The Robert Carnahan Letters

The Robert Carnahan Letters consists of two correspondences written by Carnahan to his wife in November of 1861. Carnahan enlisted as an officer in the 3rd Illinois Cavalry at Camp Butler, Illinois in August of 1861. The 3rd Illinois Cavalry first served as part of John C. Fremont’s campaign to capture Springfield, Missouri. The first letters is written from Springfield, and the second is from Lebanon as the 3rd Illinois Cavalry marched to Rolla.

In his letters home, Carnahan notes the hardships that faced many Missouri civilians. Families deserted their homes, leaving their produce and livestock unattended. Soldiers then pillaged the abandoned homes hunting for food and supplies. In his second letter Carnahan informs his wife that only 30 families remained in Springfield. Hundreds of refugee civilians fled Springfield with the Union army. They sought the army’s protection as they traveled north towards Rolla and eventually Illinois.

In his second letter, Carnahan commented, “This is a funny War, thear is no Enemy to fight at least none to be found they all ran on our approach.” On several occasions Carnahan expected to engage enemy forces, yet he never reported successful contact. He seemed disappointed, and even volunteered to scout the location of the enemy encampment. In December of 1861, the 3rd Illinois became part of the Army of the Southwest Missouri under General Samuel R. Curtis. Eventually, they marched in to Arkansas, and participated in the Battle of Pea Ridge. Carnahan remained with the 3rd Illinois Cavalry throughout the War and mustered out in October of 1865.

Contributed by Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

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