Michigan in the Civil War

Browse by Name: Walker, Adeline M.

Kay, John B., 1841-1864-

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Forty-four letters (1862-1864) written to members of his family while he was serving in Company G, 6th Michigan Cavalry as sergeant. The ladies of Grand Rapids gave the regiment a dinner in honor of its coming departure, and each soldier was presented with a Testament. He tells of the train trip to Washington and their treatment on the stops along the way--a "wagon load" of apples, hot coffee, food. He describes the cities--Cleveland dusty and smoky, Baltimore the neatest and best laid-out, Washington not as fine as Baltimore, but the capitol is a grand structure.

In Washington prisoners and wounded are coming in from Fredericksburg, and all surgeons are at the front. Hospitals are neat and clean. Arguments are going on in the tents about the government, the president, the abolitionists. His points are: "It is against the constitution to take life, but life has to be taken to preserve the Union; it is against the constitution to abolish slavery; but slavery has got to be abolished to preserve the Union." He describes the inhabitants of Washington, the contrast between the aristocracy and the lower classes. He comments on Jefferson Davis, treason in Congress, Vallandigham of Ohio and southern sympathizers, Copperheads, General McClellan, General Meade, slavery and the war. In contrast Horace Greeley is "doing all the good he can." He visits the Smithsonian Institution and Georgetown and Lee's mansion. He buys food--milk, oranges three for 5 cents, lemons, oysters. There is lots of sickness and the hospitals are full.

On the march he describes the beautiful Blue Mountains. The armies are converging on Gettysburg and there are battles--Gettysburg, Falling Waters, Williamsport--and they pursued the enemy. He voices his views on the war, its end, and the future of the South. A southern lady tells him, "I don't believe the war will end in twenty years because the South will never give up." Negroes are coming into camp. While on picket duty the men swim thirty rods across a river to visit rebel pickets and talk about the war, the possible fall of Charleston, the presidential election, the Michigan Brigade, and they arrange to exchange papers. He speculates about a possible promotion.

Then he is captured at Brandy Station, October 11, 1863, and taken to Libby Prison and later to Andersonville. He writes a few short letters to his parents to assure them that he is all right, but he doesn't hear from them. The last letter, December 17, 1864, from Adeline M. Walker, a nurse in the Naval Hospital in Annapolis, to the Reverend Kay, tells of the death of his son, a released prisoner, on December 15, 1864, from the effect of "hunger, cold, and every kind of misery."

A copy of a journal (October 1863-December 6, 1864), written while he was a prisoner in Libby, Belle Isle, and Andersonville prisons is made up of items about food, weather, duties, reading, prayer meetings, illness and ill treatment, a raid and a hanging, thoughts of home and of escape. He did escape but was returned, then paroled December 5, 1864, only to die in the hospital in Annapolis. Kay was from Woodhull, Mich.

This collection is available on microfilm for interlibrary loan.