Item #7538 [Autograph letter, signed, by Sgt. John M. Follett to his wife, on the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau.]. Sgt. John M. Follett.
[Autograph letter, signed, by Sgt. John M. Follett to his wife, on the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau.]

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[Autograph letter, signed, by Sgt. John M. Follett to his wife, on the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau.]

Berwick [Louisiana], 10 November 1863. 4 pp., in pencil. With original envelope. CONDITION: Very good, old folds, no losses to the text.

A rich letter providing a rare in-depth description of the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau in Louisiana in 1863; in the second part of the letter, Follett touches on such domestic matters as his wife’s attending a dance back home, the payment of debts, and his own “mean ugly temper.”

Born in New York, John M. Follett (1832–1908) moved to Galesburg, Henry County, Illinois with his family in 1837, one of the seven original families to settle Galesburg. In 1857, he married Hortense B. Hill, with whom he had several children. Working as a farmer before the war, Follett was mustered into the Illinois 33rd Volunteer Infantry, Company H in Sept. of 1861. In 1864, he took part in Nathaniel Banks’s Red River Campaign and was promoted to Sergeant. Promoted again to 2nd Lieut. in 1865, he was mustered out in November of 1865. Follett is described in a history of the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry as a “staunch, reliable, ‘Rock of Chickamauga’ kind of soldier.” After the war, he resumed farming in Galesburg and in 1874 he moved to Cambridge, IL. In 1882 he went to North Dakota to take up his soldier’s claim, but after several successive droughts he returned to his Illinois farm, where he lived until retiring in 1904. Moving to Atkinson, IL in 1904, he lived there until 1906 when he moved again, to Lincoln, Nebraska, before dying in 1908. John’s two brothers, William and Melville Follett, also fought in the Civil War. William died in the Battle of Resaca in Georgia in 1864; Melville was captured and was wounded in the leg during the war, but survived.

The Battle of Bayou Bourbeux was fought in southwestern Louisiana on 3 November 1863, seven days prior to the date of this letter. The engagement was between the forces of rebel Brig. Gen. Thomas Green and Union Brig. Gen. Stephen G. Burbridge. Under orders from Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, Green launched an attack on the Union camp after receiving three infantry regiments, led by Col. Oran M. Roberts, on 2 Nov. 1863. The battle resulted in a Confederate victory, the Union Army reporting casualties of 26 killed, 124 wounded, and 566 captured or missing, and the rebels admitting a loss of 22 killed and 103 wounded.


“My Dearest Wife, Here we are again camped on the Atchafalaya river. We started from New Iberia Sunday morning and marched the first day to Franklin, a distance of 30 miles. Got up Monday morning and started by 5:00 and marched to within five miles of this place, a distance of 30 miles again. And this morning we came in here. We of the Pioneers are camped on the bank of the river and my squad are in a good humor. Our cook is getting dinner and as tired as I. I am enjoying myself writing to you. I saw Henry, Henry Losey, Robert Avery, John [C.] Burlingame, Lawyer [Thomas] Harrison, and all the busy boys who belong to the 77th [Illinois]. They were all glad to see me, and I was glad to see them. They were all as fat as pigs and are all in good spirits.”

“I must tell you now of a battle some of our boys had. The next morning after I wrote to you last, our brigade was ordered up about 2 o'clock and marched about 3 miles on the west side of Iberia. The rumor was that the Rebs were coming 16,000 to attack us. Our brigade formed in battle line. The 2nd Brigade was closed in mass, one half on each flank on our line of battle and the 3rd Brigade was concealed in the timber. The plan was a cute one [even] if old Gen. [Michael Kelly] Lawler did plan it, but the Rebs did not favor us with a call. I was in the ranks, could not stand it, so I got permission of our Captain to go with the regiment. Instead of pitching into us, the Rebs sailed into the 1st Brigade of [Brig.] Gen. [Stephen] Burbridge's Division. The battle was fought on Carrion Crow Prairie.”

“Gen. Burbridge had sent some of his regiments out foraging and had not over 1,000 men engaged and the Rebs came down on him with 8,000 men. They mowed down eight lines deep in front and closed in mass on each flank (closed in mass is in solid column). Burbridge could not retreat without loss and he told his men that any part of the 13th Corps had never been whipped and he would never have it said while he lived that the 4th Division was the first to run and the men cheered him and said they would back him up and then they stood, those brave fellows surrounded on three sides by gray backs and the other by a bayou and fought like demons. The Rebs overpowered them and took over 400 prisoners and killed 57 men.”

“Gen. McGinnis came up with two brigades of Gen. Hovey's old division and so intent were the Rebs trying to take prisoners that they did not see the reinforcements till they came right up to them and then they had it hand-to-hand, sword and bayonet, but the Rebs had to skedaddle. They left 149 dead on the field besides over 300 wounded and our men took about 300 prisoners. All this was done in about two hours. Wm. Henry belongs to the division but his brigade was not in the fight but were still at Franklin. I don't know what we are here for nor what we are going to do. I will keep you posted however.”

“Now I will try to answer your last letters which I received at Iberia. You want to know if I will forgive you for going to the dance. For I have nothing to forgive. I am glad you went. Under the circumstances, you did right. I wouldn't want you to gad about with every man who comes along, but I know you have too much sense for that & have no inclination to do so. In fact, I have all the confidence in you that I want you to have in me and I believe your judgment is correct in all such matters. With all my faults, I am notorious. You know I ain't. You know nothing pleases me more than to hear you praised by anyone…You did right in paying Ben, also in paying your rent. Pay any and all debts you owe and get anything you and the children need to keep you comfortable —especially dress yourself & them warm. I am sorry I hurt your feelings about what you wrote about my paying my debts.”

“I know I am sensitive and I thought by the way you wrote that you & Mother had talked the matter over & come to the conclusion I was dishonorable and it touched a tender spot. I saw as soon as I got over my mood how foolish I had been so I wrote to you telling you I was sorry. I know you have not suffered any more from my meanness than I have. … I am learning to govern my mean ugly temper. If I can only do it so as never to speak a harsh word to you and the children, I will be contended.”

An excellent account from the field of the Battle of Bayou Bourbeau.

REFERENCES: “The Early Civil War Perspectives of an Illinois Soldier as Reflected in His Letters: Galesburg to Vicksburg” at Ohio State University online; “Folletts in the Civil War” at RootsWeb online; “2LT John Meacham Follett” at Findagrave online.

Item #7538

Price: $750.00

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