This letter was written by John William Middleton (1835-1907), a private who first served the Confederacy in Co. B, 5th Virginia Infantry but who transferred to Co. H, 27th Virginia Infantry on 16 June 1861.
From military records it appears that John was dropped from the rolls of the regiment a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg as a deserter but he was arrested and subsequently returned to the “Bloody 27th” before March 1863—in plenty of time to participate in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Datelined on 11 May 1863 from their camp near Hamilton’s Crossing a little over a week after the close of the battle, John wrote his Aunt of the battle and the pall of gloom that had settled on the survivors of Stonewall Jackson’s Brigade having just received intelligence of their gallant commander’s death, whose very nickname rattled the nerves of his opponents.
It’s fair to say that John’s enthusiasm for the war had long evaporated. “I hope our rulers will come to their senses and make some kind of a compromise,” he wrote his Aunt. “Anything in preference to this war.”
John’s letter also speaks of the lack of provisions in the Confederate army—a factor no doubt that weighed heavily on the mind of Gen. Lee and his decision to move quickly on to the offensive and carry the war north into the breadbasket of Maryland and Pennsylvania. For Pvt. Middleton there would be only one more great battle. Family history passes down a story of his having been wounded in the elbow during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg while carrying a wounded comrade off the battlefield. Muster roll records add that John gave himself up to the “Sgt. Major of the 6th Regt. Cavalry” at Millerstown near Gettysburg on 6 July 1863, was sent to a hospital at Gettysburg on the 8th and remained there until the 15th when he was forwarded as a POW to Fort McHenry near Baltimore, Maryland. He remained there until war’s end.
John was the son of William Jefferson Middleton (1803-1877) and Ann Zimmerman (1806-1899) of Rockingham county, Virginia. In 1855 when he was twenty years old, John went to work as a clerk for his Uncle John Clarke Middleton (1812-1867) who had a blacksmith shop, a store, a bakery, and a livery stable. John wrote this letter to his Aunt Ellen Rachel (Gregory) Middleon (1817-1888), the wife of John C. Middleton. [Middleton, Robert Arthur and Arnold, Katherine Hall. Robert Middleton (1651-1708) of Maryland and Some of His Descendants. Compiled from papers and notes of Augusta B. Middleton Fothergill and additional research. Private Printing 1990. Pages 21-24.]
[Note. This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Camp near Hamilton’s Crossing
May 11, 1863
My dear aunt,
I wrote to you day before yesterday and wrote to father yesterday. You have received all the particulars of the battle before this and I will not rehearse them for it causes sad thoughts. Our loss is estimated from 8 to 10,000. I think it greatly exceeds that number. General Jackson died last evening. There was a detail made from our Brigade to escort his remains to the train. I am very fearful that the enemy will make another forward movement when they hear of his death. I have just now heard that the escort will go as far as Lexington. I would like to be on it if they do go up there. I would give anything to be at home with you—even for a short time. Oh! that this cruel war would close, that we could return to our homes and our friends. Oh the gloom that this battle will spread over Rockbridge. She suffered greatly. A man made a remark just now that struck me with force. He said all the original secessionists were getting killed. Oh, I hope there will not be another man killed. I hope our rulers will come to their senses and make some kind of a compromise. Anything in preference to this war.
Just to think, after the hard fighting we did on Sunday, 2 May, they do not give us half enough to eat. We have not eat anything today. They give us praise for gallantry displayed [but] that will not satisfy the cravings of nature. I would advise them to dispense with their praise and give us something more substantial. I am of the opinion that our stock of provisions are nearly exhausted. If they do not feed us better, there will be some of the greatest flanking done that has been done since the war.
I would like very much to see Uncle down here now. I think he would get a load back that would pay him. I have some things to send home. Fenton says he will take them when he goes which will be in a few days. I want to send my overcoat, a horse brush, and blacking brush that I picked up on the [battle]field. I expect we will draw our money in a day or two when I will send mine home and you can pay Mr. Cummings for pasturing my mare. If you see her, tell me how she looks.
It is reported that the Yankees tried to cross at Kelly’s Ford last night but were driven back. Oh, how I dread a second engagement. Some of our officers think that we will move forward in a few days. General Longstreet has moved up to Gordonsville. If we have to fight, the sooner the better. I want the war to stop and I do not care much how it terminates. I have not heard from Fanquary yet. I suppose he is busy making money. Goodbye. May the Lord bless and keep you from all harm is the prayer of your nephew, — J. W. Middleton