The John Erwin Collection

The John Erwin Collection, dating from September 1862 to March 1863, consists mainly of 21 letters from John Erwin, of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, to his family and a friend. There are also several documents regarding John's pay, a short diary, a letter and a telegraph message from his family regarding his health, and, finally, a receipt for the transportation of one corpse and an attendant.

The letters are quite touching and show a great deal of sensitivity and intelligence on the part of the author. Erwin seemed to have a good eye for detail as he described the daily routines of army life, the sites along his travels, the people he encountered, and the battle in which he fought. The Descriptive Roll almost brings John to life for the Reader with its description of an 18 year old farmer, standing 5'8" tall, with fair hair, fair skin, and gray eyes. One cannot help but like the boy after reading his letters.

Historically, the letters provide a common soldier's view of the Civil War. Although John Erwin's perspective of this great conflict was narrow, pertaining mostly to Kentucky, his insights were keen. For example, he wrote from the hospital on January 3, 1863:

Father isn't it discouraging the way this war is carried on. . . . It seems as though a victory or a defeat has just about the same influence on our military commanders both bring them to a stand point . . . . So a victory does not amount to much a defeat to something less.

John Erwin contracted the measles in January 1863 and, although he did rejoin his regiment, he never regained his health. John Erwin died, with his father nearby, in March 1863.


Extent: .25 linear feet, 1 box
Datespan: September 1862 to March 1863
Provenance: Gift of Kurt Cylke, 1980
Processed by: Nancy Fallgren
Date: June 4, 1986

Box 1 Folder 1
Letters to Family, 3 ALS
Date Span: September 1862
Description: Describes army camp, lifestyle, modes of travel and countryside as seen in John Erwin's first month of enlistment.
Item List:
ALS, 09-08-62, to Father from Delaware, OH
ALS, 09-18-62, to Father (?Alonzo Erwin) from Cincinnati, OH
ALS, 09-24-62, to Mother from Louisville, KY

Box 1 Folder 2
Letters to Family, 4 ALS
Date Span: October 1862
Description: Describes hardships of marching, poor leadership, and poor supplies. Detailed description of the Battle of Perrysville, KY, including the cowardice and poor strategy of commanders and the horrors of death.
Item List:
ALS, 10-05-62, to brother Thomas Erwin
ALS, 10-13-62, to Father from camp near Perrysville, KY
ALS, 10-21-62, to Father and Mother written over letter from John to ?sister Alice
ALS, 10-30-62, to Father from Camp Reed near Perrysville, KY

Box 1 Folder 3
Letters to Father, 2 ALS
Date Span: November 1862
Description: Describes Kentucky countryside with specifics re: farm products and soils. Commentary on southerners.
Item List:
AL ALS, 11-10/11-62, to Father from Lebanon, KY
ALS, 11-21-62, to Father from camp near Columbia, KY

Box 1 Folder 4
Letters to Family, 4 ALS, 1 AL; 1 DS part print/autograph
Date Span: December 1862
Description: Letters mention John Morgan raiding in the area, request more news from home, and give more description of army life. Descriptive Roll and Account of Pay and Clothing gives personal information re: John Erwin from enlistment and pay records.
Item List:
ALS, 12-03-62, to Mother from Columbia, KY
ALS, 12-05-62, to Mother
AL, 12-08-62, to Brother incomplete letter
ALS, 12-18-62, to Father from Camp Gilbert, KY
ALS, 12-21-62, to brother Thomas from Camp Gilbert, KY
DS part autograph/part print, 12-29-62, Descriptive Roll and Account of Pay and Clothing of John Erwin

Box 1 Folder 5
Letters to Family, 4 ALS; Diary; 1 DS part print/autograph
Date Span: January 1863
Description: Written from hospital (John has measles) and while traveling to rejoin regiment. Letters mention John Morgan and describe countryside, hospital, travel, and disgust with the futility of war. Diary relates more honest account of illness and steamboat travel than letters. Receipt is for money sent home.
Item List:
ALS, 01-03-63, to Father and Mother from Mumfordsville, KY
ALS, 01-08-63, to brother Thomas from Mumfordsville, KY
ALS, 01-16-63, to Father and Mother from Mumfordsville, KY
ALS, 01-25-63, to Father from near Elizabethstown, KY
Diary, 01-29 to 02-13-63 from Louisville, KY to Franklin, TN
DS part print/part autograph, 01-31-63, Receipt for $40.00 from John Erwin

Box 1 Folder 6
Letters to Family and Friend, 2 ALS, 1 L
Date Span: February 1863
Description: Letters written aboard steamboat describing travel conditions, countryside, and worsening illness. Transcribed letter from John concerning the morals of soldiers.
Item List:
ALS, 02-01-63, to brother Thomas from Ohio River
ALS, 02-05-63, to Father and Mother from Dover
ALS, 02-11-63, to Mrs. Hopkins
Transcribed 03-23-63 from camp near Nashville, TN

Box 1 Folder 7
Letter from A. Erwin to Catherine, ALS; 2 D part print/autograph
Date Span: March 1863
Description: Telegraph message inquiring after John Erwin's health. Letter regarding John's condition and discharge from his Father to his ?Mother. Receipt for transport of one corpse and attendant from Nashville to Louisville by rail.
Item List:
D part print/autograph, 03-02-63,
ALS to Capt. Lawrence, from Nashville to Franklin, TN
ALS, 03-04-63, from A. Erwin to Catherine from Franklin, TN
D part print/autograph, 03-08-63, Receipt from Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company for transport of 1 corpse and attendant from Nashville to Louisville

Box 1 Folder 8
Letter Fragment to Thomas Erwin, ALS
Date Span: No Date (?between Nov-Dec 1862)
Description: End of letter to brother Thomas relating news about other boys from home.
Item List:
ALS, no date, to brother Thomas


Army Life -Civil War 1 1
Bigotry -Civil War 1 3
Diary -Civil War 1 5
Erwin, John -Death 1 7
Hospitals -Civil War 1 5
Jackson, Gen., Death of 1 2
Kentucky -Countryside 1 3
Morgan, John 1 5
Morgan, John 1 4
Nashville -State House 1 6
Pay Account -Civil War 1 4
Perrysville, Battle of 1 2
Steamboat Travel -Civil War 1 6
Steamboat Travel -Ohio River 1 1
Webster, Gen., Death of 1 2

Return to Collection List
Return to Finding Aids
Return to Special Collections Home Page