorable life ­ and that I desire to return to you sans peur, sans reproche or not to return at all ­ and yet without faltering in any duty for a single moment ­ It was bitter to think should I meet the fate of many of my comrades on these terrible days, that my dear wife, my Sadie ­ to whom I had long ago given all my heart, and who is all my hope on earth ­ would meet my eyes no more, and the youth and beauty and honor that adorn my sweet wife would be darkened with the pall of widowhood. God in His mercy still spares us to each other, and we long for the time when we shall meet again. How happy I am to hear that your health was improving. It is one of my deepest griefs at being separated from you at this time ­ that you need my care, attention and sympathy. Let us hope that the time is not far distant when I will be "home again" ­ then to redeem all my pledges to you and to Heaven to be loving and true to Sadie.

Not long hence ­ perhaps before this can reach you ­ another storm of battle will pass over us. Its din will drown the cries of the fallen brave ­ but it cannot shut the ears of Him, who notices the sparrows fall, to my prayers for you, my sweet wife. Believe me, dear wife, that you are my only hope, under all circumstances.

I can not undertake to write much news. There would have been a forward movement before this, but the weather is awful ­ rainy ­the roads almost impassable. But you ought to be reminded that we are preparing ­ constantly, carefully ­ to try Mons. Beauregard again. He's a sharp, brave old fellow ­ and he knows how to make the Rebels fight. He will, I think, be finally thrashed ­ but there must be some hard fighting first.

St. Clair has been here and making as great an ass of himself as usual. You and everybody else know his lack of manners and courtesy and decency. I thought of booting him for his impudence, but perhaps will not if he keeps away from me. He'll know some when he gets back. I never would have anything to do with him at home and will not here. He's a selfish old fool and a great ignoramus.

Don't think I'm excited, for I don't. There is a limit to patience and endurance, and with me the old saint passes it at first sight. Don't be alarmed but what I'll "hoe my row" all right. Raymond has been sick and I tried to procure a furlough for him, but couldn't. So he got mad at me and is talking pretty hard about it. He threatened to kill himself, he was so homesick, if his application wasn't accepted. He also sent in his resignation and that was refused also. Don't say anythingabout it ­ I tell you "for fun" about these things. And you will keep shady.

When we were compelled to fall back we left all our property in the tents, and as I have mentioned before, all was taken by the advancing forces. I had my command dress suit and sash and lost all else. Hope I'll find a chance to buy some underclothes, a pair of pants and a blouse for the warm weather before long. Haven't been paid off yet, but hope to be before long. On the 25th inst., there will be nearly $1000 due me. How do you get along for money? Will send you some when we're paid. I feel the loss of my "old Bill" horse the worst. I never shall see his like again. He had got so that he was perfectly cool under fire, and was one of the very best horses in the whoe camp. He was always ready, full of courage and sprightly, and had twice as much good sense and better manners than old St. Clair. I am at present using a government horse.

Pardon this poor letter, and write often, and believe me, my dearest love,

Your affectionate husband,

John B. Rice

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Camp Shiloh, Apr 27th, 1862

My Very Dear Wife,

Two letters of your writing have come to hand within the last three days. Also, by Chas. [Hanson?], the packages of paper, envelopes & stamps. Accept, my sweet wife, my warmest thanks for all these.

Your letter evidenced that you did know what I really meant, but to be very brief on such a subject I was not hurt at any complaint you may have made. O no, my darling, not in the least. I would be sorrowful indeed if you have any grief or trouble, that you would not tell me of first of all. Wouldn't you do so? And don't you know, my whole heart would respond as it ought to in sympathy with my dearest wife? But then let all this end. Let love drown all the shadows that may fall over the path "in which we two walk".

Sarah, my sweet love, you make me happier than I ever was before; my hopes of success, the fulfillment of all my cherished designs, please me most because I know you will be pleased. Thoughts of home, the future and all I hope for, are ever blended with the wife of my heart. And I have no wish to live or be happy, but when you too are with me, to share in everything to make you happy. Also now, let us live to help each other to grow better pleased that you are my wife and I am your husband.

Your joke on me was a good one. It caused a good deal of fun at the time ­but the worst of it is that you don't know half of the truth. I can't help thinking that you may suspect that your good man may have been imbibing a little too freely. How's that, old lady? I told the men about it last night after supper and there was a good deal of laughter on the occasion. But let me tell you one thing about the affair that you don't know, I wasn't there at all. It was Capt. (Dr.) Eaton, who was with the Col. at the time and was not me at all! Now what do you think? Aren't you glad? The whole story, putting Capt. Eaton in my place is, I believe, correct.

We are still at the old place, on the battlefield of Shiloh. The weather is at present very fine ­ and matters generally are going much as they did before the great fight. The army is making ready to go to Corinth ­ and I do not think many days will elapse before you will hear of another engagement in case the enemy make a stand.

We are having a good deal of camp fever in the regiment. I do not think it will be ill­fated, though many of our cases are very bad at this time.

I dread the bad weather of the coming summer, and its probable effect on the health of the regiment; but we must do the best we can.

The papers will I trust do our regiment full justice yet. Certainly few suffered worse or fought better. Col. Buckland is perfectly fearless in battle. I saw him riding up and down the line when there was a perfect hail of all kinds of missiles ­ round shot, shell bullets from small arms. He has been highly complimented for his bravery and good judgment, by those whose complimentsare worth something. Have heard that the papers have said I was taken prisoner. Do not believe any statements from the papers until you know that they are true. I will not write any news about the battle. You can find all you want in official reports and letters from correspondents.

I have no more today, but will write often. You will please write very often, won't you, love?

I am, my dear, sweet wife

Your faithful, loving husband,

John

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