1864: Franklin Gray Pitt to George Wortham

This letter was written by Franklin (“Frank”) Gray Pitt (1827-1871), a physician and slaveholder from Lower Conetoe township, Edgecombe county and the son of Col. Joab Phillips Pitt (1795-1854) and Elizabeth Shirley (1806-1841). In the 1850s, Frank and Dr. John Howard formed a medical practice together at Sparta, advertising their services regularly in Tarboro’s The Southerner.

In June 1861, Frank volunteered to serve in the 30th North Carolina Infantry and was elected Captain of Co. F (“The Spartan Band”). He served with the regiment until 11 March 1862 when he resigned his commission and returned home for the purpose of raising a cavalry company.

From a history of North Carolina Regiments in the Civil War, we learn that Frank organized the Edgecomb Partisan Rangers, with himself as Captain, Van B. Sharpe as 1st Lieutenant, Bennett P. Jenkins as 2nd Lieutenant, and Mark B. Pitt as 3rd Lieutenant. This company was incorporated into the 7th Regiment Confederate Cavalry as Co. I where they served until the 16th North Carolina Cavalry Battalion was organized in July 1864. Near the end of the war, Capt. Pitt took overall command of the 16th N. C. Cavalry Battalion until early April 1865 when he broke down from exhaustion and was captured.

Frank’s forage requests may be found in his Compiled Service Record beginning in April of 1864. The requests were made to, and approved by, Col. Wortham at Plymouth so this letter was no doubt written to Col. George Wortham, his commanding officer. George Wortham was a lawyer from Granville County, North Carolina.

What is most curious about this letter is the reference to a slave named George who was being pursued by Capt. Pitt although his reason for doing so is vague. A clue is offered by Pitt’s statement that “the Buffaloes” might come with him. According to the NCPedia, the origin of the word Buffalo during the Civil War era “is contested” and remains an ongoing area of research for historians. The best intelligence that has emerged is that the term “buffaloes” was first used to describe the North Carolina Union Volunteers of Eastern North Carolina. Later in the war, the meaning of the word was expanded to refer to any individual opposed to the Confederate cause.


Camp near Pettigrew’s Chapel
[Creswell, Washington County, North Carolina]
June 8th 1864

Colonel [Wortham],

I send two men to you as couriers and will station two half way between here and Plymouth. This will reduce me to twenty men for duty. I have to keep ten on picket at a time. This will have my men on picket duty every other night and day. I shall have none to scout now. This will give Lt. [Van B.] Sharpe near 30 men.

Colonel, I want to know if I have any control or command of the courier line. If I have, I shall change the number of men at post for I learn there is five men near Cross Roads Meeting House more than necessary. If I have no control of it, of course I cannot alter it.

I have been trying to get this boy George & have not succeeded yet for he is very shy and his master is not all right. I shall continue to try and get him & the Buffaloes that come with him. I do not think the negro carried against his will for he has been with them all the time. It is going to be very hard duty for my men here now. I do not see how I can keep up a scout below now. Let me hear from you. I will do all in my power at anything.

Yours truly, — F. G. Pitt, Capt. Commanding Cavalry

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