The Van Raaltes - Letters from a Dutch Family

The Van Raaltes - Letters from a Dutch Family

Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte II was born in 1811 in the town of Wanneperveen which is in the province of Overijssel. Because of religious ideas Van Raalte who was a minister, his wife and their five children decided to leave the Netherlands for the new world. They sailed on september 24, 1846, with people from Van Raalte's and other congregations, from the city of Rotterdam on a ship called the Southerner to New York City. From there Van Raalte and his people traveled to Michigan. Here they founded a new colony called Holland

Van Raalte was a strong supporter of President Lincoln. He did not enter the army himself, but two of his sons, Ben and Dirk enlisted in the 25th Michigan. Both sons wrote letters home. In the following you can read some of these letters. They present us with scenes of the war and glimpses of the Van Raalte family.

The first letter is from Ben and is about camp life:

I am enjoying myself.The life of a soldier agrees with me, it is a healthful life if one is willing to take care of himself. ...Dirk has had fever a couple of times but could continue to work - he can take it. He is sturdy and very active. He has more time to write than I have. Sometimes he comes to my tent but then he is always so full of pep that he can't sit down.

We lack nothing. Our company had only five tents and at night we lay so close together that I didn't enjoy it much. So we changed things. Last Saturday I took a squad and got some planks and with them we fixed our tents so we now have a third more space. We banked dirt against the planks and it has been a great improvement. ...We bought a stove from the Indiana Regiment for fourteen shillings - about 10 apiece for our group. Now we can have a fire in the morning and evenings.

There is much sickness among the lazy soldiers. Whenever there is work to be done they complain of stomach cramps, etc. We rise at daybreak for roll call and after that it's sweeping the parade ground. Then at eight we mount guard and at nine drill till eleven. Then later battalion drill from two till four. After that dress parade. Other things are also done and so the days pass quickly. ...When we left camp last week it was very cold and snowing hard - about three inches in 24 hours. Ice hung from the trees but now it is much milder. ...The country looks devastated. Fences are rarely seen any more and we take whatever there is to take. So you can understandwhy the country looks desolate.

The first major action the Van Raaltes saw was on July 4, 1863 at Green River, against the in number superior troops of John Hunt Morgan. The union commander Col Moore answered on a call for surrender: "Present my comliments to General Morgan, and say to him that this being the Fourth of July I cannot entertain his proposition to surrender." How this fight ended can be read in the following letter by Albertus Van Raalte:

Our boys 200 in number had a tremendous fight with Morgan's division on the fourth of July: the fire and 8 charges they had to endure [over many] hours; Morgan did ask permission to bury his dead, but did not finishhis work (our boys had to bury yet 25 of his men) - but left them in haste just at the time when another two thousand did cross the river: Col. Moore had chosen an excellent position on a hill with trees and logs: Sometimes they were overwhelmed and they had to back out to be able to use their guns: - In the evening they did get reinforcements - 1000 cavalry and 700 infantry: then they followed him to Lebanon. All along the road the houses were filled with wounded and dying rebels. They did call our boys groundhogs because they fired out of the ground; they said they must make your Colonel General and his boys are all sharpshooters: five of our boys were killed and 20 wounded: and yet they were constant under a rain of bullets: The leaves brush and bark of trees were so abundant it did hinder constant in their eyes: the Colonel's horse and pantaloon was hit. The Colonel loves very much the Holland Company: they drove them by the tremendous charges to surround them several times. We feel that God's hand did cover them: Morgan's division could have eaten them up: Morgan seems to have been discouraged on account of that unusual number of wounded and dead: our boys did hit them all in the head or breast. I tell you we have had a very pleasant thanksgiving today.

I will add more letters by the Van Raaltes at the next update of this page.

The letters on this page are taken from the book "Albertus C. Van Raalte: Dutch Leader And American Patriot" by J.M. Jacobson, E.J. Bruins and L.J. Wagenaar.

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