1864: John W. Brett to William G. Porter

The following Prisoner of War (POW) Letter was written by Pvt. John W. Brett of Co. I, 5th Battalion Florida Cavalry. He enlisted on 9 January 1864 in Henry county, Alabama, and was taken prisoner on 23 September 1864 at Eucheeanna, Florida by Federal troops under command of Brig. General Asboth. After capture, he was forwarded to New Orleans, then to Ship Island, then to New York City, and finally to the prison at Elmira, New York, arriving there on 19 November 1864. Ten days later, he wrote the following letter.

At the time he took the Oath of Allegiance and was released from Elmira Prison on 19 June 1865, he gave his place of residence as Woodville, Alabama, and was described as standing 5′ 9″ tall, with a florid complexion, light hair and grey eyes.

Brett wrote the letter to William Gibbs Porter (1799-1877), a well-to-do business man of Philadelphia whose company had strong financial and personal ties to Apalachicola and the Florida panhandle that went back to the 1830s. Porter spent much of his time in Florida until his marriage in 1843 when he made Philadelphia his permanent residence. [See Historical Notes & Documents: Philadelphia Foundations of the Wm. G. Porter Company of Apalachicola, by Judith Y. Robertson, Florida Historical Quarterly, Vo. 83, No. 3]

An 1864 view of the Elmira Prison Camp
(Rob Morgan Collection)


Addressed to Wm. G. Porter, Esq., No. 1630 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Penn.

Military Prison
Ward No. 31
Elmira, New York
November 29th 1864

Wm. G. Porter, Esq.,
Dear Sir,

I am here a prisoner of war and in a very destitute condition. I write to ask of you the favor of sending me—say twenty (20) dollars in money care of Maj. Colt, commanding prisoners. The amount shall be promptly refunded as soon as circumstances will admit—and oblige your obedient servant, — Jno. W. Brett

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