1864: Jordan C. Harriss to Margaret Velery A. (Thornton) Harriss

J. C. Harriss, ca, 1880

This captivating letter was written by Jordan Carroll Harriss, Jr. (1840-1919), the son of Jordan C. Harris, Sr. (1800-1874) and Lucinda Fair Casey (1805-1877) of Perry county, Illinois. Jordan enlisted as a corporal in Co. A, 81st Illinois Infantry, in August 1862. He rose to the rank of sergeant and was with the regiment in the Battle of Guntown, Mississippi, on 11 June 1864 when 126 out 371 members of the 81st were taken prisoner. Harriss was sent to Andersonville Prison where he somehow managed to survive and return home to his beloved wife, Margaret Velery Thornton (1840-1865). Sadly, Velery died in 1865 and it isn’t known if Harriss arrived home before her death or not.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


Addressed to Mrs. Velery A. Harriss, DuQuoin, Perry county, Illinois

Vicksburg, Mississippi
January 28, 1864

Mrs. Velery A. Harriss
My Dear Companion,

You perhaps have heard of the small-pox  being in our company & you may have some uneasiness about it. Several in our company are said by the doctors to have it. Thomas Hansford, Nelson Lipe, & 4 or 5 others he says have it. Some have been sent to the hospital & those in the company (Thomas Nelson & two or three more) have it very light if they have it at all. I don’t dread it scarcely any. Orson Marion and I have excellent health. There are several cases of the small-pox in each company of the regiment.

Now I hope this will cost you no gloomy thoughts for several thousand troops landed here a few days ago & an expedition—a great one too, I think—is on foot, & our doctors have reported us unfit for the march so many think that we will not have to go on the march. I hope soon to hear that you are doing well for I have got no letter for several days. This is second letter I have written since I have received any. You wrote as though you thought I didn’t write often enough but I don’t recollect of getting a letter from you & not answering it.

We were paid two months pay last Tuesday & I sent you yesterday $60.00 in Johnson’s care. I sent $30 by George Young & $30 by Express. I have done no duty since I came from home—only writing & some drilling. I have had a good time. The Captain [James P. Cowans] treats me often & today he made me a present of a nice new two & a half dollar hat. He expressed a wish that he could give me a higher position & said if he’d have known when we came into the service what he does now, I should have had a higher place. You needn’t tell [covered text].

Orson was on picket yesterday & is out a drilling now. I think he will like & stand the service well. We have had as beautiful weather for about a week as I ever saw for the season.

We are talking of sending home some of our clothing as we have more than we could carry well if we were to have to go on the march again.

A day or two ago it was rather a solemn time here because of so many of our boys taking sick with the small-pox & the expectation of going on another march but now things have about resumed their former cheerfulness for all the boys are up knocking around & we think probably we’ll not have to go on another tramp for awhile yet.

I hear that mail has come down on the steamer “City of Alton” & I hope I will get another one of your good letters. And I hope to hear that our little darling Viola is well & amusing you with her innocent prattling & lovely ways. She is much dearer to me since I was at home and her sweet appearance is so vivid in my mind. My mind is upon you both much of the time & my prayer is O Lord, bless them & hasten the time when I shall get home to live & enjoy their delightful company. Valeria I have enjoyed your company.  Many—very many days ago, when home with you from church, I’d go & we’d engage in trifling little disputes for amusement. I enjoyed it when our conversation became more earnest & sitting around the cheerful fireside of your home at night, & I said, “O Velery, how happy I would be if I could safely call you mine,” & your lovely smile of tenderness you gave. I enjoyed it on that bright May day when riding from Nine Mile you promised to give your hand with your heart in it to me about the time of our next birthdays. I enjoyed it on the Monday night when on the bed-side we sat & you gave me the decisive answer & we began to arrange for the nuptial tie to come off the week or two following. And I enjoyed it that beautiful evening in June which made us one. How happy was I then & how I enjoyed the presence of my former lover who I could then call wife.

Then when I looked at the future, how brilliant & dazzling to my eye it appeared & I would have been enjoying it up to this time probably if this dreadful war had not come & I hope & pray that I may enjoy your presence in my last days. The mail has come & been received & I am glad, gladder, gladdest for I got your good letter of the 16th & Hiram’s of the 17th inst. Hiram is very good to write, I must write oftener to him. Chesley wrote about that bump on my eyelid. There still is a small bump there but it don’t show so bad as it did when I was at home & don’t hurt any.

Darling you write about dreariness, loneliness, etc. as though there was nothing delightful in this world & you at that blessed place called Home! Now it’s too bad for I don’t believe you’d be so if we could be together for I believe you’d be cheerful. If not, I think I’d try very hard to infuse it unto you.

I know I can never feel my heart throbbing with pleasure in your absence like it has when I could embrace you in my arms. I hope for the realizing of the same emotions in your presence ere long. I hope the end of this war will occur before the four seasons will again make their revolution. I have a paper at this time upon my knees published at Selma, Alabama, January 17th 1864 & I will write verbatim a remark from it which says, “If the contest between us & the North is to be decided upon the simple principle of human power & brute force, then it is already decided against us.” Then he goes on & speaks of all before them being filled with darkness & despair & speaks of their only hope which was that God would fight their battles for them. But I feel assured that God will smile on the cause of civil & religious liberty.

Envelope bearing a letter Harriss sent his wife from Andersonville Prison in July 1864; contents personally examined by “H. W.” [Henry Wirtz, prison’s commandant]
I heard two rebs a few weeks ago being engaged in conversation & the topic was on the war & one asked the other if he didn’t think that the Lord was on their side & the other replied, “We-e-ell ye-e-e-es, I reckon. But He has been acting mighty strange about it—Mighty strange.” I believe the Lord could give the Rebels the victory if their cause was well pleasing in His sight but I believe He looks upon slavery as it has been in the South with sore displeasure & “the least degree of allowance” & I firmly believe with the editor of the Richmond Whig, that “Slavery has committed the unpardonable sin & must know its own heart & die.” And Amen to it & again I say, Amen! May God speed the right. The day, dearest, when we can in joy open the doors of our little home with the consciousness that therein together we’ll spend our days no more shocked with war’s cruel alarms. But if the wisdom of God should order it otherwise, I hope we’ll so shape our course that by the Grace of God, “When this poor body lies a mouldering in the tomb,” that our better part—our soul’s immortal—will vie around the heavenly throne together. You may let any of our folks see this if you choose.

I am Velery, your husband, — J. Carroll Harriss


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