“And a Kiss for Little May:” The Civil War Letters of Amos Gillis

“And a Kiss for Little May:” The Civil War Letters of Amos Gillis


“And a Kiss for Little May:” The Civil War Letters of Amos Gillis

By Kieran Robertson

Have you heard of the Twenty Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), a regiment organized during the Civil War? Maybe not, but you’ve probably heard of one or two (or three!) of the men on the regiment’s muster rolls. For some reason the fates of history smiled upon the Twenty Third and filled its ranks with the future who’s who of the late 1800s.

One man who helped lead the 23rd OVI was Colonel (and later Brigadier General) Rutherford B. Hayes. Yes the future President of the United States.

But wait there’s more! Joining the ranks of the 23rd as a Private was eighteen year old William McKinley. Yes, another future President of the United States fighting for the 23rd. Check out his Civil War diary right here.

The Ohio History Connection recently acquired the papers of a man less well known, but equally important to the 23rd OVI. The letters and possessions of this man, Captain Amos Gillis, tell many interesting stories about his experiences during the Civil War and what it meant to be a family in the 1860s.

Amos was from a town named Kinsman in Trumbull County, Ohio. His wife, Amanda, and his young daughter, May, remained in Kinsman while Gillis was away fighting.

Amos wrote to Amanda and May frequently- in many cases he was penning a letter multiple times a week. He often opened with “To My Dear Wife and ‘Little May’” and almost always ended his letters with “A Kiss for May.”
Amos and Amanda wrote of day-to-day happenings (he noted Colonel Hayes coming through camp and commented on the Colonel’s relationship with his wife, Lucy). They also almost always found multiple lines available to express their loneliness and to count down the days until they might be together again.

For example, on January 31, 1862, Amos wrote,

“ How I would like to see my loved ones tonight— but I must not think of such a pleasure, for it will yet be many a long month before I can hope to hear that joyous greeting and listen to those gentle voices which come to me so oft in dreams, where no sound disturbs the midnight solitude, save the hoarse challenge of the faithful Sentinel as he holds the life of an approaching form upon his finger, until it proves to be a friend…”

Amos wasn’t always so lofty in his expressions of love, for he also wrote in January 1862, when commenting on the shopping Amanda need to do, “ …remember for a dress, pink is my favorite. I would like to put my arms around a pink dress about now. My wife would be inside of course.”

                Amos in uniform.

Fortunately in early July of 1863, Amanda and May were able to visit Amos in Charleston.

In August of 1863, Amos wrote Little May, then about ten years old, her own letter. He opened the letter saying, “I guess you are asleep now and I can almost think I see my little Girl in bed ‘up stairs,” and I would like to be there to sleep with her all night…” He signs off saying, “To Little May Gills From her Papa.”

Unfortunately, in September 1864, Amanda Gillis received a very different letter in the mail. On September 3, at Berryville, Virginia, Amos Gillis was killed. Amanda was sent his remaining possessions by mail. It appears that these possessions included the last few letters that Amanda sent to Amos. In a final letter written on August 7, 1864, she signed off saying, “I do hope Amos to hear soon that you are well and safe…”

After the war, Amanda and May would move to Cleveland where Amanda remained very active in reunions and memorials organized for the 23rd OVI.

The letters written between Amos and Amanda were preserved by generation after generation of the family until they made it to the archives.

Unfortunately Amos Gillis did not get to try his hand at politics or fame after the Civil War. However through his letters, his story will be preserved alongside those of well-known men of Ohio’s Twenty Third.

Amos kept an album of photographs from most of the men he fought with. On these two pages are William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Author’s Note: During his time in the 23rd OVI, it seems that Amos Gillis became involved in the trials of men accused of deserting. Official transcripts from these trials are also included in the Amos Gillis Papers.

Posted July 24, 2017
Topics: Civil WarMilitaryPresidents & PoliticsDaily Life

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