1865: Phillip Dale Roddey to Mary Emma Roddey

The following letter was written by Confederate Gen. Phillip Dale Roddy (1826-1897) to his eldest daughter, Mary Emma Roddy (b. 1850). He also mentions his 2nd eldest daughter, Sallie Ruth (“Pink”) Roddey (1852-1935).

A post-war image of Phillip Dale Roddy

Phillip was raised in Lawrence county, Alabama, under meagre means and with scanty educational opportunities. He began his career as a tailor, but then went steamboating on the Tennessee River. He residence was in Chickasaw when the Civil War began. By that time he had been married to Margaret Ann McGaughey (1827-1881) for more than 15 years and the couple had four children. A fifth child was born in 1864.

Phillip enterd the war as a captain of mounted infantry. At Shiloh his company was the escort of General Bragg, and Roddey was complimented for gallantry on the field. While Bragg was organizing for his Kentucky campaign, he advised General Price that “Captain Roddey is detached with a squadron of cavalry on special service in northwest Alabama, where he has shown himself to be an officer of rare energy, enterprise and skill in harassing the enemy and procuring information of his movements. Captain Roddey has the entire confidence of the commanding general, who wishes to commend him to you as one eminently worthy of trust.” 

 At the close of 1862 he was colonel, in command at Tuscumbia, with his regiment, the Fourth cavalry, and other forces. He was then ordered to join Van Dorn’s cavalry corps in Mississippi, and his force at that time was given as 1,400 strong. With this corps he was in battle at Tuscumbia, February 22, 1863, and at Columbia, Tenn., early in March.

In April he assailed the strong expedition under General Dodge, intended to cover Streight’s raid, and fought it stubbornly during its advance up the valley to Courtland. Soon afterward, having been promoted to brigadier-general, he was in command in this district, of a force including Patterson’s Fifth cavalry, Hannon’s Fifty-third, his own regiment, under Colonel Johnson, Capt. W. R. Julian’s troop, and Ferrell’s battery. In October he cooperated with General Wheeler in the raid into Tennessee against Rosecrans’ communications. Early in 1864 he was in battle at Athens, near Florence, and at Lebanon, and in the latter part of February Gen. J. E. Johnston called him with his command to Dalton, and put him in command of a cavalry division, but he was ordered back to northern Alabama in April by the war department. He remained on duty in north Alabama commanding a cavalry division, two brigades, under Colonels Johnson and Patterson, and in June sent Johnson’s brigade to the assistance of Forrest at Tishomingo creek. It took an important part in the battle of Harrisburg, under Forrest, and in the pursuit of the enemy. Part of his troops were with Forrest in the September-October raid in Alabama and Tennessee, under Colonel Johnson, who was wounded. In the latter part of September, 1864, he was put in command of the district of Northern Alabama, under Lieutenant- General Taylor. During the Atlanta campaign he fought a heavy Federal raiding party at Moulton, and in Hood’s Tennessee campaign did great service to that general by keeping open his communications. In 1865 he offered a stout, though vain, resistance to Wilson’s column, and was engaged under Forrest in the gallant attempt to defend Selma against the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. 

In the following letter, Phillip offers fatherly advice to his daughter, emphasizing the importance of a good education, and for his part, promising to “make an honorable name for you.” Ironically, during the post-war period, he was implicated in scandal involving a second marriage to a much younger woman and in defrauding the U. S. government, resulting in him avoiding prosecution by fleeing to London where he died in 1897. The details of the scandal were captured in a book published by Carlotta Frances Shotwell—the woman he married—entitled, “The Sufferings & Trials of Carlotta Frances Roddey.” See: Phillip Roddey.


Gilbert, [Alabama]
February 25, 1865

My dear child,

Yours dated 19th inst. is at hand, and of course very gratifying to me. You say you had had no letter from me in more than a week. I can’t say how that happens. I write every chance.

Col. Winos [Winds?] went from here to Tuscumbia and a letter from Capt. Jamison says he was captured and carried away on the 22nd inst.

I am glad to hear that you are pleased with your school and that your determination is to succeed in learning. The letter written by General Walker seems to have reached you in due time. I have written twice since and presume I have received all the letters you have written though I only acknowledged the receipt of those lately written & am sure I have more from you than from Pink though I have not kept a strict account. The length of my letters are governed by the time I have to spare when writing. You need not apprehend any danger of orders to stop your correspondence as quarreling letters are better than none. I am always anxious to hear from you by letter. I know by them that I am not forgotten. You must take more pains in writing. Write slow and educate yourself to making smooth letters, &c. I am not complaining of what you have done—only advising you as your writing shows some haste, &c.

I have not met Mr. Hodges since the [ ] was sent up & have not seen Mr. Price. Will do so as soon as I can.

I am sorry my horses are not doing better & hoped Col. Winos [Winds?] or Capt. [Arthur Henley] Keller 1 would have procured sufficient forage for them without my paying for it.

Cousin James got back safe & brought my overcoat. You express doubts whether I would be pleased if I were to visit you. I hope you are getting on all right. I have done the best for you I could under the pressure of circumstances surrounding us. So far as we can see, you are now enjoying all the chance you will ever have of acquiring an education & you must not neglect that for anything as it will be more advantageous to you than anything that I can hope to do for you. And if I fall in this war, God only knows what will be your destiny or what may be your suffering. To you—as the eldest daughter—I must look for help in training the younger ones. They will pattern after the example set them by you. Therefore you must be scrupulously correct in your deportments & habits & in all things & under all circumstances as much as possible preserve an even temper & control them by the love that have for you.

I will endeavor to make an honorable name for you and when President Davis asks pardon of the Federal government for his conduct, I may do the same. And when our government so instructs, I will lay down arms & seek as best I can to support the family dependent on me. These are my determinations. And if I live, will carry them out to the honor of my family. Better men than me have been killed by the thousand—& better soldiers than me now languish by the thousand in northern prisons.

We cannot tell what a day may bring about nor how soon you may be deprived of my health. Therefore, I importune you to forego any passing pleasure for your own & the good of the family. Write as often as convenient & oblige yours truly, — P. D. R.

To my dear daughter Mary.

1 Arthur Henley Keller was the father of Helen Keller (1880-1968) by his second wife, Catherine (“Kate”) Everett Adams (1856-1921). Arthur worked for many years as an editor of the Tuscumbia North Alabamian. The Keller family were part of the slaveholding elite before the war, but lost status later. Kate was the daughter of Charles W. Adams, a Confederate general, and his wife.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s