This letter was written by William (“Willie”) Taylor Humphreys (1844-1873), the son of John Alsop Yarborough Humphreys (1802-1873) and Rebecca Delph Carpenter (1820-1848) of Bardstown, Nelson county, Kentucky. Willie’s maternal grandparents were Samuel Carpenter and Margaret Slaughter. Willie’s siblings included Margaret (b. 1842), John S. (b. 1843), Samuel (b. 1846), and Thomas J. (b. 1847), all of whom are mentioned in his letter.
Willie enlisted in September 1862 in Capt. C. C. Corbett’s Company of Light Artillery that was attached to the 2nd Regiment of Kentucky Cavalry. This battery may have broken up before the summer of 1863 but it’s likely the remnants continued to ride with Morgan’s Kentucky Cavalry Squadron on its raid through Indiana and Ohio in July 1863. In the letter, “Willie” described his hairbreadth escape from capture by hiding out on the river bank for two days, swimming across the Ohio at night with the aide of a fence rail, and then outrunning Union pursuers in West Virginia as he walked 200 miles to get back to Confederate lines.
Willie wrote the letter on 30 September 1863 from Demopolis, Alabama, where he had joined his uncle—James Slaughter Carpenter (1840-1915), who was originally a member of the Orphan Brigade, a native of Bardstown, Kentucky. Carpenter served in the 9th Kentucky Infantry until detached to serve as principal clerk in the commissary subsistence department of Major Thomas K. Jackson under General Albert S. Johnston.
On January 1, 1863, from Ringgold, Georgia, James Slaughter Carpenter wrote to James Seddon, Secretary of War, seeking an appointment to the position of Asst. Commissary of Subsistence. The letter provides a good synopsis of his service up to that date. It reads in part:
“I am a Kentuckian by birth and have been in the service eighteen months, during which period I was ten months principal clerk of Major Thos. K. Jackson, Commissary Subsistence.”
Two months later, Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner sent a telegram from Mobile to the Seddon requesting the appointment of Carpenter. It read:
“I desire a commissary subsistence for the post of Demopolis, Ala. I request for the appointment Mr. Jas. S. Carpenter. He is qualified for the post. Respectfully your obedient servant, — S. B. Buckner, Maj. Gen’l”
[My thanks to Daniel Crone for helping to confirm Willie’s identity and his connection to Morgan’s Raid.]
Office of Subsistence
September 30, 1863
I am here with Jim Carpenter who is commissary of the post at this place. I am having a very nice time. Plenty of everything to eat and a good house to stay in. The people around here are very wealthy and of course have plenty of pretty daughters & if it was not for seeing soldiers, I would not know the war was going on. The Capt. has plenty of good clothes & I supply myself from his wardrobe as I had to leave all my clothes in Ohio.
I wrote to you just after I crossed the Ohio river when I told you I thought I was safe but I was bushwhacked on my road when I got [with]in about fifty miles of our lines. There was some 12 or 15 of them fired on me from the bushes [with]in about 30 yards from me. I was standing still at the time & I cannot imagine how they come to miss me, but I was not hurt at all—only one ball passed through my coat. I was too fast on foot for them after they missed their aim. I was going along not thinking about them as the citizens all told me I was clear out of danger. There was 9 of us when they fired on us. The rest were behind [me] and they caught six of them and killed them. I escaped with the loss of a fine pair of boots which I abandoned in the retreat.
I laid on the banks of the Ohio for two nights & days thinking of the awful task before me—that of swimming the river, which after two days and nights deliberation and starvation, I concluded to risk my chances on a rail & swim the river which I accomplished in about twenty minutes. I would have surrendered had it not been for you, for I know you would have been almost distressed to death to hear that I was in prison. Poor Capt. [James] McClain 1 was drowned in crossing the river. I wrote to you that he escaped but it was another man.
We have given the Yankees an awful whipping at Chattanooga. Our Kentucky Brigade lost very severe. I have not heard the loss yet. John Wisotzki 2 just just left here yesterday. He is clerking in the Adjutant General’s Office of Gen. Joe Johnston’s. He promised to send this letter through for me. Farewell. Yours, — W
Dear Brother John, Sam, Tom & sister Maggie,
I have been through the different departments of the Confederate Army since I saw you all last and thank heaven I am well and in better spirits than ever I was. This place is full of beautiful young ladies & all are as rich as cream & you know Jim’s partiality for the ladies & he has just any quantity of good clothes. I have not been here long enough to have me some made for you know I do not like to go to see the young ladies with my soldier clothes. I have found it a military necessity to appropriate the Captain’s broad & gray cloth and ruffled shorts.
They do not call a man wealthy in this country if he has not got about a thousand negroes & two or three plantations. There is more corn raised in this county than any place I have ever been. Jim and myself have just returned from the country. We have been out to Col. [James Innes] Thornton’s, a relative of Mrs. Slaughter’s. He is very wealthy & has three beautiful daughters. 3
It was my bad luck not to be present to participate in the great victory at Chattanooga. Jim & myself are keeping house. Ed Hayden 4 is with us now but expects to leave and join Morgan’s command next week. He looks better than I ever saw him. We eat in the office & have our meals cooked next door and two or three negroes to come & go at our calling. I am afraid if I ever take a notion to go back to the command, I will be perfectly spoilt. Capt. has two or three nice horses & a buggy to ride or drive in the evening after business.
We have been very busy here lately for the Vicksburg prisoners rendezvous at this place but in future do not expect as much as they have been exchanged. There is an old man who is Jim’s chief clerk in the office formally from Bardstown. He left there in 1829. His name is Alexander McDowell, an uncle of Gen. [Irvin] McDowell of Bull Run notoriety. 5
I must close with a farewell to all. Love as ever, — W
Love to all.
P. S. I walked across Western Virginia a distance of 200 miles to our lines.
[in a different hand]
I will keep Willie with me all winter if I can. I am doing first rate. Don’t be astonished if you would hear of my marrying some rich planter’s daughter. I am very anxious to hear from you. Write if you can. Love to all. — J. S. Carpenter
1 Capt. James McClain (1837-1863) served in Forrest’s 3rd Tennessee Cavalry (Co. A) until 1862 when he was promoted and transferred to the 10th Kentucky Partison Rangers as assistant commissary of subsistence. He drowned while trying to cross the Ohio river during the Ohio Raid at Buffington Island.
2 John Wisotzki served in Co. B, 1st (Butler’s) Kentucky Cavalry. He enlisted at Chattanooga on 11 November 1862 and was immediately detailed as clerk by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. John gave his residence as Jefferson county, Kentucky. In 1865 he was described as 5 and a half feet tall with brown hair and hazel eyes.
3 Col. James Innes Thornton (1800-1877) was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, educated at Washington College, and came to Huntsville, Alabama where he practiced law and served as Alabama’s 3rd Secretary of State. He then purchased his 2600 acre plantation “Thornhill” in Greene county, Alabama, that was worked by 150 slaves. Col. Thornton did not support the was philosophically but gave financially. His youngest daughter, Cathrine Marshall Thornton (1842-1870) was no doubt one of the “young ladies” Willie spoke of.
4 Edward Mortimer Hayden (1835-1872) was a native of Bardstown, Kentucky, who enlisted a private in Co. D, 18th Mississippi Volunteers in the summer of 1861. He was taken prisoner at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, in November 1862 and sent to the military prison at Aton, Illinois until paroled and exchanged at City Point, Virginia, on 1 April 1863.
5 Judge Alexander Keith Marshall McDowell (1806-1892) purchased a plantation in Demopolis, Alabama, in the late 1830s. After the Civil War—in 1868—he sold out in Alabama and relocated to Cynthiana, Kentucky. Judge McDowell’s daughter, Louise Irvine McDowell (1840-1915) was probably one of the “young ladies” that Willie referred to in his letter. She married in 1869.