These letters were written by William Burgess Wall (1829-1909), a native of Virginia, who graduated from the Jefferson Medical College in 1853, and later served as a Surgeon with the 33rd Mississippi Infantry. William wrote the letters to his first wife, Bethunia Perkins (1840-1871) whom he married in 1856.
The second letter was written not long after the fall of Atlanta whereupon Hood took his army northwest and attempted to disrupt Sherman’s supply lines only to discover that Sherman had no intention of maintaining his supply line but rather to march across Georgia and live off the land. Hood then decided to march into Tennessee to attack elements of Thomas’s divided forces. The third letter was written after Hood’s failed attempt to take Franklin, TN, and just before the Battle of Nashville. Following that defeat, Hood’s army was effectively destroyed.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
January 10, 1864
It will be two weeks in the morning since you left though it seems to me to have been much longer. I reckon it is the same case with yourself. It is now Sunday night. We have had a quiet Sabbath. Andy came down last night. Brought the box safely. Henry Johnson & myself met him at the depot & we have today enjoyed some of its contents. Mitch Linden’s boy also brought him a box from home so we are faring finely at this time.
I was sadly disappointed when I asked Andy for my letter & he said Amus had it & that he was left. You can’t imagine how much I was misput. I want Amus to come along. When I opened the box & found that little slip of paper pinned on the flour sack with two short lines & your name, it did me some good. I have not taken everything out of the box yet. I am waiting for your letter supposing you have enumerated the articles sent though I have gone for enough in it to find cakes, wine, sausages (also some for Clay Baker), hams, flour, butter, candles, & sugar. The articles so far as tried are very fine for which accept my thanks. When I get your letter, I shall enjoy your present ten times more.
Mrs. Durden sent Mitch one pound cake, some custards, two small loafs [of] light bread, six dozen eggs (every one of them froze), one pound butter, six & half pounds sausages, one loaf or cake of sauce (she weighed the articles). I have not been surprised that Dennis didn’t come knowing how cold it was in Panola. I hope you didn’t freeze.
I have thought of you many times & seen you shivering near the fire since it has been so cold. I am a little anxious for Dennis to come on. I miss him in the cooking arrangements.
Well, I reckon you begin to want me to say something about coming home. Of course you will not think of looking for me until I have had time to eat up the goodies you sent me & how long that will be, I can’t exactly tell yet. I think, however, I will try & get a pass after Dr. McCarty gets back. He is now at home. His wife was extremely sick when he left here. She will hardly get well & it is uncertain when he will be back. You need not look for me before the 20th or last of the month & you needn’t feel disappointed if I don’t come then for I may not be able to get leave. I wish it was so that I could be there in time to meet with Jim Johnson. If he comes, give him my kindest regards. I think I shall write him in a few days. It would do me a great deal of good to see him. All of your acquaintances here are well. Weathersby has gone to bed. Henry Johnson is sitting by reading. Oh! what did Mannie & Laura say when you returned home without bringing them anything from me? Give them my love & kiss them for me. My love to Mrs. Oliver. Respects to all friends. Howdy & respects to the servants.
My health is as usual. How is yours? Have you gotten any liquor? If you haven’t sold any cotton since you went home, don’t sell any until you hear from me again unless you have some good & safe opportunity of sending it to the neighborhood of Memphis. I am not anxious for you to sell it anyway. Say nothing of this to anybody. Don’t tell anybody but what you have plenty of money when you don’t have an opportunity of sending a letter by hand & you wish to write. Send it by mail. I will stop now & write again soon. How much pork have you put up? Can you get Milton from Dupuy? If I do write short letters, I love for you to write long ones. Good night “dear.” As ever, your devoted husband, — W. B. Wall
Mitch Durding requested me the first time I wrote you to ask you to send the words of “The Vacant Chair” to him for Mrs. Brown. Oh! Bob & I had fun & sport out of Sam Brown on the board question. He was roughly plagued but denies serving the old lady.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
September 21, 1864
Yours of the 6th written in Carroll was received several days ago. I had mailed you a letter on the day before I received it & should have answered it immediately but we were in the act of moving. We got to this place—Palmetto, a depot on the Atlanta & West Point (Ga.) Railroad. The distance from here to Atlanta is about twenty-five (25) miles. There are many conjectures as to our destination. Some think we will remain here & many suppose we will go to the Blue Mountains, North Alabama. None of us know what Gen. Hood’s purposes are.
I informed you in my last that my resignation was not accepted. I was very much disappointed. I was much sorrier on your account than on my own. It is very hard for one who has been in a regiment & brigade as long as I have in this,. If he has properly discharged his duties & had good health, to get post duty. Though I shall make an effort at it as it will so no harm. You must make your calculation to remain in North Mississippi for I cannot move you away as long as I am in field service. I have no doubt my resignation would be accepted if tendered after this campaign is over but I don’t know now that I shall tender my resignation any more. I prefer you would not insist upon it although I know your great anxiety for me to be with you & at home. I wish you however always to tell me plainly how your health is & how everything gets along generally for upon these will mostly depend my actions. i do not wish to quit the service if I can possibly avoid it though I long to be at home again.
I requested you in my last to let me know how much money you could get for certain articles—ie.; the cotton on hand in bales & in the seed & the store house & how much the four percent certificates were worth. This I wanted to know intending to buy a negro or two if they could be had at reasonable prices. But of course I don’t want anything sold without I instruct you to do so as I may not wish to buy any negro atall. Keep the buggy you bought some time ago if you wish to do so & can take any care of, though I don’t think I would have bought it & paid cotton for it. I don’t want you to send me any clothes of any sort until I order them. I have just as many as I can take care of for the present.
You ask me to become guardian of your younger sisters & brother & that Willie is very anxious for me to do so at present. I should certainly take great pleasure in serving them in that way if I could, but I cannot take hold of it just now., but will as soon as circumstances will permit if the children desire it.
As to moving the negroes from the bottom, I think it best in all probability for them to stay there for the present in your Uncle John’s charge. I am sorry for the children & feel deeply concerned in their interest & am willing to do anything for them in my power. None of us know what is best to do at this time. I shall try to get a leave of absence when this campaign is over. It will probably not end before winter sets in. You must not think of visiting me. If you were here I could not be with you. I have strong hope that the war will end by next spring.
Where is little Kelly Oliver? He has not reported to his command. I saw Pryor Perkins yesterday. He is very well. All of your acquaintances are well so far as I know. How are William Hair, Clay Baker, & Alvey Middleton?
I think of you almost constantly & wonder how you are getting on. I know you miss Margaret. I hope you don’t have so much company as you used to. It would be more than I would like for you to wait upon. Take care of your provisions & don’t get out for if things are as high there as they are here, you would never be able to buy. Price of a few articles here. Flour from 0.75 to 1.oo pound, sweet potatoes $8 to $10 bushel, butter $5 to $8 lb., chickens half grown $2 to $3, young turkeys $5, sugar cane syrup or sorghum $10 to $15 gallon, & so on. I know these articles are not so high in Panola & I hope they never will be. Soldiers are getting pretty fair rations but not so much. But what they eat almost every part of a beef. They go to the butcher pens & get such parts as are not issued & would be thrown away, such for instance as the head, feet, livers, lights &c. I heard of one man the other day going off with the horns to make him a mess & I think the tails are very fine & delicate. This is no joke—at least you wouldn’t think so if you had seen my helping Dennis Shinn some the other day. Dr. Phillips (a surgeon that I am nearly always with) had a large mess of Mim today. There is another part still more delicate that I will tell you of when I see you.
Our army is here in line of battle but whether Gen. Hood expects a fight or not I have no idea. I don’t know how or when I can get this letter mailed. My regards to the neighbors generally. My love to Mrs. Oliver. Tell Laura and Mannie Papa wants to see them very much. Ask then if they want to see me. Kiss them for me. I hope you are still all well. That the Giver of all good may watch over, protect, and bless you all is my daily prayer. I thank Him for the health He has given me. Howdy & respects to the servants. Tell them to let me know how they get on with everything. Your devoted husband, — W. B. Wall
In addressing me it makes no difference what place I am at. Just address your letters as you have done & I will get them except instead of Hood’s Army, put it Army Tennessee. It is night. Everybody asleep. I had no pen & ink & have used as you see a pencil & written badly at that but suppose you can make out what I have written—at least enough of it. So goodnight dearest.
September 22nd. Since writing the below, I have learned that Kelly Oliver is with the regiment. I am now at the cook yard with Henry Johnson & will take dinner—that is, eat with him today. He says he is putting his best foot forward for me. Sends love.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Army of the Tennessee
December 13, 1864
My dear Wife,
I have no news to write. I hope you have received some of the letters I have written lately as in them I gave you all the news from your relatives, which only amounted to they were well & doing tolerably well &c. No letter from you yet of later date than October 21st. The time seems very long to me. You have no doubt received several of mine written since then.
It snowed here about a week ago. It is still upon the ground. The weather has been quite cold. The thermometer standing from 12 to 15 degrees below zero all the time. You would probably like to know how I am situated. Well, Dr. [George C.] Phillips ¹ & myself took possession of a negro cabin that was nearly filled with corn. This we had thrown in the loft & to the back of the cabin leaving us about half the room. It is well pointed & has an excellent fireplace. We have some boxes & broken chairs to sit on. So you see we are doing finely. At night we put down hay & spread our blankets on that for sleeping. We get plenty fat beef to eat & have but little to do except make ourselves comfortable. I have had only one man to report to me sick this month & there wasn’t much the matter with him, I don’t know how the men out on the lines stand the cold as they do. They have no extra amount of clothing, but few blankets, & scarce of woods. They suffer with cold but endure it without much complaint. The wind is blowing fiercely today.
You will probably have killed hogs before you get this. Let me know how much you made. Will you have corn enough or have you bought more? Like all of us, I know you are anxious to learn what the army is doing & what it will do next. Well all I can tell you is we have dug trenches & are lying in them, hoping the enemy will attack us. I have no thought we will attack them at Nashville. And as to what we will do next, I can give no intimation for I have not the least knowledge of Gen. Hood’s intentions.
Now when will the war end? This is a hard question & one I am entirely unable to answer, I have no thought it will ever end in our subjugation. It makes me sad to think of being separated from you so much & so long, but I hope before a great while to be where you can at least visit me occasionally, Don’t allow yourself to become despondent but try to keep cheerful—looking forward to a better day. I shall try & visit Sally Perkins again. I love her very much. Tell Laura & Mannie not to forget Papa. Hug & kiss them for me. Much love to Mrs. Oliver. I feel under deep & lasting obligations to her for her kindness to you & the children. Regards to all the neighbors. Tell all the servants howdy & tell them to take care of the stock & not let it stray off or starve. I hope next year if the war continues to be where I can come home more frequently or stay there all the time. I don’t wish to quit the service if I can remain in it & give home the necessary attention.
Love to Anna & Aggie, if they are with you, Tell Anna to write to me. I wrote you that [1st Sgt] Frank Robertson [Co. I] was killed on the 30th at Franklin & [2d] Lt. [Samuel B.] Brown [Co. I] had his arm broken. If I don’t get a letter from you by next mail, I shall be sadly disappointed & think you are sick.
Your devoted husband, — W. B. Wall
We are in camp four miles from Nashville, December 13, 1864
¹ George C. Phillips was a 25 year old physician in Tchula, Holmes County, Mississippi, when the war started. He enlisted as a private in Company G, “Black Hawk Rifles,” 22nd Mississippi Infantry, on August 12, 1861. He was appointed an assistant surgeon in the regiment on September 26, 1861.