Dear Little Sister…Sending Love from the Battlefield

Susan Emmalline "Emma" Stokes circa 1885

Little sister is Susan Emmaline "Emma", the eighth child and only daughter of my 3rd great grandfather Robert Firman Stokes. He, Emma, and her mother Hannah Parker Jones Stokes saw five of Robert's sons volunteer to defend the Union during the Civil War. All served in the Western Theatre, under General Ulysses S Grant at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Corinth.

Historical documents trace the Stokes brothers' military service. This includes muster rolls, pay statements, and in the case of some soldiers, a casualty sheet stating their cause of death. Researching the regiments' movements and battles is a way to further garner a feeling for what these men experienced.

Our family is lucky to have a more personal view. Emma's brothers Russell and Simpson wrote her letters that survived for more than 160 years. She had no children of her own, but late in life entrusted the treasured keepsakes to her niece and my great grandmother, Clara Stokes Miller. The letters made their way from the Midwest to Clara's grandson on the West Coast and, a few years ago, they were sent to the East Coast and entrusted to me.

The brothers' letters and whimsical drawings gave 5-year-old Emma and their descendants a purview of the war from the soldier's perspective.

In August 1861 19-year-old William "Simpson" and his 21-year-old brother Russell enlisted and served in Company B, 10th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. Simpson's dedication to the cause can be seen on the back of a map of the Western Theatre.

William "Simpson" Stokes' writing on the reverse of a card-sized map of the Western Theatre.
William "Simpson" Stokes' writing on the reverse of a card-sized map of the Western Theatre.

On October 28, 1861, Brigadier General Chester Harding, Jr. reported that the 10th Missouri Volunteers marched to Fulton, Missouri. Arriving at sunrise, they learned the rebels, who had "designed an attack on one of the important bridges on the Pacific Railroad", had anticipated their arrival and dispersed. In The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Harding reports the Regiment returned to Hermann, Missouri.

There, at Camp Holmes, Simpson wrote:

Dear Emma I believe I will write a letter to you and as it is the first time I don’t hardly know what to write about. I expect you have lots of fun playing around over the green grass and eating those large apples that was laying in the house when I was there. Oh I wish you could be here with us a few days wouldn’t we have a big time.

Running over these Missouri hills and eating grapes and apples but I expect mother would not like for you to be so far away from home as that. So you will have to wait till I come home and then we will have lots of fun You are too small to know how to read this letter, so you must get mother or Samantha to read it to you but if you can not go to school this winter you must learn your book at home so you can go next summer and learn to spell read and write and then you can read your own letters and write answers to them.

You was so glad when I gave you that present that I took home with me. I believe I will send you one in this letter if I can I bought it as I came through St. Louis with some paper and envelopes I don’t know what it is made of but I expect it is as pure gold as the copper kettles of England.

Well I believe I have wrote about all I can think of at present. So I will bring my letter to a close. I wish I could see you. I could talk of more things than I can write about but that is impossible. I want you to make Samantha write you a letter the next time she writes and put it in hers.

Truly your Brother Simpson to Susan Emmaline Stokes

On March 10, 1862, Russell wrote Emma, from High Hill, Missouri. He describes his living quarters, illustrates them, and mentions the men sharing the tent by name. Brothers Presley and Crawford Cubbinson's family are neighbors from McDonough County, Illinois. It appears that the letter included a photo, as he asks Emma if she thinks they are "tolerabley (sic) ugly."

Russell Stokes, 10th MO Company B
Russell Stokes, 10th MO Company B

This letter is particularly poignant as he asks for a likeness of his sister, requesting that it is on copper plate so it won't get broken in the mail. He wishes he could have "one more kiss off those little cheeks" and regrets the cost of coming home for a visit as "we may have use for it after the war is over if we live". 

Dear sister Emma It is with the greatest degree of Pleasure that I direct a few lines to you that You know how we are getting along and What we are doing Well Emma we are now living in houses Made of  eavy domestic and we have a little Fire place is it made by digging a trench in The ground covered over first  ith tin then dirt Put on the tin then a plank over that all except One place we have one thick piece of steel from Which we raise up and put our wood in Then we have a little tin pipe made to let The air to the fire to make it burn then we Have a chimney made about eight feet high  Of 4 plank nailed together that is the way We warm our feet Then we have a bed made by laying rails down plank across them straw on the plank and then we spread our blankets  down for our bed then we snooze away

here is the way our tent is fixed

Russell & Simpson's tent

R for Russell S for Simpson I for Isaac Morgan, RM for Robert Morgan P for Pressly Cubbison C for Crofford Cubbison. That is our mess and There is room for Jeff when he gets Back to camp I expect Emma you think we are tolerabley ugly from the picture

Well we are fat ragged and saucy Our health is very good and we have Had good health ever since Simpson Went home when he was sick to see You. But do not know when we Will get to see any of you again as It costs so mutch to go on the cars that We do not like to spend it as we may Have use for it after the war is over if We live. I would like to have one More kiss off those little cheeks can’t You send me one. And I would like to have your likeness Emma if you Can have it taken on copper plate so it

Will not get broken by sending it in a letter Did you get the nice picture I sent to you a little girl about like you put-ting Grandmas Spectacles on her little Dog making him look so cute

I do not know how long we will Stay at this place. We think not longer Than we get our pa again. Some time in This month. We expect to go to St. Louis and Then down the river some place where our Help is necessary. Things are tolerable quiet In this part at present I believe Emma I will close for this Time. Remaining as ever your brother in love Russell

The Siege of Corinth (also known as the First Battle of Corinth) was fought from April 29 to May 30, 1862, in Corinth, Mississippi. The town was a strategic point at the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The siege ended as the Confederates withdrew. The Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant took control and made it the base for his operations to seize control of the Mississippi River Valley, especially the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Simpson Stokes' second letter was likely written in the spring of 1862 following the Siege. He mentions sending Emma secesh property from Corinth. Secesh is a secessionist.

Dear Sister I send you a few lines to let You know that I have not forgotten You I often think Of you and just Imagine how well you Must enjoy your self playing in the garden And over the beautiful Blue grass yard under Those old familiar shade Trees that stand before The door

I expect you want Some of the secesh property That was taken at Corinth so I will Send you a little ring that I made out of a button that I took off of a rebels coat That was taken at Corinth I want you to take and wear it till the End of the rebellion I also send Margaret Ann One I send the black one to Emma and the white one to Margaret Ann if it is large enough for her.

I'm sure Russell & Simpson never imagined their letters to Emma would be preserved 161 years after they were written. Digesting the Stokes brothers and their correspondence to a little girl who could not yet read gives me pause. Why did they write their baby sister? Were the letters to Emma sent along with more in-depth prose to Robert? What were they thinking? Did they hope that the letters would keep them from being forgotten if they failed to return home? Uncles Russell and Simpson can be assured that they are far from forgotten.

So, what is the rest of the story of Simpson, Russell, and Emma?

October 4, 1862, Private William Simpson Stokes was killed in action at the second battle of Corinth, Mississippi. Military documents show a second burial on December 8, 1862. Russell most likely returned his brother's body to Illinois for burial. Newspaper accounts state his interment is in the Old Macomb Cemetery, however, no stone marks his final resting place. His tent-mates Pressly and Crofford McCubbins also died.

Newspaper article announcing death of Simpson Stokes

Russell returned home, married, moved to Kansas, and homesteaded with his father.  He married Annie Hart and had five children. His three daughters grew to adulthood, attended the University of Kansas, and a very forward-thinking liberal Berea College in Kentucky.

Russell was a farmer, postmaster, store merchant, and "in the real estate business". He also explored gas mining. The Garnett Plaindealer newspaper reported, "In 1882 the Anderson County Mining Company was chartered and sunk a large sum of money in a test hole or well on the R. T. Stokes place, the drill penetrating to a depth of 585 feet." There's no indication that gas was found,

For his farm, he purchased a stone crusher. A newspaper article encouraged readers to inspect the rock saying "A sample of the work done by Stokes' rock crusher can be seen in the street in front of the courthouse. A road built of such material would soon wear smooth as pavement." Russell updated the crusher with a steam engine and contracted 200 train car loads of crushed stone to the Santa Fe railroad.

Susan Emmaline Stokes, with her half brother Wesley and his daughter Clara
Susan Emmaline Stokes, with her half-brother Wesley and his daughter Clara

Emma's parents died before she turned eighteen. She can be found in the 1870-1885 censuses living with one of her brothers. In the mid-1880s she moved to Waterloo, Iowa to help her widowed brother Wesley care for his children and also taught school. In 1889,  she married widower Robert Sindle. Aunt Sue, as her nieces and nephews called her, was a terrific letter writer and a keeper of all family correspondence. Watch for my next blog where I'll use more letters to share Robert Stokes homesteading in Kansas.


  1. Robin Pendergraft on July 20, 2022 at 5:36 PM

    It is remarkable that these letters were kept in the family all these years. It appears that there was great love among the family members.

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