“Kiss all of the Children”: John Lewis Schooling’s Civil War Letters

Donated by Mike McInnis


Among my late mother’s estate was a cache of four letters written by an Iowa soldier to his wife in 1862 and 1863. The soldier, John Lewis Schooling, was a private in Company D of the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry who served with several cousins and friends, all from Adams County in southwestern Iowa.

I don’t know how my mother acquired the letters. She was an avid collector and had a keen interest in American history, especially as it related to the lives of individuals and their families. As far as I know my family is not related to John Schooling, and I assume my Mother purchased the letters. They probably do not reveal content of new scholarly significance but I believe the letters have not been published and feel an obligation to make their content available for genealogical and historical research. Readers with even a casual interest in the Civil War will surely find, as did I, that John Schooling’s letters to his wife are remarkably touching and reflect the personal suffering and sacrifice endured by so many soldiers and their families.

The letters are laminated in plastic. Each is four pages, written on both sides of center-folded stationary approximately 12.5 cm by 20 cm. Covers are not present. The penmanship is legible and indicative of a practiced hand, but as is typical of soldier’s letters of that time, punctuation, paragraphing and spelling are not consistent. In transcribing the letters I have added punctuation and paragraphs for ease of reading but have retained the original spelling and erratic capitalization. In a few places where misspellings have obscured the original idea, I have added correct spelling or clarifications in italicized parentheses.

After reading the letters I was drawn to conduct research to try to put them into historical and genealogical context. What follows are the results of that research. Readers more knowledgeable than I may find errors or omissions. If so, those readers are invited to contact me at so that a future edition of this manuscript may be corrected. Through the course of researching the letters I was fortunate to discover descendants of John and Nancy Schooling and am pleased to be able to return John’s letters to his family after being penned from Civil War encampments 150 years ago.


The 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry was organized from troops stationed at Camp Dodge in Council Bluffs and mustered into service December 1, 1862. The ten companies consisted of 1,005 men at the time it left the State. From December 5-9, 1862, the regiment marched to St. Joseph, Missouri and from there was transported by rail to St. Louis where it remained guarding prisoners until December 25, 1862. The regiment then moved to Columbus, Kentucky and on January 8, 1863, was ordered to Helena, Arkansas on the Mississippi River. Between that date and January 26, 1863 the 29th Iowa participated in General Willis A. Gorman’s White River Expedition following the capture of Arkansas Post. Between February and April 1863, members of the 29th Iowa were among Federal forces comprising Admiral David D. Porter’s failed Yazoo Pass Expedition that attempted to invest Vicksburg from the north. After returning to Helena, the regiment participated in successfully fending off an enemy attack of the Union encampment during the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. Coincidently, that date marked the surrender of Vicksburg, freeing Federal forces to launch an offensive against Confederate troops in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. The regiment remained in Helena until August 11, 1863 when it marched on Little Rock as part of General Frederick Steele’s successful expedition to capture the capital city. The 29th Iowa Regiment was at Little Rock through the winter of 1863, and beginning March 23, 1864, participated in General Steele’s Camden Expedition that was part of the failed Red River Campaign. It was during the Camden Expedition that Federal troops encountered the enemy at Jenkins’ Ferry, resulting in John Schooling’s wounding, capture and ultimate death. Following the battle Steele’s beleaguered Federal troops were able to return to Little Rock, where they remained until February 1865. The regiment then moved to New Orleans, Louisiana and participated in the campaign against, and occupation of Mobile in March and April. Following duty in Texas, the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry returned home and was mustered out August 10, 1865.

During its service, the 29th Iowa lost 1 officer and 42 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 officer and 266 enlisted men by disease.4 The average proportion of men who died by disease compared to those who were killed or mortally wounded in the Union Army during the Civil War was 4:1. That proportion for the 29th Iowa Infantry was 6:1, reflecting the harsh conditions and poor sanitation in which the men lived and fought.


Three of the Schooling letters were penned from the Federal encampment at Helena, Arkansas, located on the Mississippi River about 70 miles south of Memphis. In July 1862, General Samuel Ryan Curtis led the Army of the Southwest to capture the town, which eventually grew into a major Federal fortification that included five separate earthworks.  It remained occupied by the Union Army through the remainder of the war, and served as the base from which Federal forces launched campaigns against the Confederate Army in Arkansas and Louisiana.

The sobriquet, “Hell-in-Arkansas” was attributed to members of the 33rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry5 because of the difficult and unhealthy life there. In his book, “Soldier Boy”, Barry Popchock states6:

“Arkansas was the most unhealthful command in the Union Army. In a given month, one-third of the men might be unfit for duty. Measles usually struck first, but diarrhea/dysentery was reported most frequently and caused more fatalities than any other malady. Malaria, pneumonia, and typhoid fever also ranked high on the list of deadly ailments. Twelve–and-a-half percent of Iowa soldiers died of disease, the highest such percentage of any Northern state. Some historians explain the bulk of the state’s troops served in the West, where they fell victim to the lower Mississippi Valley’s inhospitable climate. More important, however, men from largely rural areas like Iowa were more vulnerable to disease than those from urban backgrounds. They were less exposed to contagion in civilian life and less fastidious about sanitary conditions in camp. Regardless of station or origin, though, units suffered from inadequate screening of recruits, contaminated water, insufficient fruits and vegetables, and surgeons unfamiliar with bacteriology.”


John Schooling was with the 29th Iowa at Jenkins’ Ferry when he was wounded, had a leg amputated and subsequently died a prisoner of war.

After winning the Battle of Helena and the surrender of Vicksburg in July 1863, Federal forces at Helena were assigned the task of moving on Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas. By mid-August 1863, some 7,000 Union troops under the command of General Frederick Steele set out from Helena toward Little Rock. They were reinforced by troops from Missouri, and in September defeated Confederate General Sterling Price to capture Little Rock. The occupation of the Arkansas capital by Union forces restricted the Confederates to the southern part of Arkansas and ended their plans to move against Missouri.

Now, Union forces were available to pursue and hopefully defeat the Confederate Army headquartered at Shreveport, Louisiana, and from there, launch an attack against Texas to impede French incursions from Mexico under the puppet “emperor” Maximilian. In this, the “Red River Campaign”, General Nathan P. Banks with 20,000 troops from New Orleans was to join General W. T. Sherman’s force of 10,000 from Vicksburg and a Union flotilla moving up the Red River.

Steele’s part in the Red River Campaign became known as the “Camden Expedition”, in which he was to lead Federal troops toward Shreveport. Steele, with about 7,000 men including the 29th Iowa Infantry, departed Little Rock March 23, 1864, and intended to rendezvous with a second Federal force of about 4,000 coming from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Poor weather, muddy roads, diminishing supplies, pro-Confederate citizenry and an Arkansas landscape stripped bare of basic provisions by three years of war slowed progress. Ultimately, Steele was unable to secure adequate provisions, and, being doggedly pursued by Confederates, decided to return to Little Rock after receiving news Banks had been defeated.

After a series of battles, Steele’s retreating army reached the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry April 29, 1864. A pontoon bridge was constructed across the swollen river in torrential downpours as a rain-sodden and famished Union rear guard constructed breastworks and took up a formidable defensive position against the on-coming Confederates. When the first attack came, the Confederates were rebuffed because they had to make a frontal assault across a quagmire of mud and standing water in an open field.

The next day, April 30, Confederates attempted a flanking maneuver against the Federal right. The 29th Iowa Infantry had been deployed to protect the army’s extreme right flank and was able to push back the enemy, who then attempted a movement toward the Union center and left flank. As wave after wave of Confederate troops were sent piecemeal across the field, the Union rear guard successfully held them back while Union forces slowly crossed the narrow pontoon bridge.

Casualties mounted as the fighting became more desperate. At one point, the 29th Iowa and the 2nd Regiment Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry charged a Confederate battery and captured three artillery pieces.  In the fray, some African-American soldiers shot or bayoneted wounded Confederates who were trying to surrender in retaliation for the murders of wounded colored soldiers at Poison Springs and Marks Mill. By about 3:00 pm, Steele’s army had crossed the Saline River and eventually made its way back to Little Rock. The final toll of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry was estimated at 800 - 1,000 killed and wounded on the Confederate side and 700 for the Union.

    What of John Schooling? The exact manner of his wounding, capture, death and burial remain to be determined, if ever it can. It is known that General Steele made the decision to leave behind wounded soldiers because he believed they would hinder the Federal retreat.


John Lewis Schooling was born 1835 in Illinois to William Fountain Schooling and Rachel (nee Luck) Schooling.9 He was the third son among eight children. Nancy Angeline Wormington was born January 28, 1839 in Barry County (later Lawrence County), Missouri to Asa Hassell Wormington and Anna Olive (nee Hawley) Wormington.10 Nancy and John were married January 13, 1856 in Lawrence County, Missouri. The United States Census for 1860 shows John residing in Mount Pleasant Township, Lawrence, Missouri.11 John and Nancy had 3 children: Sarah Elizabeth Schooling (1856-1945); Asa Hawley Schooling (1858-1903); John Lewis Schooling (1861-1909).12

Military records indicate John L. Schooling enlisted August 13, 1862 at age 26 while a resident of Quincy, Iowa.13 He was mustered in December 1, 1862 and served in Co. D, 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He was described as having a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He was wounded severely during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry April 30, 1864, suffered a leg amputation, and died June 18, 1864, while a prisoner at Princeton, Arkansas.14 The location of his grave is unknown.

Nancy remarried twice and had several more children. She died January 21, 1916 and is buried in Shiloh Cemetery in Denton County, Texas.15

Joseph Schooling. Enlisted August 13, 1862 at age 23. Mustered December 1, 1862. Died of disease April 19, 1863, Helena, Arkansas. Buried in Memphis National Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee, Section 3, Grave 58416  (now Section A, Site 2272).

William F. Schooling. Enlisted at age 21 on August 13, 1862. Mustered December 1, 1862. Died of disease April 19, 1863, Helena, Arkansas.17

Garlant (Garland) Boswell. Enlisted August 13, 1862 at age 18. Mustered December 1, 1862. Died of disease April 27, 1863, Helena, Arkansas. Buried in Memphis National Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee, Section 3, Grave 571.18 (now Section A, Site 2259).

Jacob Harader. Enlisted August 13, 1862 at age 40 as Sixth Corporal. Mustered December 1, 1862. Reduced to rank at own request January 31, 1863. Died of disease April 19, 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee.19

Robert H. Schooling. Referred to as “Uncle Robert” in the letters, he was John L. Schooling’s uncle, brother of John’s father and the father of Joseph and William Schooling cited above. R. H. Schooling moved to Iowa in 1852 and was one of the pioneer settlers of Adams County.20 In addition to being a prominent farmer, R. H. Schooling served as County Supervisor and Justice of the Peace.


The letters are presented chronologically, beginning November 21, 1862. At that date the 29th Iowa was stationed at Camp Dodge in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

AD: 1862
This is the: 21 November

Dear Wife … it is with pleasure that I seat my self to rite a few Lines to you to Let you now that I am well. hoping these few Lines may find you injoying the same blessing. I would like to here from you. I hant got nary leters since I left home. We will Leave here Soone I think for we have got our guns to day. we got a gun a peace and a cartrage box and a cap box and a belt with “us” on it and a Eagle to and a “us” on our cartrage box to. you augt to see us. it makes us look like Soldiers.

Nancy I use to have a women to sleep with but now I hafto Sleep with a gun and it is a Cold thing to Sleep with Shore. we marched down to the boat landing yesterday and got our gun and come back and we looked nice all of us with guns and it was nice Sight Shore. to day we hafto wash. to day thare is no drill . Nancy you don’t how brave we look all with our garb on. we will have a load to travle with Shore. Nancy you don’t now how I hated to leave you. it would have bin better for me if I had never went home.

Nancy Schooling
Dear Wife…. we hant got our money yet but we will get it Son I think. we may Come by home whene we Start. I dont now though whare we will go from here. So cheare up my union friends and the (victory) Soon will be ours. Nancy I think I will soon get pay for old gray if I live and that will ticle me. I will get pay for the Corn to if I can get it by fighting hard so I must quit. you must rite to me soon dear. I remain yours affection husban untill death. John Schooling to Nancy Schooling. kiss all of the Children

Nancy Schooling you must rite soon and tell me all of the news. I am as stout as ever now. Nancy (you) are the best friend I ever had and I want you to take good care of your self till I come home and then I will take Care of you. you shall never do any thing much any more if I ever get home. that is uncertain. Nancy I be a difirnt man when I come home. you must do the best you can till (I) git home. When this you see Nancy you must rember me. kiss that sweet baby for me my dear wife. John Schooling Nancy Schooling

April the: 20th 1863
Helena Ark

Dear wife

I once more take the oportunity of letting you now that I am in the Land of the Living yet and on the gaining ground and I hope that when these few lines Comes to hand they will find you all well and doing well. But I Expect that you are a doing very well. Joseph and William Schooling is dead. they died yesterday. Joseph died at 4 oclock and William at 6 in the morning and they was Boath Beried in one grave. It Beats the world how we loose men. we have lost 20 men (in) Co D.

page 2 this comes the hardiest to me. If I was Uncle Robert I would come after them and take them home. I would want to be taken home (if) I was to die here shore. It is nothing but a wilderness and frog ponds. there is several that is sick in our Company. This is a sickely place I think. They would not let us see the Boys the night before they died. This is the way they do here and that is hard to Stand. But we cant help our Selves and we hafto do the best we can and go a head. We wont be this way all ways. I hope if we are we are gone up the Spout. and we may go up the Spout any how.

page 3: Dear…. I think that Uncle Robert will come after the boys and then I will send my money By him and then it will be Safe. I got 70 dollars now and will send you 65 as soon as I can. To be safe it is all in two dollars Bills and it makes lots of money Shore. I hafto go on picket every other day and Stay on a day and night and then drill four ours in the day and then sweep out the Camp or help do it. We hafto Sweep out the Camp ever day and it is good deale of work. I think I cant hardly get time to wright to you.

page 4  Soldier prair
Dear wife and Children I now Lay down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake I pray the lord my Soul to take and this I ask for Jesus Sake. I received a leter today just as I was done riting nearly and I was glad to here that you was all well. It had herids (Jacob Hararder’s) leter in it. herieder (Jacob Hararder) went to memfis and I hant herd from him since. that is all I can tell you about him. I am glad to here that you have good neighbors. They shal never loose any thing if I live to get home but that is uncertain. I cant tell you when I will be at home. thare is no sitch thing as getting a discharg. John Schooling to Nancy

Note: written vertically in the margin of page 4 is: “Sarah E Schooling”.

page: 1
Apr 30th AD: 1863
Helena Ark
Dear wife: … I once more take the opportunity of riting a few lines to Let you know that I am well at this time and I hope that these few lines may find you all well. I hant herd from you in thre weeks and I want (to) here from you bad. you don’t rite as often as you promised and I rite as often as I can. I cant rite when (I) please and you can but you don’t rite as often as I do. I am lonesom now. I hant got any knection here and I feel lonesom. you must rite often and tell the rest to rite.

page: 2
Excuse my Bad riting. Jacob harader is dead. Cap Davis got a Leter and it said that he was dead. we have lost 20 out of our Company. it Looks Like we are all a going to die but we will live as long as we Can. Joseph and william and garland Boswell is all three are dead and I am lost here. But I will do the best that I Can. I think that uncle Robert will come after the Boys and then I Can send my money home by him and then it will be safe. if he don’t Come I will send it by express. this is poor scribbling. I don’t now where you can read it or not

page: 3: this is the:1:day of May
Dear wife and Children I have a hard time of it here. I hafto Stand on guard three times a week and then polease the Camp between the times. But I am getting as fat and stout as as a hog again. I think that I Can stand it now. Nancy you don’t now how glad I would be to get home once more. what a hapy time it will be when we get home if we ever get home and I hope that we will. when our boys Come down the river and got to us you never saw sitch a shaking of hands in your life and thare was tears shed for Joy.

page:4: Sweet Home
Dear wife and Children if I Ever get home I will mind you after this. If I had a minded you I would have Bin beter off than I am now. I feel Beter now than I have since I Left home. I am getting fat and stout as a mule. Nancy you must tell me how the Children is a groing. I dremp of seeing them Last night. oh how glad I was when I saw them. the boys ses that I talk a bout them in my sleep and I think of them all the time when I am awake. So I will quit. good By Dear wife and Dear Children. John Schooling to Nancy Schooling

May the 31 1863
Helena Ark
Dear wife:… I seat my Self to rite you a few Lines to inform you that I am in the Land of the Living yet and I hope that these few lines may find you all well and a doing well. Our regment has gone out on a Scout to day I don’t now how long they will Be gone. I hant bin on duty for Some time. I have a boil on my hand and that hinders me from work. It is dry and hot here now. The Boys catches some Big fish here. They got one that was five feet and a half long.

This is may the: 31
Nancy Schooling
I cant rite now that so I received a leter from you today and was glad to here that you was all well. your leter was dated the: may 19. oh you love me to well I fear that you are deceitfull. well I have shaved that kissing place. I just shaved yesterday as slick as a mold and had a likeness taken and I will send it to pap today. it was not a good one but it looks vary well I think. they wanted me to send them one and I thaught I would. george rote some in this leter of yourse. he appear to be sceard but he nead not for the war is about over I think. turn over

George said that it looks dark. he must reclect that the darkest part of the night is just before day and I think that day is a braking here. I dont Blame you for not making the holes in them Buttons for it would be dangerous that is so shore and sertain. tell george to come here and we will joind the regulars. they are a making up regulars here now but I expect that this would be regular enough for him. it does me vary well. when I am well I can stand it vary well but I have the diars so mutch as martin wethers calls it that it gets me down.

This was at sick call. the doctor ask the boys what they eat. one of them said that he eat a raw potatoe. a raw potatoe good got all mity that is a nough to (sicken) a cow said the doctor. go back to your tent for you will die in a few dayes. we was on a review the other day and our regment gained the praise and the other regments calls us the Ban Box regment be cause we are so nice. the generall has our men to gard him be cause they dress nice and look well that soat him he is proud so I must quit scribbling. good by dear John Schooling to Nancy Schooling. rite soon


1.  Iowa Adjutant General’s Office. 1910. Twenty-ninth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, pp. 1341-1472. In: Roster and record of Iowa soldiers in the War of the Rebellion together with historical sketches of volunteer organizations 1861-1866. Vol. 3: 17th – 31st Regiments-Infantry. Des Moines, Iowa: Emory H. English. 1683 p.

2. Popchock, Barry (Ed.). 1995. Soldier boy: the Civil War letters of Charles O. Musser, 29th Iowa. Univ. Iowa Press, Iowa City. 206 p.

3. Robertson, Brian K. 2007. A regimental history of the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Military Images 28 (5):27-32.

4. US Dept. Interior, National Park Service, The Civil War soldiers and sailors data base, Regiments. 2013.

5. Sperry, Andrew F. 1866. History of the 33rd Iowa Infantry Volunteer Regiment, 1863-1866. Mills and Co., Des Moines, Iowa.

6. Popchock, p. 21.

7. Walker, Joe. 2011. Harvest of death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas. 157 p.

8. Bearss, Edwin. 1966. Steele’s retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry. Pioneer Press, Little Rock, AR.

9. Croston, Charles W. 2006. Descendents of Francis Schooling, pp. 277-315, In:Twelve pioneer families. 592 p.

10. Ibid., p. 286.

11. Eighth Decennial Census Office. Nd. Population schedule for the 1860 census. NARA microfilm publication M653. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

12. Croston, Twelve pioneer families, p. 287. The following corrections to Croston (2006) were made by Schooling descendant: (a) Nancy Angeline Wormington was born January 28, 1839 in Missouri; (b) John and Nancy Schooling had three children: Sarah Elizabeth, Asa Hawley (1858-1903); and John Lewis.
13. U.S. Dept. Interior, National Park Service. The Civil War. Soldiers and Sailors Database.

14. Iowa Adjutant General’s Office, p. 1444.

15. Croston, Twelve Pioneer Families, p. 287.

16. Iowa Adjutant General’s Office, p. 1444. Joseph and his brother, William F. Schooling, were sons of Robert H. Schooling and cousins of John L. Schooling. In his letter dated April 20, 1863, John L. Schooling reported Joseph and William were buried in the same grave in Helena. The Arkansas Historic Preservation program state that following the war, Union dead in and around Helena were re-interred at National Cemeteries in Memphis and Louisville:

17. Ibid., p. 1444. Originally buried in the same grave as his brother at Helena, William’s remains were likely re-interred in a National Cemetery, although this author could not locate a record of his burial site.

18. Ibid., p. 1362. Although records indicate the spelling of his name as “Garland”, a descendent told me the proper spelling is “Garlant” and was a cousin of John L. Schooling. Garland was originally buried in Helena, but was re-interred in the Memphis National Cemetery.

19. Ibid., p. 1394. Jacob was apparently unrelated to John L. Schooling, but was known to him as a friend.

20. 1892.  Biographical history of Montgomery and Adams Counties, Iowa. Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago.


Baker, W.D. nd. The Camden Expedition of 1864. Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, AR

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