This incredible letter was written by Nathaniel Wilson Harris (1817-1885)—a physician practicing in Laclede, Linn county, Missouri. He was the son of Richard C. Harris (1791-1831) and Frances T. Wilson (1803-1882) of Bourbon county, Kentucky. At the time this letter was written, Nathaniel was married to his third wife, Anna Meriwether Jones (1835-1914); his first two wives having died. In the 1850 census, Nathaniel was enumerated with his family in Sherbourne, Fleming county, Kentucky.
A brief biographical sketch by the Harris family states that Nathaniel studied medicine at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.
Nathaniel wrote the letter to his cousin, Lavina Virginia (McCoy) Graves (1822-1873)—the daughter of William McCoy (1795-1836) and the 2nd (and much younger) wife of Lance J. Graves (1793-1870). Lavina and Lance were married in Tennessee and lived for a time in Kentucky before purchasing a farm in the vicinity of what is now Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in the mid-1850s but only stayed two or three years and returned to Marshall county, Kentucky.
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
Laclede, Linn county, Missouri
July 21, 1862
Since I saw you & your dear children in June 1861, I have often thought of you amid the trying scenes of this horrid war & wondered if you were well & how you were doing. Shortly after I saw you, on the night of 28 June, I with 15 others of this county was taken from my house, rushed off to St. Jo., kept there several days, & then without a moment’s warning, taken back by home & to Palmyra where we arrived 3rd July. I was retained there & the others sent to Quincy. The next day—the glorious 4th—I was released by Col. [Robert Frederick] Smith, 16th Illinois [Infantry] stating what I knew all the time—that they had nothing against me. It was so with the others for they were released in a few days without being required to take the oath. I took it freely as I had made up my mind to have nothing to do with the rebellion.
Since then I have been at home attending my usual avocation—half the time doctoring Union soldiers & their families [when,] at the same time, they—some fools of them—deride me as “secesh.” I care not for such things when my conscience is clear. Last Tuesday night a notice was posted on my gatepost that if I did not leave in five days, I would be hanged. This is the 7th day & my neck is sound yet. Such an act would not be attempted in daylight. The Lt. Col. commanding here ¹ told me to arm myself—which I have done—to kill any miscreants who attempted to assail me. You may be sure if they attempt it, I will give them a warm reception. There is no danger in my opinion, but I will be on the watch. My arrest was the work of some enemies I have here. Lies, not truth, the cause.
I saw many months ago in a paper that Duke Harris near Wellington was shot & wounded. I have never heard any more of him. He is my father’s cousin. I am anxious to hear from him. Inquire & tell me.
But few men in this county have gone into the Rebellion. I have always thought it folly to try & take Missouri out of the Union.
Tell me all about your children, self, & friends. I expect to go & see mother in September. Was there last August. Wife will not go this time—too hot. Tried it last year. Our daughter Luty is 15 months old [born April 1861]. She is very promising. My boys Henry 14 0born 1848] & Nat 4 years [born 1858] are fine healthy children. I am doing well, Bena, & hope to be able to educate & train my children. [And I] will if some miscreant does not deprive them of my protection.
Is Hiram Bledsoe—the Rebel artillery officer—a married or single man? I have heard both ways. ²
Was Mrs. Betsy Graves’ husband killed? I heard he was about the time Price took Lexington. I fear the horrors of this war are scarcely begun. Of course you have heard of [Gen. John Hunt] Morgan’s Raid into Kentucky. He certainly is a wonderful man. Our old county Bourbon, it seems, has had experiences of actual war.
We would be very glad to have you & family visit us. Try & make the acquaintance of my wife’s sister, Mrs. Dr. Webb.
May God protect you, my dear cousin. Truly yours, — N. W. Harris
Mrs. Lavina Graves, Lexington, Mo.
¹ This was probably Isaac Vinson Pratt of Laclede who was the first lieutenant-colonel of the 18th Missouri Infantry. This infantry recruited locals to guard the railroad bridges in Linn county under the watchful eye of the 16th Illinois Infantry—the first federal troops to occupy the county.
² Hiram Miller Bledsoe(1825-1899) was a native of Bourbon county, Kentucky. During the Civil War, he was the commander of the H. M. Bledsoe Battery of the 6th Missouri State Guard. He was wounded six times during the war, twice seriously. He was a favored son of the Confederate Generals Price and Shelby. Following the war Col. Bledsoe returned to Cass County, Mo. where he operated a farm and served one term as a State Senator. He was married to Mary D. Harrison of Callaway Co., Mo. in 1868.