This letter was written by Henry Silas Wyman (1839-1897), the son of Hon. Oliver Cromwell Wyman (1812-1898) and Mary Buel (1817-1878) of Watertown, Jefferson county, New York. When he was 21, Henry moved to Madison county, Indiana, where he labored as a teacher before the war. He enlisted as a private in August 1861 in Co. K, 8th Indiana Infantry and was sent to Missouri to serve in Fremont’s Department. The regiment participated in the Battle of Pea Ridge and then marched over the Ozark Mountains to Helena, Arkansas. In September, they were withdrawn into Missouri where they chased Marmaduke’s men.
In late May 1863, during the siege at Vicksburg, Henry was struck by a minié ball that passed through his cheek bone and tonsils, lodging in the side of his neck. After being in the hospital for nine months, he was finally discharged as a corporal on account of medical disability.
After the war, Henry moved to Michigan where he became a dentist. He had a practice in Seneca, Lewanee county, Michigan.
Henry wrote this letter to his younger brother, Manfred Charles Wyman (1843-1919).
Camp on Black River, Wayne county, Missouri
Friday, December 19th 1862
This is a fine morning. Breakfast is over & as I have not written for a long time for me (neither have I received any letters), I seat myself by the chimney corner to indite a few lines.
When we first came to this place, we camped close to the banks of the river—or the bottom—and were forced to evacuate our position by a flood. It had been raining for three days. The third evening, which was Sunday, the water had risen nearly to the top of the banks and as it still continued to rain, it was thought that we might have to move the next day. But about midnight the water broke over and came down through the center of our regiment and cutting off the retreat of Co. A, B, C, and leaving the 33rd Illinois ¹ on an island and pouring through the quarters of the 11th Wisconsin. Some brought part of their things out and others lashed them to trees and made the best of their way out.
No men were lost and only two mules. It was reported that one man was drowned of the 11th Wisconsin but I think it was not so.
We had plenty of time in our company to move our things back but before daylight the water was running a strong current through Company Quarters. After sunrise, we moved our camp back between the hills where we are at present and under marching orders. It is thought that we will go back to Patterson [Missouri]. There ain’t anything out here—only scrub race horses and widow women. Our Brigadier [General William Plummer Benton] married one of the latter last week. ²
We have got a great deal of news lately. Before I close, I must tell you how we manage this cold weather. As soon as we go in camp, we fall timber and go to putting up log houses with a mud chimney and fireplace. Then put our tents on top for a roof and we can fix things up in one day so as to make ourselves comfortable as old hunters in the mountains.
I presume that you will have written before you get this. But hope you won’t fail to write me a good long letter when you get this. We have not been paid for four months. I have not heard from Uncle Henry since we left Helena. Don’t know as I have much more to write, I will enclose a couple of specimens of Confederate currency. I like to have forgot to tell you that I was in first rate health—never was as stout and hearty as I am at the present time.
Your brother, — Henry
¹ In the regimental history of the 33rd Illinois, we find the following account of the same flood incident:
“From November 26th to December 14th, inclusive, the regiment was at Black river. The camp was quite near the river and upon ground somewhat elevated, but with a depression running along the base of the hills a few hundred yards away. It rained on the 12th and 13th and very hard all day on the 14th, and at night on that day the river was bank full and still rising, but it was thought the camp, being on high ground, was in no danger of being flooded. At three o’clock on the morning of the 15th the whole regiment was suddenly roused by the water sweeping through the camp, flooding tents and carrying away everything that was loose. There had been a heavy rain during the night in the hills above, and the river had quickly risen many feet, and the water was rushing by, carrying logs and trees, and with a roaring and crashing that in the darkness was appalling. Everyone snatched up whatever he could get his hands on, gun and equipments being the first care, and started for the hills, only to find the depression before spoken of, running like a mill race. But it must be crossed, and cross it the soldiers did, wading to the arm pits through the ice cold water and holding guns and clothing above their heads. The men were soon on the slope, safe from drowning, but not from freezing….”
² Brig. General Benton married a widow named Mrs. Pettit [Emma Adolphin Lenhart] after some ten days courtship. His men called it “the most courageous thing we ever knew him to do.” [Regimental History of 33rd Illinois, page 32] Benton’s first wife died of consumption in 1861 at the age of 27.