Category Archives: Desertion

1863: Mary Elizabeth (Gardner) Van Nest to Joseph P. Van Nest

This letter was written by 20 year-old Mary Elizabeth (Gardner) Van Nest (1842-1928) to her husband, Joseph P. Van Nest (1841-1905) who enlisted as a private in Co. F, 120th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) in August 1862. Before his enlistment, Joseph worked with his father as a harness maker in Rowsburg, Ashland county, Ohio.

Joseph P. Van Nest when a lieutenant in the 114th OVI

In his book, “A visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the War,” author Sean A. Scott wrote that Joseph was “raised in a family old dyed-in-the-wool Democrats…and that Joseph went to war to preserve the old Constitution.” A few months after enlisting, however, Joseph “felt betrayed by the Emancipation Proclamation and evidently his dissatisfaction became known throughout the community. One minister even claimed that Joseph, if given the opportunity, would be willing to shoot the President if he did not retracts the edict. As would be expected, Joseph’s father took offense at this slanderous statement for he had seen the letter in question and knew that his son had expressed no such sentiment.” When Joseph’s father confronted the minister, the “Abolition preacher” apparently withdrew the charge claiming that he must have “misunderstood his wife.”

Despite Joseph’s anger regarding his government’s prosecution of the war and his wife’s pleadings to desert, he remained steadfast in his duties, rising in rank to 1st Sergeant of his company, and then accepted a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 114th OVI.

To read letters previously transcribed and published on Spared & Shared that were written by Joseph P. Van Nest, see:

Joseph P. Van Nest, Co. F, 120th Ohio (6 letters)
Joseph P. Van Nest, Co. F, 120th Ohio (1 Letter)

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to J. P. Van Nest, in care of Capt. Buck, Co. F, 120th Regt. O/V. I., via Memphis, Tennessee

Rowsburg, [Ohio]
February 1, 1863

Dear Husband,

I again seat myself to try to write you a few lines to let you know we are all well at present and I hope you are getting along better than you were when you wrote. I was very sorry to hear you were sick, but still I was glad in one way, so that you had not to go in the battle. We heard that the sick was all sent to St. Louis and I think that is a good plan for they will be better taken care of than at Memphis. Uncle John started for there last Wednesday. I hope that you are sent there too so that you will not be in that battle at Vicksburg again for if you are in it, I have little hope of ever seeing you again. It will be an awful slaughter. I don’t believe our men will ever take it. I don’t believe the fighting will ever end this confounded war and no person thinks so anymore.

If I was you, I would not stay down there and fight for the negroes anymore for I would not have my blood spilt for them. This is not an honorable war anyhow. The men that lives to get home will not have any honor anyhow.

Joe, I don’t care how soon you desert and come home and your folks don’t care either. They said they wished you would come home.  I would not want you to start with those [military] clothes on, but send me word and I will send you some [civilian] clothes. I can  send them in a box and get them expressed to you and then you would  have no trouble to get home, and you might go to some other state and work until the war was over. I would stay where I am [just] so I know  where you were. I would not care.

Mother said she should write to [her brother] Al 1 and tell him to come home and start East. Oh! how I wish you would have taken my advice and stayed at home with me. Sometimes I think it can’t be that the one that I love best of all on earth must be so far from me. Oh, Joe, sometimes I sit down and cry when I think of  times past and gone forever and never to return again. It is a solemn thought indeed that I may have seen you for the last time. It is hard to tell. I think sometimes I must just start and come  and see you but the distance is too great. It seems awful hard to  think you can’t come home until the war is over. Oh Joe, desert and come home. If you knew how bad I want to see you, I think you  would.

Keifers feels very bad about  the war. They think he may have drowned himself. It will be an awful thing if he has done it. Some say there was another man missing with him and maybe they have deserted together. I have not  learned his name, but I glory in their spunk if they have deserted. I wrote in the other letter I sent you about so many things. Emerson wrote a letter in the Times that the sesech wanted things so bad and they were so mean that when they got to Ashland, they opened the barrels and distributed them. It was an awful mean trick after we went to so much trouble and getting it ready for our poor soldiers. If I hear anything about Keifers, I will send you word of it.

Dr. Cole’ wife had a son.

There was several of the boys wrote home that [Capt. Henry] Buck 2 and [1st Lieutenant Robert M.] Zuver 3 run when the battle was at Arkansas Post. I wish you would write if it is true or not. Everybody says you ought to shoot them both. I will never pity Buck a bit if he don’t get home. He wrote home if the soldiers did not get something pretty soon to eat, you would have to starve. Before I would starve, I would start home. Joe, do come home. I can’t hardly live without you. It seems so long since we were together. If Buck would start home, you should just start too for he promised before you went that he would stay with you.

I guess I’ll stay on in the little house. It is so good a place as I can get. It is pretty lonesome—nobody but me and [our son] Johnny. All I want is for you to come home. I can put up with anything. Bill Strayer has gone East with a patent-wright to stay all winter.

I guess I have written all the news for this time. I’ll write again. I feel out of heart today and can’t write as I wished. These are dreary days and I suppose they are to you too. Johnny is well and will soon walk. Your father gave me a new dress. It is oil calico [and] is very pretty. Joe, I hope you will excuse this poorly composed letter. I send you some newspapers with this letter. I must close by bidding you good night. I remain your affectionate wife, — Mary E. Van Nest

Tell me all that is sick when you write. I forgot to state when I received [your] letter. It was the 29th. Write soon for I can’t wait.

1 Alpheus A. Hamilton, in the 42nd OVI

2 Capt. Henry Buck of Co. F, 120th OVI resigned on 15 February 1863.

3 1st Lieutenant Robert M. Zuver of Co. F, 120th OVI resigned on 14 June 1863.

1864: Benjamin Franklin Hoover to Zebulon Baird Vance

This 10 August 1864 Confederate stamped folded letter was written by 46 year-old Benjamin Franklin Hoover (1818-1884)—a circuit court clerk residing in Asheboro, Randolph county, North Carolina. His letter was addressed to North Carolina’s Governor, Zebulon Baird Vance, who did his best to uphold law and order in the state though it was populated by residents with sharply divided loyalties. Hoover’s purpose was to inform the Governor of the depredations being committed chiefly by Confederate deserters in his part of the state and pleading with the Gov. to do something about it though he could offer no suggestions.

Deaths were not confined to the battlefields

According to Hoover’s request for amnesty in July 1865, he claimed never to have been “a soldier nor officer at any time during the late rebellion nor participated in it in any way whatever.” He divulged that his only role during the war was to serve as a “Sub-Fitting Agent” in Randolph county under Capt. Lewis Hilliard which I believe were the Senior Reserves organized in 1864.

According to the US Army’s provost marshal general, it is estimated that 23,000 North Carolina troops deserted during the Civil War—nearly one quarter of the total for the entire Confederacy. This figure is disputed, however, and the causes for desertion in North Carolina are explored in a great little article published by NCPedia entitled “Civil War Desertion,” by Michael Thomas Smith. One of the reasons for desertion in the western counties of the state mentioned in this article was the breakdown of law and order in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of the best articles on the problems with deserters specifically in Randolph county can be found in a blog post by L. McKay Whatley (see Civilian Casualties of War, 1863) in which the author points out that since Asheboro had no local newspaper published during the war, “events were only known when residents wrote to other newspapers, in Fayetteville, Greensboro, or in Raleigh. Most events were never recorded in the news at the time they happened and many stories are virtually impossible to confirm. Such stories survived, if at all, as oral history.” This article contains a tale involving the Bray family who are also mentioned in the following letter.

The back of the stamped folded letter is powerfully initialed by Vance and the letter is franked by a Confederate 10 cent stamp (Scott #12) cancelled by an Asheboro handstamp.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Ashboro, North Carolina
August 10, 1864

To His Excellency, Z. B. Vance

The state of affairs in this county is assuming a most deplorable aspect, and to give you some of the reasons that induce me to come to this conclusion, it will mention a few of the unlawful and outrageous acts committed by the deserters within the last few days. We have had any amount of stealing going on all the time—but for the last month or six weeks, armed parties of deserters have been going about even in the daytime compelling citizens to give up their arms and ammunition, and such other articles as they the deserters might want. The sheriff, while collecting his taxes was threatened to be waylaid and robbed—many good and quiet citizens are this time in great fear, not only of being robbed, but of being murdered or burnt up with all they have in the still and dead hour of the night.

On the day of the Election, a squad of the Home Guard was sent to an election precinct to prevent the deserters from voting. The voting was prevented by the officer saying to the man at whose house the election was held that he—this man—would prevent the deserters from coming to the election, and if he did not prevent them from coming up, that the Home Guard, upon the deserters coming in sight, would burn his house, it being well known that this man at whose house this election was held had a son who is a deserter, in the party who contemplated the attack—this man being understood to be a most cruel, blood-thirsty and savage man. During the day, 30 or more deserters, armed, were seen not more than 300 yards from this election—and the Home Guard, by having a man or two in it who had friends among the deserters got information that that the Home Guard would be attacked if it returned home by the usual road, had to avoid this and come in a very different direction.

On the day of the Election, H. McCain, Senior, an aged and crippled man was attacked in his own home and most rudely and abusively treated by 3 armed deserters and compelled to give up his gun, &c. On the next day these same 3 men, it is supposed, went to the house of a militia officer, knocked his wife down, tore up some of the officer’s property, stole his leather, and said to this officer’s wife that in 90 days she should be begging bread.

We have also just heard here of the killing of three of the Reserve Force just below Carthage—one of the men killed being from this neighborhood. And on last Saturday a large number of armed deserters were at the home of Bray—a reserve now on duty. They tore his clock from the wall, threw it on the floor and stamped it to pieces.

On yesterday a squad of the Home Guard, coming to this place for commissary stores from Franklinsville, was fired on from the rear, one of the Guard mortally wounded and three others wounded, shot through the arms, shoulders, &c.

We need more men and better men to manage our military affairs. We can never hope for better times here until we have more energetic and braver men at the head of our home forces. I have no suggestions to make, but I am satisfied that 3/4ths of the men who are now liable for duty in this county are well convinced that nothing can be done unless a change is made.

If the Home Guard officers lower than the field officers would suggest men to command and take charge of them, then we may hope that some good may be done and not until then. This desertion has been palliated and temporized with until it has such a hold and influence here that all good men fear that much blood will have to be shed before things are quieted here.

Exempts, details, &c., as a general thing, connive at, and cause desertion. If it be possible, send our folks help and that too, soon, as it is badly needed. I am sir, your obedient servant, — B. F. Hoover

1863: Henry Lancaster to “Brother Byron”

Grave of William H. Jenkins, member of posse killed hunting down deserters who shot local police office in 1863

This letter was written by Henry Lancaster (1825-1865), a farmer in Detroit (Palmyra P. O.), Somerset county, Maine. He was married to Sarah Jane Crosby (1828-1898) in 1851. The letter was addressed to “Brother Byron” but I could not find any family record indicated that Henry had a brother by that name though the records could be incomplete, he may have been a brother in law, or Byron may have been member of the clergy or simply a fellow parishioner.

Henry’s letter describes the fracas caused by two local boys who were described as “deserters” from the army when they went on a spree in Belfast, Waldo county, Maine, stealing horses and robbing stores. A modern-day synopsis of the event appears on the Belfast (Maine) Police Department website which captures the most comprehensive record and I will not repeat it here.

The two deserters were Isaac N. Grant (1837-1863) of Co. G, 5th US Cavalry who deserted on 25 January 1862. He was born in Somerset county, Maine, and had been hiding out from the Provost Marshal for almost a year and a half. The other was Charles E. Knowles (1844-1863) and he deserted on 30 August 1862. Knowles is buried in Rogers Cemetery in Troy.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]


Detroit [Somerset county, Maine]
June the 26, 1863

Brother Byron,

We have been having a great fight here for a few days past—perhaps you may have heard of it before this time but I will write you the particulars. The case was this. There was two deserters from the army came here & commenced horse stealing & store breaking. They sold their horses in Belfast. The officers came up last Sunday & then the battle commenced. The thieves was well armed, having three revolvers apiece. They fought desperately. The result of that day’s fight was one of the officers [Chief of Police, Charles O. McKenney of Belfast] was mortally wounded & the thieves escaped to the woods.

Monday there was a great turnout to hunt them. Men could be seen marching in every direction with guns in their hands. The names of the thieves was [Isaac N.] Grant of Palmyra & [Charles E.] Knowles of Troy. We did not find them that day.

Tuesday three men from Detroit village went down to the [Sebasticook] river to the point & landed on the other side of the river & came upon them. The thieves rushed upon & fired & killed one of our men dead on the spot. They returned the fire & wounded Grant in the head—put a ball into one ear & out the other. But he then fought desperately. They came to close quarters and fought with the butts of their guns. They killed Grant & beat Knowles so [much] that he died yesterday. The names of the three men was William Jenkins, Lyman Hurd & Joseph Myrick. Jenkins was killed. He was buried yesterday. 1 Sarah and I attended the funeral. Heard is some relation to Mr. Hanscom’s folks. He fought like a tiger. There has been a great excitement here. They think there is more engaged with them. We are all well.

Yours, — H. Lancaster 

1 William H. Jenkins (1823-1863) was killed on 23 June 1863. He is buried in the Detroit Village Cemetery beneath a headstone that reads, “Sacred to the Memory of Wm. H. Jenkins who died in defense of Law and his life, June 23, 1863, aged 40 years.”

1863: Unidentified Deserter to Nelson Goodrich

This letter is unsigned and since there is no accompanying envelope to provide us with the location of its recipient—Nelson Goodrich—we can only speculate on their identity. We learn from the letter that the author is a Union deserter who has gone to London where he has found employment driving an omnibus in the city. He has left a wife and slipped a separate letter to her in the envelope with this letter. My hunch is that it was addressed to the Rev. Nelson Goodrich, A methodist clergyman in New London, Connecticut, who may have been a trusted friend that would assist him while keeping his location a secret.

The author implies that he was deceptively enticed into the service but deserted when he realized what was happening. He may have been a former sailor and had the means to readily sign onto a crew bound for London.

[Note: This letter come from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]

An omnibus in London, ca 1860


London [England]
March 8, 1863

Nelson Goodrich, Sir

I wrote you a few lines to inform you that I am well at present and I hope these few lines will find you and the rest of your family enjoying the same blessing. You must excuse me for not writing before. I suppose you heard that I deserted. I found out that we were going to be sold to another man and that Captain Whitmer never intended to go with the company and I saw no signs of any pay. In fact, there was a great deal of deception every way so I made up my mind to leave as I knew how to do it.

I have not time to write much this time but I will write again soon. I will enclose a letter in this envelope for my wife and I wish you would be so kind as to send it to her if you know where she is for I don’t know but she has moved.

I am in London driving bus for a hotel.

1864-65: Gideon Leander Miller to Sophia (Miller) Beckel

These five letters were written by Gideon Leander Miller (1845-1907) who was conscripted into Co. H, 33rd North Carolina, as a private on 1 July 1862. Sometime about the middle of July 1862, he was transferred to the regimental band of the 33rd. He surrendered with his regiment at Appomattox on 9 April 1865.

Gideon Leander Miller

Gideon was the son of John Sylvester Miller (1801-1878) and Elizabeth Holder (1808-1873) of Winston, Forsyth county, North Carolina. He wrote the letters to his older sister, Antonette Sophia (Miller) Beckel (1828-1891)—the widow of George Hiram Beckel (1829-1862) who died of pneumonia on 24 December 1862 while serving in Co. G, 33rd North Carolina Infantry. He frequently mentions Sarah who was Sophia’s daughter.

Gideon survived the war and returned to Winston, North Carolina, where he and an old brother named John Sylvester Miller formed a partnership and went into the production of windows, sashes, blinds, doors, and other woodwork (see Miller Brothers).

What is most compelling about this correspondence is Gideon’s mentioning the execution of deserters in two of the five letters—scenes he could not avoid as the regimental band was always called upon to play the dead march as they escorted them men to the stakes where they were lashed and shot by a firing squad. In his article entitled “Confederate Dilemma: North Carolina Troops and the Deserter Problem,” author Richard Bardolph’s research resulted in an estimation of “between 180 to 200 of the many thousands of North Carolina runaway were executed and hundreds more were sentenced to death but eventually spared…”

Letter 1

Camp near Liberty Mills, Va.
January 1st 1864

Dear Sister,

I this evening take the pleasure of dropping you a few lines to let you know that I am well at present and hope these few lines will find you and Sarah both well and enjoying good health. I have nothing new to write at present. I received your letter last night by hands of George Flynt and I was very glad to hear from you now for I had not received a letter from any my folks in two weeks. I reckon they are looking for me at home yet, the reason they don’t write to me anymore.

I am about six or seven miles from Orange Court House and about the same distance from Gordonsville. I expect we will stay here this winter. We are a very nice camp now and I like to stay here better than any place I have ever been at since I [enlisted. I am] getting pretty well [acquainted with] the citizens in this country. We can go out in the country here every day and get a very good supper. I hope you all enjoyed Christmas and New Year but I am sorry to hear that you see such hard times and that you cannot enjoy life any better. It is true enough, this is a trying time and everybody has felt the effects of the war and a great many have been deprived of the pleasures and comforts that they would have enjoyed had it not been for the war—especially those who have lost their husbands as you have. But it will not do for to give up in despair but hope for a better day in the future.

I have thought too that I would as soon die as to live but that is folly and now I am determined to live in hopes if I am compelled to die in despair. I hope that I will be at home in a few days if nothing happens. Nothing more but remain your brother, — Gideon Miller

Letter 2

Camp 33rd Regt. N C. Troops
April 17th 1864

Dear Sister,

I am well and enjoying fine health and sincerely hope these few lines may find you and Sarah well and enjoying the same great blessing. I would have written to you sooner but I have not had the chance to write and I have so many to write to that I cannot write to all. Tell Sarah that I got that peach [ ] she sent to me by Mr. [ ]. I am much obliged to her for [illegible].

We are still in our winter quarters yet and everything is quiet on the front of the enemy but our army is making active preparations for the summer’s campaign. I don’t think it will be long before we will have a fight for we have got orders to have seven days rations on hand and be ready to move at any time.

There has been a good deal of rain here for two or three weeks and the ground is covered with snow yet and have been since before Easter. No doubt this is what has kept them from fighting this long. I expect we will have a hard fight before long and I am afraid we will have a great many men killed but I hope that this war will stop soon that we may all come home to stay at home for I don’t want to see anymore men killed on the battlefield. There were two men have been shot to death this week in our regiment for desertion with fifteen others [illegible] shot at the stake. I hope that I will not have to see another killed that way.

I must bring my short letter to a close for the present. Write to me soon. Give my love and best respects to all my friends if I have any. Tell sister Julia that I am sorry that I did not come to see her when I was at home but if I am ever so fortunate as to get home again, I will come to see her. Nothing more but remain your brother, — G. L. Miller

Letter 3

Chaffin’s Bluff below Richmond
July 26th 1864

Dear Sister,

I received your letter and was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you was all well at home. This leaves me well and enjoying good health and I sincerely hope it may find you enjoying the same great blessing. I have no news of interest to communicate at present as we are at a place where we cannot hear any news. We have been at Chaffin’s Bluff for nearly a month—our Brigade and two others—but we was reinforced last Saturday by one Division of Gen. Longstreet’s Corps. We have had no fighting to do since we came up here but we are expecting a fight every day for the Yankees have been crossing the river. They keep fighting at Petersburg yet everyday but they don’t do much for I reckon the Yankees are getting tired as well as we are. But we are all anxious to hear from Georgia to hear what they are doing there [before Atlanta]. We are certain that the Yankees cannot get Richmond or Petersburg so we are just waiting for something to turn up.

The weather has been very hot and dry out here for a month or two but now we have rain plenty and the weather is some colder. We get plenty of blackberries for we are back in rear of the line of battle and there is not so many men around us to eat up everything. I have to go down to the regiment as soon as I get this letter done and I am going through my berry patch on the way. We stay about three miles from the regiment at the hospital to wait upon the sick and wounded when there is any. We have got houses to stay in where soldiers was last winter. We had a nice place to stay at for two or three weeks but now there is a brigade came here in these houses and tearing up things around here so that it is not like it was before they came here.

We have got a teacher and we are taking music lessons. We are learning some very pretty music now. There is some men in the next house to ours that has got a note book and they are singing some of the old tunes that I used to sing before I left home. It almost makes me homesick to hear them sing. It makes me think about Benton and Tom Miller and the rest of the boys and the girls that I used to go with to singing school. They are all scattered about though now and I don’t know where they are. Benton & Tom I suppose is both dead from what I can find out. Some of our prisoners that has been exchanged say they was with Tom when he died—or they say they think it was him. He died in prison. There has been a good many of my old friends killed and wounded this summer already and a few more will take them all. I think I have been very fortunate to escape this long.

I was sorry that I did not get them things you all sent to me by Mr. Thomas but I hope somebody got them that needed the. I must close for this time for I have not got time to write any more. Please write to me again. Tell Sarah that she must hurry and get well of the toothache and write too.

I remain, your brother, — Gideon Miller

Letter 4

Petersburg, Virginia
September 18th 1864

Dear Sister Sophia,

I will drop you a few lines this evening to let you know that I am well at preset and hope these few lines may find you well and enjoying good health. I have no news of importance to communicate at present. I am at Petersburg yet and no prospect of getting away soon for they keep fighting here everyday. There has not been much fighting today till a few minutes ago [when] they commenced shelling again. They were fighting all night last night. Day before yesterday our skirmishers charged the Yankees skirmish line and it took about a hundred prisoners.

I have not heard from home in some time. I am sorry that they have got Cal and Wes out. I do wish the war would stop so that we could all come home for I am getting tired of the war. But I hope it won’t last much longer.

I must close for this time for I have not got time to write much more. Please write whenever you can for I am always glad to get letters.

I remain your brother, — G. L. Miller

P. S. Give my love and best respects to all inquiring friends if there be any.

Letter 5

Addressed to Mrs. Sophia Beckel, Winston, Forsyth county, N. C.

Petersburg. Virginia
March 28th 1865

Dear Sister,

Your welcome letter came duly to hand yesterday. I was glad to hear from you again for it had been a long time since I had heard from you. I have nothing new to write at present. I am well except a very bad cold.

There has been fighting going on for nearly a week. Last Friday night we went to Petersburg serenading and never got back to camp till after midnight and when we got back the regiment was gone and we didn’t know where they had gone to so we went to bed and when we waked up next morning we heard them fighting in front of Petersburg. Soon after we heard that our men had broke the Yankee’s line and took a great many prisoners. About noon our regiment came back to camp but they had not been here but a few minutes before the Yankees charged in front of our old camp where we have been all the winter and before our Brigade could get out they had took our whole skirmish line and a great many prisoners. They have been fighting there ever since. Our men drove them back again night before last so we hold nearly the same line we did before the fight commenced.

I hope the Yankees will go back now and let us stay in our camp a while longer for the weather is most too cold to leave our winter quarters.

You said you heard that I was coming home the reason you never write to me. I tried hard enough to come home but failed in every attempt, so I will not get to come home soon now for they have stopped giving furloughs.

I am sorry to hear that you have such hard times. I wish it was so that I could do something for you. I would freely but the way I am situated it is impossible. This is what troubles me more than anything else—to think that my folks at home is suffering where if I was at home I could work and keep them from suffering. But instead of that, I am here in the army—a man able to work hard everyday and have to spend all my life in the army. It will soon be three years since I first left home and it seems to me like it has been ten years for I was nothing but a boy then and I don’t think it will be long before I am an old man. I don’t reckon you will know me if you was to see me now. Me head is nearly as white as Father’s and I am not twenty years old yet. Did you ever hear tell of the like before?

I am sorry to hear that there has been so much sickness about home. There has not been much sickness in the army this winter but I fear there will be more this summer. I have had very good health and that is one great blessing.

I have nt had a letter from [brother] Harmon since a few days after he left home. I don’t see why he don’t write to me. I heard he was wounded but hope that it was only a false report. If he is, I hope he will get home. I was in hopes that he would be here to this regiment before now but I am afraid he will not get to come at all. I have not had but one letter from home in more than a month. I believe they all quit writing or it looks so to me.

You say them men don’t care anymore to kill a man than you do to kill a chicken. I don’t mind it much more to see a man killed now that I used to to see a chicken killed for I have seen so many killed that it is nothing new anymore. I have seen between twenty & twenty-five men shot at the stake since the Gettysburg fight and had to march in front of them to the stake and play the dead march. A great many of them were nice men and had families at home. It is a terrible thing to see and I hope I never will see another one killed in this manner.

Tell Sarah that I am glad to hear that she is so smart and that she has learned to weave and spin. I expect she has got to be a grown woman by this time adn that I would not know her anymore.

I must close my letter for we have to go down to the line of battle this evening. Give my love and best respects to all my friends and accept the same yourself. Tell Betty Miller if you see her that she has never answered my letter yet. Excuse bad writing for I have been in a hurry. No more but remain your affectionate brother, — Gideon

General Order No. 13 by Brig. Gen. Roger Atkinson Pryor

This Confederate order was written by Capt. William Henry Whitner who was appointed as the A. A. G. to Brig. Gen. Roger Atkinson Pryor on the Blackwater below Petersburg. Whitner began his Confederate service as a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. F, 1st Florida Infantry. He later suffered a gunshot wound to his little finger (resulting in its amputation) received during the Battle of the Wilderness on 6 May 1864. He finished the war in April 1865 serving as the A.A. G. Gen. B. R. Johnson’s Division, R. H. Anderson’s Corps.

Whitner wrote the order at the request and for the signature of his commander, Brig. Gen. Roger A. Pryor who filled a rank within the Confederate service far beyond his worth. The biographical sketch in Wikipedia is kinder than most in describing Pryor’s military performance:

He entered the Confederate army as colonel of the 3rd Virginia Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to brigadier general on April 16, 1862. His brigade fought in the Peninsula Campaign and at Second Manassas, where it became detached in the swirling fighting and temporarily operated under Stonewall Jackson. Pryor’s command initially consisted of the 2nd Florida, 14th Alabama, 3rd Virginia, and 14th Louisiana. During the Seven Days Battles, the 1st (Coppens’) Louisiana Zouave Battalion was temporarily attached to it. Afterwards, the Louisianans departed and Pryor received two brand-new regiments; the 5th and 8th Florida Infantry. As a consequence, it became known as “The Florida Brigade.” At Antietam on September 17, 1862, he assumed command of Anderson’s Division in Longstreet’s Corps when Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson was wounded. Pryor proved inept as a division commander, and Union troops flanked his position, causing them to fall back in disorder. As a result, he did not gain a permanent higher field command from the Confederate president. Following his adequate performance at the Battle of Deserted House, later in 1863 Pryor resigned his commission and his brigade was broken up, its regiments being reassigned to other commands. In August of that year, he enlisted as a private and scout in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry Regiment under General Fitzhugh Lee. Pryor was captured on November 28, 1864, and confined in Fort Lafayette in New York as a suspected spy. After several months, he was released on parole by order of President Lincoln and returned to Virginia. CSA War Clerk and diarist, John B. Jones, mentioned Pryor in his April 9, 1865 entry from Richmond, VA, “Roger A. Pryor is said to have remained voluntarily in Petersburg, and announces his abandonment of the Confederate States cause.” [Wikipedia]

Pryor in later years looking at a portrait of the man who paroled him, Abraham Lincoln.


Headquarters Forces on Black Water
December 21st 1862

General Order No. 13

The crime of desertion having become scandalously prevalent in this command, it is hereby ordered that any person of this command caught two miles from this camp without a proper pass and indicating a purpose to desert shall be shot at once without the formality of a trial. To this end, persons so caught will be immediately sent to these headquarters with the witnesses in the case.

By command of Brig. General Pryor
W. H. Witner, A. A. G.