Letter of Henry Buck, Fifty-First Illinois Infantry
August 24, 1862

Decatur, Ala. Sunday Aug 24/62

Dear Sister Helen,

We are in Decatur now, and I am disappointed. It is a small uninteresting place – old and very dilapidated. There are but three fine buildings in the town – the building occupied by the Decatur Branch of the “State Bank of Alabama”, the Odd Fellows Hall, and a Secesh Quarter Master’s Residence. Its location, however, is lovely – on very high ground on the bank of the beautiful Tennessee and is remarkable for its healthfulness.

Early yesterday morning we were relieved by two companies of the 27th Illinois, when we struck tents, loaded up our traps and set out by 9 a.m., over an awful dusty road. Just before noon we reached Fox Creek where Major Raymond’s detachment was stationed, when we received orders to halt there until this morning when the two detachments would move on together. They had a fine fortification, consisting of two lines of intrenchments, the outer one an earthwork, the inner of cotton bales. Their abattis was not so formidable as ours, but otherwise their works were superior. In the afternoon I visited a peach orchard covering sixty acres! – and not a really nice peach in it. It was part of a large, splendid plantation whose proprietor must have once enjoyed himself. He set on fire a neighboring railroad bridge, and Gen. Mitchell burned his house and outbuildings and all in them.

This morning we got an early start – about sunrise – and reached Decatur about half past nine. At Trinity Company C joined us.

It did one good to set eyes again on the noble Tennessee, not having seen it since we left Hamburgh, Tenn., four months ago, and it did one yet more good to take an old-fashioned school-boy swim in the limpid stream. The river here is about a hundred rods wide. Huge, white stone piers rise like ghosts from the stream, the only remains of the splendid railroad bridge that Mitchell destroyed. About a mile from here, across the river is the junction of this road with the one from Nashville. A little steam ferry makes the connection between this place and Northern Alabama. Steamers run up the Tennessee to Florence, four miles from Tuscumbia, the Muscle Shoals preventing them from coming farther. Above here small boats can run up beyond Knoxville, Tenn., almost to the Virginia line.

We are encamped in an open field on the bank of the river. We have no shade, but it is not very hot. At noon today, the thermometer stood at 80 degrees only. Besides our regt, we have two companies of cavalry (7th Ill.) and a section (two pieces) of artillery. Gen. Rosecrans army is gradually moving up, keeping the road open as it moves. We shall probably soon be relieved by the 2nd Division (Gen. Stanley’s) and be off through Huntsville and Stevenson to join Buell before Chattanooga, where the rebels are again concentrating.

Friday afternoon six hundred rebel cavalry attacked the eastward train, six miles from here throwing it off the track – burned the cars which were loaded with commissary stores and took a few of our men prisoners. They supposed a U. S. Paymaster was on the train, but fortunately he had stopped at our place. We have confiscated cotton and mules enough to more than pay for all the damage they have done the road. Besides, boats(?) of negroes have followed us off. What to do with them is a question that troubles us. Their droll plantation songs and dances furnish entertainment every evening.

(I have some money on hand but don’t know how to send it home.) I have engaged board at a private house for the time we are here – think a change of diet will do me good. Remember me to Mrs. Miller. You may read any letter to her if she thinks them endurable. It would be very presumptuous in me to write to her. Remember to send those stamps. Love to all –

(Enclosed is an envelope of southern manufacture.)

Henry Buck Pension File, Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.