1862-64: William Andrew Garner to Mary Ann (McCallum) Garner

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A pre-war image of William Andrew Garner & his wife, Mary Ann (McCallum) Garner

This delightful, though limited, set of four letters were written by both William Andrew Garner (1833-1917) and his wife, Mary Ann (McCallum) Garner (1832-1899) of Hickory Plains, Prairie county, Arkansas. The couple were both natives of South Carolina who married in her hometown of Bishopsville in Lee county in 1857, before moving west to Dancyville, Haywood county, Tennessee, where they were enumerated in the 1860 US Census—William’s occupation given as “teacher.”

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Advertisement for the “Hickory Plain Mail [Sic] and Female Institute” published in the Arkansas True Democrat, Little Rock, on 26 September 1861
At the time of the secession of Arkansas from the Union, the Garner family resided in Hickory Plain township, Prairie county, Arkansas, a dozen miles west of Des Arc—a thriving little port village on the White river. Lifetime southerners, William and his wife naturally supported secession. “Now is the time to strike for independence or never. And every young man should rally around his country’s flag, and protect her from the vituperations and insults…of the black republicans,” he wrote his sister two weeks after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in August 1861. With a family and a school teacher’s exemption, William did not initially answer Governor Rector’s call for troops in Arkansas, but shortly after the first letter William penned below, William left his teaching position at the Hickory Plain Male & Female Institute and, at the age of 29, enlisted in Co. C,  30th Arkansas Infantry—a regiment raised by Charles J. Turnbull of Little Rock. It wasn’t until after the Battle of Stones River that the 30th Arkansas was re-designated the 25th Arkansas Infantry.

Presumably William was with his regiment when they were engaged in the battles at Richmond, Kentucky (August 1862) and at Perryville, Kentucky (October 1862). We know for certain he participated in the Battle of Stones River fought near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in late December 1862 where he was wounded and subsequently declared unfit for duty. He was later re-instated by general order, and spent the remainder of the war as a quartermaster.

The first two letters were written by William early in the war, before and after he enlisted in the Confederate service. The third and fourth letters were written in the spring of 1864—the first one written by Mary and smuggled through enemy lines (northern Arkansas under Union control by this time), and the second by William in response while working in the Quartermaster’s Department in southern Alabama.

[Note: These letters are the property of Tim Wagner and are published here by express consent.]

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Hickory Plain, Arkansas
August 29th 1861

Dear Brother:

It seems from yours of the 10th inst. to Hettie, which was received yesterday, that you hold me indebted to the amount of one letter at least to you, whether I received yours or not, which I assure you I have no recollection of, though I may have received one from you while preparing for my examination & have forgotten it which I think hardly probable. Therefore, I can attribute it to nothing but the irregularity & uncertainty of the mails.

It seems very strange none of you had heard of poor sister Harriet’s death ¹ when you wrote. Notwithstanding, I had communicated the sad news to father both by Telegraph July 24th & 25th; also by mail a day or two after her burial. [My sister] Hettie also wrote to the girls. If you still have not heard of it, I will state that she was taken down on Sunday before she died Thursday July 25th with Flux, though she said she had been a little sick from the Thursday before, but would not let know anything about it for fear she would have to take medicine. She did not seem much sick till Monday when I had Dr. Moore called in, who did not think her dangerous till Tuesday evening, or Wednesday morning from which time till she died, her sufferings were almost inconceivable. In fact, I never have seen anyone suffer more. She was rational about 10 hours before she died & talked you all & about dying after which she was perfectly delirious till death released her from her sufferings. Poor girl, she suffered a great deal in a short time, but I have every reason to believe that she is in a brighter & a happier world than this. Let us try to meet her in Heaven. May this affliction be a warning to each of us.

Mary was getting out of a spell of chills & fever when Harriet was taken sick but worried so much with her that she relapsed the day Harriet died and had quite a spell of chills, till the 18th inst., when she was confined with a whaling big daughter. Mary has had no more chills, is mending rapidly, and the Babe is as hearty as Rock (my dog).

Mrs. McCullum was at Little Rock when Harriet died. I sent after her, and wearied herself so in trying to get home before the burial (it being very hot & dry), that she took Billious Remittent Fever, and came very near dying. Was very sick 14 days. Has been up several times, but relapses. Her liver seems to be perfectly dormant, consequently she keeps her bed all the time nearly. Is very childish—as much so as [our daughter] Ida.

Myself & Hettie have been worn out a time or two waiting on the sick, but are still hearty & had the rest of the family acted prudently, we would not have had any sickness at all, for this is unquestionably a healthy place. In the first place, Mary got very wet one day & let her clothes stay on her 3 or 4 hours, which chilled her through. In the next place, Harriet—being housekeeper one day while Hettie was over at the Institute assisting in making tents for our volunteer company.—she (Harriet) concluded that she would make some apple & whortleberry pies. [She] eat too much of the sweetened half dried fruit while fixing to bake the pies, which produced bowel affection, which terminated in flux. Mrs. McCullum got overheat[ed], which accounts for her sickness.

The company that went from here was in the Battle near Springfield, Missouri, on the 10th [See Battle of Wilson’s Creek] & 3 of my pupils badly wounded, viz. C. N. Hayley ¹ of the Des Arc Rangers, shot through left ankle. But just before that he was knocked about 10 feet by a grape shot that struck his pistol which is bent nearly double, bruising him dreadfully. After being thus badly wounded, he crawled to a tree, propped himself up, loaded a[nd] shot as long as any of them.

William Perry, Des Arc Rangers, [was wounded] in [the] leg. B. O. Davis of Prairie Invincible’s in [his] right arm. Poor fellow. I fear his arm has been amputated ‘ere this from what I can learn. I feel like one of my own children had fallen. He is without any exception one of the best young men I ever saw. He has been preparing for the ministry some time. He is fine scholar so far as he has been. He completed Caesar, Surveying, Navigation, Rhetoric &c. under me last session. We have sent for him. 10 or 12 of my boys were in the fight and I am proud to learn that they acted bravely.

The Prairie Invincible’s [militia] being received by [Benjamin] McCullough only for the Springfield fight, have all returned except for the wounded & those left to take care of them. Their accounts of the great & bloody contest are quite interesting. They were attached to the Texas Rangers during the battle. There were many personal deeds of heroic daring & intrepidity during the fight, in as much as all was dismay & confusion, our men having [been] surprised, McCullough having out no pickets at the time, all of which you will see in the papers I will send you. I would have been there myself had my family not been sick.

I am proud to learn that Charley is in Virginia, and am sorry to learn that he is the only one of the name that has bravery & patriotism enough about him to risk his all in the defense of his bleeding country. Perhaps this may rub you & Joe & some of the rest of your comrades rather close, but I can’t help it. I only mean to joke you in earnest. Now is the time to strike for independence or never. And every young man should rally around his country’s flag, and protect her from the vituperations and insults of a republican duck, for look at bleeding Missouri. Every farm belonging to men ever suspected of southern sympathies in N. W. Missouri has been devastated by the Republican army. At Springfield, they had 200 men in jail for expressing southern sentiments. Our boys help[ed] to turn them out of jail. Men there that were worth their thousands upon thousands 2 months ago, are not worth a cent now except their land. Their crops have been totally destroyed by the horses of the enemy; their plantations have been completely destroyed by fire. Men suspected of Southern principles have been caught up & hung like so many wolves by the black republicans. But thank God their leader Gen. Lyon was killed in the battle. Our boys saw him after he was killed. Generals Hardie & Pillow are also in Missouri. Many of my Dancyville [Tennessee] pupils are under Gen. Pillow at Bird’s Point, one of them poor I learn died the other day with measles. His name was Rudd. He has recited many a good lesson to me.

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The uniform of the Des Arc Rangers, Lower White River Museum State Park

Col. Gantt ³ passed here this week with 1,000 men. They are now at Des Arc waiting boats to take them to Memphis. From thence I suppose up the river to Pillow. They are from Arkadelphia & surrounding country. Quite a hardy brave set of fellows.

My vacation winds up this week. School commences Monday, which I suppose you have learned ‘ere this from our card in the Citizen. Send us a name for the Babe—not a family name, for I don’t intend to name after kin folks, let them be ever so dear. †

All join in much love to all of you. Your affectionate Bro.—W. A. G.

¹ 17 year-old Harriet E. Garner (1844-1861) died on 25 July 1861; she was William’s youngest sibling. William’s sister Hettie Garner (1841-1930) also lived with William at the time.

²  Pvt. Cornelius Newton Hayley (1842-1868) of Pigeon Roost, Prairie county, Arkansas, was 19 years old when he enlisted in Co. B of the Des Arc Rangers (of the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles) from Prairie county. The company wore red flannel shirts with a deep blue breast and back, blue cuffs and black velvet collar, with three rows of brass buttons in front; black pants with red stripes up the sides; a U.S. fatigue cap with ostrich plume, and carried Colt’s Navy repeaters and U.S. Dragoon sabers. The 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles were commanded by Colonel Thomas J. Churchill of Little Rock. Cornelius’ brother, Francis M. Hayley (1838-1881) served as a Lieutenant in Co. C, 25th Arkansas Infantry with William Garner.

³ Col. Edward W. Gantt commanded the 12th Arkansas Infantry. The unit participated in the defense of Island No. 10 in early 1862 and later became part of the garrison of Port Hudson in 1863. Following the capitulation of the garrison of Port Hudson, the survivors of the 12th were eventually paroled and exchanged back to Arkansas where the regiment was consolidated with the remnants of several other Arkansas regiments to become the 2nd Arkansas Consolidated Infantry Regiment.

† The child was named Leila Winifred Garner (1861-1931). She was born on 13 August 1861.


Camp Van Dorn [near Pocahontas, Arkansas] ¹
March 19th 1862

My Dear Mary,

To relieve your uneasiness which I fear my last from Jacksonport will create today when the mail arrives [at] H[ickory] Plain, I will write you a few lines. I wrote you yesterday but did not send the letter, waiting for better news.

Major Turnbull—who is in command of our Battalion for the time being—has just returned from Head Quarters in town & says that our pickets report that the enemy’s train came down day before yesterday 20 miles nearer us, to some mills after flour, & returned yesterday, so I suppose the enemy is some 60 miles off yet, though they were reported advancing upon this place when we were ordered here, & we expected nothing else but to form a line of battle as soon as we landed & go right to fighting. Nearly all the government stores have been shipped down the river to Powhattan & Jacksonport, I think, preparatory to a retreat should they come, before we are ready for them, as they are from 4000 to 6000 strong—more than double our forces here.

Col. [John S.] McCarver’s Regiment [14th Arkansas] is here, [George W.] Lemoyne’s two companies of our Battalion (though I think the other two that are left at Jacksonport landed this morning, as I have heard the whistle of a boat at town) & we have been looking for them ever since yesterday. Col. [Solon] Borland‘s Regiment of Cavalry [Third Arkansas Cavalry] are here—or at least a portion of them are here, & the balance are at Pittman’s Ferry scouting. Also the militia of this county are here.

Col. McCarver (a Presiding Elder of the Arkansas Conference) being the Senior Colonel is commander in chief here & is said to have the finest regiment in the state. Not an oath is allowed to be sworn in his regiment & still all hands like him, which is as it should be. Bro. Johnson has a brother here in Borland’s Regiment though he has not seen him yet, as he went out in command of the picket guard yesterday morning &c. He is a Lieutenant in a Missouri company. Turnbull is working for the Colonel’s place in our regiment. Also Capt. Oates & Bro. Johnson’s friends are spreading themselves for him. Everyone of our officers are “tooth & toe nail” for him. There is no telling how the election will go yet but if Rogers’ & McCoy’s companies go for Bro. Johnson when they get here, he will be our Colonel. And from what I can learn, he is a long ways the best qualified of the 3 for the position.

If the enemy don’t come down too soon, we will be prepared for them, but if they came now, we will have to retreat because 2/3 of Lemoyne’s Regiment [17th Arkansas] are in the hospital here & at Jacksonport, and a great many others are sick. Measles seems to be the main disease.

[Major Gen. Earl] Van Dorn’s body guard 140 strong that left Jacksonport the day before we did upon a forced march has been sent back to Jacksonport. Why so, I can’t tell, for they are certainly the best mounted & best armed men I ever saw—each man being armed with a double barrel shot gun, a sword, & a brace of repeaters. It seems that they ought to stay here.

We are encamped ¾ N. W. of town upon the slant of a hill near a pebbly branch of fine water, lots and cords of rock here. Pocahontas is a beautiful town scattered over hills & dales. While I am writing, I hear the drum & fife down in the other regiments, nearly a mile south of us. They are on dress parade. I have not been outside of our company since I have been here. A portion of our men are clearing off our regimental parade ground, & I expect myself & the balance of the company will be ordered to our [  ] soon. We drew the balance of our camp equipage yesterday—cartridge boxes, cap boxes, belts, &c. yesterday.

Our company are all well though [Pvt. F. M.] Mills has been quite sick but is getting up about again. Had we remained at Jacksonport without anything to protect us from the mud—which was ankle deep & deeper in places—the last one of us would have died in less than a week for we had to stand in the mud all the time after the 1st day. I have been on guard 2 nights & stand it finely & am fattening notwithstanding. I have had a touch of the piles several days though Strong’s Pills are putting me all right. That mud at Jacksonport broke my boots through & I find them very pleasant now.

I am better pleased with my mess every day. Messrs. [William M.] Warner & [Lt. Rob] Koonce are first rate clever fellows & do what is to be done cheerfully. I have made biscuit twice & [Lt.] Billy Byram twice. Billy can beat me on biscuit. I friend some fritters this morning, at which I have succeeded better than anything else in the cooking line.

We have lots of oak leaves in our tents which makes it very comfortable bedding. I know you would laugh if you could see us making up biscuit & cooking, washing up dishes (tin plates &c.). Bro. [B. G.] Johnson has prayers every night & our company is much more moral than several others here. Tell [our daughter] Ida I saw lots of ducks and parakeets as I came up the river & have seen a great many pretty little rocks here. And if I go home on furlough soon, I will bring her some.

I frequently dream of you & the dear little children. I never knew how dearly I loved you & my dear little children too since I have been from you this time. You are in my mind every minute of the day. My last thoughts at night & my first thoughts when I wake are about you. O may God permit me to pass through this campaign and return home safely to help you raise & [remainder of letter missing]

¹ When the Confederate government created the Army of the West and placed Major General Earl Van Dorn in command of it, he set up his headquarters in the old St. Charles Hotel on the court square in the village of Pocahontas, Arkansas. Most of the forces quartered there were sent east of the Mississippi prior to the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.


Hickory Plain, Arkansas
April 19, 1864

My dear Husband,

I am happy at having an opportunity of sending you a letter once more for it really appears that we are doomed never to hear from each other again. Mrs. Kirkpatrick—a lady from Des Arc—has kindly consented to smuggle a letter through for me, as I am anxious for you to know the state of affairs in Arkansas and will send a sealed letter. If you could go to see her, you would obtain considerable information. She is a very fine intelligent lady. They formerly lived in Atlanta, Georgia, and are going back there to live. Her husband—if you remember—was tailor in Des Arc. ¹

I am thankful to tell you that we are all quite well and have enjoyed uninterrupted health during the winter except for a few severe attacks of neuralgia, which I had. The health of the neighborhood is generally good. Times are little more exciting, at present, than they have been during the winter rendered so by the reappearance of some rough-looking, weather-beaten soldiers, who are continually passing about, which greatly disconcerts the “Gray Backs,” as the “Arkansas federals” are called. I hear that several regiments have been sent back to [Sterling] Price & [Dandridge] McRae & [Solomon George] Kitchen have a considerable force operating in the White river country. They came through here last Saturday night—was a week ago—and with all the boldness & heartlessness imaginable, carried off one [of] the quiet citizens of the place—D. B. Johnson—simply on the plea that he had been reporting on them!!! They released him and he has since taken refuge at the [DeVall’s] Bluff. ² Lock has also gone, and poor Brown, who was among the large number who got “cut off” in the retreat from Little Rock, sees no peace. He went to Tennessee to get out of the fuss and found times still more exciting there. He is at home patiently biding his time.

They are conscripting very closely in White County. They leave men who have families and discharged soldiers. The Federal cavalry have all left Brownsville. There are only two or three companies of infantry there which are all that are nearer than Little Rock & DuVall’s Bluff.

Mother was at Little Rock a short time ago—the same time that [Gen. Frederick] Steele & his Army left to engage [Gen. Sterling] Price. She said that presented a very formidable appearance. The negroes were placed in front, and appeared very much downcast. I suppose you have seen from the papers that the way-ward sister—Arkansas—has become once more a member of the blessed old Union!! and slavery is not recognized, but all who have their negroes with them give them wages. All heads of families have been required to take the oath, except soldiers’ families. Mother, being the head of our family, has taken it—she and all the other ladies of the place. But for that, I would have had no salt or anything else hardly, as clothes and everything else was getting very scarce. We sold some cotton that we saved when the cotton was burned, ³ and had not D[aniel] B. Johnson cheated us out of it, we would have had over a hundred dollars worth. I have borrowed some money from Mr. Hagland who being more fortunate than most others had 12 or 14 bales on hand, which has done his neighborhood considerable good, as nothing has been current here but Greenbacks. And people generally had nothing that would command it. Mr. Hagland has bought up corn for persons that needed it and lent his money out to others so that they could purchase necessaries.

I have been teaching for Confederate money all the time, but this session will require whatever is current at the close of the session. A perfect mania for Greenbacks & goods is prevailing among the ladies. As for my part, I do not want it to keep, but have a great deal of use to make of it in buying provisions & clothing for my family. The sugar & molasses that I laid in the year you left is out, and I now have to pay 25 cts for sugar and molasses is too high for us to think about, but intend sending to Memphis by Dr. Moore for some as it is cheaper there, and having to keep boarders for the school must necessarily keep such things. Mother got calico in Little Rock for 50 cts, fine Domestic 75 cts, flannel $1.50, shoes from $3 to $5.

I got you a coat at the sutlers in Brownsville as no oath was required there. It seems strange to you I know to hear of our trading with the enemy, but it has become perfectly natural here as there is no other alternative. Mr. [John] Holloway’s negroes have all left him but one family. All of Mr. [Samuel J.] Dunn’s, some of Mr. [Daniel] Harshaw’s, † but the most of his and Mr. [A. W.] Thomas’s [negroes] are in Texas. So many negroes have left that the boys have had to stay at home and work. Consequently, very few boys are in school this session. I have three nice boys boarding with me from Mr Ragland’s neighborhood. One of them does all my work for his board, gets my wood, ploughs, &c. He is a very steady, industrious boy, and is anxious for an education. Says he will stay with me as long as I will let him. Mr. Davis is teaching with me as there were some classes that neither Hettie nor I could teach: Latin, Geometry, Trigonometry, &c.

As I cannot be in the school room all day as servants have “played out” and we have all our own work to do, I have learned to milk at last and think it is the hardest work I ever tried to do. I can cook very well. Mrs. Perkins has been with her mother ever since last summer vacation. I have tried every means in my power to have her sent for, but Mr. Williams always has some excuse. Henderson & Marcellus have both been at home a year and neither of them would go for her. There are a good many girls in school who would like to take lessons and others that would come provided we had a Teacher. If there was any speculation in it, Mr. Williams would be very officious. Mrs. Perkins ‡ has no one with her but Dick; Brainard was taken prisoner at the Battle of Helena. Enos is with Forrest. All of her negroes have left her but the old negro woman that Mrs. Gibson had. Gibson has moved to Illinois. Too strong for the Union to remain here.

¹ Probably Hulda A. (Champion) Kirkpatrick (1824-1899), the wife of W. H. Kirkpatrick—both natives of Connecticut who had previously resided in Atlanta, Georgia. In the 1860 US Census, the Kirkpatricks were enumerated at Des Arc, Prairie county, Arkansas. Mr. Kirkpatrick’s occupation was recorded as operating a “family grocery” in that census.

² Daniel B. Johnson served as the postmaster of Hickory Plains shortly after the war—perhaps a patronage job for his loyalty to the Union? I could not find him in census records, however.

³ As federal forces closed in on Little Rock in the fall of 1863, plantation and farm owners were ordered to burn their cotton bales to keep them from falling into Union hands. Many did but some squirreled them away in hidden places and used them a year later as money—worth as much as $1.89 a pound in 1863-64.

† Samuel J. Dunn and Daniel Harshaw were among other board members that chartered the Hickory Plain Make and Female Institute in which Professor Garner worked as a teacher and principle. The school received its charter in January 1861. See Act No. 52.

‡ “Mrs. Perkins was the former Elizabeth Linna Sherrill (1805-1875), the widow of Elisha Perkins (1799-1859) of Hickory Plain, Prairie county, Arkansas. From this letter in 1864, we learn that only her son Richard (“Dick”) Theophilus Perkins (b. 1847) was with her. One of her older sons, Bamfield Hall Perkins (1832-1863) served with William Garner in the 25th Arkansas, but he died on 12 June 1863. Her son Leander “Brainard” Perkins (1844-1913) was taken prisoner at the Battle of Helena on 4 July 1863. Another son, Enos Sherrill Perkins (1840-1864) was riding with Gen. Bedford Forrest. 


Post Quarter Masters Office
Pollard, [Escambia county,] Alabama
May 20th 1864

Dear Nanie,

In answer to yours and Father’s letters of the 11th Inst., which came to hand today, I will state that I am well, and getting along pretty well in the Quartermasters Dept. Have been in it since the 5th Inst., and have a pretty good idea of the business. Have been busy all this time making up abstracts & returns for the last return. Would be through now, but in consequence of the inefficiency of the former clerk to keep the books up right , find it very difficult to make things balance. Have everything square now except the item of forage—corn likes nearly a half million of pounds of balancing. But I have succeeded in detecting errors in his former clerks work to the amount of about 60,000 pounds today & I think in a day or two I will be able to bring light out of the huge map of darkness.

Myself & Dr. Ellington, ordnance sergt. of the 4th Arkansas Battery, are all of our Brigade that are left here—both of us being on post duty here. The brigade left here for Dalton on the 6th Inst. & got into a fight as soon as they landed. And the Dr. got a letter yesterday stating that they were into it hot & heavy while the letter was being written. Gen’l Polk’s whole army is now with Johnson, so in consequence of the excitement both at Richmond and the activity of the Army at Dalton, I fear several weeks will roll round before I hear from my application, which of course will have come through Polk to Reynolds & from him to me. One thing certain, I am anxious for it to return for I want to know my doom. And if I am to remain here, I want to draw some clothing for mine is worn out, & I won’t draw any for fear that I will have to start home soon and have to throw it away. And of course if I go home, all I will need will be a citizen suit to travel in.

While I am sorry for the boys that had to go to Virginia, I am sorry to hear that they jumped off the cars at Florence for you know it will be a stigma upon them—especially if we are defeated in Virginia, in consequence of their not being at their post.

I see from the papers that the 21st and other South Carolina regiments have been into it at Petersburg. I hope and trust that [my brother] Alex ¹ and the rest of our friends are safe. If you can, please send me papers containing casualties of S.C. regiments and write me all you know about the fight as you know I would hardly see any casualties of any of the troops except Alabamians &c.

I intended this letter for both you and father. I see from your letters that you are posted as to things in the Trans-Mississippi Dept. and I believe I have already writing father in reference to Steele’s surrender of Camden, Arkansas, &c. We are living very well here. Had a wild Turkey for dinner today. Also a venison last week, & Capt. Pope’s friends send us vegetables nearly every day. We have had English Peas for 3 weeks in abundance. Also have milk and butter. Our Cook—Old Aunt Polly—is very nice & knows exactly how to fix up things all right.

So far I have a very pleasant time here. Head I any news that would interest you, I would write more, but as it is I will close hoping to hear from you soon. My love to all.

Your affectionate Brother, — W.A. Garner

Care [of] Capt. [J. H.] Pope, A. Q. M., Pollard, Ala.

¹ Robert Alexander Garner (1843-1864) served in the 21st South Carolina Infantry. He was killed on 9 June 1864 in the fighting near Cold Harbor, Virginia.

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