This letter was written by Frances (“Frank”) B. Olds (1841-1907) of Co. F, 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) who for some inexplicable reason signed his name on this letter, “B. F. Olds.” Frank’s description of his movements coincide with that of the 111th OVI and in the book, History of the City of Lincoln, Nebraska by Arthur B. Hayes and Samuel D. Cox, we learn that “Company F of the 111th OVI and one other company [Co. A]…were assigned to [garrison] Fort Baker” at Bowling Green over the winter of 1862-63. See also the letter written in January 1863 from Fort Baker by John W. Cleland of Co. F, 111th OVI in which he states, “Our company and Company A are occupying a fort about ¾ of a mile from town on the railroad. We came over here a week ago last Monday and have been repairing the fort since. We had our tents set outside of the fort till today. We got it ready for moving into and moved into it. We have our tents fixed so we can live here quite comfortable now.” The rest of the companies were garrisoned across the Barren river in Fort Buckner.
According to the company roster, Frank Olds enlisted in Co. F, 111th OVI on 15 August 1862 at the age of 21. He mustered out of the company on 27 June 1865. Frank was the son of Rev. Thomas Olds III (1812-1866) and Lemira Sprague (1819-18xx) of Milford, Defiance county, Ohio. After the war, Frank married Viola T. Pamer (1845-1939), became a minister like his father, and eventually relocated to Lawrence, Kansas.
Fort Baker, Bowling Green, Kentucky
May 8th 1863
Uncle & Aunt,
Dear friends, I am somewhat puzzled to know how to excuse myself for not writing to you before. I have neglected a long time but I trust that you will not think hards of me, but look over my negligence and I will try and do better in the future. I have had a great many letters to write in the last 9 months. I have had a great deal to think of and hope that this will account for my negligence in writing to you.
This morning finds me as well as usual. I have no reason to complain do far as health is concerned, but I have reason to be very thankful to God for his preserving mercy and watchful care over me since I have enlisted in the service of my country. I have been in the army almost nine months and I have enjoyed good health during this time of my soldiery. I trust that I may continue in health so as to do my duty as a soldier. Good health is a blessing to the soldier—surely it is a great blessing to everybody but when we are soldiers far from home & and our dear friends who use to care for us and watch over us, we are apt to appreciate as being a greater blessing.
I suppose of course you would be glad to know I like a soldier’s life. I can tell you that I like it very well, really better than I expected when I enlisted. I am getting somewhat tuffened and adapted to camp life so that I begin to feel at home though I am at war. The work which we have to perform at present is not so hard, but we have many exposures to undergo. Some of the time we have had the hardest kind of labor to perform. We have marched about 400 miles since we came into the service. Marching is the hardest kind of work. When we arrived at this place, we were almost done out by the fatigue of marching. ¹
I will now tell you of the load that we had to carry. It consisted of a musket, several pounds of powder and lead, three days provision, three pints of water. Our bedding, an extra suit of clothes, &c. all this we had to carry on our backs whilst traveling around [and] through Kentucky after the rebels. In this way we traveled day after day of about 35 or 40 days. So you can see that soldiering is not play. We have been at this place about 6 months and have been considerably refreshed from the toils and hardships of marching. Those of us who have not died by disease caused by a succession of hardships are I think stouter and heartier than before. I suppose you would be glad to know how well we fare. I think we fare well. We have plenty of pork and beans (no potatoes), sugar and coffee by the pound, and many other necessaries of life too numerous to mention at present.
As for clothes, we have plenty to wear and on the whole you see we are well provided for. This our poor enemies cannot say. Destitution stares them in the face. In many places the butternuts have but little to eat and nought but butternut colored rags to wear. They say they have a new general in command over them; his name is Starvation. I suppose he is a severe commander. I suppose he is pressing many into his service. Our general is a good commander and it is pleasant to be under his command. I speak now of our great general who is facing them at every point. His name is Plenty. He is well known to all the soldiers of our army but no less known than the rebel general is among his troops, whose name is Starvation.
I understand that some of our friends up North are in favor of this rebel general. All I have to say is if they want to enlist under him, let them do so. If some of them ain’t careful up there, they will be under his command before they know it. Uncle & Aunt, don’t you think that copperheads are acting very wrong towards us soldiers? They are making our troubles worse whilst we have given up all hope of salvation for our country unless we fight hard and long for it. They are turning against us. Woe be unto such an act in this way. Better for them they had never seen America. Better for them if they had never known what a good government was.
Tell them for me that they had better cease to do us evil or they will finally be brought to dishonor and shame.
Well, I trust that you will write immediately. I want to hear from you. I am your affectionate nephew, — B. F. Olds
¹ According to the regimental history [page 9], “September 19, we went to Louisville; October 2 to Shelbyville; October 4 to Frankfort, and on the 14th of October, started upon our march to Crab Orchard, near the base of the Cumberland Mountains, and dogged the rebel rear guard out of the State. From there we marched to Bowling Green, Kentucky. We will always remember those cheerless marches, barren of results so far as we could see or know; the clouds of suffocating dust, the pitiless Southern sun, the intolerable thirst which drove us to fill our canteens at horse ponds polluted by dead and dying mules.”