1863: John D. Fain to Susan (Martin Hair) Fain

This letter was written by John D. Fain (1841-1865) who enlisted on 1 June 1861 as a private in Co. C (“Warren Rifles”), 12th North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded on 28 June 1862 during the Seven Days Battle and hospitalized in Richmond for a time. He was detailed by General Iverson as a clerk for Maj. Payne, Quartermaster, in the spring of 1863. On 23 November 1863, just a couple of weeks after this letter was written, he was transferred out of the 12th North Carolina and commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. C, 33rd North Carolina Infantry. He received a gunshot wound again, this time in the left thigh/hip, on 6 May 1864 in the Wilderness and returned to his regiment near Petersburg on 31 August 1864. Sometime early in 1865 he was made Captain of his company, his rank backdated to July 1864.

Capt. John D. Fain

Capt. Fain served the entire war, rising in rank from private to captain, but he did not live to see the end of the conflict and return home to his mother. On 1 April 1865, the brigade in which the 33rd North Carolina was attached fell under a continual bombardment. Early the next morning, Grant launched his attack on the thinly manned North Carolina regiments and though they fought desperately, they were compelled to fall back until they broke. In the same fight that resulted in the death of Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill, Capt. Fain was mortally wounded. He was standing with a group with other officers when “that unmistakeable thud” was heard and Capt, Fain “fell heavily forward…He begged us to take him off the field, but it was impossible to do so at that time. In five minutes he was dead. I never knew a purer man. He was the soul of honor—so gentle, so manly, so heroic that no one could help loving him. We held the inner line of works until night, when Petersburg was evacuated, and we began our last retreat.”

John was the son of John Fain (@1800-1856) and Susan Martin Hair (1804-1881) of Island Creek, Granville county, North Carolina. John was an 1860 graduate of the University of North Carolina. In the 1860 US Slave Schedule, John’s widowed mother was listed among the slaveholders in Granville county and she owned 52 slaves.


Addressed to Mrs. S. M. Fain, Wm. Buruga, Granville, North Carolina

Camp 33rd N. C. S.
December 6th 1863

My own dear mother,

I received your kind letter in line of battle the other day and I seize really the first opportunity I have had of writing to you. We were drawn up in front of the Yankees almost a week. I had scarcely reported to Col. [Clark Moulton] Avery for duty before we received orders to march and I have just been relieved from duty as “Officer of the Guard,” so you see how busy I have ben. I find Col. Avery a very fine, genial man and I have been assigned to the company of his brother whom I like very much. Everything here moves like clockwork and there is a great cordiality among the officers. I had some few acquaintances among them, and they have treated me always very kindly and gentlemanly. There is no intercourse between officers and men and nearly all officers cooks are white men detailed for that purpose. As a general thing, the entire brigade is made up of the best fighting material I ever saw. All soldiers in the true sense of the word.

We had fortified ourselves very securely when we were threatened by the enemy and they pushed very closely upon us. It was very exciting—the skirmishers would sometimes be driven in and we would all rush from our fires to the breastworks. The sharpshooters from our brigade killed several of the blue….

I saw Mr. Anderson before I left the 12th [Regiment] and was very much pleased with him. I should like to see him often but I only [ ] him when I expected orders daily to join the 33rd. I think him a young man devoted to his Master’s cause and what [ ] so worthy of faithful service as the Lord our God?

I am truly sorry that you made so little corn. I hope your wheat will enable you to pass through the year. You write again about the box. I received the contents excepting these I mentioned as lost and the books. I saw nothing of them except the Greek Testament. I should be very glad to have some good drawers [this] winter but white shirts will not answer. I think I need another undershirt and a shirt like those you sent me. Our washing days are so uncertain that a single change is not sufficient.

I trust this will find you all the servants and our friends well. How have Julia, Aunt Polly, and Mr. Evans gotten [along]? I thank you, mother, for your noble advice about my duty. I shall strive to perform it well. I am still wearing a jacket but I expect to have a full uniform shortly. As you may suppose, I have lately had little opportunity of reading my bible but I pray nightly to God and an invocation is often on my lips. Pray for me, mother, and may God shield you from every ill.

I have seen Miss Bettie’s little brother and I think I must drop her a few lines though you know it is all nothing—just a friendly letter. Who, mother, is the suitor for cousin Watkin’s hand? Boyd or Tany? Both acceptable I presume. My thanks to all my friends for their good wishes. I believe I have still many friends around Waynesboro.

I met an ambulance driven from Ewell’s Corps as we returned from our sortie and he said that like us, they had returned to their old quarters after the retreat of the enemy. I go on picket tomorrow in command of my company, Lt. [Willoughby F.] Avery being witness as a court martial. My kindest regards to the servants and Uncle William’s family, Aunt Holly, Mr. Evans, and all my friends. I will write much more frequently this winter. My God have you in his holy keeping is the prayer of your affectionate boy, — John

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