1861: William T. Davis to Jennie Lawler

An unidentified Confederate Infantryman

This letter was written by 25 year-old William T. Davis who entered the Confederate service as a 3rd Sergeant in Co. E, Capt. James H. Dean’s Company, of the 4th Regiment Tennessee Volunteers. Co. E. or the “Harris Guards” were recruited largely from Obion county in the northwestern area of Tennessee. The regiment mustered into service in mid-May 1861 at Germantown and organized at Fort Pillow in August 1861. He was promoted to 2nd Sergeant in December 1861. Sometime in the spring of 1862, William was transferred to the 9th Tennessee Volunteers (by exchange).

Given that the company was raised in Obion county, my educated guess is that the author of this letter is the William Davis who was enumerated as a son of Joseph Davis (b. 1804 in S. Carolina) and his wife Ann (b. 1805 in S. Carolina) who were farmers in District 5 of that county.

Transcription

Columbus, Kentucky
October 31, 1861

Dear Cousin,

After so long a silence I take the present opportunity to write you a few lines to inform you that I am well and doing well and hope that these few lines will find you and relations enjoying the same blessing. I have nothing of importance to write you. I saw Tom this morning and he said that they were all well in his company.

Cousin, tell Aunt I was very sorry that I did not get to see her when she was down. I did not hear that she was down until dark that night and I intended to go next morning but I had to go on guard and when I come off guard, I went down to Col. [Henry L.] Douglass’ [9th Tennessee Volunteers] Regiment and Aunt had went home on the night previous.

I wrote to you from Fort Pillow and heard nothing from you yet. I would be glad if I could get to see you all once more before we leave this place but I don’t reckon I can get off for the way things is going on now, I think that this—the 4th Regiment—will leave before many days though I may be mistaken. Some think that we will go to Cumberland Gap in the eastern part of this state. Others think we will go back to Missouri.

“Sometimes I think I had just as soon be dead as alive for our country is ruined anyhow and what is there on the earth that would make me want to live except my relations. Cousin, to think one man and his crew can ruin this once happy country!”

Sgt. William T. Davis, Co. E, 4th Tenn. Vols., 31 October 1861

As for my part, I don’t care much where I go nor where I am for I expect to be a soldier the balance of my days for I cannot see any happiness anywhere else. Sometimes I think I had just as soon be dead as alive for our country is ruined anyhow and what is there on the earth that would make me want to live except my relations. Cousin, to think one man and his crew can ruin this once happy country! 1

We have hard times now but in my humble opinion, times is good to what they will be this time next year. But God forbid that they are for in going through the camps you hear a continual cry for blankets or something to keep them warm at night and the general says they cannot be had anywhere. Therefore, some of them is bound to suffer. As for my part, I have enough to make out with but here my fellow soldiers is suffering with cold this time a year. What in the name of God will they do when the weather gets cold?

You must excuse my foolish writing and bad spelling. Cousin Jennie, your old sweetheart Tom Huddleston 2 is here and sends his respects to you. All the boys is enjoying good health now. All we have to do is work in the Battery and drill. I tried to get a permit to come home the other day but the captain would not let me off though if we take up winter quarters here, I will try and come up about Christmas. But we will not be here in my opinion.

Give my love to all enquiring friends and relations and receive a portion for yourself. So nothing more at preset but remain your affectionate cousin. — William T. Davis

P. S. Answer as soon as it comes to hand and tell me all the news. Yours truly, — W. T. Davis

Direct to care of Capt. Dean, 4th Regt. T. V.


1 It takes little imagination to realize that William is referring to Abraham Lincoln and his abolitionist friends as the “one man and his crew” that was perceived by the South as ruining the “once happy country.”

2 Thomas Z. Huddleston (1839-1888) enlisted at the age of 22 in Co. E, 4th Tennessee Volunteers in May 1861. Muster rolls indicated that he was slightly wounded in the head at the Battle of Shiloh but that he deserted near Bardstown, Kentucky, on 4 October 1862. He later reunited with the regiment but was sick and on light duty in Atlanta most of 1863. After the war he married Elizabeth K. Cobb (1842-1888) and resided in South Fulton, Obion county, Tennessee.

One thought on “1861: William T. Davis to Jennie Lawler”

  1. I am deeply grateful to discover your historical interests and sharing. My mother comes from a very long lineage of Tennessean’s and my great grandmother and all of her family are buried in the Nashville historical cemetary where my mother worked as a guide, volunteer and advocate to organise and devote her retirement to for years. We are direct descendants of the originalcolonists whom I must continually look back to my Mother’s notes to recall. My grandmother was a Kagle-Steele and my ancestors were among the first “settlers” of Ft. Nashboro on the Cumberland. I am so appreciative of your time and dedication to history. I live in Sweden and my mother (widowed) is still active and running around in Gallatin where, after a very long career in the music business, she chose to retire. She recently drove into the city for The Source Awards of which she was one of the first to receive this honor years ago and her story is in the Musicians Hall of Fame. My non-biological, never the less, my “PawPaw “was a Tennessee state legislator, the Vice-Mayor of Nashville and so on; I miss those days when every street and turn around a corner one of my relative’s had a story to tell, embellish and as most southerners enjoy, “the Art of stoy-telling, folklore”. What a homage to history. Kindly, a fascinated reader.

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