These letters were written by Thomas E. Atkinson (1831-1904), the son of William H. Atkinson (1788-1848) and (1793-1872) Elizabeth Harrison. Thomas’s father moved from Nash county, North Carolina to Hinds county, Mississippi, in 1833 when Thomas was only two years old. He was raised on his father’s plantation and received a “good practical” education in a neighborhood school, enabling him to clerk in a store. He married in February 1859 to Elizabeth (“Lizzy”) Hunter (1838-1907), the daughter of Joseph Lane and Susan (Stuart) Hunter of Noxubee county, Mississippi. Their two eldest children were Clara (b. 1 Dec. 1859) and Emma (b. 12 Nov. 1862).
When he was 31 years old, Thomas enlisted as a private in Co. A (“Jackson Light Artillery”), 1st Mississippi Light Artillery. At the time of his enlistment in May 1862, he was described as standing 5 feet 7 inches tall, with dark hair and grey eyes. His muster rolls credit him with having participated in the battles at Baker’s Creek (Champion’s Hill), Big Black River Bridge, and the Siege of Vicksburg where he was wounded in “several places” by a shell and taken prisoner when the city was surrendered on 4 July 1863. He was paroled on 7 July 1863 and apparently went home and did not report to to the rendezvous point in Alabama when he was ordered and subsequently considered to absent without leave or a deserter.
July 7, 1862
I received your kind letter of the 2nd July on the 4th & feel more than grateful to kind Providence that He has blessed you with health & protection since I left you. Darling, you know not how glad I would be to see you but can see no chance to do so unless you come down here. I know not whether to ask you to do so or not as I am not aware of your condition to travel or leave home. Mr. [Frank] Davis 1 speaks of writing to Bettie to come down. If you had a carriage to come in, it would not fatigue you much to make a day and a half trip of it. Ladies come here very frequently to see their husbands & stop all night at some house nearby. One came down last Sunday & spent the day & went home in the evening. I think it impossible to get a furlough unless something very serious was to happen at home which I hope will never be. If you or Clara or Ma get sick, I want you to let me know, or if any of the negroes get unmanageable, I will try to come to see you. I have not applied for a furlough & do not expect to until I think there is some probability of getting one.
The health of our company is better than it has been but we are sending one or two to the hospital at Miss Springs nearly ever day. I understand they are sent from there home. John Hendricks 2 was sent there this morning. It seems hard for him to get well. We have only three left in our tent—[A. Leland] Hatch, 3 [Bourbon] Shotwell, 4 and myself. Shotwell has been quite unwell several days with diarrhea. There is a great deal of sickness in the army at this post. Capt. [Andrew J.] Herod’s Company [B] has only fifty men out of 150 that [are] well enough for duty.
Darling, the bugle has sounded for drill [so I] will finish in the morning. Goodbye.
[July] 8th. Darling, I find soldiering quite a different life from what I expected. It’s a very inactive life. I was lazy enough before I came here and afraid I will be no more account if [I] stay in the army long.
The news from Virginia is glorious but sad to hear of the many good boys that suffered in the great cause. Darling, I can’t think we will have any fight here very soon , if at all. The Yanks has evidently been disappointed in their calculations & have to fall upon some other plan to accomplish their determination to open the navigation of the Mississippi. They commenced cutting a canal across the bend opposite Vicksburg to turn the river but [I] learn they have give up that plan and are now making a railroad across there.
I sent the bag that contained the potatoes with other things to Mr. Mann’s. Have the jars & bag that contained rye yet. Will send them some other time.
Darling, I heard you were very much disappointed yesterday week when you were in Jackson & did not get a letter from me. I write two or three to everyone I get. I did not get any you mailed that day. I hope you did not go to Jackson & not mail a letter for me. I expect one every time you send to office.
Darling, I do not wish the Weekly Mississippian as we get to see one nearly every day. If you wish the Daily Mississippian, take it. The Weekly would be of no use as the news would be old before you would get it. When you send after your paper, send me a letter. Darling, write me all the news about the crop, stock, &c. Continue to plant out potato vines up to the 15th or 20th of July. Would market as much as possible if have anything to market or learn everything in the way of vegetables is very high in Jackson.
Mose [Simpson] is well. Has the cooking to do for the mess by himself. Does very well. The other two boys are both gone home sick. Expect Shotwell’s boy soon. He is to bring something to eat when he comes back. Send us a ham if can spare it but don’t deprive yourself. We have plenty to eat, such as it is. Everything is very scarce here. Can hardly buy anything. We paid one dollar for a peck of peaches yesterday & they were not half ripe, and a dollar for half bushel apples. We had a cobbler yesterday and apple pies occasionally.
It’s very dry here. Everything is suffering very much. Corn is generally very sorry here. Fruit very scarce.
Give my respects to Nat Moore. 5 Tell him if he intends to let Toby join any company, I think artillery is much more preferable than infantry for many reasons. I find the infantry have a hard time here. My love to all. Kiss sweet little Clara & accept one for yourself. Every your affectionate darling, — Thos.
1 Francis (“Frank”) C. Davis of Jackson was a 33 year-old farmer when he enlisted as a private in Co. A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery in late March 1862. He was descried as standing a little over 6 feet tall, with black hair and black eyes. He was promoted to corporal in December 1862 and to quartermaster sergeant in July 1864. He was married in November 1858 to Bettie Hendrick (1839-1919).
2 John A. Henrick was a 19 year-old student when he enlisted as a private in Co. A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery in April 1862. He stood a little over 5 feet 10 inches tall, had light hair and grey eyes. Later in the war he was with General Forrest’s command in the Battle of Harrisburg.
3 Twenty-nine year-old A. Leland Hatch, a Jackson (MS) nurseryman, was elected Sergeant of his Co. A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery when he enlisted in May 1862. He stood 6 feet tall, had blue eyes and light colored hair.
4 Bourbon Shotwell of Jackson, Mississippi, was appointed a corporal when he enlisted in Co. A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery in May 1862. He stood 5 feet 11 inches tall, had auburn hair and grey eyes.
5 Nathaniel (“Nat”) Moore (1808-1865) farmed on land very near to the Shotwells near Jackson, Mississippi. He died in Clarke county, Alabama, in January 1865, never having returned to his home in Mississippi.
September 4th 1862
My Dear Lizzie,
I am very tired but must write to you this evening so that you may hear from me this week. I have just returned from fishing. The boys are cleaning them while I write. We have bought a trot line. Dan Mann, Bill Hendrick, and myself went a mile on the other side of the river to a large lake. We caught forty perch & found two small catfish on the line as we returned to camp weighting about eight lb. apiece which will give us a fine bait of fish tonight. I wish you had some of them.
We have moved our guns about half mile from the river. We all stay in camp except two men to guard the gun every day and night. There is some negroes here digging pits and throwing up powder magazines ready to mount the guns before they bring them here. There was a rumor in camp this morning that the Yanks were coming up but suppose it was a false alarm as it is very doubtful whether they can get in at the mouth of the river. The river is falling very fast & it is quite probable they are afraid to venture up.
About 1200 of our men that were captured at Fort Donelson was returned to Vicksburg a few days since. I read a dispatch from Jackson yesterday giving the news of another glorious victory in Virginia. May God continue to bless our arms & it may not be long before this inhumane war will close.
Darling, I was made to rejoice yesterday evening by receiving your letter of the 2nd. It always gives me pleasure to hear from you and more especially to hear you are so happy with your Mother and sisters. Give my love to them all. I would like very much to be with you all but cannot tell when. Tell Sue to write to me some time. I am always glad to get a letter. I wrote three day before yesterday. We have more fish tonight than we know what to do with. Since writing, the boys have brought another catfish weighing about 20 lbs. & 38 perch.
Darling, send us a bushel of corn meal the first opportunity. The health of our company is very good. Our mess are all well except Rob. He is having chills. Mrs. [Isaac] King is here on a visit to see her husband. She informed me that Mat Mann 1 was agoing to take a school [and] that Mr. Mann was going to build a house for her near her house on the opposite side of the road. I was surprised to hear that she would take a school. Think she will get tired before long. Darling, if you can find a pair of blankets for sale, I wish you would get them for me—the heaviest you can find. If you have any red braid or tape, I wish you would sew it on the seam of my grey pants—the outside seam of the leg.
Give my love to Ma. Kiss little darling. Write when convenient. Nothing more. The bugle has blown to put out lights. Good night, my darling.
Your most affectionate, Thos. A.
Toby sends his love to all. Says tell his Pa to send him some shoes. He wants him to send a boy also.
1 Mattie J. Mann (1842-1927), was the daughter of Daniel Mann (1812-1868) and Penina Atkinson (1821-1912). Se married Henry Goodloe in 1864. After he died in 1870, she married Moses Philip Simpson (1835-1892) who served with Thomas Atkinson in Co. A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery.
Camp on Yazoo
October 2nd 1862
My Dear Darling,
Our camp is now 12 miles above Vicksburg on the Yazoo & Vicksburg road situated in a high hill overlooking the Yazoo river. We moved here last Monday supposing it to be a more healthy location which I hope it may prove. It’s really alarming to see so much sickness in our detachment. We only have one cannoneer & others are equally as bad as ours. I don’t know what we would do if the Yanks were to come now. Our guns are at the same place on the river. We have regular pits dug & earthworks thrown up for the protection of the men in case of an attack. There has been a rumor of an attack here but I think it like all heretofore false.
Mr. Davis came back last night & was taken sick soon after arriving. Billy Mann is little sick. I think [he] will be up soon. Toby is very well and hearty. Is taken with the idea of fishing. He went down to the river yesterday morning and caught a fine string—enough for three messes. This morning he caught a nice string. One very fine drum [fish] suppose would weigh four or five lbs.
Darling, your letter by Mr. Shotwell was received Tuesday evening. I was very sorry to hear that little darling [Clara] was sick. Hope she is better by this. Had rather you would not call on Bright to see or prescribe for her. It is best to have but one doctor. Hope you will spare no expense or trouble to have her attended to. I was truly glad, my darling, that you were well and almost regained your strength. I hope you will not fatigue yourself too much. A little prudence might prevent another spell.
Mr. Miller was here yesterday to see his son John. He came up to Jackson to bring his negroes. He says the Yanks are stealing negroes so rapidly in his country that he was afraid to keep him there any longer. He says he will move his family up here somewhere after awhile. He left Mary Miller— his wife, and children all well. If you have heard from Arkansas lately, please let me know so that I may write to them. John Miller is quite sick here. If can get off, he wants to go to some house near Jackson. I told him to g to our house—that you would take as good care of him as you could.
Darling, you need not buy any material to make me a coat. The government is going to furnish coats, overcoats, &c. When they come, will write you what I will need. I know will need no more outside clothes but will write more particularly about it next time. It is late at night. Must close.
May God protect your. Good night. Your affectionate, — Thos.
My love to Ma and all who may enquire after me. Kiss little Clara,
October 19th, 1862
My Dear Lizzie,
Your very interesting letter of the 12th was gladly received on the 15th bearing the good news that all were in good health at home. I am happy and truly thankful to out heavenly Father to inform you in return that I am enjoying better health than usual. I know not how to account for it unless it is taking more exercise than usual. I have had charge of our detachment since [Leland] Hatch & [Bourbon Shotwell has been sick which has given me a good deal more to do than usual. The health of the company has improved very much. All of our detachment that are at camp are well, or nearly so.
I hope to have an opportunity to send some clothing home soon. Have too much here.
The sickness has generally been light—common chill & fever. Bob Goodloe & Mr. [John Alexander] Forest are both at Mr. Hodges sick. I learn from their boy that they are improving. Their wives have been with them. I hear Mrs. Forest leaves for home in the morning. It is sad to inform you of the death of Mr. Fario. He died yesterday evening. I learn it was inflammation of the bowels that caused his death. He has been sent to Scott county to be buried with some relation.
Darling, I see the government has been giving eight sacks of salt for one bale of cotton but see in yesterday’s Miss. that planters need not send anymore cotton there to exchange for salt so I hardly know what to advise you to do. I learn the government has made arrangements to exchange 1,000 bales of cotton for 10,000 sacks of salt & the government only allows two sacks to one family. If that is true, you can get four sacks by claiming two for Ma and two for ourselves, and probably you could get two for Toby. Do the best you can. We will need all you can get but I think that somebody must have swindled Nat for if the government makes the exchange at all, they certainly do give more than two sacks for one bale. Mr. Shotwell says his father has made the exchange and got eight sacks for one bale. Mr. Davis says Mr. [Daniel] Mann is going to exchange a bale for him and wants us to take some if he gets it. You take as much as they will spare for fear you will not be able to get any more, but make the exchange if you can.
[ ] Hendrick has been conscripted & sent to our company. He got here last night.
If you have not separated the hogs, I think you had better do so if there is anything in the field for them to get. Turn the sows & pigs in the woods or oat pasture & let the killing hogs remain in the field & feed them well with corn. If there is nothing in the field for them, probably you had better have them put in a pen or lot for fattening. It’s time they were getting fat. Let me know in your next how they are getting on picking cotton & hauling wood. Tell Nat I thought it best to send Horace home as it is a very poor place to take care of a sick negro.
My love to Ma. Kiss little darling [Clara] for Pa Pa. May God care for & protect you in the prayer of your affectionate— Thos. A.
March 4, 1863
My dear Lizzie,
Your letter of the 27th was received Monday evening bringing the news of Ma’s bad health. Am very sorry to hear she has the rheumatism. I know she suffers a great deal but hope she will recover soon. I reckon she has exposed herself too much in the cold this winter. I hope you will not spare any expense or trouble in furnishing her anything she wants or may need. I have felt some uneasiness about her since I heard she was sick. Wish you to let me know as often as you can how she is.
I have fine health now. I feel like it’s a great waste of time to be sitting around here doing nothing this pretty weather. How long do you expect to keep your cousin’s negroes? If you think they will stay during the cultivating season, would have more planted . Think you can cultivate all the land we have. Don’t forget to plant a large patch of potatoes. I want about ten acres in potatoes this year. Plant a great many vegetables for the negroes & to market on. It will pay better than anything else. A large watermelon patch will be profitable.
Very little sickness in camp now. All the boys are well. It seems impossible to get Toby to write to his Pa. Have done my best to get him to write but have not succeeded. Gave him a talk last night and all I could get out of him was that he didn’t want to write.
Two Yankee deserters have just passed which makes four deserters & two prisoners that passed here this week. They have no news of importance. Seem to know but little about the Yankee’s plans. They say the Yanks are dying very fast of the other side [of the Mississippi]. Some of them think it impossible to take Vicksburg and some think they will. It is believed here the gunboat Indianola has not been blown up but it undergoing repairs to be ready for the next boat that may come down.
Give Ma my love & tell her I hope she will be up soon. Kiss the sweet little darlings [Clara and Emma]. Goodbye.
Your affectionate, — Thos. A.
Tell Nat Moore he need not be uneasy about Horace. He is well.
Darling, have you received the different boxes sent home. One sent to Mr. [Daniel] Mann’s with my blue coat in it with other things. Sent a jar to Betty Davis’s.