This letter signed “Brooks” was penned by Capt. Eber “Brooks” Ward (1835-1863) of Co. A, 34th Illinois Infantry—originally known as the “Rock River Rifles” of northern Illinois. They were mustered into the service in September 1861 for three years and were originally uniformed in gray jackets and pantaloons. In December 1861, they were assigned to the 5th Brigade of the Department of the Ohio. Other regiments serving with them in the 5th Brigade included the 29th Indiana, the 30th Indiana, and the 77th Pennsylvania.
This letter was written from the encampment opposite Columbia, Tennessee, where the regiment was put to work rebuilding the bridge over the Duck River. They remained at that location for about ten days before before being rushed to the Shiloh Battlefield to assist in the 2nd day’s fight. Brooks Ward was not with them, however. He was too ill to make the trip. He resigned his commission on 5 December 1862.
Brooks returned to Sterling, Whiteside county, Illinois, where he died on 30 June 1863, survived by his wife, Josephine (“Josie”) Roberts (1838-1929) and two daughters, Mary Alice and Theodora. He was the son of John B. Ward (1810-1899) and Mary A. Mumma (1813-1903). Brooks was an attorney before the war.
Camp Stanton, [on Duck River in] Tennessee
March 26, 1862
Shortly after I wrote you last, we raised camp and came to Red[ ] Creek, 40 miles south of Nashville. As soon as the bridge was repaired at that point we crossed over and encamped on the North side of Duck River opposite to the old town of Columbia and commenced repairs—or rather building—the turnpike bridge destroyed here. We do not delay with the rail and bridges any longer, allowing the divisions coming un the war to attend to them. Having a good turnpike, equal in worth to that of Ohio, we only repair the bridges in that and allow our trains to follow. On leaving camp Andy Johnson, we fell in with a squad of mounted rebels and drove them in front of us, capturing a few and killing one occasionally up to this point, and over the river. On arriving here, a squad of men were sent over to take possession of the arsenal and armory and since then, our cavalry has scoured the country for 20 miles south without falling in with any force. They are disbanding in squads of from 20 to 100 and returning home daily. The entire 2d Tennessee Regiment threw down their arms at Murfreesboro and went home.
The Rebel force is concentrating at Decatur in Alabama [under Gen. Albert S. Johnston] and our whole division, seconded by Mitchell on the left and Grant on the right will move on to that point on the 1st day of April.
My health is not improving much and if I was not allowed to ride (still aching major), I could not keep up. I am recommended to the President for promotion to Adjutant General’s Office of the 5th Brigade with bright prospects of getting it. That will be a good and safe position and one in which I will not necessarily have to expose myself. I want to be at home about the middle of May whether our regiment is discharged or not. Being continually sick and submitting to so much exposure and privations during our long winded marches I feel is murdering me by inches, and will subtract a large sum from my pleasures in after life. I have not heard from any of you for near 2 months and not from Josie for nearly one, so that you may guess my impatience to hear. The Lord only knows when we will catch the rebel horde, but when we do, we will “clean them out” effectually.
A spy reports from Decatur that the rebels aver their intention of throwing down their arms if they are not successful at that point and of course they will not be. So we all look to and hope for a speedy termination of the war. We are all tired of it. Our regiment is known as “Gen’l McCook’s pets” and he says that he will retain us until the last though we hope to elude him.
Remember me to all at home and for Heaven’s sake, and mine, write often. Direct as above. Yours son, — Brooks