Jonathan was the sixth child of Jacob and Barbara (Crater) Robins. He was born on January 8, 1842. In July of 1862 he enlisted in the 18th Michigan Infantry. The Regiment was recruited on July 15, 1862, and on August 26 he was mustered into the United States army in Hillsdale, Michigan.
Jonathan was taken prisoner in the fall of 1864 at Athens, Alabama and sent to Cahaba prison. After several months he was paroled. With the other Union prisoners from Cahaba, as well as those from Andersonville prison in Georgia, he traveled by steamboat, crowded boxcars, and finally by foot to Union-held Vicksburg, Mississippi. There the paroled prisoners were to be exchanged "man-for-man and rank-for-rank" with Confederate prisoners held in prisons in the North. This plan fizzled when, due to the lack of telegraph lines in the South after Sherman's March to the Sea, Confederate prisoners weren't reaching Vicksburg in numbers sufficient to equal the Union prisoners. However, with the end of the Civil War the rules of prisoner exchange were not in effect. Jonathan was in the last—very large—group of Union prisoners to be sent home on a Mississippi steamboat, the Sultana.
In his letters, Jonathan writes to his sisters Sophia (2-4-1847 to 12-1-1917) and Hannah (12-13-1848 to 11-3-1894). He mentions letters he has received from his aunt Sarah Jane (also referred to as Sarah Day) who was his Uncle Elias's wife. Their child Owen apparently was a friend of Jonathan's since Jonathan mentions he might farm with Owen after the War.
TRACING THE FAMILY
The letters transcribed belong to Ken Benge of Allen. This is an (very) abbreviated family tree of Ken's familial connection to Jonathan Robins. The records go no further back than the first Jonathan Robins, probably because they were burned during the Revolutionary War. His father-in-law, Jacob Vossler, served in the Revolutionary War for seven years, conferring on his descendants the honor of being Sons and Daughters of the Revolution.
Jonathan Robins (b. 1785)-m-Mary Vossler (b. 1785) [They had 8 children, including ... ]
2 - Jacob, who married Barbara Crater [They had 13 children, including ... ]
6 - Jonathan
7 - Sophia
8 - Hannah
and Jacob and Barbara also had ...
Elias, who married Sarah Jane Day [They had children, including ... ]
Mary J. Robins Cook, who married Edwin Cook [They had children, including ... ]
Howard R. Cook, who married Erma Stevens [They had children, including ... ]
Laura G. Cook, who married Russell Benge [They had children, including ... ]
Kenneth Benge, who is the keeper of the Civil War letters of Jonathan Robins. Jonathan is Ken's great-uncle, four times removed.
These letters have been transcribed exactly as they were written. Jonathan didn't use end punctuation, so where the end of a sentence seemed to be, four spaces have been left so that it can be more easily read. In cases where a word was hard to determine, a guess at what was meant is written in parentheses with a question mark following.
In the following letter Jonathan talks about taking care of his gun, the weather, his devotion to being a good Christian and how he looks forward to the end of the war so he can come home.)
December 28 (1863)
Dear Sister Sophia
it is after dinner and I thought I would write a few lines to you to let you know that I am well and I hope these few lines will find you in good health and all of my Folkes isis rainy and very much hearit is not very cold hearI have been cleaning my gun I was on duty yesterday in the rain and got my gun ruste but I cleaned itit is as bright as a DollarI can see my face in it it is hard work to keep a gun cleanit take a grate deale of timeall of the boys are well but Dewight Douglashe is not veryI received a letter from Amos and Mother day before yesterdayI had some whisky for Christmas Dinner and some mashed potatoes and Fride cakesI was not on duty Christmas when you write let me know ware you went and what you had to eat write all the newsI can't think of much to writemy head is as big as a Basket to dayI received a paper from D. F. Hadleyhe is going to school at Poughkeepsie N.Y. I received a letter a few weeks agoI received a letter from Sarah E. Day. I get so many I donte know when I get them answered but I like to get themI received one from Elias (Dumoth?) I will stop untill Nightmaby I can think of something
it is after Roll call and I will try and finish this....I have been to Prayer Meeting to nightwe had a good meetingI attended the (?) prayer meeting today at the church it was a very good oneI like a good prayer meetingI am trying to live a Christian lifeI find that it is a good thing to live near to Christe Sophia I wish you and Hannah and all of my Sisters and Brothers would give thaire hearts to Christe I love the hymn come sing to me of Heaven whom I am about to die it is a concillation to the lore (Lord?) I think the 18 will not stay hear at Nashville but a few weeks yetI donte know where we shall go if we do leaveI think it will be a good thing for some of the boys carry on so bad hear in the citySophia I am glad that you have a good school this winterI wish I could be thare to go with you and speake of PeaceI would like to have a Sleigh ride this winter but I am a fraid that I shant see eny snow the ground hase been Freze once hear but it thoud out in one day and if we go south further I gues it will be as warm as summerit is very warm tonight and I wish I had some Aples and ciderI think I would eat and Drink and go to bed full and good NaturedI wish this war would come to a close and then I would come homeI donte know if I would stay long at home or notPeter and Lyman Field and myself talks of going to California after the warI will know when I get homeI will close write soon
(Of the three letters, the following was the hardest to read. Jonathan had fine penmanship usually. He may have been suffering from an excess of holiday cheer when he wrote this. In this letter Jonathan talks about the weather in the south, what he plans to do when he returns from the war, news from his company and messages for folks at home.)
April 29th 1864
Dear Sisters Hannah and SophiaI received your most welcome letter yesterday and I was glad to hear that you was well my Health is good at present and I hope thease few lines will find you the same it is nice weather hear now most all of the trees are leaved out and it looks like summer it is as warm as I want if we have some rainI think it must awful weather in South - I would like to be up thare and run around in the mud with youI think we would have a good time but I have got fifteen months from tomorrow to stay in the army if I stay my time out that wonte seem long if it goes off as fast as it hase since I have been in the armyI will be a free manthen I will not renlist Untill I get out once and then I think I wonteI think of buying some land I entend if Owen will go in withe me I think that will be the best thing I can doI donte want to have Owen sell unless he thinks it is to his BenafitI received a letter from Sarah Janeshe did not know about it tell her to do as she likesI think the folkes up thare is doing Buisness up to the handle getting married and having BabyesI think they are a fraind [afraid] to go to the war and so they will rais some soldiers to go in thare placeI suppose you have seen Mrs Finch by this timeour Ordly got Back last night and Co. A hase lost Lut - Davishe is promoted to 1st Lut in Co. D. I hated to have him go in that Co. he was the best Officer we hadI was sorry to hear that Mary had the sore throat does Amos direct his letters to Milton Alamon Pixly hase turned out as I expected he would tell Susan that we have got over the smallpox and that she need not be afraid to writeyou wanted me to Answer your QuestionI would if I could thare is quite a number that is the same meaning but I cant find eny that reads alike in your next letter tell me Sophia and HannahI would like to have been to the Exhibition and to the sugar parties up thare but I cant be thareI received a letter from Meargret Duffyall of her folks was well but John Dewitt he was sick at Camp Denison OhioI will close give my love to Grandmother and all of my folkes and Friends and you both have my love and best wishes
I am Dreaming sadly Dreaming
of the bright and happy houres
when thy smile was resting ore me
Like the sunlight on the flowers
be good girls and mind mother and you will have your reward
Sophia and Hannah
(As part of a prisoner exchange Jonathan is in Vicksburg, MS, waiting to be sent home. He gives some information about what's happening in the war and offers some thoughts about how some families will be missing a member after the war. In perhaps the most powerful of passages, he strongly asserts that he was glad to be able to do what he could for his flag—his country—despite the suffering he endured.)
Parole Camp Vicksburg MissApril 14, 1865
Dear Sister Sophia
I seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and I hope thease few lines will find you gainingI received a letter from Sarah Jane last night stating that you was very sickI hope you are better by this time I was very sorry to hear that you was sick and that Grandmother is deadI feel very sad but we must trust in higher forever the Lords will be done not ours I have not got Another letter yetI will come home if I can get a chance all of the Prisoners hear will be sent North in a few days to some Parole camp and I think then I can get a fourlough and come home and make you a visite Richmond have fallenLee and his army have surrendered to GrantJohnson and his army have Surrendered to ShermanMobile is taken and all of the reble army that was thare are taking Prisoners and all off the guns fell in our hands the war is almost over I think it will be over in three monthsWhat a rejoicing time it will be when Brothers and Sisters meet and and sons and mothers meet it will be a day to be remembered but thare will be many vacant chares and Sisters and Brothers and Parents will look for thare brave Soldier boys to come homebut he dose not come what is the reason why he hase fallen on the field of Battlehe hase gon to live with Jesus thare will be many tears shed for those that hase fallen in defending the old flag but we know that they fell in a good cause all I have Suffered is for the old flag and I would Suffer a grate deal more before I would see that old flag go down but Sophia let us think of the futureif we do not live to meet on Earth let us try and live so that we shall meet in heavenI am so sorry that you are sick you must look to Christe he can heal you he is able and willing to save all that will come unto himI wish I could be home while you are sick but I cant beI dream of being home many timesI can't think of much to write and will close write as soon as you are able but you need not write untill you hear from me again tell all of the folks not to write for I expect to be sent home in a few days
give my best wishes to all of the folkes
You have my love
Jonathan Robins to his sister
(Ten days later Jonathan Robins boarded the Sultana, the steamboat that was to take him home via the Mississippi River. He was killed on April 27, 1865, when three of its four boilers exploded just south of Memphis. His name and information about him appear on a modest monument in Locust Corner Cemetery. It is on one vertical side of his father's monument, with other family members having their own small gravestones spreading to both sides of the larger monument . It's probable that Jonathan's body was never returned to Michigan and this is the only memorial to him.)
For the story of the Sultana disaster, CLICK HERE.
Letters transcribed by Ken Benge and JoAnne P. Miller