1860-64: Robert Alexander Garner to Family

These letters were written by Robert Alexander (“Alex”) Garner (1843-1864), the son of Charles Wesley Garner (1810-1892) and Winifred Parrott (1817-1846) of Darlington, Darlington county, South Carolina.

Alex enlisted in Co. B, 21st South Carolina Volunteers which was captained by Samuel Hugh Wilds (Wilds’ Rifles). The 21st S. C. V. Regiment was organized in November 1861 with men from the Pee Dee region of the state. It served for a considerable time in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, posted primarily in the Charleston area. In the spring of 1864, it was moved to Virginia and saw action at Drewry’s Bluff and Cold Harbor before taking a position in the fortifications at Petersburg.

According to Alex’s war record, he was killed in action at the Battle of Cold Harbor on 6 June 1864.

Alex makes frequent references to his Aunt Pernice. She was Nancy Pernice Byrd (b. 1816), the wife of Samuel Nettles Garner (b. 1812). Their children (Robert’s cousins) were James Nathaniel Garner (1836-1889), Nancy Susannah Garner (1842-1915), and Joseph Franklin Garner (1844-1910).

[Note: These letters are published here through the courtesy of Tim Wagner.]


Philadelphia, South Carolina
December 19, 1860

My Dear Sister,

As I have neglected answering your letter so long, I will answer it today as it is raining and I have nothing else to do. It has been raining all day and looks very much like snow. We have had snow aplenty ever since last Friday night, but it is about all melted this morning. 

Joe and myself have Just got through washing out our guns to take a hunt tomorrow. We went out the other evening and killed seven squirrels and one partridge, and could have more if we had time. Julia Sue and Jane is stuffing sausages today for Christmas.

Mr. Warren is learning Mr. Jordan how to take types [daguerreotypes or ambrotypes]. I expect Pa will sell his chemicals to him. He went over today to get them from him.

Cousin George went up to Cousin Lue House’s last night after some evergreens to set out and Letitia have [gone] with him. I expect she will stay until after Christmas with us. Nannie McLendon has been here with us about a week but she went home Monday. She says you must write to her. Says you promised to write and never have written yet.

I have got me a new pair pants and a new handkerchief to fly around with Christmas and Joe has got him a new pair of boots.

Aunt Pernice sends her love to you all and says you must all write to her. Says tell Het that she has neglected answering her letter for some time but she will answer it next week. We are all well as far as I know.

I will close as it is time for dinner. Excuse bad writing, spelling and short letter. I remain your brother. Write Soon.

— R. A. Garner



Philadelphia, South Carolina
September 27, 1861

Dear Brother,

It is with much pleasure that I attempt to write to you this evening. We are all well except one of the negroes has the fever. I received your welcome letter last week which was read with much pleasure.

I haven’t any name to send for you to name the baby as you don’t intend to name it after kin people for every name I can think of some of our kin has that name.

John Davis died in Richmond about three weeks ago with the fever. He was brought home and buried in the yard. Cousin Ben Parrott preached his funeral. Mr. and Mrs. Davis takes it very hard. Mr. David Lange died with the colic about a month ago. Mary Stewart died last week with [the] sore throat.

We heard cannons fire yesterday evening at Charleston or some other place. We have not heard the cause of it yet. Sometimes two and three would fire every minute. Joe and Wesley Beasley has joined Sam Wilds’ company to go on the seacoast. I expect I will join it tomorrow if I go to the village.

It has been raining ever since yesterday. Simon Parrott has gone after Jesse. He is very sick in Virginia.

I will close as it getting dark and I have given you all the news. Excuse bad writing and spelling. Give my respects to all. I remain your brother,  R. A. Garner

N.B. Direct your letter to Darlington as James is going to give up the office and I don’t know whether any person will take it or not.


Camp Hart
February 14, 1862

Dear Father,

I seat myself tonight to drop you a few lines to let you know that I am well and getting on as well as could be expected. We have not moved yet but will move tomorow to the other camps.

Captain [J. W.] Owen’s and seventy-five of his men [from Co. K] are gone to guard Pee Dee Bridge. We heard that the Yankees had landed at the mouth of Santee. Miller is quite sick with  the measles. He has just sent for me to go over and see him so I will close for tonight.

Saturday morning. Miller is some better this morning than he was last night. Stockton made him go out yesterday and sweep the street. Said he was lying up pretending that he was sick when he was not and he commenced getting worse right off. All or the most of Stockton’s men says he is the meanest captain on the field.

I heard just now that one of Capt. [J. F. A.] Elliot’s men [in Co. H] and two of [E. M.] Woodberry’s men [in Co. I] died last night. I have given you all the news so I will close. My respects to all of Uncle Charles’ family. I remain your son, — R. A. Garner

Tell Joe to bring my black hat when he comes.


Camp Manigault
April 19, 1862

Dear Father,

I received your letter yesterday through the hand of Lieut. Milling & found me well. I am not as hearty as I was two weeks ago. I have been rather puny. I have fallen off 5 lbs. in that time.

I don’t hear much talk of moving now. I had rather stay here than to move for we are better fixed here than we will be anywhere else. We have beautiful weather now.

The ladies presented our regiment a flag the other day—think a quite pretty [one]. On one side is a hornets nest and cannon. On the opposite side is the rising sun.

I sent my knapsack and clothes home by George Parrott—also a letter in my overcoat pocket for you and one for Mother. Have a letter for George. It came day after he left. I will send it in my letter. Please send it to him. As the mail is about to leave, I will close. I remain your son,— R. A. Garner

Excuse bad writing and spelling for I am in a hurry and my paper is not ruled.



Charleston, South Carolina
May 10, 1862

Dear Father,

It is with pleasure that I seat myself this morning to write you a few lines to let you know where we are camped. We are camped in the upper part of the city. I like this place very well so far. We left Georgetown last Friday about sunrise [and] got to Kingstree Saturday about 4 o’clock. Left there yesterday about 8 o’clock and got here about 1 o’clock.

I saw Wiley Dowling yesterday as we marched in town but I did not speak to him. I saw the two Bronn here yesterday that we pressed into service at Georgetown. They would not come into our street. Went round to Read’s street.

I will close as I have not been here long enough to gather anything worth writing. Excuse bad writing and spelling. Write soon. Give my respects to all.

I remain as ever your son, —R. A. Garner


September 7, 1862

Dear Father,

I wrote to you by Andrew Heath that I would be home Monday night but Capt. Wilds says he thinks he can get me off Saturday so you may expect me Saturday night. If not, I will be there Monday.

Screen Shot 2019-06-08 at 1.55.16 PM


October 6, 1862

Dear Father,

I will drop you a few lines this morning as Cousin Perry is going home on sick furlough. Since I wrote to you I have had the jaundice but have got well. I went on picket last night.

I will send Albert young some palmettos for his hat. I don’t think there is enough for a hat. I would plant more but this is about the best chance I will have soon. Tell Aunt Pernice that I was aiming to send her some oysters but cousin Perry got his furlough a day sooner than expected and I haven’t time to get them this morning.

I have about 1 pound of hot I picked up in one of the coats the other day. Some one had been hunting and spilled them. I will send them to you.

Give my respect to all. Let me hear from you soon. I remain your son. — R. A. Garner

Excuse this scribble letter for it is done in a hurry.


Morris Island
December 5, 1862

Dear Father,

With pleasure I seat myself this morning to drop you a few lines. The health of the company is very good at the present. I have no fresh news to write this morning. I can never see or hear anything here worth writing. If [we] were anywhere besides on Morris Island, I could have something new to write.

I received a letter from Nannie last Friday. All were well. They landed home safe. Did not loose any thing on the way.

I will send a small box home by Tony tomorrow if he will carry it. Also one pair of pants and drawers and hat. I will put in a few shell for the children. I want you to send me there or four dozen eggs if you can get them anywhere. I wrote to Aunt Pernice last week to sent me some. I will send five dollars in this. I loaned $10 out or I would send more. You can get me some eggs with some of it. If you need any, you can use it. I will send more as soon as it is paid to me.

I will close as I have no news to write. Excuse this short bad[ly] written letter. Write soon. You must come to see me when Uncle James McLendon comes down.

I remain your affectionate son, —R. A. Garner

P. S. Cousins Perry and Sam are gone to the city today to meet Cousin Lizzie and Percy. Tell Aunt Pernice I will write when they go back.


Morris Island
February 1, 1863

Dear Father,

With pleasure I took the opportunity of dropping you a few lines this morning hoping to get a hearing from you soon. Your letter found me quite well. I received the shoes you sent. They are rather short. The company drew shoes yesterday. There was not any small enough for me so I did not get any but will get some soon and I will send the others back that you sent if I can’t sell them.

The Cherokee and Ladies gunboats went up in to [unreadable] Friday and captured one gunboat with (46) forty-six prisoners. Saturday morning they commenced on the blockades about five o’clock. I tell you, they made them move. Mind there was 16 out there Friday morning. Then everyone left. Four of them are in sight this morning. They would not be there but they think our gunboats won’t break the Sabbath. They look like big dogs coming up after letting the little fire whip them off. It is reported that they sank one boat but we have not seen it in print yet. Joe can tell you more than I can write.

Tell Aunt P. that I am very much obliged to her for the things she sent. I will send her the socks down here to Joe. I will keep the smaller pair as I need a pair. I will send her some Sourbushes. I can’t get any with roots to them but I think they will live without them.

When you write again let me know how and where to direct letter to brother William. I would like to see your last letter from him. I will send it back if you wish to keep it if you will send it to me.

Cousin Perry went to the hospital yesterday in Charleston. William and Tommy Young are well. I will close as I have no news to write. Please excuse bad writing. Remember me to Aunt P. and family. Write soon.

I remain your affection son.— R. A. Garner

I will send this by Joe.


Camp DuBose, James Island
Tuesday evening, [January] 5, 1864

Dear Father,

Once more I take up my pen to write you a lines. I have no news to write. We have had quite a bad time on picket since I wrote you last. We went on last Thursday and stayed until yesterday. It was raining most all of the time and was the coldest weather I think we have had this winter.

I heard this morning that Mrs. House was dead. I received a letter from [?] last week. She was well. Mary and Jim also. Said Jim was going in the army. She said he had sent the bundle. If it has not come yet, I am afraid it is lost. If it has not come, tell Aunt Pernice to send the things I wrote to her for by Edward Gray. He will start back next Monday (I heard). Send me a pair of socks also.

James is well. He is very tired of the war. Says any person that has been in it as long as he has is anxious for it [to] close. I am afraid he has just seen the beginning of it.

I heard from Joe last week. They were all well. They were at the fight on Johns Island Christmas morning [1863]. It is thought we will have a big fight on this Island shortly, but I can’t see any prospect of one. The Yankees seem to be pretty quiet on Morris and Folly Islands—hardy ever shell any. I will close as I have no news to interest you. Give my respects to all. Write soon. I remain yours. Love as ever.

I have just received your letter by Frank Moore 

J. P. Parrott
Co A, 40th N. C.
Smith’s Island
(Via) Wilmington, N. C.


C. W. Garner, Darlington C. H., S. C.

Petersburg, Virginia
May 8, 1864

Dear Father,

I will write you a few lines this morning but I don’t know whether I can send it off or not.

We landed here Friday evening about three o’clock and ordered in line of battle. Met the enemy about half past four. Fought them about an hour. I think we gave them a decent thrashing. They retired with much confusion. We lost three killed and about twenty wounded from our regiment the twenty-fifth, which numbered (600) six hundred together. The Yankees carried off their dead and wounded except five dead and wounded. We went after dark and found them. Colonel [Robert F.] Graham was in command of our forces. The Yankees force was very heavy. Looked like there was about seven regiments. Yesterday they pitched again about eleven o’clock [and] continued until about three o’clock.

Our company and Capt. Owens’ was not in it yesterday. We were thrown out as skirmishers but the regiment was in it all and suffered a good deal. [Lt.] Col. [Alonzo T.] Dargan was killed. Col. [Robert F.] Graham got two wounds. Capt. [Hannibal] Legette got two or three wounds. Capt. [J. A. W.] Thomas was wounded. [1st Sgt.] Evander White was killed. This is about all the names I have learned yet the loss on both sides is heavy. They [have] taken the railroad from us once but we charged them and taken it back again. We hold the battle ground.

John King was wounded in the arm the first day. [J.] Wilds Williamson in the head—serious. They are all we lost of our units. You will [undoubtedly read] of it all in the papers so I will close. I will write again in a few days if I am alive. We expect more again today. I remain your son. — R. A. G.

Direct your letters Co. B, 21st Reg’t S.C., Hagood’s Brigade, Petersburg, Va.



Petersburg, Va.
May 18, 1864

My Dear Father,

Since I wrote to you last I have seen hard times and I’m afraid will see worse soon. We left Petersburg last Thursday [12 May], went 6 or 7 miles on the Richmond road to our fortifications and made a stand there. The enemy came up that night. Had some fighting Saturday and Sunday between the pickets. Monday morning [16 May] by ten we charged on their fortifications, drove them out of them, killing, wounding and capturing numbers of them. I never saw the like of dead and wounded before [see Battle of Drewry’s Bluff]. I don’t know their loss—only what I have heard. Have not seen any account of it in the papers yet. We will get it today or tomorrow, I guess.

The general opinion is that their loss is not less than five thousand killed, wounded, and prisoners. Our loss is not more than five hundred. We have followed them [with]in three miles of their gunboats in the James River. Very heavy firing going on now between the pickets now. I think General Beauregard intends on advancing on them again today. I hope if he does, we will give them another decent beating as we did Monday.

Our Brigade was cut up badly although we captured five pieces of artillery from them (our Brigade). Jeff Davis was there during the fight. Our company had 5 killed—Lt. [John L.] Hart, Mr. Coats, Caleb Beck, Robert Hagerwood, Joe Rhodes; and eleven wounded—Jesse Parrott (thigh broke—think it will have to be taken off), Harrison Kelly in leg (since amputated), James Kelly in arm, Joel Harrell in arm, W[illiam] Stewart [in] hand,  E[mory] Galloway [in] foot, W. B. [? in] thigh, Ed[ward] DuBose [in] foot, [Augusta E.] Guss Law [in] face,  W[illiam] Beek [in] thigh [unreadable] and heart. Ashton [Rhodes].

We have been in four fights besides skirmishes since we have been here. I never want to get in as hot a place again as I was Monday. As my time is short I will have to close. You will see a better account of the fight in the paper than I can give. I can tell you more about it when we get straight again. If I am permitted to live to go through [unreadable].

I remain your son—R. A. Garner

Write soon. Direct your letters to Petersburg Va., Co. B, 21st Regt S. C. Volunteers, General Hagood’s Brigade


Dear Father,

I have just received a letter from R. A. written on the 12th. He was all right. I saw a letter Wednesday night from Cousin Bill Boning, written the 19th. He was safe and unhurt. He made no mention of Bud so I guess if he had been wounded or anything the matter he would have mentioned it. He said that Capt. Owens was mortally wounded. Corine Sanders boy was killed. Andrew Muldrow wounded. George Parrott wounded in hand, and Sam DeWitt his thigh broken. These are all from young ‘uns. I will send Bud’s letter to you. We are all well and dong finely.

I am as ever your Daughter. Remember me kindly to all —Nannie

Battle near Drewry’s Bluff—16 May 21st Reg.
Lt. Wilds Co.
Capt. [Samuel H.] Wilds Commander Kiled
Lieut. [John L.] Hart
C.M. Beak
J.P. Coats
Robt. Hargood
James Rhodes (Wounds)
Corp. I. C. Fountain
Corp. J. Kelly
W.O. Beck
W. Brackman
E.C. Dubose
E. Galloway
G.E. Harrod


A. Kelly
E.A. Law
Jesse Parrott
J. Rhodes
W. Stewart

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Lines of Gen. Lee’s Army
June 4, 1864

Dear Brother,

I received your letter several days ago but have been so situated that I have not had time to answer it. We got to Petersburg the 6 of May. Went into a fight that evening. Gave the Yankees a whipping Saturday. The next day we gave them another whipping. Monday another. Then that day week we gave them another. All this around Petersburg about five and ten miles. We have had about twenty of our men wounded and eight killed. Lieut. Hart killed, Coats, Caleb Beck, Joe Rhodes is all you know. I guess Jessie Parrott and Geoge both wounded. Our Brigade bears a great name in war. We left Petersburg Tuesday morning [and] got here to General Lee’s Army that night. Have been heavy skirmishes ever since have been here. None of our company have been hurt since we have been here this side of Richmond. I got a slight flesh wound on my right shoulder [illegible] a piece of shot, but have been going all the time. It is about well but is a little sore yet. I guess you have seen an account of all the fighting we have been in since we have been here. Our regiment has lost a good many men. Most all of the officers in the regiment since we have been here [illegible] Capt. Owens was killed. Lieut. Lansbury killed. Col. Graham wounded. [Lt.] Col. Dargan killed. You would not know the others if I were to name them. I don’t suppose I would give you a list of all if I had time.

The Yankees made a charge all along our lines yesterday. Tis reported that they were defeated all along the lines but I don’t know how true it is. I can speak for the lines in front of us; they were driven back with a big loss. I think we will keep Old Grant out of Richmond yet. I went by home as we came here. Stayed five days as we have to go to work on entrenchments. I will have to close. Let me hear from you soon.

I remain as ever your brother, —R. A. Garner Co. B, 21st [South Carolina], Hagood’s Brigade Richmond, V.A.

[Pvt. Robert Alexander Garner was killed two days later and is buried in a mass grave]

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