The Death of Campbell Dudley

Several weeks ago, I was exploring and discovered that my second great-grandmother, Lettitia Dudley, had filed a pension application after her son Campbell died in the Civil War.  I am desperate for information about Lettitia and her husband Thomas, so after a couple of days of debating with myself whether I wanted to spend $75.00 to order the pension file from the National Archives and Records Administration, I took the plunge and did it.  My purpose in ordering the file was to hopefully learn more about Lettitia and, in the process, find out more about Campbell’s military service and death while serving in the army.

I have received the pension file and, yes, it provided a little illumination on Lettitia’s life.  I will cover what I learned about Lettitia and her application for a military pension in next week’s post.   The real surprise in the pension file was the story of Campbell Dudley’s death.
Campbell Dudley was born March 25, 1837, the fourth child of Thomas and Iva Lettitia Tankersley Dudley of Clark Township in Clinton County, Ohio.  He was an older brother of my great-grandfather Jesse Dudley.  On October 3, 1861, Campbell enlisted in Company C of the 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI).  Company C was composed primarily of men from Clinton and Highland Counties.

According to History of the 48th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry written by Major John A. Bering and Captain Thomas Montgomery, the 48th OVI fought in the Battle of Shiloh, the Siege of Corinth, the Battle of Arkansas Post, and the Battle of Vicksburg.  By late February 1864, Campbell’s regiment set up camp near New Orleans, Louisiana.   On February 29, the regiment re-enlisted as a group for another three year term with the promise of a 30 day furlough.  As the soldiers were preparing for their furlough, they were ordered to Franklin, Louisiana, where the army was organizing for the Red River Expedition.
It was around this time that, according to an unsigned document in the pension file, that Campbell began taking medications prescribed by the regimental doctor.  The pension records indicate that he was being treated for chronic laryngitis, though some of his comrades claimed in their affidavits that he suffered from “camp diarrhea.”  On April 8, 1864, the regiment fought in the Battle of Sabine Crossroads.  In the battle 177 members of the regiment were captured by the Confederates and imprisoned at Camp Ford in Texas.  Most of the captured 48th OVI soldiers remained there until a prisoner exchange in October 1864.

Campbell, however, was not captured and the army fell back to Pleasant Hill, where the Battle of Pleasant Hill was fought the following day.  Campbell lost his clothing, blankets, and knapsack.  On April 10, the army retreated to Grand Ecore.  On April 20, Campbell boarded the steamboat for New Orleans, where he entered Charity Hospital on April 29.  He was discharged from Charity Hospital on May 27.  According to notes in the pension file, Campbell wrote a letter to someone stating that he was “well as common,” “doing bully,” and “having plenty to eat and nothing to do” while waiting for his regiment to arrive in New Orleans for their furlough.  He ultimately rejoined his regiment.
The long-awaited 30 day furlough was finally granted in late July 1864.  Campbell and his comrades boarded a steamboat heading north up the Mississippi River, then east at the Ohio River, then home.  On July 29, Campbell was apparently sleeping with some other soldiers when he got up and, within a few minutes, jumped overboard and was drowned.  I knew that Campbell had died on July 29, 1864 when he drowned in the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, but the possibility of suicide never crossed my mind.

Why?  Why would a man who two months earlier supposedly wrote to someone that he was “doing bully” and was on his way home for a 30 day furlough jump to a watery death?
The affidavits, letters, and other documents in the pension file suggest a number of possibilities.  An unsigned, undated document in the file suggested that Campbell might have gotten too close to the edge of the steamboat and fallen or even that some of his comrades might have pushed him overboard.  However, no one else suggested this.

 A number of people indicated that Campbell was known to have “peculiar spells” when he seemed to be temporarily insane.   When he had these spells, he seemed indifferent to his surroundings and seemed “troubled in mind.”  In a letter to the Pension Office, comrade Jonathan Pratt described Campbell’s odd behavior at camp in Algiers, Louisiana.  He said that Campbell was normally “of lively disposition,” but had become melancholy and wouldn’t pay attention to what was going on around him.   He wrote that some people thought he had been drinking, others thought he was upset because some money had been stolen from him, and others thought the problem developed because he had re-enlisted.
A common theme in the comrades’ affidavits and letters was Campbell’s illness.  His comrades said he had been afflicted with camp diarrhea for some time, but other documents indicate that the true nature of his ailment was chronic laryngitis.  Some of his comrades suggested that the medications he took for his ailment was the reason for his spells.  The hospital steward pointed out in his affidavit that Campbell hadn’t been on the sick list for two months prior to his death.

Nearly all the affidavits and letters in the file reference Campbell’s drinking.  Many acknowledge that Campbell was known to drink to excess, though not while on duty or in camp.  However, most said that he had not been intoxicated for several weeks and that liquor was not available on the boat.    Others said, though that he had been drinking in New Orleans prior to his furlough. 
In the opinion of regimental surgeon P. A. Willis, Campbell “deliberately sprang” into the river and drowned due to temporary insanity caused by being deprived of liquor after drinking to excess in New Orleans prior to furlough.  Others suggest that Campbell’s bouts of temporary insanity were caused by delirium tremens.  Although there is testimony that Campbell hadn’t had a drink in several weeks, my hunch is that the regimental surgeon is probably correct. 

Would Campbell have ended his life had he spent the years of 1861 to 1864 back home in Clinton County?  My guess is he probably wouldn’t.  Most of us can only imagine the hardships and horrors he and his comrades and millions of fighting men and women have experienced through the centuries of warfare.  Campbell no doubt saw friends, possibly men he grew up with, injured, killed, and taken prisoner.  He fired at the enemy and may have wounded or killed Confederate soldiers.  He saw battlefields strewn with the mangled bodies of young men.  He endured weather extremes, hunger, and dirty drinking water.  How did he cope?  Through drinking to excess?  Through zoning out?  Maybe he was just not able to cope.   Perhaps his excessive drinking and suicide had nothing to do with his war experience at all. I don’t know and most likely never will.  Regardless of how or why Campbell Dudley’s life ended, we should still honor the three years of service he gave to his country. 

Civil War Memorial, Lynchburg, Ohio


  1. Sadly many descendants of Civil War veterans have similar stories of their fallen ancestors. Thanks for sharing Campbell's story.


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