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Letter from Shiloh

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A tornado can destroy, upset, and end hope. The aftermath, the renewal, the process of moving on can bring new visions, find renewed purpose, prove the faith and love of a community. Dorothy in Wizard of OZ comes to see and find a new appreciation for home, for the loving people she has taken for granted, a world revealed anew, in colors never before perceived. So in Elmwood our tornado has offered us the same opportunity. As some things are lost, other things are found.

As we search through the debris some lost and forgotten things are discovered, like old letters hidden away by long gone relatives. People who still shape us every day even a 150 years later.  Here in Elmwood over a 100 men joined the fight in the civil war, some to preserve the Union, some to end slavery, some to go on a grand adventure. Our prosperous nation today is made possible by their sacrifice.  


Following the battle of Shiloh Sgt. John Forbes wrote to Miss Laura Smith. The Forbes' and the Smith’s were early pioneer families farming outside of Elmwood.  The American Civil War changed lives forever. John and Laura would be married in 1863 and have five children here in Elmwood. I will read this letter from Elmwood’s past, so we can hear the life and dreams of Elmwood’s early people.

Sunday April 13th, 1862

My dearest Laura:

Last Sunday begun a great battle. You will have heard reports, by the time this reaches you. Often those papers are as thick with lies as the snakes in these Tennesee swamps. I am all sound. Still the week gone, seems an endless nightmare. Dante wrote of no horror greater than we have seen this week. We have won the worst battle ever. It has cost us dearly. The 55th suffered worst of all, but our brave boys saved the whole left flank of our glorious army.  The secesh brung a huge force upon us a fate to which our officers had left us to hang.  Our 55th and a little Ohio zouave bunch kept the army’s left.  If the big chiefs would give us generals with sense and not ones wanting to be guvnors and senutors we would whup these rebels in a short lick.

Last Sunday we could hear a big roar off to the right then we was called out in front our camps in to the line. By mid morning the rebs showed up. Our trial was upon us. We was never camped with our proper division, we were a couple miles aways. When them Johnny Yells started we was plum forgot.

Our fight had just started when we was left in sad shape by the biggest braggart and coward I ever seed. He run off with the whole Ohio 71st. Those scoundrels from Ohio skedaddled and we neer seen hide nor hair of them agin. The Ohio 71st never fired a volley. Us in the 55th and the little zouave bunch was left on an island with a river of rebs flowing past us. Only one brave patriot lieutenant with half a company from that big Ohio regiment come back and fought with us. We almost run ourselves but Colonel Stuart using his wondrous booming voice and sword got everyone back and in line.  He took a bad wound in getting the men back. Before the war he filled the Chicago papers with scandal during that Burch divorce, but he was fully redeemed in our eyes and I believe in God’s last Sunday.


Shiloh Animated Map

We could not stay out in the open and we fell back finally to a good ridge in front of a deep holler.  Col Stuart’s wound meant our commander became that crazy Swede, Col Malmborg who kept putting us in those hole squares until we got to the ridge then we strung out into a proper line. There we hung on fighting off three or fours times our numbers. We never got help or ammunition. Finally we was all out of anything to shoot. We skedadled through the holler but many men never got out of that holler.

Col Malmborg got us reformed and we became part of the final line. Gen Grant had us placed along with lots of artillery all properly arranged. The General himself directed us as calm as a farmer laying out a field. If they will just leave in charge a man like that, we can make them rebs sorry they started all this. We had gun boats firing at the Johnnies too, as they come for a last charge. We met them with great blasts. They fell back. It was over for the night. The soaking rain could not quiet those horrible screams and wails filling the night.

In the morning we advanced and knocked the Rebels back. They’s all run off to Mississippi now; whipped pretty good. We are left with a horrible scene. I won’t trouble your sweet soul by describing it. I want you to tell the folks in Elmwood what sacrifices the boys are making. Death here isn’t like when your old pa Ichabod had his ceremony at LeHigh.  Death’s angel has taken so many there is no time for ceremony. I wish we were gone from this place.

Elmwood Extravaganza Shiloh

Shiloh National Military Park

It’s been all these days fore I had time to write. I wanted to curse that danged old Methodist who preached us right into this army, but he was right here with us as constant as the sun. I know it’s true this here war is God’s will to free people. The dark people are so glad to see us. Ole Abraham told it true over at Knox when I heard him back in 58, no man should ever be allowed to steal the bread from the hands of the man who’s earned it. I see it plain, as we traipse through this Southern land, we must win this war. I know we will; seeing General Grant so calm in all the confusion makes you feel sure.

We are God’s instruments, but oh how I wished I could somehow fly back home to Elmwood. I wish I could sit with you now, Miss Laura. You have always sit so pretty and listened to my poor tales. I pray, I will come home to you. I am sorry I lost all my sketches. I have been drawing hoping to show you. Miss Laura you always so kindly admired my poor scratchings. Our camps were all pilfered by the Rebs after we lost them on Sunday. Everything is ruint now.

I do so want to be home. No land I see suits me better than Elmwood. No place in this whole country would please my soul, more. I hope and pray you will wait for my return. I pray it is God’s divine will that we see each other again.

I pray you and your ma are well.

Your most humble and obedient servant,

Sgt. John Forbes 
IL 55th Volunteers Company K

Author's Note: This is a work of fiction John Forbes and Laura Smith are real historical people from Elmwood. The facts of the letter are true, but the narration is entirely imagined after reading the stories of the IL 55th recruitment and war record.



Gone Shiloh You Tube Elton John, Leon Russell, and Neil Young

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Thursday Night Elm-tastic Extravaganza at Fall Festival Schedule

6 PM Closer to Free maybe kicking off at 5:55

Jackson Collins -- 6:05

Closer to Free

O-6 mo. Babies -- 6:15

Closer to Free

Anna Roberts -- 6:30

7-12 mo. Babies 6:35

Closer to Free

12- 24 mo. Babies 6:50

Deanna Cantu 7:00

Closer to Free

7:10 Wizard of Oz Costume Recognition

Rusty Hall Band

8:15 Letter from Shiloh

Ashley Bean and the Rapscallions to close-- Facebook Event