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Thomas Morris Burns Letters

Identifier: Ms-2000-087

Scope and Content

This collection contains letters written by Thomas Morris Burns, of Richmond, Ohio, a private in Company G, 52nd Ohio Infantry during the American Civil War. Most of the letters were written to Burns' father, Thomas Burns, with several others written to his sisters Amanda (Harriet Amanda) and Lib, and one to brother John W. Burns. The letters commence just days after Burns' enlistment at Camp Dennison, Ohio. Burns provides details of the regiment's camp life, food and clothing rations, drilling, and picketing, and foraging, while describing weather conditions and surroundings. He also discusses personal matters, describing his health and relaying news of mutual acquaintances, including battle casualties, captives, discharges, and deserters. He shares and dispels war rumors and requests food, clothing, and other goods from home. Among the military engagements described by Burns are the Battle of Perryville (where he claimed he had seen a woman serving as a major in a cavalry unit)(Oct. 16, 1872), the defense of an ammunition train against Confederate attack near the Battle of Stones River (Jan. 10, 1863); the Battle of Chickamauga (Sept. 28, 1863); skirmishing at Tunnel Hill (May 23, 1864) and Dallas (June 2, 1864), Georgia; Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (July 9, 1864); Battle of Peachtree Creek (July 20 and July 23, 1864). Other notable points of discussion in Burns' letters include the frequency of accidental fires in camp (Feb. 21, 1863); Nashville's Ackland house (Feb. 21 and June 7, 1863); description of a three-cornered fortification (May 14, 1863); the killing of a sutler with the 86th Illinois (May 14, 1863); the reprieve of a deserter slated for execution (June 24, 1863); the celebration of Independence Day in camp (July 11, 1863); the John Hunt Morgan raid (June-Aug. 1863); snakes and scorpions in camp (Sept. 9, 1863); the presence and capture of a woman doctor serving with the brigade (Mar. 17; Apr. 23; and Sept. 16, 1864); trading between the lines (July 9, 1864); a description of Atlanta's devastation and marching prisoners of war through the city (Sept. 6, 1864); the 1864 presidential campaign and election (Sept. 16 and Nov. 11, 1864); the death of John McCarel (Sept. 21, 1864); preparations for the March to the Sea (Nov. 5, 1864); Union prisoners taking a Confederate oath of allegiance (Dec. 16, 1864). He also makes frequent mention of commander Daniel McCook; Copperheads; the effect of the draft at home; friends in the 40th Ohio Infantry; and packages of provisions from home. One letter (Feb. 3, 1865) is written on U. S. Christian Commission stationery; another (Mar. 12, 1865) on Chatham Artillery stationery; several others are written on stationery bearing patriotic illustrations. The collection also contains several empty envelopes and two letter fragments that could not be matched with the letters in the collection. (Note: Burns omitted the year when dating many of his letters, but because he provided locations and days of the week, the years of the letters can be determined with confidence.)

Also among the letters is a single letter to Burns' father from John B. McCarel, also of Company G, 52nd Ohio Infantry, written from Nashville on June 20, 1863. Burns writes of Ohio Copperheads and "butternuts," threatening retribution for their disloyalty, then describes the Union camp and fortifications at Nashville.

Also found in the collection are two reproduced photographs: one, a studio portrait of Thomas Morris Burns, Harold Burns, and Herbert Bentz Burns; the other, a group of veterans of Company G, 52nd Ohio at an 1896 reunion in Smithfield, Ohio.


  • 1862 - 1896
  • Majority of material found within ( dates 1862-1865)


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

Thomas Morris Burns, son of Thomas and Sarah Smith Burns, was born in Richmond, Ohio on October 3, 1843. The 1850 federal census records 16-year-old Thomas living in the Jefferson County, Ohio home of his parents, together with presumed siblings Elizabeth (20), Catharine (18), James (14), Mary Ann (12), John W. (9), and Harriet A. [Harriet Amanda] (3). On August 18, 1862, Burns enlisted as a private in Company G, 52nd Ohio Infantry. He remained with the regiment through the war before being discharged at the mustering out of his regiment on June 3, 1865. Burns married Anna Bentz (1849-1929), a native of Pennsylvania, ca. 1870; the couple would have eight children. By the time of the 1880 federal census, the Burnses were living in Richmond, Ohio, with children May (9), Elizabeth (7), Herbert (5), Kate (2), and Melissa (6 months). Working as a painter and marble-cutter, Burns moved with his family to Steubenville, Ohio, ca. 1891. The 1900 census lists them among the residents of Steubenville, with the household including Burns children Hattie M. (29), Sarah E. (27), Nellie (20), Florella (16), John F. (11), and Edith V. (7). Thomas Morris Burns died in Steubenville, Ohio, on July 20, 1908, and was buried in Union Cemetery, Steubenville.

The 52nd Ohio Infantry was organized and mustered into service at Camp Dennison, Ohio in August, 1862, under commander Colonel Daniel McCook, Jr. After participating in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky (October 8, 1862), the regiment marched to Nashville, remaining there until the following March. From March to May, 1863, the regiment remained at nearby Brentwood, then moved to Murfreesboro in June before returning to Nashville the following month. The 52nd participated in the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-21, 1863) then moved to Lookout Valley before marching to Knoxville. From May to September 1864, the regiment participated in the Atlanta Campaign and in Sherman's March to the Sea in November/December, then in the Campaign of the Carolinas during the spring of 1865. The regiment marched to Washington, D.C. and particpated in the Grand Review before being mustered out of federal service on June 3.


0.2 Cubic Feet (1 box)


Letters written to family members by Thomas Morris Burns of Richmond, Ohio, a private in Company G, 52nd Ohio Infantry during the American Civil War. Also contains two photographs of Burns and a letter from John B. McCarel, also of the 52nd Ohio, to Burns' father.

Source of Acquisition

The Thomas Morris Burns Letters were put on deposit in Special Collections and University Archives in 2000. The collection was donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 2021.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Thomas Morris Burns Letters by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the Thomas Morris Burns Letters commenced and was completed in January 2022.

Thomas Morris Burns Letters, 1862-1896 (bulk dates 1862-1865)
John M. Jackson
2022 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-10-01: Finding aid notes updated to new department standards. juliags
  • 2021-04-29: LM Rozema added missing notes for an unprocessed collection (abstract, source, processing), split the scope note into scope and bio notes, added FA title, added FA date from EAD, and added component with instances previously attached to collection level.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US