1862: John McDonald to Sarah McDonald

An unidentified North Carolina soldier
(Adam Ochs Fleischer Collection)

The following letter was written by John McDonald (1833-1897) who was conscripted into service on 20 July 1863 and assigned to replenish the ranks of Co. C, 3rd North Carolina. Most of the members of Co. C were from Cumberland county when it was first formed in May 1861.

John’s letter was written from Richmond on 2 August 1862 after being in the service only two weeks. He joined the 3rd North Carolina just days before Lee launched his Maryland Invasion. They were in the reserve at 2nd Bull Run and Chantilly, only marginally engaged at South Mountain, but at Sharpsburg, members of the regiment burned the Mumma farm buildings and then changed front to the north to support Jackson’s men near the Dunker Church. An intense fire fight followed against the Federals of Hooker and Mansfield and the regiment was out of ammunition when reinforcements from Hill and Hood arrived. Federal reinforcements also arrived under Summner and forced the Confederate line back. Reinforcements from Walker and McLaws arrived and advanced over the regiment as it lay prone at the edge of the field. The reinforcements allowed the regiment to temporarily withdraw and refill its ammuition, after which it returned to the fight. After the fighting died down at the end of the day it fell back to a position near the Dunker Church.

During the day’s fighting at Sharpsburg, John took a gunshot wound to his left leg, fracturing the bone and temporarily disabling him. Left on the field, he was taken prisoner and not exchanged until 15 February 1863. After he was exchanged he was often absent from the regiment due to sickness or on detached service until Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

John was the son of Alexander McDonald (1810-1879), an emigrant from Scotland who came to North Carolina in 1833. In the 1860 US Census, the McDonald family was enumerated in Carthage, Moore county, North Carolina. John wrote the letter to his older sister, Sarah McDonald (b. 1830).


Addressed to Miss Sarah McDonald, Carthage, N. C.

Richmond, Virginia
August 2, 1862

Dear Sister,

I take my pen in hand to drop you a few lines to inform you that I am well, hoping this may find you all well.

Last Wednesday at four o’clock, we left Camp Holmes and reached Weldon about 12 o’clock that night. Thursday morning we left Weldon [and] reached Petersburg about 12 o’clock. Four o’clock we started for Richmond. Arrived there about 6 o’clock Thursday evening. We then had to shoulder our musket and march 4 miles to this place northeast of Richmond. It was after dark when we came here. There was no tents for us to put up. Some of us got into tents which were not full. The rest had to sleep without tents.

Friday morning we were divided among the companies of the 3rd Regiment N. C. Troops. Myself and 16 more of the Moore County boys are in Co. C, H[enry] W. Horn Captain. There are 450 conscripts in this regiment, 65 of them is from Moore County. 18 of our men were left at Camp Holmes for camp guards. 12 or 13 deserted. About 400 of the conscripts deserted last Sunday night.

I have got a plenty to eat so far but some are complaining. I could write a great deal more but there is so much noise about here so I must close hoping to hear soon from you. Your affectionate brother, — John McDonald

Address Richmond, Va. care of H[enry] W. Horn, 3rd Regt. N. C Troops

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