Henry A. Kircher’s Unalterable Past

By Emma Murphy ’15

Analyzing soldiers letters’ home gives deep insight into not only the political tensions during the time they were writing, but also the personal struggles they went through during combat. What was it like seeing a close comrade killed during a battle that was viewed as pointless? How did dreams affect soldiers’ views on the war?

While researching Henry A. Kircher of the 12th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, I found a collection of his letters written to loved ones back home during the time he served in the Civil War. Born in Illinois from German immigrants, Kircher spent much of his early years surrounded by German-Americans. Despite his social separation due to his decent, his devotion to the Union led Kircher to enlist in the 9th Illinois Infantry at the age of nineteen. While still with the ninth, he wrote to his father of an accident in camp. A young man had tripped and his rifle fired into the guardhouse, hitting another soldier in the abdomen. “Life and death are fighting,” he wrote of the experience. “Probably the latter one will win.” It did not take long for the young Kircher to be exposed to death.

Murphy -- Henry Kircher Office

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“Wrecked cars and suffering humanity”: The Fortunes of the 33rd Illinois

By Bryan Caswell ’15

The men of the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry were out of their minds with boredom in the closing months of 1864. Those veterans who remained from the campaigns of the year before could recall the proud service of their regiment. Mustered into service at Camp Butler, Illinois in September of 1861, the 33rd has spent the first year of its war fighting minor skirmishes in the trans-Mississippi theater. Then, in the late fall of 1862, the 33rd Illinois was transferred to the First Briagde, First Division, XIII Corps of the Army of the Tennessee.

Commanded by Major General John A. McClernand until June of 1863, when he was replaced by Major General Edward O.C. Ord, the XIII Corps would take part in one of the greatest military campaigns ever waged on the North American continent: Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign. The 33rd Illinois fought with distinction at nearly every major battle of Grant’s final push towards Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863. They drove through a Confederate delaying action at Port Gibson on May 1 before bloodlessly capturing the Mississippi state capital of Jackson two weeks later. Wheeling to the west, Grant’s army and the 33rd along with it then proceeded to drive through Confederate General John C. Pemberton’s feeble efforts to halt the Union juggernaut and avoid a siege, first giving battle at Champion Hill on May 16 and at the Big Black River Bridge on May 17. Having finally reached the city itself, the men of the 33rd Illinois would take part in both the failed early assaults on Vicksburg and the month-long siege that followed. Continue reading ““Wrecked cars and suffering humanity”: The Fortunes of the 33rd Illinois”