Letters of Matt Lewis, Co. H, 9th Kentucky Infantry
These letters were written by Pvt. Lewis while in prison at Camp Douglas, Illinois, in 1862. Lewis had been captured at Shiloh, and wrote home to his girlfriend Sarah Ellen "Nellie" Hollis, in Portland (Louisville), Kentucky. (One further letter from 1864 survives -- see below.) The letters appear here by the kind courtesy of Robert Langenhan.
Camp Douglas Ill's May 21st 
It is with mingled surprise and pleasure that I rec'd your very kind letter. One of our boys came and told me that there was a letter for [me] in the office and I went up and got it and could not imagine who it was from, until I looked at the writing again and I knew in an instant where it came from. I will now inform you of the reason of my not writing to you the moment I had an opportunity ... in the first place, all letters entering Camp Douglas, or going out from it are examined by a committee appointed for that purpose and I do not want my letters or anyone writing me criticised by a lot of fellows. I was very sorry to hear of your sisters misfortunes but the game of war is very uncertain and no one knows what fate has in store for them, for instance look at your humble servant, shut up in prison and God knows when we will be exchanged or paroled. as for the Oath of Allegiance to the United States that is played out in my estimation. I am not going to be among the first to swallow it, if the Southern Confederacy is defeated and I see other men are going to take it I will and not before. for if I would and came home I would be held in contempt by Southern men and insulted by "Lincolnites" so you see in either case it has not a very inviting appearance, but that is enough of that subject.
I will now proceed to tell you how we are situated our barracks are about 40 feet long and sixteen wide and in it are sixty Rebels of all sizes and from all Southern States. they are a pretty hard set. I was appointed Ord'ly Sergeant of the Barracks, and I have to draw Rations and Boss around generally. Your friend Mr. A. Hathany [Hathaway] was killed in the Battle of Shiloh...so a man from Hawesville says his name is Don Holmes he knows everybody in Owensboro. Nellie you say that you are lonesome my God I do not know any word that would express my fellings [sic] when I get to thinking about the past. If any person had any inducement to swear allegiance to the United States I think I am the one, for I would be willing to stay here any length of time if I could only get to Portland an hour every evening. But Nell I can not help but think that Fortune will be tired of frowning on me, and I think am entitled to her smiles if she ever intends doing so. I would like to write more but I am going to try and get this letter away without going through the hands of the Examiners and if I succeed I will write you one that you will get tired of reading if this gets through all right if not is enough for strangers to read.
Nell if you receive this direct your letter to M. Lewis Chicago Ills and put on the Envelope to left until called for. I must now quit ... give my respects to my friends if I have any, and write soon. I remain yours until death.
Camp Douglas Sept. 19 
It was with great pleasure that I received your welcome favor of the 14th. What sort of a time did you all have at the wedding? I expect it was a quiet affair. John Miller will not mind it much I guess. I am afraid you will go and do likewise but I have one consolation--there are very few young men left in Portland. I would like very much to (be) home and go to Church once more for I have not been in one since I left home--and I very much fear that I stand in need of a sermon once in awhile--I think Miss Hettie Ruth is a very ruthless young lady to want the Rebels all exterminated I wonder what Ruth would be worth now if it was not for the Rebel Steamboatmen?
What is (Dennice Quinlan) doing these times? does she stay in Portland yet I suppose you are as great friends as "(of yore)" I am afraid if ever I get back home again I will be a very bad boy for a week or two for I have been kept in restraint so long. Ostrander and myself have a great deal of fun talking about the future. tis a pity a Minie Bullet may put a veto in it all--The Rebel patients are dying off two a day and a few convalescing I do not know how long we will remain here. I am getting very tired of it and if it was not for receiving letters from Portland it would be unbearable--Nellie write to me again for I do not know when we will leave GOOD BYE and give my love to Carrie (DOW) and kiss little Fannie for me. I remain ever yours.
Chicago Ills Sept 28 
My Dear Nellie
As I am on the eve of my departure for Dixie I cannot go until I write you another letter. For God knows when I will have another opportunity for I don't know where I will go or what service I will enter for I hear that the Old 5th Ky. will disband next month and enter into the Cavalry and I do not fancy that kind of Soldering I think I will go on a Gunboat. Nell I would give anything in the world if I could get to Portland for hour or two. for that would be better than all the letters that I have rec'd but this is but a slight (chance) for it. I suppose we will go to Vicksburg. You must not forget that Matt Lewis still exists when I go south, for although far distant from you, you are ever present in my mind Yes, Dear Nellie we are separated, perhaps never to meet but though parted for awhile still dear to each other, still present in thought. Years may pass before we meet, but years cannot change my heart. Cheered by this thought I will resign my life and future to God who if it pleases Him will yet permit us to meet, Farewell dear Nellie it is a hard word to say many lonesome hours will pass before I can see you--and I will greatly miss your welcome letters. but if you ever have a chance to write to me do not fail to do it If by any chance I do not leave tomorrow I will hasten to inform you Good Bye and God Bless you Nellie give my love to the Family and tell little Fannie not to forget me. do not answer this as I would not get it again Farewell I remain as ever your most devoted
At the time these letters were written, Lewis' regiment was still known as the 5th Kentucky Infantry, hence his reference to the "Old 5th Ky." in the letter of September 28 (see comment on our Background page). Lewis was paroled in September 1862 and returned to his regiment (which did not disband or enter cavalry service), rising to the rank of 1st Sergeant in Company H. He fought in the subsequent battles of the Orphan Brigade, and was again captured at Jonesboro. He was exchanged and returned to fight with his company during the mounted engagements.
One more letter from Matt Lewis survives; written while the Orphan Brigade was in winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia, before the Atlanta Campaign.
Ninth Ky Regiment Camp Near Dalton Ga.
I received a letter from home yesterday, and it was the first and only letter that I have got from Portland since I have been exchanged. and as I had written seven in all "four I sent home and three I sent to you" I thought I had been forgotten for everybody else was getting letters but unlucky me. I omitted to mention your name in the one I sent home. for the simple reason that I wrote you on the same day and it is some what (peculiar) that you did not get it. Nellie I hope you will not get offended by it and not correspond for I assure you that letters from you are more prized than anything under heaven. I sent several Rebel Stamps to you and if you have never received that Letter tell Sister Emm to give you a couple. Emms' letter was very interesting and was read and reread several times so that I am well posted in regards to affairs in Portland. Brother (Prodsen) must be doing a pretty good business now to judge from the marriages that have taken place. I suppose you attend them all and have a gay time at least I hope so as for myself I seldom attend weddings but everytime Uncle Joe Johnston gives a Ball I invariably get an invitation to attend and I usually go and dance several (setts). Nell I am getting very homesick and if you knew how a letter from you cheers a fellow up you would not wait to get one from me but answer immediately. I would like to write more but under the existing circumstances I (forbear). Len Atwell, Lee and John Miller send their compliments to you, give my love to Carrie and family also to Helen and Jennie (Palmer) if you see her. I must now conclude for want of space GOOD BYE and write soon I remain as ever yours.
PS Emma will inform you how to write I wrote home for the folks to send their photographs to me -- send me yours if you please.
Transcripts of the original letters were provided by Robert Langenhan. Nellie Hollis was Mr. Langenhan's gt-gt-gt aunt, who was living with his gt-gt grandmother at the time.
Although Matt Lewis was obviously quite devoted to Nellie Hollis, they did not marry when he returned from the war. Nellie apparently remained unmarried (I don't know about Matt Lewis). Matt Lewis died in Louisville on 2 September 1895, and was buried among his comrades in the Confederate section of Cave Hill Cemetery (Lot 267½, grave 7).
People mentioned in the letters:
May 21st 1862
Nellie's friend A. Hathany was probably Albert M. Hathaway of Owensboro, 2nd Corp., Co. K, 4th Kentucky Infantry. He was wounded severely at Shiloh, but was not killed. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant and led a lively career, being wounded again at Murfreesboro and named to the Roll of Honor. He fought in all the further actions of his regiment.
Don Holmes may have been Pvt. Lewis Holmes of Hancock Co., also in Co. K, 4th Kentucky Infantry. He was also captured at Shiloh.
Sept. 19th 1862
Ostrander was probably 1st Sgt. J. B. Ostrander, Co. A, 2nd Kentucky Infantry, who had been captured at Fort Donelson.
March 9, 1864
Leonard H. Atwell was promoted from Corporal in Company H, through Sergeant, to 2nd Lieutenant.
The John Miler mentioned was probably Sgt. John W. Miller, Co. I, 4th Kentucky Infantry, also of Louisville.
Carrie was probably Nellie's sister Carolyn Hollis Carr, with whom Nellie was living.
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Geoff Walden: enfield577 (at) live.com
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