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The Life of a  
Hoosier Soldier:  
based on the letters  
of Lt. John V. Hadley


Purpose of Lesson: This lesson can be used to introduce students to the
realities of camp life and the challenges soldiers faced while marching
and fighting. Students will read and analyze letters written by a
Hoosier soldier to his sweetheart (later fiancée) in Owen County.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Analyze and interpret primary source material from the Civil War
  • Describe the daily experiences of camp life
  • Describe the challenges soldiers faced during long marches and during battles

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Eighth Grade Social Studies)

8.1.27 Recognize historical perspective by identifying the historical
context in which events unfolded and by avoiding evaluation of the
past solely in terms of present-day norms.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

For many Union recruits, war was going to be a chance to “see the elephant” – it would be a spectacle, a new and significant life experience. What actually occurred in battle was unknown to these volunteers, and many of them decided, after seeing the elephant once, that they could do without seeing it ever again.

Soldiers wrote about battles in many different ways. Some talked about the bravery of comrades and about their own safety (or how soon they would recuperate from their injuries). Many wrote about the noise – the rebel yell of Confederate soldiers when they charged, the zinging sound bullets made when they flew by your head, the awful roar of cannons being fired, and the cries and moans of the injured and dying. Stories about Union troops routing Confederates were also popular. Lt. John V. Hadley, 7th Indiana Infantry, recalled his regiment, bayonets fixed on their rifles, charging a Confederate line: “When [we were] within about 40 yards of them they broke & ran with all speed. I was not sorry to see it for I must confess that I dont like to try the virtue of steel . . . . They ran like cowards. We chased them for a half mile & left them running.”

Some letters and diaries recorded the details of death in battle. Lt. Hadley described the quiet death of one comrade: “Alvan Montgomery was the one killed in our Company. Receiving the ball he turned round to me and said “Here goes” – laid gently down – rested his head on his left arm—laid his gun by his right side & without speaking a word or moving a limb he shut his eyes & died.” In his memoir, Louis Bir of the 93rd Indiana recalled a far more graphic death: “A canon Ball cut a man in two Right alongside of me. It Struck him in the up[pe]r Parts of his bowels and His Body fell over and it seemed to me that He stood on His feet Some Seconds Before the Lower Part fell.”

The vast majority of Union volunteers continued to fight despite their increasing weariness with the horrors of battle. They fought for their comrades, for their families, and for their principles. As William Bluffton Miller of the 75th Indiana reflected, on the two-year anniversary of his enlistment: “Money would be no incentive to me to ever enlist. The government never made money enough to ever hire me to pass even one such a Battle as the 7th last [two days before this entry], which is nothing to a Chickamauga. But pure love of country free and independent, untramelled by a confederacy divided against itself, will induce men to leave their homes and endure what money could never do.”


Lesson Activities:

1. For discussion, the teacher might introduce this lesson by reading
aloud the following excerpt from the first letter written by Lt. John
V. Hadley (from Beverly, Virginia, September 21, 1861) as well
as showing his photo. Following the reading, the teacher might
encourage students to discuss some details of the daily life of a
Civil War soldier.

Mollie J. Hill:

My dearest friend - under rather peculiar circumstances I am found in my tent this morning, writing to you my first letter as a Soldier. I think I am this morning in a full appreciation of a Soldiers life - I look like a Soldier - I feel like a Soldier - and act like a Soldier.

One week ago today we left our beloved State to encounter the stern realities of War. Tuesday noon following we arrived at Webster, Virginia, a distance of about five hundred miles. It would be too much for me to attempt to describe to you the character of the country through which we passed, the things I saw, what I experienced, so I will defer this until I have an opportunity to do it verbally, which I hope will be at no distant day. At present suffice it to say that we arrived at Webster - remained all night and until 5 o'clock Wednesday evening when we took up our knapsacks and in all weighing about 50 pounds and started to the support of Gen. Reynolds at Cheat Mountain. We have completed fifty miles and are stopping today to recruit.

We were last evening pretty badly fatigued. Many of the boys were obliged to take waggons as “give outs” and I must say that there was but two things that kept me from making the same resort; namely the frothy tongues and witty expressions of my comrades. One would say that a man must think a d--n sight of his country to suffer this way to defend it; another would d--n the Rebels for bringing all this upon us. We are now within 18 miles of Reynolds and will join him tomorrow.

. . . . Mollie . . . please send me a braid of your hair at least if it should be consistent with your feelings to confer such a favor upon a humble Soldier. Mollie, I must close although I have much more to write - many things to tell you. For the present receive my kindest wishes and believe me your truest friend.

J.V.H. Following the 1. 2. Following the above discussion, students should be given copies
of five letters written by Lt. Hadley to Mary (sometimes called Mollie)
Hill. The letters, beginning in 1861 until his discharge in 1865, are
from an extensive collection found in “An Indiana Soldier in Love
and War: The Civil War Letters of John V. Hadley, IMH, volume 59,
September 1963.

3. Students should be instructed to read the letters and complete
the attached worksheet. The worksheet requires students to complete
a table. From each letter, students will describe the main ideas of the
letter, list the date the letter was written and from where the letter
was written, describe 3-5 details of the letter, and describe what
surprised them or what new information they learned from reading
the letter.


After completing the table, students should pretend they are a Hoosier
soldier in the same regiment as John Hadley. They should write a
3-5 paragraph letter describing camp life, marching, battlefield
experience, etc. to a loved one in Indiana.

Letter #1 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Elkwater, Virginia, October 25, 1861

Miss Mollie Hill:

My dear lady - - Your letter was received last Sunday and let me assure you that no letter ever made a gladder heart. It was like a gentle noon-day shower to a tender plant pale for want of some nourishment.

I have been sick ever since our fight at Green Briar [October 3]. Was carried in a wagon as far as Camp Kimball where we staid until 12 o-clock that night. We had no place to sleep. I could do no better than wrap my blanket around me and lay down by the side of an old pine log on some well soaked moss. At midnight we were up and on our march for Green Briar a distance of 15 miles. We march it through mud and rain, went double quick four miles, fought six hours, and returned to camp all in one day, and what is more, all done without breakfast and dinner. When we returned to camp I was as near dead from exhaustion as I ever was. Drank a cup of coffee, ate a cracker, again to my mossy bed. Returned next day to our quarters sick and have remained so but think I will be able for duty next week.

Letter #2 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Camp Lander, Virginia, February 18, 1862

Since I last wrote you I have seen considerable soldiering. On the fourth we received marching orders with three days rations and to leave everything behind but our gun, knapsack, canteen, forty rounds of ammunition, and one blanket. When we left the ground was four inches deep in snow.

It was the severest march that we have ever made. The weather was desperately cold and the snow made the walking very slavish. At the close of the second day our rations gave out and a supply was impossible to obtain. For 24 long hours we were without a single bite to eat, when our Colonel came riding among us and informed the Regiment that they were permitted to scour the country and whatever they could find fit to eat to bring into camp. There was at once a general stampede. They came flocking in with beef, pork, and mutton. We tore the meat into pieces, laid it in the fire, covered it up with ashes, and when it was but partly cooked, we devoured it as greedily as starving wolves.

We were roaming through the mountains for eleven long and desperately cold days and slept when we did sleep in nature's bedrooms on her softest cots of snow and pine brush, wrapped in a single blanket. We were hunting the enemy but they being so well acquainted with every mountain escaped us every instance but one.

Letter #3 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Luray, Virginia, June 13, 1862

My dear lady - it has been a long time since I wrote you [Hadley's previous letter is dated May 10th] and a longer time since I heard from you. Since I last wrote you I with the rest of the Division have marched between 400 and 500 miles.

[Hadley describes the Battle of Port Republic]:

We were in an open field without a stump or even a bush to shelter us from bullets. We stood and fired 80 rounds. Colonel Gavin dashed in front and commanded us to charge with bayonets. Off every man started with an unearthly yell on the double quick. It was too much for the guilty rebels. They line began to stagger and when within about 40 yards of them they broke and ran with all speed. I was not sorry to see it for I must confess that I don't like to try the virtue of steel. Their officers with drawn swords tried in vain to rally them. They ran like cowards. We chased them for a half mile and left them running.

From our losses you may judge of the battle's fierceness. In two batteries there were 68 horses killed. Our regiment lost 147 killed and wounded and the other regiment in proportion. In our company we have one killed and 13 wounded. Alvah Montgomery was the one killed. Receiving the ball he turned round to me and said "Here goes", laid gently down, rested his head on his left arm, laid his gun by his right side and without speaking a word or moving a limb he shut his eyes and died.

Letter #4 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Thoroughfare Gap, Virginia, October 21, 1863

Dearest Beloved: Sorry am I that this great delay has been forced upon me by the circumstances of war. Sorry because I couldn't tell my darling where I was and what doing but doubly sorry because I couldn't hear from her. For three weeks we have been all astir, marching and countermarching, advancing and retreating every day. Don't know what we've accomplished or what escaped, at what we've aimed or how succeeded, but do certainly know that we have made some hard marches, suffered cruel exposure, lost much sleep, been mighty hungry, and been shot at a few times.

Until this evening we had not seen our baggage for four weeks, nor had a change of shirts in that time. I have seen people fastidious enough to call us dirty - - - perhaps we were. Certainly our shirts did not have the same color when pulled off this eve as they did when put on a month ago. Much fun has sprung, however, from our dirty shirts and their carnivorous inhabitants.

Letter #5 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Indianapolis, Indiana, January 31, 1865

Dear Mary: I have returned - have done my business at Washington - have become a citizen of the State of Indiana and feel fully the liberties I once enjoyed.

If God in his goodness will permit, I shall be supremely happy to greet my Mary at her father's house on next Saturday evening.

Devotedly, J. V. Hadley

Worksheet: The Letters of Lt. John V. Hadley

Lieutenant John V. Hadley, from Hendricks County, Indiana,
was just one of 185,803 Hoosier soldiers who served during the
Civil War. He joined the Union Army on August 30, 1861 and
returned to Indiana in January 1865. In a series of letters to his
sweetheart Miss Mary Hill, he describes his experiences on and off
the battlefield as well as his longing for home. Following his discharge
from the Army, John and Mary were married on March 15, 1865.

As you read the selected letters, complete the table. Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Version      

ASSESSMENT: After completing the table, pretend you are a
Hoosier soldier in the same regiment with John Hadley in Virginia.
Write a 3-5 paragraph letter describing camp life, marching,
battlefield experience, etc. to a loved one in Indiana.