This letter was written by Lt. Elijah Kidwell Brown (1844-1890) of Co. E, 4th Tennessee Infantry (Union). Elijah’s father, William A. Brown (1819-1863) was lying dead “in state” at the family home in Greenville, Tennessee, when rebel troops came to search the place for his brothers who were to be pressed into service as Confederate soldiers, but Elijah’s mother, Nancy Eliza Kidwell (1821-1907), and other members of the family were spirited out of Tennessee to the safety of Livingston County, Illinois.
Elijah enlisted as a sergeant in the 4th Tennessee Infantry in March 1863 and was captured at McMinnville in October 1863. After he was paroled, he rejoined Company E and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. The regiment served in the vicinity of Nashville and Knoxville till April 1864. The regiment next saw duty at Loudon, Kingston, Knoxville and Cumberland Gap and in District of East Tennessee till August, 1865.
He later served in a secretarial capacity under a neighbor – Andrew Johnson. This was after Johnson had been elevated to the Presidency, on the death of President Lincoln.
A Directory of Taxpayers indicates Elijah and his brothers, Hugh and Rufus, were farming in Sullivan Township, Livingston County, Illinois (See The History of Livingston County, Illinois, W. LeBaron, 1878)
Camp 4th Tennessee Vols. Infantry
8 miles S.W. of Dandridge, Tennessee
January 4th 1864
As I have just returned from a forage expedition and have corn meal & bacon enough to last me two days and am very tired after a walk of about twenty miles and have no obsession to talk with [others] around my smokey fire, I am thinking of my dearest “Jennie” and what a nice thing it would be to hear from her by tomorrow’s mail. Shall I or not? Well “Jennie,” I can say nothing to interest you tonight. I could tell you of my troubles and situation but will not as I don’t think it would interest you.
I thought it possible we would get back to Knoxville or Loudon but think now the case doubtful. Would not be surprised if we remain in this post this winter. Hope for the better. You know that’s all a poor soldier can do. How are you doing — or what are you doing for amusement? I fancy I see you tonight sitting by the fire leaning upon your armed chair with a book in your hands or quarreling with Lieut. Putnam — or probably sparking some nice young gent. Have I queried right? or is it making a new dress at the rate of 240 per minute. Well I suppose you are tired of foolishness and will say this is not much trouble, or I can’t see the “Blues with” Brown, and I know it don’t look so. But if you could have seen me before I commenced writing this, you would have thought differently.
Stop — here comes “Tom.” ¹ What the “devil” are you doing, Brown? Any man that would sit down by the fire and write a letter upon his knee must be writing to his sweet heart or is that something official. Well I guess you had better ask no questions if you desire a truthful answer. Well wouldn’t you like to be at Knoxville or Loudon tonight. If I had any business there, I would like to go down soon. What will the chance be, Major? Well I cannot tell at present. Don’t think you can go for a month or two. Off he goes and I am glad of it.
Well, what’s Mag. doing? Did she get to see Mike before she left Knoxville. Guess she did. If not, tell her to let me know and I will have him dismissed the service for neglect of duty.
Well, Jennie, I don’t know whether I will see you again this winter or not. If I don’t, as you said to me, you will not be deprived of paper and ink, I hope. If you knew what a pleasure it is to me to hear from you, you would certainly write every two days for it is all the pleasure I have whilst I am laying in the woods. To hear and feel that I have one kind friend whose kind wishes are about me — and I do feel assured that you are ever anxious about me. I know you are the first and only lady that I ever “loved,” and believe me, Jennie, you are as near to me as my own heart.
I will close as I have nowhere to write and as you see a worn pen and bad ink. But I know you will excuse all that. My respects to all my friends and don’t forget to write soon & often and long letters to one who loves you dearly.
I am as ever yours, — Lieut. E. K. Brown
¹ Major Thomas H. Reeves was promoted to Lieutenant-Col. of the 4th Tennessee Infantry in June 1865. Angry that the citizens of Sparata, Tennessee In July 1864, Major Thomas H. Reeves of the 4th Tennessee Infantry (Union), angry that the citizens of Sparta continued to secretly aid Rebel guerrillas operating in the vicinity, took his command into town, declared martial law, and had every man he found arrested. The anguished denizens expected their town to be destroyed, but the 4th left the next day with only nine prisoners. According to Reeves, his men could boast of ‘unparalleled plunder.’