The letters of Martin Luther Vincent in the Civil War are included and available in the book on Dr. Michael Vincent, Born 1784, Columbia County, New York and His Descendants (See publications). The following description gives some of the background for the letters.

Corporal Martin Luther Vincent

112th Illinois Infantry

Summary of his Civil War Experience


It is hard for us to now imagine the United States in Civil War like we see in other countries on the news reports today, but the issues of the mid-1800’s caused a war that certainly touched every American. The Confederacy was formed from the states that believed in states rights and their belief that they had a right to leave the Union. While slavery was a significant issue, economics and politics also divided the nation. The succession of states began with South Carolina in December 1860. Shots were being fired in April 1861 to evict the Federalists occupying Ft. Sumter and the United States was in Civil War. By November 1861 eleven of the Southern states had succeeded. The Confederacy planned a defensive war, feeling that the Union would not be successful in a military campaign to take the states back into the Union. Armies were formed on both sides. In April and May 1861, President Lincoln called for one hundred and twelve thousand volunteers, the majority for 90-days’ service. The first attack on the south late in July 1862 ended in a humiliating defeat of the Union Army in the Battle of Bull Run. In the aftermath of the defeat, the realization set in that a 90-day militia would not win this war. The short-term regiments were disbanded and new calls for volunteers were made for three-year terms.

One volunteer from a farming community in northwestern Illinois was a 26-year old farmer, Martin Luther Vincent. He enlisted August 22, 1862 at his hometown of Cambridge for a term of three years in Company C, of the 112th Regiment Illinois Infantry. He was described as being 5 feet, 8 inches tall, dark in complexion with black hair and black eyes. He was paid a bounty of twenty-five dollars. The regiment was mustered September 20th in Peoria. The volunteer regiments from each state were formed from companies of men who were neighbors. Company C was formed by Captain John B. Mitchell with men from Cambridge.

We can assume that Martin Luther Vincent was typical of the patriotic soldiers following the call of their President. His family had its origins in New York State, where he was born in 1836 to James Brebner Vincent and Polly Cady. Like many of their times, the family migrated west. After spending a short time in Brant Co., Ontario, Canada they settled in the rich farming area near Cambridge, Henry County, Illinois in 1841. The migration included an extended family with Martin Luther Vincent’s grandfather Stephen Cady; his aunts and uncles Alexander H. and Lucy Melissa (Cady) Showers, Norman and Cynthia (Cady) Malcolm, and Gilbert Monroe Vincent; and his cousin Michael Burdette Bristol.

The times were hard. In early 1845 Martin Luther Vincent’s father and older brother James Miron Vincent died within three weeks of each other, leaving his mother with five young children. We can assume that at the young age of 9, Martin Luther Vincent, as the eldest boy, grew to shoulder much of the responsibilities for his family. His letters show us that he was well educated in the rural schools of Cambridge.

The photograph above is of Martin Luther Vincent and his wife, Martha in their later years.

During his service in the army, Martin Luther Vincent wrote 67 letters that have survived to this time. Most were written to his mother. They give a very clear insight into his war experiences and his character. A review of the Cambridge Chronicle newspaper published at Cambridge, Illinois during the Civil War shows that there appeared to be little reporting of news for the individual regiments in their coverage of the war. We can imagine that his mother looked forward with great anticipation to his letters to learn of his well being. Polly Vincent had two other sons in the war. William Henry Vincent was a private in the 42nd Illinois Regiment, and Kirk Vincent served in several units. We can only image her concern for her sons and, as we learn in Martin Luther Vincent’s letters, there were other difficulties for her having a daughter who was critically ill and the loss of her father, Stephen Cady in 1863.

In addition to Martin Luther Vincent’s letters, we can learn about the 112th Illinois Infantry from the regimental history that was compiled by B. F. Thompson and published in 1885. To better understand Martin Luther Vincent’s experience, facts and comments from the regimental history are included with the letters. Another source of information to describe the events are the books Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc.).

A final comment. At the end of Martin Luther Vincent’s last letter on June 4, 1865, a plea to his mother is made as a comment about a letter he had written to his brother, Kirk:

"You can give it to him and tell him to tear it up and not let anybody get a hold of it, for I know that I write and spell so miserable that I do not want everybody to see my writing."

This comes across after the passage of one hundred and thirty years as the comment of a man with considerable pride. To think of the conditions under which he wrote his letters, we can hardly criticize him for his spelling. It should be noted that the spelling errors were relatively rare and the art of his penmanship would be envied today. In deference to his request, the letters have been edited for spelling (only). Although this might not be correct given the historical aspects of publishing his letters, it seems like the correct decision considering the sensitivity of the man. Similarly, a couple of rare uses of words, which were probably in very common use in his time, but would now be taken in a derogative way have been edited with "******".

An example of one of the letters follows:

Letter 17

May the 30 1864

Punkine Vine, Georgia

Dear Mother

We are laying under the Rebel fire and have been for several days. The bullets are passing all of the time over our beds. We have lost three men killed out of our Co. and a good many wounded. I suppose you hear of the battles fought, so I shall say nothing about it. William is here and Kirk. Frank Welton got shot through the legs yesterday. Ay it is most impossible to sleep day or night here for the racket of musketry and the roar of the artillery. We are called to arms a dozen time a night. Some nights the greatest charges are made in the night at this place. We have driven the Rebs before us like droves of sheep for about seventy-five miles and still they say that we won't come where they can get a fight out of us. I think that they will get their fill of fight within a few days. About that land, it is all right. You shall have my traps as long as you live if I get killed and there is a very good chance for it at present. I got your letter yesterday on the skirmish line and could hardly get time to read it for I had to keep an eye pealed to dodge the bullets.

I will have to stop for the mail is all ready to start.

Martin L. Vincent

Mother write soon, the boys are right. Put this letter away for me and don't let anyone see it