This letter was written by Thomas Blair Wilson (1839-1881), who served in Co. M, 11th Illinois Cavalry. According to Illinois Service Records, Thomas stood 5 foot, 7¼ inches tall, had black hair and grey eyes, and was employed as a clerk in Farmington, Fulton County, Illinois, when he was inducted into the 11th Illinois Cavalry on 15 March 1865 at Mt. Sterling.
After the war, Thomas was employed as a photographer in Washington, Tazewell County, Illinois. He died in Chicago on 23 June 1881.
This letter was written to his fiancee Mary R. Broughton of Fulton County, Illinois.
Addressed to Miss Mary R. Broughton, Farmington, Fulton County, Illinois
Camp near Memphis, Tennessee
March 29th 1865
Miss Mary R. Broughton
I once more resume my desk to pen you a few remarks to inform you that I arrived safely in Memphis, Tennessee, which is 250 miles below Cairo and about 650 south of Farmington. I travelled 126 miles from Farmington to Mt. Sterling, 73 from the latter place to Springfield, & 6 miles from Springfield to Camp Butler. From Camp Butler to Decatur, 36 miles. From Decatur to Cairo 233 miles. From Cairo to Memphis 250 miles. Total number of miles travelled from Farmington to this place, 718 miles. I like to travel very well but I am almost tired of it now.
We left Camp Butler on Sunday morning at 10 o’clock and arrived at Decatur at 11½ & changed cars & took the Illinois Central Railroad for Cairo & reached that delectable place Monday morning at daylight & remained in that city until 7½ o’clock when we took the steamer, City of Alton, for Memphis and arrived off this port yesterday evening at 4 o’clock & came out to this camp which is situated about 2½ miles southwest of the city along the banks of the Father of Waters, the lordly Mississippi. The river is quite high at present. Navigation is splendid. We sailed from Cairo to Memphis in 20 hours. We came down on the best steamboat that runs the river. I took dinner on the boat yesterday. We had a splendid meal of victuals & the fare was very reasonable — only 75 cts — just as cheap as in Farmington. We had rather a pleasant sail down the river — not as pleasant as we would have had if the sun would have shone out.
Vegetation is quite advanced down here in Dixie. The trees are budding out & the peach trees are all in full bloom & the shrubbery looks splendid in the City of Memphis where there is a profusion of it.
Memphis is a splendid city situated pleasantly on the east bank of the Mississippi. Population from 30 to 50,000 composed of white & colored citizens & soldiers. The country between Cairo & Memphis along the river is miserably lonely & desolate. The ravages of war are visible all along the river. Plantations desolated, houses destroyed & fences or rails burned. Such are the effects of war. The Guerrillas are quite troublesome in the vicinity of Memphis. There is some of our pickets shot every day & night by those miserable desperadoes.
It is raining quite hard today & the weather is very unpleasant. The land is quite sandy here & it soon gets muddy when it rains & dries off very soon when the sun shines.
I was assigned to Co. M, 11th Illinois Cavalry, 3rd Battalion, Capt. George Hunter with what mounted men he has in his company is out at White’s Station about 8 or 9 miles east of our camp. He will be in on Friday if nothing happens. I have seen quite a number of young men from Farmington who I am acquainted with. It appeared like getting home when I got to the regiment, I was acquainted with so many of the boys.
We have not received our arms yet but we will get them in a day or two, I suppose. I don’t know when we will get our horses. It may be several weeks before we will receive them & then it may be but a few days until we get them. I don’t know how long we may remain here. We may stay here all summer & we may not stay a week. It is all lottery.
Well, I must quit writing as I have written a letter to my brother & I must write one to my sister in Pennsylvania. I want you to write soon. I have written four letters to you & have received not one yet but hope I will in a few days. Direct to Thos. B. Wilson, Co. M, 11th Illinois Cavalry, 3d Battalion, Memphis, Tennessee (by way of Cairo, Illinois)
From your friend, — Blair
Be sure to write soon.