Murfreesboro, Tenn., April 20. 1863.
I am alone in my tent to-night, I have a good solid floor in it, an excellent fire place in one end, graced by a pair of andirons, a cheerful fire is glowing on the hearth for though the days are warm the nights are a little cool; my good feather bed with feather pillow is waiting for me; the excellent brass band of the 19th regulars, who are encamped near us, fills the soft night air with splendid music, and while I am content as it is yet if you were here with me I should be happy. You remember when I was at home I was almost entirely out of the notion of soldiering much longer, and I really expected that by this time I should be out of the service.
But I was not well then, I was petulant, ill humored, weak from my long illness, I know I was. Military rules and orders were interfering with my freedom of actions and that engendered in my a rebellious spirit toward everything military, but as time has passed and my general heath improved that spirit has passed away and I begin to feel somewhat the spirit of a soldier.
I am a better soldier than I was before we were married, not that I am any more rash, or want to fight any more, but somehow I enter into the spirit of things here more, my experience has given me more confidence in myself, but I am in no hurry to get into any more battles, for I think we have done our full share so far. We have been under fire 15 times, we are cut down in 8 months service from 962 men to about 460, 200 of that loss being in battle and skirmish, so that all things considered I don’t care to fight any more, at least until regiments in service longer than we have tired their mettle once or twice. Still I know the fighting can’t be divided out that way. Fighting goes like fortunes. Some get more than their equal share while many get less…
Major James A. Connolly, 123rd Illinois Infantry
How about a little history of the western conflicts?
After the Union victory at Stones River, the blue-clad Army of the Cumberland encamped around Murfreesboro (Tennessee). The Confederates fell back about thirty-five miles and waited around Tullahoma.
On March 20th, a Union reconnaissance party met a group of Confederates. Though outnumbered two to one, the Union troops fought and the 123rd Illinois was involved in yet another battlefield fight. This resulted in a small Union victory, allowing the Federals to continue strengthening their hold in Middle Tennessee and prepare for more significant fighting in the later months of the year. Connolly reflects on this and other fights in this April letter.
Mustered in service in September 1862, the regiment helped build defensive fortifications around Louisville, Kentucky, before marching with the army toward Perryville. Woefully unprepared – some accounts say the regiment barely knew drill – the 123rd Illinois nevertheless took part in the Battle of Perryville where they suffered over 200 casualties.
Though initially assigned to the Army of the Ohio, the regiment transferred to the Army of the Cumberland at the end of 1862. They continued to take part in battles and skirmishes as Connolly notes.
In May 1863, the regiment was transformed to mounted infantry and became one of the first units to receive Spencer carbines. The troops fought as “light cavalry” until November 1864, taking part in many battles and campaigns throughout Tennessee and Georgia.
James A. Connolly was just twenty-two when he mustered into the 123rd Illinois as a major. He would survive the war, return to his wife, and later represent his state in Congress.
This letter reveals some frustration with the military, but eventually reaches a semi-passive conclusion and says he begins to feel a dedication to the unit and duty. Connolly stayed with the regiment for the remainder of the war, even though he seemed doubtful of the overall cause.