This letter was written by 2Lt. John M. Lancaster (1841-1863) of Co. I (the “Eastern Tigers”), 44th North Carolina Infantry. He enlisted as a private on 8 March 1862, was promoted to sergeant a year later, was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in December 1862, and was with his company on the 14th of October 1863 at Bristoe Station when the 44th was ordered to advance upon the enemy through an open field into a line of Federal artillery and musketry from the Union’s 2nd Corps where it sustained a heavy loss. During the advance, John received a mortal gunshot wound and died a week later at Hospital No. 4 in Richmond, Virginia. [see Botched Battle at Bristoe by Todd S. Berkoff]
John was the oldest son of Lacy Lancaster (1810-1881) and Nancy Coleman (1819-1907) who worked a farm in the Swift Creek section of Craven county north of the Neuse river, North Carolina. In 1860, census records inform us that Lacy owned eight slaves between the ages of 3 and 15. John’s younger brother, George Frederick Lancaster (1842-1901) also served the Confederacy as a private in Co. I, 1st North Carolina Light Artillery.
This letter is archived at Eastern Carolina University. It has been digitized and graciously made available to the public though it does not appear to have been previously transcribed. Their catalogue description of the letter reads;
This letter from John M. Lancaster to his parents (Lacy and Nancy Lancaster of Craven County, N.C.), was written from his position along the Rappahannock River, Virginia, during the Civil War. He writes of troubles at his training camp, and of missing home.
[Camp near Rapidan Station, Virginia]
Saturday Morning, September 19th 1863
Dear Father & Mother,
I take the present opportunity of writing you a few lines informing you the news & such like. Affairs are about as they were when you left—gloomy. The enemy on the opposite side of the river show themselves very plainly at certain times. I can’t give any idea whether they intend to fight us or not. As you have been here & know how things are, you can give a guess. There may not be any advance in a week or more, or they may fight it out before then.
We are at the very place you left us but liable to move at any time. I will write you again the first of next week if nothing prevents more than I know at present. I will take with luck to the last of next week to reach you and I know you will look for one them.
The air is some cooler this morning than it was when you was here. It rained very hard yesterday.
The news from Charleston is about so. We have a report on camp that General Bragg has whipped Old Rosecrans—I hope it is so—[from a] soldier brought in from Richmond. You must write me when you get home and how you made out on the way. With luck the way we was counting, you will reach home this evening. I hope you will safely. I know they all will be eager to hear you relate over your travels, &c. I hope to have more to write the next time. So no more. — John M. Lancaster
Mother, I feel that I must say something about those nice clothes & things you sent me. They suited me in every respect and thankful am I that I can say that I have a good mother who take a delight in administering to the wants of her boys, even if they are far from home & in the war. Still I hope the day is rolling fast when we can be permitted to sit around the old homestead and family circle as we have done in time past. I feel that the debt I owe thee cannot be paid in this world by this worthless trap. I hope there is a brighter day awaiting us all. I hope to go and see you all between now and Christmas if life lasts, and I can possibly get off on any fair terms.
Tell [Lacy] Norman & Jacob that I will write them next time, just as soon as I can get something to write. Oh, Norman, I expect you have lost Deborah. If I was you, I would not like it. You say that her father has sold her land &c. Nothing more. — John M. Lancaster