Dr. Sanborn's letters were written to his wife and depict his service in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi during the Civil War. Letters describe health, food, his frustration with the army, military activities and camp life.
Letters begin with a description of punishment (Apr. 24, 1862) inflicted on a soldier for avoiding picket duty, and a "negro" work farm, near Corinth, Miss., where many of the eight hundred inhabitants raised produce for the army. Some letters concern Dr. Sanborn's problems with superior and fellow officers who prevented him from fulfilling his duties as he saw fit.
Several letters reflect the neglect of the army towards privates and the sick, describing continual shortages of food, provisions, and proper medical supplies. Many references are made to confiscation of chickens and other items from local residents who supplied the army with goods. One letter recounts an incident in which soldiers, who went months without pay, disembarked from a steamer and caused havoc in town by ransacking and stealing from several shops.
Sanborn's letters tell of men stricken with dysentery and complain that the measles epidemic continued to plague the army, mentioning the death of Dr. Taylor's nine year old son who recently died of measles (Mar. 4, 1864), and the difficulty in providing adequate treatment for patients in the field. An earlier letter (Oct. 14, 1862) describes the amputation of a soldier's arm. Some letters discuss Sanborn's own health and treatment for his ailments.
A letter records Sanborn's conversation with an officer who fought against the Indians at Yellow Medicine River (Oct.14, 1862). Another letter (Oct. 22, 1862) refers to the arrival at Fort Snelling of two opposing parties present to decide the fate of the Indians; one faction, led by Major-General Pope, wanted to drive out the Indians, the other, supported by Gov. Rice of Minnesota, wanted to punish a few guilty Indians while allowing the tribes retain their "ground".
Letters describe the movement of troops by train and boat, secrecy of the regiment's destinations, and physical hardship of long marches resulting in blistered feet, lame legs, and general fatigue. Sanborn also related hatred felt for the South and the desire of Union soldiers to burn down Jackson, Tenn., when they moved out (June 3, 1863). A letter compared the difference in pensions given to widows of privates to those of majors (Dec. 25, 1863).
John E. Sanborn Letters, Mss. 3736, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La.
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Dr. John E. Sanborn resided in Rockport, Mass., prior to enlisting in the 27th Iowa Infantry Volunteer Regiment, Oct. 3, 1862. Holding the rank of major, he served as surgeon for the regiment during the Civil War. While away, he wrote several letters to his wife, Jessie, who resided with their children in Epworth, Iowa.