Peter Houser, seen here later in life, worked on his father's farm in McLean County, Illinois, until the age of 25, when he joined the 94th Illinois Volunteer Infantry in August 1862. He was a member of Company B, which served with the Union's Army of the Frontier and was attached to Gen. Francis J. Herron's division.
This division was sent from Springfield, Mo., in support of Gen. James G. Blunt, whose troops were already in the region. Herron's troops came through Fayetteville and engaged Confederate forces at the Battle of Prairie Grove, just southwest of Fayetteville.
Soon after the Battle of Prairie Grove on Dec. 7, 1862, Houser wrote three letters home. Below is the first of the three letters.
Tuesday morning Dec. 9th
I write you on Sunday 23th ult. and promised then to write once a week, so last Sunday was my day to write again, but on that day I was engaged in sending messages to the rebels and had no time to write but now let me tell you where we are and how we got here: We left Camp Curtis on Wednesday 26th ult. at 2 o’clock p.m. and went 17 miles that evening[.] after that we went day and night stopping occasionally to get something to eat; Saturday night we got into Fayetteville (Arkansas) about 12 o’clock. Remained there about 4 hours, then started again, we went about five miles and then the canons could be heard only about three miles ahead, we all instantly seemed to forget that we were very tired and had very sore feet, for when we heard the canon we went as fast again as we had been going, we soon met the 1st Arkansas cavalry on a rapid retreat, they said the woods were full of rebels about a half mile ahead, we then stopped-loaded our guns, fixed bayonets, threw off our overcoats and every thing not need along with us, we then started on double quick to meet the enemy, but when we got half a mile ahead they were not there[.] our artillery then shelled the woods on both sides of the road, we then started again in pursuit but did not find them until we had gone about 2 miles[.] we then saw them about ½ mile ahead Co. B. was deployed as skirmishers along with Co’s. A & C, we advanced cautiously through an open field and soon seen that they meant fight for they planted a battery and directed it right at [unintelligible] we were then ordered to fall back, and did so, then the rebels raised a yell, we went back behind a little hill and lay flat down, our artillery then sent them a shell, they replied immediately, and their shells burst right over us, our artillery fired about five times and then retreated into the woods (we had only two pieces then) we lay still and took a short nap but soon the artillery came back with [unintelligible] pieces and commenced on them; a few shots sent them away and we were up and after them, they retreated to the left and took a position on the hills, so we could not get at them without crossing an open field, we halted and were drawn up in line of battle about 2 o’clock p.m., from that hour till dark the firing never ceased. We were on the left flank and they tried several times to get around us but with not effect We poured volley after volley into them and they returning the compliment sometimes we drove them and then again we would have to retreat. Our regiment and the 26th Indians had to fight a thousand of them. The 26th was immediately on our right; one time the rebels were driving the 26th rapidly before them attempting to take our battery, we were laying down behind a fence and as soon as the 26th had passed far enough we opened on the advancing column which was then about 75 yards away — and it is needless to say that many of them did not get any further. While we were behind that fence the balls whistled around us as thick as hail. I went back over the field yesterday and saw where 6 balls had marked the rail which was just above my head. It is said by persons who might to know that the battle of Sunday was the hardest that was ever fought in the west. Our reg. lost only two in killed and 40 wounded[.] I think the above is very nearly correct though may not be exactly so. Our Co has 12 wounded — (none killed) The only ones you know among the wounded are our second lieutenant W.W. Elder and Geo. Houser, our lieutenant is pretty badly wounded but I think George is not dangerously so; he is wounded in the shoulder — or at least I was told so. The rebel force was estimated at forty thousand; we had about fifteen thousand. The rebels lost in killed about six hundred[.] don’t know how many were wounded, I saw 45 dead rebels lying in one pile yesterday. I must quit right here or I will not get this in today’s mail.
P.S. I have just heard from George[.] he is slightly wounded in the neck; he walked from the battlefield back to Fayetteville, 10 miles, so you may know he is not dangerously hurt.
I will write again soon as I can. Write to me soon and direct your letter thus.
Care Capt McFarland
Co B 94th ILL
Gen. Herron’s Division
Army of the Frontier.
Via St Louis, Mo.