Advice from an Old Soldier

Four veterans of Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Photograph taken @ 1900. From left: EDWIN L. LYBARGER (enlisted 11/25/61 at age 21), JAMES DIAL (enlisted 11/4/61 at age 26), FRANCIS LOGSDON (enlisted 11/1/61, age 20), LEO BLUBAUGH (enlisted 12/12/61 at age 18). These Ohio veterans enlisted together at Camp Andrews (near Mount Vernon, Ohio) in late 1861, in a Knox County company being raised by William Walker, who served as captain until spring 1862. Company K joined the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and left Ohio in Feb. 1862. With 3 other Ohio regiments, they formed the “Ohio Brigade,” commanded by Col. John Fuller. They served for the duration of the war, mustering out together on July 13, 1865.

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The following letter was published in the New York Times the month the war began in 1861, written by a veteran soldier who remained anonymous. 

April 24, 1861

To the Editor of the New York Times:

Allow an old soldier who has seen service to offer a few practical suggestions to our men who are marching South.

Avoid drinking water as much as possible while marching. When you feel dry rinse your mouth with water, but do not swallow it. Water alone should not be drank, but mixed with vinegar; or a little cold coffee is the only wholesome beverage in a campaign.

While marching or on sentry never sit down for a second-bear up! The change of posture will affect your powers more than the actual marching.

Have plenty of buttons, needle and thread, rags of linen and some strong twine in your knapsack — you will all want it.

White linen gaiters over brogans are the best, boots offering too much reflection to the sun’s rays. The gaiters are made white and shiny again by applying a mixture of common chalk and water with a rag or sponge, and let the gaiter get dry under the air or sun.

If you have a long march in warm weather before you, cut off the body of your pantaloons to the middle of the thigh and sew the legs to your drawers, fastening the suspenders to the drawers, it will relieve you greatly. Drawers are essential.

Keep a vial of sweet oil and every night rub your gun with a rag dipped in oil. In the morning, or when starting, rub a cream, it is the best way to preserve it from rust and keep it in working order. When not using it put a piece of cork or something else in the mouth of your gun to keep out the dust, rain, &c.

When marching, put some of the weight you have to carry on your breast — for instance, part of the cartridges, so as to relieve and counterpoise the weight to be carried.

Have some lard in a small tin box to grease your boots or shoes with, to keep them smooth and sort, particularly in wet weather or passing through a swampy country.

When on the march never let a weak comrade get behind the company — assist him in carrying on load. When once left behind he is at questionable mercies of the rear guard, and may perish before the ambulance comes up.

Finally, avoid spirituous liquors as you would poison.

Do you make good coffee?

In August of 1863, Union Army Sgt. Edwin Lybarger was on provost guard in Memphis Tennessee with his regiment, the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He advertised in the newspaper for a correspondent of the Fair Sex for “agreeable, interesting and useful correspondence.” His diary gives some indication that he did it on a dare with his friend, Co. K Captain John Rhodes.

Edwin received a reply from a young lady signing herself “Fannie Jerome.” After they had exchanged several letters, “Fannie” revealed her real name to be Lou Riggen. He confessed his real name, and they continued to correspond for the duration of the war. She seems to have resisted his appeals to send him her “likeness” (photograph).

In 1864, he wrote to Lou to learn more details about her accomplishments, abilities, and sensibilities:

Do you like music? Play on the piano? Can you bake bread?

Can you bake mince pies? Make good coffee?

Keep house? Can you eat your share of a dinner?

Do you like History, Poetry, or Novels best?

What church to you belong to?

On Sept. 29, 1864, Lou Riggen answered his letter:

Keep house? I once kept house for six months to the edification of the whole family except Lou Riggen. My! what an endless task of intricate labor. Brooms, carpets, beds, cobwebs, dinners, suppers, breakfasts, with all their attendant auxiliaries of good butter, sweet milk, done bread & not burnt either. ‘To be or not to be’ good was always the dread question until dinner stood in all its dread array on the table. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t.

Edwin and Lou corresponded for the rest of the war. Their plan to meet on his way home in the summer of 1865 was not accomplished. He continued to correspond with Lou after returning to Ohio and, apparently reluctant to end their correspondence, finally told her had married another girl. Her response, her last letter, eloquently expresses her dismay that he had ignored her request to return her letters to her.

The letters written to Union officer Edwin Lybarger from 1862-1866

by Lou Riggen and other women,

are published, with historical social commentary, in

WANTED–CORRESPONDENCE:

Letters to a Union Soldier (Swallow Press, 2009).