“Kiss all of the Children”: John Lewis Schooling’s Civil War Letters
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE 29th IOWA INFANTRY1, 2, 3
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
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
“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.”
THE BATTLE OF JENKINS’ FERRY 7, 8
John Schooling was with the 29th Iowa at Jenkins’ Ferry when he
was wounded, had a leg amputated and subsequently died a prisoner of
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
PEOPLE NAMED IN THE LETTERS
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
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
The letters are presented chronologically, beginning November 21, 1862.
At that date the 29th Iowa was stationed at Camp Dodge in Council
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.
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
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”.
Apr 30th AD: 1863
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.
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
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
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.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
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.
was originally buried in Helena, but was re-interred in the Memphis
19. Ibid., p. 1394. Jacob was apparently unrelated to John L. Schooling, but was known to him as a friend.
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