1862: Peter Marchant to Susan (Thompson) Marchant

Lt. Peter Marchant. Image taken at Petersburg, Va., after his prisoner exchange in late April 1863

This letter was written by Peter Marchant (1831-1865), a farmer from Gibson County, Tennessee, who mustered into Co. C of the 47th Tennessee (Confederate) Infantry on 16 December 1861 and was immediately elected 2nd Lieutenant. He was with his regiment until 31 December 1862 when he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Stones River at Murfreesboro. Following his capture he was transported to the prison at Camp Chase in Ohio by way of Evansville, Indiana. At that time, his description as a POW stated that he stood 5’5″ tall, had brown eyes, light-colored hair, and that he was 32 years of age. On 10 April 1863, he was transported to the prison at Fort Delaware whereupon he was paroled on 25 April and sent to City Point to be exchanged on 29 April, 1863.

After returning to his regiment, Peter was promoted to Captain of his company on 22 October 1863 and was with them all through the Atlanta Campaign and with Hood’s army on his march back into Tennessee until 16 December 1864 when he was taken prisoner again in the fighting near Nashville. This time Peter was held prisoner at the military prison in Louisville, Kentucky, for several days before being sent again to Fort Delaware where he expired on 25 January 1865—his cause of death attributed to pneumonia.

Peter wrote this letter to his wife, Susan Thompson (1838-1910) with whom he married in 1855 and had three children before enlisting. The letter was written in late February 1862 and remains optimistic in tone despite the rebel army reverses in Tennessee that resulted in the surrender of Forts Henry and Donelson and the surrender of the State Capitol at Nashville.

Some of Marchant’s letters are archived and digitized at Georgia’s Virtual Library in Fulton County, Atlanta, under the heading Peter Marchant Civil War Correspondence, 1863-1864. That collection contains three letters pertaining to the Atlanta Campaign: “The letters in this collection were written to Peter Marchant’s wife Susan and all contain much of the same information due to his fear that the letters were not being received. The letters dated July 15 and 16, 1864, were written from the battle lines at the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. Peter notes the confidence the soldiers have in Confederate General Johnston despite the harsh conditions of sixty consecutive days spent marching or in battle. The letter dated August 2, 1864, describes the necessity of many Confederate retreats from the Battle of Atlanta under the cover of night due to heavy losses. In this letter he also notes that the Union and Confederate armies were both destroying the land beyond hope of redemption. Each letter contains news about the religious life and newly professed Christians in Marchant’s camp.”

Some of Marchant’s Civil War letters are transcribed and posted on the following websites: Letters of Captain Peter Marchant, 47th Tennessee, and Southern History.

Transcription

Addressed to Mrs. Susan Marchant, Dyersburg, Tennessee
(No postal markings—hand-carried mail)

Camp Trenton [Gibson county, Tennessee]
February 26, 1862

Dear companion,

I was glad to receive your letter this evening and to hear that you were all well. I am truly thankful that I can inform you that I am in the enjoyment of good health. This blessing I crave for you and myself for if we can enjoy good health, the time will pass off much more pleasant.

I have nothing of interest to write. The news here is as uncertain as anywhere else. Our loss at Fort Donaldson was great but not to compare with that of our enemy’s. Ours is estimated at twelve thousand but most of them was taken prisoners. I have not seen any account of our loss in killed, but we whipped them four times, killing about four to one. But they reinforced everyday and our men was at last out done with fatigue and had to surrender.

The surrender of Nashville produced great excitement but the Yankees seem to be at a loss to know what to do with it. They had not taken possession of it [yet as of] three days ago. They seem to feel that they are on dangerous ground and move very careful. I am not at all discouraged at the misfortune for I believe it will turn out to our advantage. We are not as well-prepared for a border war as they are but if they come in our country, I believe we will whip them.

When I wrote before I thought that our regiment would be armed in a short time, but from the best information that I can get, it will be four or five weeks. 1 I expect to come home again before we leave here but I have learned that a soldier’s life is a very uncertain one. Therefore, I make but little calculations on anything. I find myself to be a creature of circumstances. I never thought that I could be satisfied away from home, but now my greatest desire is to do my duty as a soldier and at the same time to live a Christian. I have become somewhat familiar with my duties and I feel the same interest in it as I would any other avocation. I was at meeting tonight and heard old Bro. Wagster 2 preach a very good sermon. This is the third night in succession that I have been to preaching and notwithstanding it was out of doors and had to stand up or sit on a chunk, I felt that indeed it was good to be there. I am more and more convinced that religion is adapted to our wants in any and every condition in this world. In Matthew, the 21st chapter and 22d verse, you will find these words, “and all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer believing ye shall receive,” then let not fail to ask supporting grace for every trial which we may meet and a heart resigned to His holy will. If we faithfully do this, I believe that all things shall work together for our good.

Give my love especially to papy and mother mother tell them to write to me. It is getting late and I must close give my love to all inquiring friends. Very affectionately yours, — Peter Marchant


1 Peter’s letter informs us that the men recruited into the 47th Tennessee Infantry had not yet been armed. They were still in Camp Trenton (Gibson County) where they were being organized and drilled. Company records later show that many of the men carried 57 caliber Enfield Rifles but some also carried 54 caliber Austrian Rifles.

2 I believe “Bro. Wagster” was William (“Billy”) Culpepper Wagster (1837-1912) of Dyersburg. His name appears from time to time on the rolls of the 47th Tennessee Infantry.

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