Category Archives: Fredericksburg, Virginia

1863: John Rison Gibbons to his Father

This letter was written by Pvt. John “Rison” Gibbons (1843-1919) who enlisted at Harrisonburg in Co. I, 1st Virginia Cavalry in December 1861. He remained with his company throughout the war until he surrendered at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865 at which time he was described as being 20 years old, standing 5′ 8″ tall, with light hair and blue eyes. He filed a claim for a bay horse killed in action near Berryville, Virginia, in August 1862 which was valued at $2900 when he entered the service.

I could not find a Civil War era photograph of Gibbons but here is one of Pvt. David M. Thatcher who also served in the 1st Virginia Cavalry (LOC)

Rison Gibbons was the son of George Rockingham Gibbons (1814-1907) and Harriet Caroline Rison (1818-1876) of Rockingham county, Virginia. He married, in 1874, Ann America Felton (1848-1938). After the war he farmed in Georgia, went into the wool manufacturing business in Brentwood, Tennessee, and finally became a Mining Engineer in Georgia.

Gibbons’ letter includes a description of the battlefield at Fredericksburg and mentions the collection of two Yankee teeth he pulled from the jawbone of a half-buried Union soldier. Most soldiers found this behavior reprehensible but a great many others engaged in the occasional collection of such morbid souvenirs when time and opportunity allowed. Both sides were guilty of collecting these human trophies. After the Battle of Seven Pines, it was reported in the Pontiac Weekly Gazette (11 July 1862) that “a [Union] soldier pulled off the lower jaw [bone of a dead rebel] and asked” his comrades if they didn’t want a rebel relic.” [See Dark Trophies, by Simon Harrison]

Transcription

Camp 1st Virginia Cavalry
August 13th 1863

Dear Pa,

I wrote to Bettie last Monday. I suppose you have received it before this time. At least I will look for an answer in a day or two. We are amping out two miles from Fredericksburg on the plank road. We have a very good camp here. The spring is not more than twenty steps from the tent though the water is about as warm as the creek water is in August. We can hardly drink it. All the springs in this country are warm. The water has not a good taste. We get wheat to feed our horses—a very small sheaf. We keep our horses out trying to graze but the field we graze on is not as good as the grass in the field. Our horses are falling off very fast though Fitz is looking very well yet.

The weather has been very hot for the past week. It is much warmer here than in the valley. We are camped in an open, sandy field and you can judge pretty well how it is on man and horse. I can stand it well enough myself but it is distressing to the horses tied to a stake without any shelter at all from the scorching rays of the sun. My horse was appraised the other day at $750. I don’t think he was valued high enough. John Dever’s bay horse was valued at $650. He is very much dissatisfied with the appraisement. Newton Black’s horse was appraised at $716. There was but one horse brought down that went over a thousand dollars (Marshall’s).

This country is very much torn to pieces. Everything is very high here—viz: butter $6 per lb., lard $3, flour 50 cents per pound, potatoes $16 per bushel, & everything else at the same rates. We have had nothing but corn meal since I returned except one mess of apple dumpling that I had yesterday evening. We sent to Fredericksburg and got 3 pounds of flour which we paid $150. We enjoyed them dumplings very much. Tell Cousin Will that John Herring enjoyed them more than he did the pie at the picnic, if possible. Corn bread & gravy don’t agree very well with me. John Herring is out after apples now though they are very scarce and trifling but it wouldn’t matter much of they had rocks in them so they are called apple dumplings.

I wish you could see the battlefield of Fredericksburg. It is the most interesting battlefield that I have been on since the war. If you were here so someone (John Herring, for instance) who knows [it] could show you the different positions of the armies, it would be very interesting to you. Fredericksburg is a much nicer looking place than I expected to find it. It is a very pretty place though it has been injured by the war.

It is reported in camp that our Brigade is to go to Richmond but I don’t believe any camp rumor now. Our Brigade is under marching orders. If you get this before Lute Dever starts, send by him my dictionary & spirits turpentine. I neglected them when I left.

Enclosed you will find a Yankee tooth which you will please give to Mr. Irvine. He told me when I first started into service to send his a Yankee’s tooth which request I will comply with. Uncle Shanks Miller made the same request. I have one for him also. I will write to Uncle Robert as soon as I get through this and will enclose it to him. Both of these teeth came out of the mouth of a Yankee that was killed at the first Battle of Fredericksburg. He is buried about three hundred yards from camp. The reason why I know he is a Yankee is that a part of his blue coat is sticking out of the ground (not grave). I got his jaw bone and extricated six teeth and picked out two of the nicest to send away. The others I gave to some of the boys who wanted them for some other purpose. There are a good many Yankee bones bleaching upon the field that I am now writing on.

I must close this uninteresting letter so as to have time to write to Uncle Robert. You must come down before you go south if practicable. Some of the boys are anxious to see you before you leave. Give my love to all the family, Aunt Mary, cousins Laura & Will. write soon to your affectionate son, — J. Rison Gibbons

1863: William N. Green to James H. Green

This letter was written by William N. Green who first entered the Confederate service as a 27 year-old private in Co. F (“the Bibb Grays”), 11th Alabama Regiment in June 1861. While serving in that regiment, he was wounded in the left arm at the Battle of Seven Pines but not so badly that he could not fight with his regiment at Gaines’ Mill, Frazier’s Farm, 2nd Bull Run, and Antietam. In January 1863, he was elected to a 2nd Lieutenant’s rank in Co. B (“the Scottsville Guards”), 44th Alabama Infantry and the following month, we learn from this letter that he was transferred to Co. F (“Dan Steele Guards”) where he was in temporary command due to the absence of Captain [Henley G.] Sneed and the illness of 1st Lt. Oakley. Muster rolls show him serving as the 2nd Lieutenant of Co. F, 44th Alabama Regiment until September when he went home on furlough, having been wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga on 19 September 1863. When he returned the following month, he had been promoted to Captain of Co. F and led his company in the fighting at Knoxville on 29 November 1863. He was admitted to General Hospital No. 4 in Richmond on 26 April 1864 suffering from intermittent fever but discharged and returned to duty on 8 May 1864 in time to lead is company at Spotsylvania and subsequent battles until he was discharged on 29 November 1864 from his wounds.

In the 1860 US Census, William was enumerated as a 32 year-old merchant at Six Mile, on the west side of the Cahaba river in Bibb County, Alabama. He was unmarried and living alone at the time of the census in July of that year. His age differs by five years with that recorded at his enlistment in 1861.

James Hamilton Green, planter from Bibb county, Alabama

William wrote the letter to his uncle, James Hamilton Green (1806-1878) of Mars, Bibb county, Alabama. I could not find William in the census records after the war but he may have been the same William N. Green who married Elizabeth C. Gradick on 18 November 1872 at Selma, Dallas county, Alabama. (Note: surname sometimes spelled Greene in records.)

William’s letter to his uncle conveys the monotony of camp and picket duty on the Rappahannock River in February 1863, two months after the Battle of Fredericksburg and one month after Burnside’s Mud March. It’s reminiscent of numerous letters I have transcribed by Union soldiers from their encampment at Falmouth on the other side of the river but it’s more rare to find them penned by Confederate soldiers. On the very same day, perhaps at the very same moment that William wrote his letter on one side of the river, George S. Gove of Co. K, 5th New Hampshire Infantry—also a 2nd Lieutenant—wrote the following on the other side: “Nothing has happened worth writing about. We have the same thing day after day with nothing to vary the monotony. It has been raining all day but is clearing off now. We have had a good deal of rainy weather & the mud has been very deep all the time. Of course no foreword movement could be made.” 

Lt. Green’s Letter with a post-battle image of Fredericksburg taken in early 1863 showing muddy Hanover Street at right angling up the hill to Marye’s House in center distance. A snowbank can be seen on the field at left. A couple days after this letter was written, Fredericksburg was hit by another snowstorm.

Transcription

Addressed to James H. Green, Esq., Mars P O., Alabama

Camp 44th Alabama Regt. near Fredericksburg, Va.
February 15th 1863

James H. Green, Esq.
Dear Uncle,

I embrace this opportunity of complying with the promise I made you before I left. This is a cold & wet day—so much so that I don’t think I will be called on to do anything else so I shall devote the day to writing letters to my friends. I don’t know that I have anything that will interest you back there as you all take the papers & are about as well posted as we are on the subject of the war. We are all quiet here at this time & likely to remain so until the weather gets better. By the way, my theme must change. While writing the above an order has come to cook up two (2) days rations to be ready to march at a moment’s warning. So you see, we don’t know one moment what we will do the next. I don’t know what this means. It may be only to go on picket and it may be that the yankeys are making a demonstration at some point & we have to go & meet them. I am in hopes though it is only the former as we have a great deal of picket duty to do now. Our picket lines are about fifteen miles long up and down the Rappahahannock river. Our posts are on one bank & the yankeys on the other about an hundred & fifty yards apart.

“We have a ‘fighting Jo Hooker’ to contend with now so there is no telling when we will have to fight as he will have to do something soon or be superseded as that is their rule, though the roads are so bad now I think it out of the question for him to do much at present.”

—Lt. William N. Green, Co. F, 44th Alabama, 15 Feb. 1863

We have a “fighting Jo Hooker” to contend with now so there is no telling when we will have to fight as he will have to do something soon or be superseded as that is their rule, though the roads are so bad now I think it out of the question for him to do much at present.

When I commenced this, I intended to write you a long letter but I shall have to cut it short & prepare for marching. I will write you again soon when I have more time.

As you will see from the heading of this, I have changed my position. I am now in Co. F of this regiment—Capt. [Henley G.] Sneed’s company, acting as Second Lieut. I am now in command of the company as Capt. Sneed is at home & Lieut. Oakley is sick. You must write on the reception of this & give me all the news. Tell John 1 to write if his arm will admit of it. I learned that he got wounded in Tennessee though I am in hopes it is getting well by this time. He seems to be unfortunate in getting wounded & fortunate too in its being no worse.

Give my kindest regards to all the family & receive the same to yourself from your nephew, — Wm. N. Green


1 John Randolph Green )1844-1924) was William’s cousin who served in Co. F (“Tuscaloosa Rifles”), 50th Alabama Infantry. During the war he was wounded in both thighs and had his right arm broken. He was wounded in April 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. He was severely wounded later that year on 31 December 1862 at the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. According to his own words, Green was placed in a cavalry unit as a 1st Lieutenant about 2 months before the end of the war. Green survived the war and in 1866 he moved to Kentucky for 2 years before returning home. Later in life he lived in the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Verbena, Alabama. He died on 8 December 1924 and is buried there at the what is now known as Confederate Memorial Park; the location of the old soldier’s home.