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John D. Beach Letters

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Beach

Scope and Content of the Collection

John Beach’s correspondence from Jun. 20, 1862 through Aug. 31, 1865, written from La Grange and Memphis, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), Georgia to his mother.

The letters describe everyday camp life as being very monotonous. Beach makes few references to any military action except picket duty, and seems more concerned with receiving letters and packages from his girlfriends, Mary Anne and Jennie, and his family back home. He regularly sends money to his mother, and in a September 24, 1862 letter asks that she send him his overcoat, a pair of buckskin gloves, and his watch, which he figures he can sell for ten or twelve dollars. A letter of October 2, 1862 contains Beach’s request for a new pair of shoes or boots, which he wants “to be made of fine kid.” He promises to send his measurements so that the shoemakers in Ottawa, Illinois can make him a pair. A long letter of October 31, 1862 describes an outing he made with a few fellow soldiers to harvest sweet potatoes; and mentions that they have a “little darky boy” in camp, and “have a great deal of fun with him.” The following year, in June 1863, Beach is still in Memphis, but is now at the smallpox hospital. However, he has just sent home $100, and all is well. In Big Shanty, Georgia (now Keenesaw, on the outskirts of Atlanta) on June 22, 1864, Beach writes that “the Rebs fought harder today then ever before.” Fighting is intense, with continuous shelling, although only one man in their regiment has been killed. The Union soldiers have not yet captured Atlanta. The last four letters are from 1865—March 17, May 22, June 13, and August 31—and contain little war news. Beach mentions that his box has not come on the express from Cairo, and that his girlfriend, Jennie, has a new melodeon from her father. He is also hoping for a furlough.


  • Creation: 1862-1865


Conditions Governing Access

The John D. Beach 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 D. Beach 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 D. Beach

Civil War Soldier, a Private in the 55th Illinois Infantry, Company G.

John Beach, a farmer from La Salle, Illinois, was mustered in the Union Army at age 20 in October 1861 along with two other friends from La Salle, Fred W. Smith and George B. Hawk. He began his career in Memphis, Tennessee and traveled to Georgia and Washington, D.C. He spent some time in a smallpox hospital in Memphis in June 1863. Beach was promoted to Full Corporal. He was mustered out on August 14, 1865 at Little Rock, Arkansas.


0.2 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



Correspondence from Pvt. Beach of the 55th Illinois Infantry, Company G, to his mother describing everyday camp life in La Grange and Memphis, Tenn., Washington, D.C., and Big Shanty [now Kennesaw], Ga.


Materials arranged chronologically.

Collection Stack Location

1 41 2


Purchase, Charles Apfelbaum, 2006; Gift, Steven Worsham, 2014.

Processed by

Marisa Bell-Metereau, 2009.

Inventory of the John D. Beach Letters, 1862-1865
Marisa Bell-Metereau
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 4/24/2015: Letter, Jun. 20, 1862 added, and folders renumbered.

Repository Details

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

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States