Captain Russell’s Condolence Letter to Jesse Newell. A Son’s Civil War Death

Captain Avra P. Russell, Company G, Second Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry, wrote to Jesse Newell about his 23-year-old son Robert Newell’s death in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri, Aug. 10, 1861. The condolence letter, written early in the Civil War and early in Kansas statehood, was published in the Newells’ hometown newspaper in Oskaloosa, Kansas. The 2nd Kansas, the First Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry and the First Iowa Regiment formed the Fourth Brigade among the Union forces. You can get an idea of what Robert Newell and his Kansas comrades experienced that day in Missouri with this story on the Emerging Civil War website: An Iowa Soldier’s First Combat Experience at Wilson’s Creek. By Kristen Pawlak

The Oskaloosa Independent, Sat., Aug. 31, 1861; page 2.


CAMP NEAR ROLLA, Mo., Aug. 18, ’61.

Dear Doctor: — It is with feelings of extreme melancholy that I address you upon this occasion.

The terrible battle at Springfield, fought on the 10th inst., deprived you of a very promising son, and me of a brave Lieutenant, and highly cherished friend. He was killed almost by my side, at the close of the day, when we were retiring from the field, by the bursting of a shell. The missiles entered the back part of his head, and he fell a corpse – never moved or spoke after falling.

He had taken a very active and efficient part through the day, manifesting a coolness and perfect self control, almost unexampled in one so young and inexperienced on the field – was continually in the front of the battle doing noble execution himself and, and giving courage to the whole company by his intrepid example.

Our first engagement was opened by the enemy in ambush; at their first volley Gen. [Nathaniel] Lyon, who was at our head, immediately by our company, fell dead. Col. [Robert] Mitchell fell severely wounded; also Lieut. [Charles P.] Wiggins, and several of our boys were wounded; among them your son Abram was shot through the knuckle of the forefinger of his right hand, and slightly on the neck.

I think the bones of his hand were not broken, and that he will have the perfect use of his hand in due time. I shall send him to St. Louis tomorrow morning, where he can get better treatment than is possible here in camp. He has borne his sufferings on the march here, (120 miles) like a true soldier and philosopher.

You have, of course, seen an account of the battle and our withdrawal from Springfield. We arrived here last evening.  This is my first possible opportunity of writing you. Mr. Barnes, the correspondent of the Mo. Democrat, is a base, infamous liar, and tries to discredit the Kansas brigade, in whom Gen. Lyon said on the field he placed his principal dependence, and who fought and held the field two hours after all others were whipped, discouraged and in confusion, and the majority left the field.  With less than 5,000 men we fought 32,000 [These numbers vary. American Battlefield Trust says Union 5,400 and Confederate 11,000], and drove them inch by inch a distance of about two miles, where they possessed all the strongholds. They had commenced their retreat from the field an hour and a half before we retired; but we were so much exhausted that we were compelled to retire, having no support.

The official report of the battle will soon be published, when you will see Kansas properly mentioned. Where our next point of destination is I cannot say. I may see you soon; if not you will be apprised of our whereabouts, when I will be glad to hear from you. Since leaving Kansas City, we have been so incessantly on the march that I have had no opportunity of writing you. If you could have been with us on the memorable 10th, and since, you would have made many hearts glad. In your sad bereavement I am a true sympathizer, and with you a sincere mourner.

With many wishes for your welfare and happiness, I am your obedient friend.

A.P. Russell

[Russell died from wounds he received in the Battle of Prairie Grove in Arkansas, December 1862. Russell County, Kansas, is named for him.]