From Western Deserts to Carolina Swamps
A Civil War Soldier's Journals and Letters Home
While eyewitness accounts of the Civil War by enlisted men are uncommon, even scarcer are personal narratives from the Civil War in the West. These journals and letters were written by Lewis Roe, an Illinois farm boy who served in the 7th U.S. Infantry and the 50th Illinois Volunteer Infantry between 1860 and 1865. They offer details of an epic march from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to New Mexico, a firsthand account of the Battle of Valverde (1862), and Roe’s efforts to understand ongoing events as the country rushed toward the outbreak of hostilities. Later in the war, Roe documented the Union occupation of Rome, Georgia, and the battle of Allatoona, and left us a candid account of an enlisted man’s experiences with Sherman’s army on its March to the Sea and in the Carolinas Campaign. His relative objectivity and attention to everyday details make this valuable record a lively read.
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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Through the twenty-five years that this book was a work in progress, I received help from many sources. Two of Lewis Roe’s grandchildren had retained the original journals, his letters home, and a small number of private papers. Lewis T. Roe of Deming, New Mexico, and Eleanor Verene of Galesburg, Illinois, made all of the surviving journals and nine of the letters available without restrictions. My aunt, Dorothy England of ...
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In the early spring of 1858, an Illinois farm boy enlisted in the 7th U.S. Infantry at St. Louis, Missouri. The army was actively seeking recruits at the time, under a threat of war with the Mormons in Utah. Lewis Roe, one of nine brothers, came from a relatively prosperous farming family in Adams County, bordering the Mississippi River. We know little of his early life, but his later...
1: The Search for Lewis Roe
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I grew up in the small community of Knoxville in west- central Illinois. At the time, in the 1940s and early 1950s, I read a good deal and even had a mild curiosity about the early history of our town. An 1854 vintage building known as the Hall of Records housed our city library. The librarian, Mrs. Amy Grant, had local roots herself and was a lady of about seventy years....
2: Retracing the March of the 7th Infantry, June–August 1860
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Lewis Roe’s first journal is actually three individual journals, written in sequence in a small, handmade notebook with pages that measure 2.93 by 4.56 inches. Sixty-six pages survive, all with writing, the leaves stitched together along the binding margin with heavy thread. There are no covers, and sheets are missing both front and back. Approximately four pages have been lost near the center. The contents of the small notebook...
3: Fort Bridger to Fort Craig; Lewis Roe’s 1860 Diary
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June 7 
Ft. Bridger. Camp No. 1. The first column struck camp and took up the line of march for Arizonia. Our column will follow tomorrow.
Black’s Fork. Camp No. 2. Our column started today, one company at a time goes on guard. The guard has to remain in camp until the command and all trains are out. Our company (F) being on guard it was late before we started. Got into camp after dark. Well, I am once...
4: Escort Duty in the Southwest and the Battle of Valverde
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Lewis Roe was exceedingly lucky during his army career. His incomplete diary of escort duty from Fort Craig, New Mexico, to southern Arizona and return in the spring of 1861 shows that he missed, sometimes by only a day, most of the ambushes, raids, and other violence that swirled around him at that period. Later, between 1862 and 1865, he fought in four major battles at...
5: Reenlistment, Joining Sherman’s Army, and the Beginning of the Atlanta Campaign, February–May 22, 1864
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The 50th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the Adams County regiment, entered service on September 12, 1861, and did occupation duty in Missouri during the late fall and winter of 1861–1862. It gained the derisive nickname “The Blind Half Hundred” from the incidence of soldiers missing one eye as well as squint- and cross-eyed comrades. The name became a badge of...
6: Rome, Georgia, and the Battle of Allatoona, May 23–November 9, 1864
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Lewis Roe’s brigade did indeed relieve Brevet Major General Jefferson Davis’s 2nd Division, 14th Army Corps at Rome, Georgia, and from then until November served as the garrison at this post. The 1860 Census had recorded 4,010 residents at Rome, nearly half of them slaves. Although the numbers made Rome the second-largest city in northern Georgia (Atlanta was the largest), by comparison it had less than one-third the population of ...
7: The March to the Sea, November 10–December 14, 1864
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In the two months following the capture of Atlanta, Sherman planned his next campaign. This evolved from a proposal to strike other industrial cities in Georgia to marching to the coast, while leaving Maj. Gen. George Thomas in Chattanooga to counter what would become Confederate General Hood’s invasion of Tennessee. General Ulysses S. Grant, initially reluctant ...
8: Savannah, Georgia, December 15, 1864–January 26, 1865
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Savannah was the oldest as well as the largest city in Georgia in 1860, with a population of 22,292, about two-thirds of whom were free white citizens and one-third slaves. The community lay on a bluff surrounded by tidewater marshes and rice fields crossed by swamp-bordered creeks and rivers. Roads and railroads radiated from the urban area along five narrow causeways. In the decade before the Civil War, commerce and agriculture combined to make Savannah an enormously wealthy community. The railroads...
9: Up Through the Carolinas, January 27–March 27, 1865
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Late in 1863 the Union and Confederate western armies settled into “winter quarters” to reorganize and re-equip for a new round of fighting in the spring. One year later President Lincoln pushed his generals to keep the war going without a break. Army chief-of-staff Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck put it this way in his letter of January 1, 1865, to Sherman....
10: The End of the War and Home Again, April–July 1865
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Lewis Roe discontinued his journal when the army arrived at Goldsboro, but by reference to the published regimental history, the War of the Rebellion, A Compilation of the Official Records series, and other personal and secondary sources, the final events of the war as Roe witnessed it are easily traced.1 Two of his letters home, written during June 1865 from his final camp near Louisville, Kentucky, are also available....
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Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 36 illustrations, 10 maps