1862: “Sallie” to Joseph R. Dickerson

How Sallie might have looked

I can’t be certain of the identity of the author of this letter who signed her name “Sallie” but she was clearly a cousin of several members of the Gravely family who lived in Pittsylvania county, Virginia. I believe she wrote the letter to her friend Joseph R. Dickerson who was, at the time, sick in a hospital at Staunton, Virginia, while serving as a private in the Danville Artillery. Joseph enlisted in the spring of 1861 and was with the company in the Battle of Greenbrier River (West Virginia) in early October where he was wounded, but was taken ill in November and December of that year. In April 1862 when the company reenlisted, he was elected 3rd Lieutenant.

The letter contains a lot of news about local soldiers. More research would likely lead to the author’s identity.


Danville, Virginia
January 29th 1862

Dear friend Josephene,

I received your interesting communication last night and hasten to reply. As you expect to get a furlough, I thought I would write before you left Staunton. I was exceedingly glad to hear that you was improving and was also glad to hear that my sweetheart (as you say) (Mr. William Lawrence) was improving. I thought he had gone to his last resting place long ago.

Mr. George Wooding 1 came up on the cars one day last week. He is improving, but very slowly indeed. I think he is about as smart a young man as there is in Danville, “don’t you?” I have heard him deliver some excellent speeches. Mr. Henry Stamps (your orderly sergeant) is also at home. He has gotten well again. He has made him up a company. Has nearly 100 men already. 2

Capt. [T. D.] Claiborne of the Danville Greys 3 has made up an artillery company out of that regiment. He is in town now on 30 days furlough. Uncle Marshall has not joined. Neither has Lewis or Frank.

Uncle Abner McCabe 4 has procured a discharge and has gone home on account of his health, I suppose. John Burch has also procured a discharge and I heard from very good authority him and cousin Bettie Gravely is about to knock up a wedding. Perhaps you will get home just in time for it. I am rather opposed to chat but if she does marry him, I hope she will give me an invitation to the nuptial feast.

I received a letter from Dr. Wingfield last mail & he said they were camped near Winchester. The enemy has possession of Romney—a town about forty miles from them. He said they had a dull Christmas, those that were not drunk. I enjoyed myself very pleasantly during Christmas. I was in company with several of my acquaintance from the army which made the time fly much faster than if otherwise spent. I thought of you all and wondered how you spent your Christmas.

I heard from a very good authority that Cousin Joe Morton Gravely 5 was in the Northern army and had made official reports to Washington. I was somewhat surprised to hear that. His father [Edmund] was looking for him to come home Christmas but if he has joined the Federals, I reckon he has been at home his last time.

I received a letter from cousin John Gravely not long since. He enjoyed himself finely Christmas. John R. Brown & Boleyn were at their camp & spent the Christmas with them. I suppose you have heard of Oliver Witcher’s resignation 6 & T. J. Martin being elected in his place. Mr. [George W.] Dickinson 1st Lieut. & cousin John W. G[ravely] 2nd Lieut. 7

I have not had the pleasure of seeing your Dules Parella (Miss Mollie) since I returned home but I reckon you are posted as regards her health & the news in general about there as I understand you write to her about 17 times a week and sometimes oftener. I don’t wonder at paper and envelopes being hard to come at. I am sorry that you are sick enough to be compelled to go to the hospital. Staunton seems to be an unlucky place for soldiers. You are not the only one of my acquaintances that has been sick there, but from accounts, some of Captain Hereford’s officers are destined to remain in the hospital at Winchester for some considerable time as they are quite sick. But enough of that foolishness.

Joseph Henry Harrison Gravely (1840- ) was born in Leatherwood, Henry Co., VA. He was the son of Willis Gravely and Ann Marshall (Barrow) Gravely.

I will not trespass on your patience any longer but will now conclude. Permit me to express many kind wishes for your happiness & with a hope of hearing from you very soon, will now desist. I remain as ever your true friend, — Sallie

I would almost bet my sweetheart against Barkmill that you can’t read this letter.

P. S. My kindest regards to anyone that may enquire after me. Write soon. Excuse all defects as I write in great haste. Joe Henry Gravely 8 has been elected 3rd Lieutenant in place of Lieut. Law who died some time ago.

1 George W. Wooding, a lawyer in Pittsylvania county, Va., was 23 years old when he enlisted in May 1861 to serve in the Danville Artillery. He was elected 2nd Lieutenant and was with the unit until late in 1861 when he was reported sick at Warm Springs. In December 1861 he returned to Danville, as noted in this letter. In April 1862, he was elected Captain of the Danville Artillery and was with them at the Battle of Fredericksburg where he was wounded on 13 December 1862. He appears to have been court martialed the following month.

2 Timothy “Henry” Stamps was a 41 year-old Pittsylvania county farmer who enlisted at Danville in Capt. L. M. Shumaker’s Company (“Danville Artillery”) in May 1861. He was selected as the 1st (Orderly) Sergeant. Late in 1861, he was reported sick and at Warm Springs. We learn from this letter that Henry raised another company in 1862 which became part of the “Ringgold Battery,” 13th Battalion Virginia Artillery. He resigned his commission of captain in June 1863.

3 The Danville Greys became Co. B of the Eighteenth Virginia Infantry. Capt. Thomas D. Claiborne led the company. Claiborne’s men were covered with glory at the Battle of Bull Run when they captured Union guns (Sherman Battery) posted between the Henry House and the Sudley Road. They successfully turned the guns around and used them against the federals.

Susan (Gravely) McCabe)

4 Abner McCabe (1831-1866) was married in 1853 to Susan Eleanor (“Sue Ellen”) Gravely (1834-1920). He enlisted at Danville as a private in Capt. Claiborne’s Co. B, 18th Virginia Infantry and served until 20 August 1861 when he was hospitalized with a hernia. (Perhaps he injured himself dragging the guns at Bull Run.) He was discharged for disability on 15 January 1862. He was a farmer in Bedford county, Virginia. Susan Gravely was the daughter of Willis Gravely (1800-1885) and Ann Marshall Barrow (1812-1885) of Henry county, Virginia.

5 Joseph Morton Gravely (b. 1832) was the son of Edmund Gravely (1788-1883) and Susan Robertson (1800-1879) of Henry county, Virginia. Willis Gravely mentioned in footnote 4 was Edmund’s younger brother.

6 Vincent Oliver Witcher was the captain of Co. F, 57th Virginia Infantry from July 1861 until 21 October 1861 when he became ill and went home to Pittsylvania county on furlough. He resigned his commission in November 1861 and his successor was T. J. Martin.

7 John W. Gravely, the author’s cousin, was wounded in the wrist slightly at the Battle of Malvern Hill (or Crew’s Farm) on 1 July 1862 while serving as lieutenant in Co. F, 57th Virginia. He resigned his commission in late September 1862 for medical reasons claiming his eyesight was failing due to congenital blindness.

8 Joseph Henry Harrison Gravely (1840-1920) became a lieutenant in Co. F, 42nd Virginia Infantry. He was a younger brother of Sue Ellen Gravely (wife of Abner McCabe) mentioned in footnote 4.

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