1864: William Henry Luse to Virginia Miller

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William Henry Luse (1837-1904)

This letter was written by Lt. Col. William Henry Luse (1837-1904) of the 18th Mississippi Infantry. Luse entered the war as Captain of the Benton Rifles (later Co. B, 18th Mississippi) on 27 April 1861. He was elected Lt. Colonel of the regiment during the 1862 reorganization of the army. After Colonel Griffin was wounded, Lt. Col. Luse took command of the regiment at Malvern Hill on 1 July 1862.

The 18th Mississippi fought under General McLaws on the Maryland Heights 12 and 13 September 1862 and were part of Lee’s army that arrived at the Battle of Sharpsburg after the battle had been in progress for several hours on 17 September. Lt. Col. Luse and 50 other Mississippians were taken prisoner in the fighting at the Battle of Fredericksburg but by July, Luse was back in command only to be taken prisoner again at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863.

This letter was written from the prison on Johnson’s Island, which was the primary location used by the government to hold Confederate officers (see image below). He wrote the letter to Virginia Miller of Washington D. C.—a southern sympathizer who aided Luse and other imprisoned Confederate officers by sending them money to help them through their suffering as prisoners of war. Ms. Miller was the daughter of physician Dr. Thomas Miller who attended several U. S. Presidents up until the time Lincoln was elected. During the war, the family residence was kept under strict surveillance. She even hosted Mrs. Jefferson Davis while her husband was held a prisoner at Fortress Monroe after the war. [See: Dr. Miller and His Times, by Virginia Miller] The letter is only one page in length, which was the limit placed on prisoners for outgoing mail.

Luse was the son of Stephen Laurence Luse (1806-1884) and his second wife Sarah (“Sallie”) Purvis (1814-1844) of Yazoo City, Mississippi. He was married in 1861 to Mary Eliza King (b. 1842) and their first child was born in 1862. According to Ancestry records, the boy’s name was Douglas Burt Luse. Luse survived his captivity, returned to his farm in Midway, Yazoo county, Mississippi, and went on to have at least eight more children with his wife Mary.

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A CDV with a sketch of the prison on Johnson’s Island


Johnson’s Island
September 21st 1864

Miss Virginia
My dear friend,

Your last came duly some days since and would have been answered sooner but regulations allow us fewer letters to our friends than formerly. I fear I should fail to interest you were I to write every day as ours is a monotonous life. I seldom hear from my friends south, and if you knew the pleasure it affords a prisoner to hear his name called on the letter list, you would not be ceremonious, but write often. Your friends here are all well and delighted always to hear from you.

Have not heard from the 18th [Mississippi Infantry] in some time. Col. G[erald] ¹ doing well when last heard from.

I had never thought to tell you that I had a charming boy at home now more than two years old and bearing the same name of our lamented friend, Col. [Erasmus R.] Burt. ² I shall be proud if he makes such a man as he. I have not seen him for two years. Excuse brevity & dullness.

Sincerely your friend, — W. H. Luse

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Erasmus R. Burt, 18th Mississippi

¹ My assumption is that Luse is referring to George Bruce Gerald (b. 1836) who began his service as captain of Co. C (“McClung Rifles of Yazoo County”) of the 18th Mississippi. Gerald rose in rank to Major of the regiment by May 1863 and took command of the regiment (or what was left of it) in September 1864.

² Col. Erasmus R. Burt was killed in action on 21 October 1861 at Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. Burt began his service as the captain of Co. K, 18th Mississippi Infantry, but he was quickly elevated and was made its colonel by 7 June 1861 and led the regiment at Bull Run and at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. 

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