1863: Joseph Edgar May to Elizabeth (Dixon) May

This letter was written by Joseph Edgar May (1843-1929), the son of Turner May (1801-1872) and Elizabeth Dixon (1806-1870) who had a farm in Richardson’s District of Craven county, North Carolina. The May family worked their farm and household with the help of at least eleven slaves in 1860.

A tintype of Joseph’s father, Turner May, with a grandchild. Turner died in 1872.

Joseph and his older brother, Benjamin Franklin May (1835-1863) both enlisted in Co. F, 2nd North Carolina Infantry in 1861. Benjamin was a sergeant in November 1861 by the time Joseph enlisted in October as a private. By March 1863, however, Joseph ha been promoted to a corporal. Joseph was with his regiment at Gettysburg but was taken prisoner at Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock river on 7 November 1863 and was not exchanged until 18 February 1865 at Point Lookout, Maryland.

In this poignant letter, Joseph informs his mother that his brother Benjamin was shot dead on the field of battle during the Battle of Chancellorsville—one of thirteen boys in his company that were killed on 3 May 1863. He also relays news of the death of Levi W. Deal (1843-1863), also a member of the company and a neighbor in Craven county.

I found this letter in the archives of East Carolina University who graciously digitized and made it available to the public. Their catalogue description of it is partially inaccurate and reads as follows:

Letter from J. E. May to his mother written from near Lynchburg about the Chancellorsville Campaign. May comments on the death of Frank Deall and the number of killed and wounded in his company, Company F, 2nd Regiment, N.C. Troops.

A post-war photograph of Joseph Edgar May and his wife, Mary Eliza Wooten (ca. 1900)

Transcription

Camp near Fredericksburg [Virginia]
May 7, 1863

Dear Mother,

I will rite you another letter to inform you how I am getting a long. I am so tired and sleepy that I don’t know what to do, I have just come to camp. We have whipped the yanks so bad they don’t know which way to go but the worst of all—I am sorry to say—that I have to tell you [is] that Bud Frank is dead. He got killed in the battle on Sunday last, the third day of May. He was shot right through the heart. He was killed dead on the field. I was right side of him when he was hit. I got his watch and all of his things out of his pocket.

It was the hardest fight that has ever been fought in Virginia. Our company had forty men in the fight and came out with four and if you don’t call that a hard fight, I don’t know [what is]. And the other companies was cut up as bad as ours. There was thirteen killed in our company and fifteen wounded. That made twenty-seven out of forty-two and the rest of them is all missing but four.

Tell Mr. Deal unless you [don’t] see him again that his son [Levi] was killed. I reckon it is not worthwhile to give you the names of [the others] for you would not know them.

Ma, I want you and Pa to try to get somebody in “Whitford’s Battalion” 1 to swap places with me. I will give 50 dollars to boot. Ma, please write to me for I have not had a letter from home since Bud Frank was home last winter and you don’t know how glad I would be to get one.

I must come to a close for I have got to write more letters today and it is now [late]. No more at present. Your dear son until death, — J. E. May

Ma, I will tell you how to direct your letters. J. E. May, Co. F, 2nd Regt., N. C. Troops, [Stephen D.] Ramseur’s Brigade, In care of Capt. N[athaniel] M[acon] Chadwick, Richmond, Va.


1 Whitford’s Infantry Battalion, or the 11th Battalion North Carolina Home Guards was organized in the spring of 1862 with four companies, later increased to six. In January 1864 it was merged into the 67th N. C. Regiment.

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