1864-65: Gideon Leander Miller to Sophia (Miller) Beckel

These five letters were written by Gideon Leander Miller (1845-1907) who was conscripted into Co. H, 33rd North Carolina, as a private on 1 July 1862. Sometime about the middle of July 1862, he was transferred to the regimental band of the 33rd. He surrendered with his regiment at Appomattox on 9 April 1865.

Gideon Leander Miller

Gideon was the son of John Sylvester Miller (1801-1878) and Elizabeth Holder (1808-1873) of Winston, Forsyth county, North Carolina. He wrote the letters to his older sister, Antonette Sophia (Miller) Beckel (1828-1891)—the widow of George Hiram Beckel (1829-1862) who died of pneumonia on 24 December 1862 while serving in Co. G, 33rd North Carolina Infantry. He frequently mentions Sarah who was Sophia’s daughter.

Gideon survived the war and returned to Winston, North Carolina, where he and an old brother named John Sylvester Miller formed a partnership and went into the production of windows, sashes, blinds, doors, and other woodwork (see Miller Brothers).

What is most compelling about this correspondence is Gideon’s mentioning the execution of deserters in two of the five letters—scenes he could not avoid as the regimental band was always called upon to play the dead march as they escorted them men to the stakes where they were lashed and shot by a firing squad. In his article entitled “Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem,” author Richard Bardolph’s research resulted in an estimation of “between 180 to 200 of the many thousands of North Carolina runaway were executed and hundreds more were sentenced to death but eventually spared…”

Letter 1

Camp near Liberty Mills, Va.
January 1st 1864

Dear Sister,

I this evening take the pleasure of dropping you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and hope these few lines will find you and Sarah both well and enjoying good health. I have nothing new to write at present. I received your letter last night by hands of George Flynt and I was very glad to hear from you now for I had not received a letter from any my folks in two weeks. I reckon they are looking for me at home yet, the reason they don’t write to me anymore.

I am about six or seven miles from Orange Court House and about the same distance from Gordonsville. I expect we will stay here this winter. We are a very nice camp now and I like to stay here better than any place I have ever been at since I [enlisted. I am] getting pretty well [acquainted with] the citizens in this country. We can go out in the country here every day and get a very good supper. I hope you all enjoyed Christmas and New Year but I am sorry to hear that you see such hard times and that you cannot enjoy life any better. It is true enough, this is a trying time and everybody has felt the effects of the war and a great many have been deprived of the pleasures and comforts that they would have enjoyed had it not been for the war—especially those who have lost their husbands as you have. But it will not do for to give up in despair but hope for a better day in the future.

I have thought too that I would as soon die as to live but that is folly and now I am determined to live in hopes if I am compelled to die in despair. I hope that I will be at home in a few days if nothing happens. Nothing more but remain your brother, — Gideon Miller

Letter 2

Camp 33rd Regt. N C. Troops
April 17th 1864

Dear Sister,

I am well and enjoying fine health and sincerely hope these few lines may find you and Sarah well and enjoying the same great blessing. I would have written to you sooner but I have not had the chance to write and I have so many to write to that I cannot write to all. Tell Sarah that I got that peach [ ] she sent to me by Mr. [ ]. I am much obliged to her for [illegible].

We are still in our winter quarters yet and everything is quiet on the front of the enemy but our army is making active preparations for the summer’s campaign. I don’t think it will be long before we will have a fight for we have got orders to have seven days rations on hand and be ready to move at any time.

There has been a good deal of rain here for two or three weeks and the ground is covered with snow yet and have been since before Easter. No doubt this is what has kept them from fighting this long. I expect we will have a hard fight before long and I am afraid we will have a great many men killed but I hope that this war will stop soon that we may all come home to stay at home for I don’t want to see anymore men killed on the battlefield. There were two men have been shot to death this week in our regiment for desertion with fifteen others [illegible] shot at the stake. I hope that I will not have to see another killed that way.

I must bring my short letter to a close for the present. Write to me soon. Give my love and best respects to all my friends if I have any. Tell sister Julia that I am sorry that I did not come to see her when I was at home but if I am ever so fortunate as to get home again, I will come to see her. Nothing more but remain your brother, — G. L. Miller

Letter 3

Chaffin’s Bluff below Richmond
July 26th 1864

Dear Sister,

I received your letter and was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you was all well at home. This leaves me well and enjoying good health and I sincerely hope it may find you enjoying the same great blessing. I have no news of interest to communicate at present as we are at a place where we cannot hear any news. We have been at Chaffin’s Bluff for nearly a month—our Brigade and two others—but we was reinforced last Saturday by one Division of Gen. Longstreet’s Corps. We have had no fighting to do since we came up here but we are expecting a fight every day for the Yankees have been crossing the river. They keep fighting at Petersburg yet everyday but they don’t do much for I reckon the Yankees are getting tired as well as we are. But we are all anxious to hear from Georgia to hear what they are doing there [before Atlanta]. We are certain that the Yankees cannot get Richmond or Petersburg so we are just waiting for something to turn up.

The weather has been very hot and dry out here for a month or two but now we have rain plenty and the weather is some colder. We get plenty of blackberries for we are back in rear of the line of battle and there is not so many men around us to eat up everything. I have to go down to the regiment as soon as I get this letter done and I am going through my berry patch on the way. We stay about three miles from the regiment at the hospital to wait upon the sick and wounded when there is any. We have got houses to stay in where soldiers was last winter. We had a nice place to stay at for two or three weeks but now there is a brigade came here in these houses and tearing up things around here so that it is not like it was before they came here.

We have got a teacher and we are taking music lessons. We are learning some very pretty music now. There is some men in the next house to ours that has got a note book and they are singing some of the old tunes that I used to sing before I left home. It almost makes me homesick to hear them sing. It makes me think about Benton and Tom Miller and the rest of the boys and the girls that I used to go with to singing school. They are all scattered about though now and I don’t know where they are. Benton & Tom I suppose is both dead from what I can find out. Some of our prisoners that has been exchanged say they was with Tom when he died—or they say they think it was him. He died in prison. There has been a good many of my old friends killed and wounded this summer already and a few more will take them all. I think I have been very fortunate to escape this long.

I was sorry that I did not get them things you all sent to me by Mr. Thomas but I hope somebody got them that needed the. I must close for this time for I have not got time to write any more. Please write to me again. Tell Sarah that she must hurry and get well of the toothache and write too.

I remain, your brother, — Gideon Miller

Letter 4

Petersburg, Virginia
September 18th 1864

Dear Sister Sophia,

I will drop you a few lines this evening to let you know that I am well at preset and hope these few lines may find you well and enjoying good health. I have no news of importance to communicate at present. I am at Petersburg yet and no prospect of getting away soon for they keep fighting here everyday. There has not been much fighting today till a few minutes ago [when] they commenced shelling again. They were fighting all night last night. Day before yesterday our skirmishers charged the Yankees skirmish line and it took about a hundred prisoners.

I have not heard from home in some time. I am sorry that they have got Cal and Wes out. I do wish the war would stop so that we could all come home for I am getting tired of the war. But I hope it won’t last much longer.

I must close for this time for I have not got time to write much more. Please write whenever you can for I am always glad to get letters.

I remain your brother, — G. L. Miller

P. S. Give my love and best respects to all inquiring friends if there be any.

Letter 5

Addressed to Mrs. Sophia Beckel, Winston, Forsyth county, N. C.

Petersburg. Virginia
March 28th 1865

Dear Sister,

Your welcome letter came duly to hand yesterday. I was glad to hear from you again for it had been a long time since I had heard from you. I have nothing new to write at present. I am well except a very bad cold.

There has been fighting going on for nearly a week. Last Friday night we went to Petersburg serenading and never got back to camp till after midnight and when we got back the regiment was gone and we didn’t know where they had gone to so we went to bed and when we waked up next morning we heard them fighting in front of Petersburg. Soon after we heard that our men had broke the Yankee’s line and took a great many prisoners. About noon our regiment came back to camp but they had not been here but a few minutes before the Yankees charged in front of our old camp where we have been all the winter and before our Brigade could get out they had took our whole skirmish line and a great many prisoners. They have been fighting there ever since. Our men drove them back again night before last so we hold nearly the same line we did before the fight commenced.

I hope the Yankees will go back now and let us stay in our camp a while longer for the weather is most too cold to leave our winter quarters.

You said you heard that I was coming home the reason you never write to me. I tried hard enough to come home but failed in every attempt, so I will not get to come home soon now for they have stopped giving furloughs.

I am sorry to hear that you have such hard times. I wish it was so that I could do something for you. I would freely but the way I am situated it is impossible. This is what troubles me more than anything else—to think that my folks at home is suffering where if I was at home I could work and keep them from suffering. But instead of that, I am here in the army—a man able to work hard everyday and have to spend all my life in the army. It will soon be three years since I first left home and it seems to me like it has been ten years for I was nothing but a boy then and I don’t think it will be long before I am an old man. I don’t reckon you will know me if you was to see me now. Me head is nearly as white as Father’s and I am not twenty years old yet. Did you ever hear tell of the like before?

I am sorry to hear that there has been so much sickness about home. There has not been much sickness in the army this winter but I fear there will be more this summer. I have had very good health and that is one great blessing.

I have nt had a letter from [brother] Harmon since a few days after he left home. I don’t see why he don’t write to me. I heard he was wounded but hope that it was only a false report. If he is, I hope he will get home. I was in hopes that he would be here to this regiment before now but I am afraid he will not get to come at all. I have not had but one letter from home in more than a month. I believe they all quit writing or it looks so to me.

You say them men don’t care anymore to kill a man than you do to kill a chicken. I don’t mind it much more to see a man killed now that I used to to see a chicken killed for I have seen so many killed that it is nothing new anymore. I have seen between twenty & twenty-five men shot at the stake since the Gettysburg fight and had to march in front of them to the stake and play the dead march. A great many of them were nice men and had families at home. It is a terrible thing to see and I hope I never will see another one killed in this manner.

Tell Sarah that I am glad to hear that she is so smart and that she has learned to weave and spin. I expect she has got to be a grown woman by this time adn that I would not know her anymore.

I must close my letter for we have to go down to the line of battle this evening. Give my love and best respects to all my friends and accept the same yourself. Tell Betty Miller if you see her that she has never answered my letter yet. Excuse bad writing for I have been in a hurry. No more but remain your affectionate brother, — Gideon

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