John Hough letters - 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics

This site generously sponsored by:

In early 2016, we were approached by Jane Beattie, a Great-Granddaughter of John Hough. She found this website and was looking for help in placing a collections of John’s letters at a well-known state archive. We have helped her in this process and we are thrilled that she has allowed us to publish them here. This previously unpublished collection of Michigan man’s Civil War letters will end up at Bentley Library at the University of Michigan. It is an interesting look into Michigan’s only Engineer regiment during the last year of the war.

John Hough Biography

Written by Jane Beattie (John's Great-Granddaughter), edited by William Eichler

John Kelley* Hough was born in 1838 in Cleveland, Ohio, and died in 1899.  His father was Walter King Hough (1805-1868), and Nancy Kelley (1804-1848) both of Connecticut.  We don’t have a wartime image of John, but he is shown here in a December 25, 1897 image. He is the man seated at the right of the picture.

John K. Hough enlisted in the 1st Michigan of Engineers and Mechanics on December 18, 1863 for a three-year term of service. At that time, he was 25 years old. He mustered into service on December 31, 1863. He was promoted to artificer (a rank only found in the engineering regiments) on January 1, 1865 and then to corporal on July 1, 1865.

This is a collection of 15 of his letters home dated from March 20, 1864, to September 8, 1865.  He participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea.  The duty he writes most about in the regiment was as a cook, which during the Civil War was a job a man was detailed to do, unlike the way today’s military trains men for roles such as this.  He was a Christian, most likely of Baptist persuasion.

John was mustered out of service at Nashville, Tennessee on September 22, 1865. His letters are an excellent reminder that just because Lee and Johnson surrendered their armies, not all men got to go home immediately. Many continued to serve for months after hostilities were over

During the War John had recurring illness, which he described as auge, so that afterwards he was unable to provide adequately for his family.  It fell to his son, Ernest, to work several jobs while finishing his schooling.  Because Ernest forced himself to stay awake to be able to fulfill his duties, he suffered from insomnia the rest of his life. This is according to my father, Ernest Smith Hough, Jr.
In 1867 John K. Hough married Sarah Jane Smith of Lapeer, Michigan, where they made their home. Sarah’s parents were James P. Smith and Mary Litchfield, both of England. 

John and Sarah had two children: Walter (1869-1896), and Ernest (1870-1940).  Ernest Smith Hough (my grandfather) was born in Chicago, Illinois. 
In 1905, Ernest and J. L. Kraft (of Kraft Cheese), were founding members of North Shore Baptist Church, Chicago, IL.

Ernest (Senior) married Lillian Turnbull in 1905.  Their first son, Lawrence, died in infancy.  Their second son, Ernest Smith Hough, Jr., was born December 19, 1912, followed by their daughter, Virginia, who was killed in a car accident when she was 12 years old.  My father, “Junior,” attended Culver Military Academy and Northwestern University.  Since the family lived in Chicago, Junior was sent to Lapeer to spend summers with the Turnbulls and Houghs.  The Lapeer branches of the family tree descend mostly from John K. and his sister, Emma.

Go to the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics page

John Hough Letters

The letters have been transcribed by Jane. She retained the original spelling and punctuation.

March 20, 1864 letter This letter is written to "Dear Brother B" - Brother B is John's brother Benezette (1839-1910) Letter #1
March 27, 1864 Again, this letter is written to his brother. John makes significant reference to his faith and also a detailed description of the shanty they used to do their cooking. Letter #2
April 12, 1864 In this letter to his brother, John discusses doing laundry, both for himself and for hire, a review of soldiers and his looking for a Michigan family that now lived in the area he was stationed. Letter #3
Letter #4 Though there is no date on this letter, the location is marked at Bridgeport and the content allows us to be very confident it follows the April 12th letter in sequence. John discusses crossing a pontoon bridge for the first time and spring planting with his brother. The "Clara" mentioned in the letter is understood to be his sister Clarissa. Letter #4
June 16, 1864 John writes to Brother Benezette with more stories of the daily life of a cook. He also writes about going out to try and buy butter locally. Letter #5
July 15, 1864 Between the June letter and this one, John reports ill for duty. He is so sick he is sent to a larger hosptial for some time apparantly. This letter to his brother recounts his journey after being discharged back to his regiment. Letter #6
August 5, 1864 In a letter to his father, John writes about continuing to recover from whatever he went to the hospital sick with. He also discusses men who travelled to the army from Lapeer, Michigan. They were in search of men to help fill out the town's obligations for recruiting. 1864 was a time when many regiment's term of service was coming to an end, so their effort is understandable in that light. Letter #7
August 16, 1864 John continues to recover and begins to cook once again, as mentioned in this letter to his brother. He also talks with his brother about the potential of Benezette enlisting and John gives advice on that. Letter #8
November 6, 1864 The Engineers and Mechanics have moved and are now near Atlanta. The march to the sea is about to start and the men are getting ready to move. John writes about sending items home. Letter #9
January 11, 1865 This is the first letter after the March to the Sea is complete. Notable in this is an excellent description of the winter quarters they build! This letter was written on Christian Commission stationary and an image of it's letterhead is placed with the text. Letter #10
March 21, 1865 The Engineers and Mechanics march with Sherman as he leaves Savannah and moves up and thorugh the Carolinas. John writes to his brother and relates how part of that march went. He describes the process of destroying the railroad and talks about coming under the fire of a Confederate battery while working to repair a bridge. Letter #11
July 7, 1865 Here we see that just because the Confederate armies surrendered didn't mean the men could go home. The 1st Engineers and Mechanics are moved back to Tennessee. In this letter, John relates a near mutiny and it's results. Ever the good soldier, John relates more stories about food and paying any price to get variety as he was sick of hartack and salt pork Letter #12
July 10, 1865 Work continues in fort construction for John and his comrades. Here he describes some of their methods of work digging trenches in very rocky soil. He also mentions the disappointment of children at home in not seeing him there yet. Letter #13
August 27, 1865 Still not discharged, John writes about a death in the company and how the men pitched in and raised enough money to have the man sent home to his family. John writes a lot about the upcoming discharge. Letter #14
September 8, 1865 In this final letter in the collection, John is still in Tennessee despite having seen notes in the newspaper that his regiment is to be discharged. His letter has two interesting stories: first relating some of the dangers of soldiers in peacetime and second telling about the government's sale of surplus goods as the army downsizes after the fight. Letter #15

Books about the 1st Engineers and Mechanics

Meet John's comrades in arms through several books that have been published about the regiment as a whole.

"My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War (Great Lakes Books Series) Historian Mark Hoffman offers readers a detailed account of the Michigan engineers from a wealth of sources, including letters, diaries, regimental papers, communications and orders from the military establishment, period newspapers, and postwar accounts. As little has been written about Union volunteer engineers in the western theater, their unique history will undoubtedly be fascinating reading for Civil War buffs, local historians, and those interested in the history of American military engineering.
Among the Enemy: A Michigan Soldier's Civil War Journal (Great Lakes Books Series) - Edited by Mark Hoffman
Though many Union soldiers wrote about their experiences in the American Civil War, few had the vantage point of William Horton Kimball, a member of the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics. As a military engineer, Kimball spent most of his time behind the major lines of conflict and often worked among civilians who sympathized with the enemy. In Among the Enemy: A Michigan Soldier's Civil War Journal, author Mark Hoffman presents Kimball's journal as a unique window into wartime experience.