LETTERS FROM THE BATTLEFIELDFIRST AND FOREMOST itmust be emphasized that these letters CANNOT be read or interpreted properlywithout an understanding of the "stormy marriage" and chaotic family lifethat John Ryan and his wife Sarah and their children had experienced duringthe years prior to the civil war. Even with an understanding of thisbackground, and the tremendous "mystery" of why John decided to join aUnion Regiment and "march off" to war, there are questions and "disagreements"about the correct interpretation of the letters.
~~ 1862 ~~
From John Ryanto his family
The following three letters were keptby the Greenen Family for 135 years. Mike Drew has had the originalsfor some time and has done a magnificent job of trying to restore themto readability. It is easy to see that it has been a struggle to decipherthem
Originally, therewere arguments and discussions about when and where John wrote these letters(especially letter #1) and also a question as to whom he intended to readthem. Inasmuch as there is now a great desire by many to actuallyread the letters, I have attempted to resolve the "arguments" and varyinginterpretations as much as possible by using three simple rules:
1. We will take John'sword for where he was... assuming that the headers on the letters are accurate. All the other header information (Unit designations, etc.) jive completelywith all Civil War histories and reports of John's unit, the 36th IndianaVolunteer Infantry.
2. I have chosen(in the case of letter 3) to use the text of the letter, rather than it's(apparently erroneous) salutation ("Dear father") to reveal whom John iswriting to and whom he intends to read the letter.
3. After somuch time, it is not likely that anyone will agree in detail with anyoneelse's "interpretation" of the letters; so my third rule is simply thatthe letters are being preserved for all decendants of John Ryan... andany other interested party... and those who want to make a study of themmay do so and are at liberty to make their own interpretation... and arechallenged to do the necessary study of history. This is, in fact,the charm and the power of the letters.
It has taken yearsof pondering and study of John's history to come to the realization thatthe most striking content appears between the lines. Although wefinally understand the answer; it was, for a long time, a mystery and odditythat John never once directs a sentence to his wife, Sarah, though sheis mentioned in the third person. Every other family member (excepthis second daughter, Mary) is mentioned affectionately and/or positively;but, after careful study, it is clear that John is NOT SPEAKING to hiswife during the time of his service... and, in fact, research as of August,2001, reveals that John had been granted a divorce from Sarah, and ultimatelydied believing that divorce decree would "stick."
To help organize things,we will do the letters in chronological order; and I will preceed eachletter with a well respected history of the 36th Indiana Volunteer Infantry(with blue background) up to the date of that letter. We begin, asfollows with the formation of the unit in Richmond Indiana, where JohnRyan was "mustered in:"
36th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry
Organized at Richmond, Ind., and mustered in September 16, 1861. Orderedto Kentucky and duty at Camp Wickliffe, Ky., till February, 1862. Attachedto 10th Brigade, Army of the Ohio, October-November, 1861.10th Brigade, 4th Division, Army of the Ohio, to September, 1862. 10thBrigade, 4th Division, 2nd Corps, Army of the Ohio, to November, 1862.3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, Left Wing 14th Army Corps, Army of the Cumberland,to January, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 21st Army Corps, Army of theCumberland, to June, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 4th Army Corps, toJuly, 1865.
SERVICE -- Expedition down Ohio River to reinforce General Grantat Fort Donelson, Tenn., thence to Nashville, Tenn., February 14-25, 1862.Occupation of Nashville February 25. March to Savannah, Tenn., March 17-April6. Battle of Shiloh, Tenn., April 6-7. Advance on and siege of Corinth,Miss., April 29-May 30. Occupation of Corinth May 30.
Letter #1 was written May 18, so it wouldhave been during the "Seige of Corinth."
As we know, John was promoted for braveryat the battle of Shiloh. In fact, his regiment (36th Indiana) wasthe first to engage the enemy at Shiloh; and the official records showthat the regiment's casualties at Shiloh were 10 dead, 4 wounded, and 1missing. John does not speak of this till his August letter (#2) Cousin Andy has argued that letter #1 might have been written on the eveof Shiloh; but, if we take John's word for the date and header information,it had to be written more than a month after Shiloh. Everything aboutletter #1 is compatible with the "Seige of Corinth." John writesthis letter while clearly "wearing two hats." It is obvious thathe is writing as "father" to his eldest son, John Albert (age 16 at thetime) but also as a soldier. Readers will be fascinated by his descriptionof the Unior Army's deployment and tactical activities... all of which"check out" as historically accurate. Actually, at the time, it wasthought by those on the scene that Corinth would be a bigger and more importantbattle than Shiloh; and that accounts for John's ecstatic proclamation(at the end of the letter) about the expectation of a glorious victory.
CLICKHERE to see Letter #1 and its interpretation
Advance on and siege of Corinth, Miss., April 29-May 30. Occupationof Corinth May 30. Pursuit to Booneville May 31-June 12. Buell'sCampaign in Northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee June to August. RoundMountain, near Woodbury, August 28.
Letter #2 was written August 19; so it wouldhave been during "Buell's Campaign."
Letter #2 is the moststraightforward and the easiest to interpret. It was directed toJohn's son, John Albert, but is constructed in such a way that John isactually using young John Albert as a "middle man" as John actually speaksto his entire family... mentioning several members in the third person. The family's chronic financial problems, particularly the issue of taxeson the house, come up again. There are charming passages regardingthe surroundings which the regiment finds itself in, contrasted with thegravity of their mission. The letter gives the first hint that Johnis not well... but it will be 5 more months before his illness warrantsany missed duty.
CLICKHERE to see letter #2 and its interpretation
March to Nashville, Tenn., thence to Louisville, Ky., in pursuit ofBragg, August 21-September 26. Pursuit of Bragg to Wild Cat, Ky., October1-20. Wild Cat, Ky., October 17.
Letter #3 was not dated; but had to be writtenbefore John's admission to the Louisville Hospital October 14. Thiswould mean Letter #3 was written during the famous "Pursuit of Bragg."
Letter #3 (becauseof the completely uninterpretable salutation of "dear father") has beenthe subject of much speculation and discussion which I feel is unnecessary. At the time of its writing, John was already a sick man. As the finalsentences indicate, he was also pressed for time! As far as I amconcerned, the final sentence clarifies ALL ambiguity which others haveread into the letter. After clearly directing each sentence to variousof his children and sending his respects to his wife (in third person again)John "signs off" with a hope that the letter will "find you all in goodhealth." I believe these features of the text and this "closing passage"should put all speculation to rest. The salutation of "dear father"has to be an inadvertency; as there is no documentation or tradition ofany kind that John Ryan's father ever came to the U.S. or lived at thesame address as John's children.
The letter was writtenin Nashville, and is undated; but careful research (see the chronologiesabove) allows us to date the letter within a few days. John's regimentmarched to Nashville the last week of August. There they would havebeen re-provisioned and probably allowed a day or two of rest... duringwhich John wrote Letter #3. Allthough there is some "overlap" inthe official chronology, we can be fairly certain the letter was writtennear the end of August. The regiment then marched "thence to Louisville,Ky., in pursuit of Bragg." From Louisville, they continued the "pursuitof Bragg" on October 1 and during this "march" or maneuvers, John fellsick! He was admitted to General Hospital #3 in Louisville on October14. The regimental roll call shows John "absent without remand" duringOctober and November. He died (of Typhoid) November 25, 1862.
When read with theknowledge that John would be dead within a couple of months of writingthis letter, John's messages to his family are no less than "tear jerkers"...and probably brought tears to the eyes of his daughter Sarah many timesover the years as we can imagine she would have occasionally brought itout from the collection of treasures where his great grandchildren foundit 100 years later.
CLICK HERE to see letter#3 and its interpretation CLICK HERE to return to JohnRyan's Military History
CLICK HEREto return to the main John Ryan Page