This letter was written by Robert Hancock Wood (1826-1901), the son of James Wood (1797-1867) and Frances Allen (1804-1888) of Albemarle county, Virginia. Robert was married to Mary Caroline Bills (1829-1869) in January 1847. She was the daughter of Major John Houston Bills (1800-1871) and Prudence Tate McNeal (1809-1840) of Bolivar, Hardeman county, Tennessee.
Robert was the captain of Co. B, 22nd Tennessee Infantry. He volunteered his services on 15 July 1861 at Trenton, Tennessee, and was discharged from the service on 8 May 1862 when he was not re-elected as captain after the regiment’s reorganization. According to the book, The Battle of Belmont: Grant Strikes South, the Hardeman county boys in Co. B of the 22nd Tennessee called themselves the “Hatchie Hunters.” They were among the troops that faced Grant’s troops at the Battle of Belmont on 7 November 1861 and later at Shiloh.
In this September 1861 letter to his father-in-law, we learn that Capt. Wood felt it was a mistake for the Confederacy to move troops into neutral Kentucky. “I have felt ever since we came into the state that we were abandoning our principle of self defense & placing ourselves upon indefensible grounds. The evidence of Kentucky’s Union proclivities are too strong & decided to admit of [her ever coming] to our side except by subjugation. She is not yet ready to take the leap and we cannot help her decide. I think the whole move on our part will prove to be a military failure, not less marked & pitiable than a similar one made into Missouri.”
September 16, 1861
Major J. H. Bills, dear sir,
Enclosed herewith I send you the account of my company which I wish paid by Thomas Peters, Quartermaster of Tennessee forces. The amounts are embraced in a requisition which is here enclosed, signed by myself and Col. Freeman. It will be necessary for the accounts to be receipted before the Quartermaster will allow the requisition. But this you can do for the several persons holding them.
It is possible Col. Peters may object to paying the requisition at this time but be pleased to remind him that he promised me when I was in Memphis laying in the uniforms about the 12th of July that if I would have the clothes made up, he would pay for it. He has paid for the lots & clothes, long since I think & he must also pay for this. Be pleased to press the matter as it is very important for the interests of the company that it should be allowed. It is possible the requisition is not correctly made out. If not, let him write out one and forward me at once and it shall be returned forthwith with the necessary signatures.
Be pleased also to get from him a requisition I gave Col. McMahon for hats, shorts, drawers, socks, shoes, &c. for my company dated about the 20th of July. Col. McMahon sent the requisition forward to Col. Peters to be filled at the same time taking my receipt for the articles., but the articles were not furnished in whole, or in part. Still, so long as my receipt is out, I am liable to have an ugly account presented me.
Col. McMahon induced me to believe that I could never have the requisition honored unless I signed the receipt of the 1st instance. Be pleased to follow this last matter up until the requisition is destroyed.
Your kind favor was received at Columbus just before we took the cars for the Tennessee line & I had no opportunity of answering until now. I am sorry I did not meet with you at Columbus (I suppose you made your intended visit).
We had a somewhat fatiguing trip for a sick regiment from Columbus to this point. We are now 27 miles north of the Tennessee line in Graves county in a black jack and hickory [ ] county. It reminds me a good deal of western portions of Hardeman county—considerable wealth, large farms hereabouts. Water is very scarce. Wells are deep. Cistern water mostly used. An excellent evidence that good [ ] hard to get. There is a creek in half mile from our camp which we are compelled to use. It is however stagnant water and muddy.
Much to my surprise and gratification, I found the Polk Battery here. From what I can hear, I think they slipped off from Columbus without orders. I saw Lieut. Smith today. He is a little unwell. I gave him two [ ] of quinine & set him up again. I have not seen March but learn he is well.
We find the people of this portion of Kentucky very hospitable & well disposed & anxious for us to overrun the state. But I have felt ever since we came into the state that we were abandoning our principle of self defense & placing ourselves upon indefensible grounds. The evidence of Kentucky’s Union proclivities are too strong & decided to admit of a hope of [ ] over to our side except by subjugation. She is not yet ready to take the leap and we cannot help her decide. I think the whole move on our part will prove to be a military failure, not less marked & pitiable than a similar one made into Missouri. So far as soldiers are concerned, it is a pleasant recreation to move them about from place to place with the hope of giving them work to do. Still we will not win any laurels in Kentucky this time because the move is premature.
It is understood that President Davis disapproves of the move and did instruct General Polk to send the army back to Tennessee. I do not know how true this is but I believe [ ] the matter is understood by the President, he will order us at once. I think we will return to the Tennessee line in less than three days from this time.
My health was a little feeble for two or three days at Columbus but I am now as well as ever & ready to go wherever duty calls. The health of my company is improving (those who are here). About thirty are at home on furloughs. We are [with]in 25 or 26 miles of Paducah where it is said the enemy is posted 10 to 12,000 strong. The larger portion are foreigners badly officered & drilled with the exception of one regiment of Zouaves. If we attack the place, we will have to approach from this place on foot as the rolling stock on the road is not sufficient to carry more than 700 men at a time.
I would write more but night is approaching. Be pleased to let <ary read this. Give my love to all your family and write as often as you can.
I remain yours very truly, — R. H. Wood