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John T. Hanlin Letters

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Hanlin

Scope and Content of the Collection

John Hanlin’s correspondence from Nov. 16, 1862 through March 22, 1865, written to his parents and siblings from a number of locations throughout Indiana, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Alabama. Two sets of typed transcriptions, one annotated and the other final, which differ in coverage but are complementary. A handwritten note on transcription.

Because Hanlin wrote continuously during his service in a very mobile regiment, his letters contain a wide variety of experiences, travel descriptions, battle accounts, and impressions of military life, as well as his attitudes toward the war, “Secesh,” and his own commanding officers. Most letters contain Hanlin’s fairly detailed observations about his changing environment and his reports on the other “Boys of Noble.” Subjects range from the mundane to the more idealistic, including the problem of desertion, troop morale, speculation about peace, the competence of certain Union generals, the character of the Confederate army, “civilized warfare,” and slavery and emancipation. Anecdotes about camp life include an incident where soldiers at Camp Morton refused to drill until their living conditions improved; another describes the court martial and execution of three New Jersey soldiers convicted of raping a woman in Memphis. The letters written during the Red River campaign, from March through June 1864, contain the longest and most detailed accounts of combat, especially of the Battle of Pleasant Hill, where the regiment suffered 54 casualties. Occasionally Hanlin writes to correct newspaper accounts of the fighting, such as in one letter addressed to his mother and dated July 30, 1864, where he states that black soldiers do not serve as prominently as people claim. The letters addressed to his sisters Margaret and Sarah discuss friends at home and in the regiment.

The two sets of typed transcriptions cover different parts of the collection, with significant overlap. The earlier annotated set is more comprehensive and editorial. It includes transcriptions of undated fragments and portions of whole letters that the final set omits. The annotations mostly relate to word choice, dating, and number ambiguity. The final set reflects the edits to the annotated set, and so is more accurate to the originals on a word-for-word basis. The handwritten note describes certain choices made during transcription, such as the addition of punctuation, which is mostly lacking in the originals. One letter, addressed to S. J. (Sarah) Hanlin, exists only in transcription.


  • Creation: 1862-1865



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The John T. Hanlin Letters are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum, and items in each folder will be counted before and after delivery to the patron (Priority I).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The John T. Hanlin Letters are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of John Tyler Hanlin

Civil War Soldier, a sergeant in the 89th Indiana Infantry, Company E.

John Hanlin, son of Alex and Jane Hanlin, was a farmer from Noble, Indiana. He was mustered in the Union Army at age 19 on Aug. 16, 1862. His first post with the 89th Indiana was at Munfordville, Kentucky, where the regiment was captured under Confederate siege during the Battle of Munfordville and immediately paroled. Afterwards, he spent time at the Union detention facility at Camp Morton, outside Indianapolis, and from there he moved with the 89th to Memphis, Tennessee, and nearby Fort Pickering. Starting March 1864, he served in the Union expedition down the Red River in Louisiana, taking part in battles at Henderson’s Hill and Pleasant Hill before returning north for a campaign through Missouri. He was promoted to corporal on Dec. 14, 1863, and to fifth sergeant on Sep. 19, 1864. He was mustered out at Indianapolis on Aug. 4, 1865, with the rank of full sergeant. After the war, he returned to his farm in Noble, where he and his wife Lydia (née Sherman) lived till her death in 1889. He remarried to Elizabeth Davis, with whom he had two children, Hattie and William. He died on July 15, 1918.


0.2 Linear Feet (1 box)


Correspondence from Sgt. Hanlin of the 89th Indiana Infantry, Company E, to his parents and siblings describing camp life and combat during his travels through Indiana, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Alabama.


Papers arranged chronologically.

Collection Stack Location

1 20 7


Gift of Paul Judy, May 1, 2014.

Processed by

Harunobu Coryne, 2014.

Inventory of the John T. Hanlin Letters, 1862-1865
Harunobu Coryne
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States