Letters from the Civil War: Henry Lawson Bert (January 13 & April 10, 1865)

Flags of the 47th Indiana Volunteer Infantry

Indiana University Department of History.

Henry Lawson Bert was born at Jimstown, Ohio, on August 15, 1845, the son of Peter Bert and of Mary Frazier Bert. Henry was little more than sixteen years of age when he left his home at Tipton to enlist for the Civil War. He was not at once accepted—he was small for his age—but followed the Forty-Seventh Regiment of Indiana Volunteers from Indianapolis to Louisville, before he was finally enrolled as a drummer in Captain William M. Henley’s Company I on December 21, 1861. He is described as four feet, ten inches in height, of dark complexion, with black eyes, whose occupation at the time of enrollment was that of a printer.

After the Civil War, Bert, became a merchant tailor, first in Indianapolis, and later in Edinburgh, Marion and Huntington. He died at Marion, Indiana, on December 8, 1910.

Below are the letters written by Bert.


Western Branches
of the
U.S. Christian Commission

The U. S. Christian Commission
Sends this as the soldier’s messenger
his to home. Let it hasten to
those who wait for tidings.16

Chicago: J. V. Farwell, Chairman;
B. F. Jacobs, Secretary Peoria.
A. G. Tyng, Chairman; Wm.
Reynolds, Secretary St. Louis;
Isaac S. Smyth, Cr.; J. H. Parsons,
Cor. Sec’y
U.S. Christian Commission Rooms,
New Orleans,
Jan. 13th, 1865

Dear Sister Annie:

Now I will tell you something about our camp. We are in a low place about four feet below the level of the river but there is a large leve [levee] that keeps the river in its place but the river is not always this high. It is about as high as it ever gets and when it is at its lowest stage it is about forty feet lower than it is now and it is always very muddy water and that is all the kind of water we have to drink but it is the purest water we have had to drink in this country. Our camp is perfectly dry now for it has been clear for three or four days but we have a very muddy place when it rains for it gets very muddy when it rains rite away and it is about ankle deep all over the camp. You spoke about going to school and learning so fast but I tell you when I get my money I intend to go to the city and get me some school books if I can and try to learn something too for there are a great many men in the camp that can give me lessons in all kind of school books and if I dont learn anything I will try and keep from forgetting everything I did know.

Well the weather. It is very pleasant now and has been for three or four days but Jack Frost showed himself a little this morning again but had all dried off now again and I declare I never saw pleasanter weather in my life for this time of year.

Well I guess I cannot think of much more to write this time but I will promise to write more the next time but I wish you would write oftener than you have been. Mary has been writing every week and I wish you would write between times if you please so that I can get a letter from home twice a week at least. …

[The long-awaited pay day did not arrive while the regiment remained at New Orleans, so presumably the drummer-boy did not have the opportunity to resume his studies as he had planned. In later life, however, he did attempt to make up for the education missed during his service in the Civil War, particularly by applying himself to study of the Bible and of ancient history to such a degree that he was qualified as a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal church. The Forty-seventh had been, since July, in the Nineteenth Army Corps, Department of the Gulf. It was now assigned to the Reserve Corps, soon to be again numbered the Thirteenth Army Corps in the new Military Division of West Mississippi, for the long-expected campaign against Mobile. The military division was commanded by Maj. Gen. E. R. S. Canby, the corps by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger. Gen. Slack commanded the First Brigade to which the Forty-seventh was assigned. At times this brigade was commanded by Lt. Col. McLaughlin of the Forty-seventh, and its division was the First, commanded by Brig. Gen. J. C. Veatch. Spanish Fort was invested on March 26. The assault on and capture of Fort Blakely on April 9 is described in the letter of April 10.]

  • 16 The stationary provided by the U. S. Christian Commission will bring to the minds of World War veterans that which was provided for them by the Y.M.C.A. and other agencies.



Camp near Blakely, Ala.,
April 10th, 1865

Well Anna:

I received your letter yesterday evening which was Sunday and while I was reading it there was a tremendous artillery firing commenced which aroused my attention and I stoped reading and went up close to the skirmish line and in a few moments our men commenced yelping and I knew what was up. A charge was then going on and in about five or ten minutes more the firing ceased and another more strong and louder yell was utered and was continually kept up for more than half an hour and I rushed over with a lot more of our regiment to see! the result of the charge. There our men had them (the Rebs) perfectly demoralized and were all takn prisoners about 25 hundred of them. Several of our men killed and wounded but have not learned what the exact loss, of either side but I think that we took about 4,000 prisoners in both forts but supposed to be the most at fort Blakely.17 Fort Spanish was taken on the evening of the 8th.

I dont know what was going on there no time after we left, not till after it was taken.

Two of the rebel gunboats surrendered to our infantry and the rest has skined down to Mobile or some other place.18 I will give you a small sketch of our forts and our camps and line of march19 and the next time I will send home another one if we do any great movements. You spoke about having a nice Ex-e-bi-tion but I dont think you can compare it with our Ex-pe-di-tion. …

Richmond and Petersburgh are both Evacuated and Grant and Sherman are rite at their heels and if they are not very carefull they will be taken in before the 4th of July and I am almost sure we will have this place and everything around here by that time and then where are they then. The war is surely over then when both these armies are taken in. The so-called confederacy is played out and then we will once more have peace and hapiness restored to our once hapy country.

We are a great ways apart now but I hope and think before another year shall roll around we shall meet again if life is spared and that we will again have peace and a better Government than ever. For one reason slavery will- be abolished forever and this war will learn Southren people some sense and that they will never think of making war again.

Our regiment was so lucky as to not get into the charge at blakely. We have lost no men out of our regiment since the 27 of March and very small then. I must close for the present. I am well as usual. Our men are now prety close to Mobile, some of them. We are about 12 mile but some are within 3 miles and still marching on to victory. Write soon.

Your brother,


[The last two letters in the collection were written from Camp Spring Hill, Alabama, after the capture of Mobile. By this time the war was nearly over, with the surrender of “old Lee and his whole army” and of “old Rebel Dick Taylor,” although they had not yet heard of Johston’s surrender in North Carolina. The pay, overdue for a year, at last arrived, as is told in the last letter.]

  • 17 The prisoners numbered 3,423, according to the account in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, IV, 411. (Richard B. Irwin, “Land Operations Against Mobile.”)
  • 18 The two gunboats were probably the Gaines and the Morgan, the two ships that escaped Farragut’s forces in the battle of Mobile Bay.
  • 19 The Sketch mentioned has not been found.