Monday, May 4, 2009

The 41st Virginia Infantry Regiment A Letter Picked up at Fredericksburg Va.

Below is a letter picked up on or near the battlefield of Fredericksburg by a member of the 129th Regiment from Schuylkill County.
Unfortunetly it was not signed or completed. But if anyone has a roster of the 41 St Virginia. And with the info provided in the letter it might be possible to find out who wrote it.

Camp 41st Va. Regt. Near Fredericksburg City Va. Bright and Sunny
February 7th , 1863

Devoted and Fondly Remembered Mary;

As nothing can afford me more pleasure than writing to you I will devote the leisure hours of this sweet morning in so doing for when I am writing to you the lively and bright bye gone day looms up before, and I almost think it is reality, but when I come to think where I am It causes a sigh to escape my heart, why Oh why does cruel fate allot such to my destiny, oh that I could say I was happy, and contented with my lot, but I cannot. I am not contented and cannot be. But & forget let that pay. We are now quite comfortable in our tents, with chimney’s more so than our friends imagine at home. It is true that we have long been without tents, or any other kind of shelter and exposed to the wintry winds and rains, but that cause could not be helped as we were continually on the march, but we are now, and have been for the past six weeks, in good tents and within the last two weeks we have almost erected a little city, with its nice little streets and side walks. If I am not to get any nearer home, this winter I would like as much to stay where I am. I wish I was an artist to draft my quarters so you could see them, I know you would admire them. But not because I made the building after my own fancy, what a beautiful site at the close of evening when the glorious sun is setting, behind the western hills, was our camp and the landscape arena present. You remember I am a great lover of ………. But ungifted to catch the beauties of the landscape and transfer them to canvas, unpracticed in the simplest movement of the artists ………..can only stand and admire what providence has spread around us soldiers who are battling for our country’s honor., and liberties and as color escapes or fades and the beauty augmented, I bow with admiration at the object and increase love to him whose hand has garnished the heaven and whose goodness is as manifest in where his love works, as in the constellations glories of the firmament, whose sisters combine to enrich. Wish heating light wonders of a peace and she infinite seems exhausted to give with starry luster earths evening canopy.
The stimulant to taste our regiment was thrown in great excitement not long ago since the alarm drums was sounded and the Yankees as well as we fell immediately on line of battle and for some time great excitement prevailed on both sides of the Rappahannock. The cause was the burning of a dwelling by our pickets and three or four bombs that had been thrown in it on the last fight exploded and we as well as the enemy thought that they were signals but Ali is quiet now. It is the general information that a fight is inevitable and that our furloughs have been stopped, and those who are on them are ordered to report to their companies, as soon as time will admit, our next fight will prove to be grandest ever fought on the Rappahannock river, for since the last fight they have been preparing for another fight a great many batteries are visible that have been recently erected for the last few days they have been moving large bodies of troops up and down the river. If we are to fight in the quarter the sooner the better. I want to see it end as soon as it can be done. You will be surprised to hear that I have been elected from Sergt. Of company B to 1st Lieut in Company G of the regiment and because I stayed over my time at home the brigade General has a loan of officers, West Point graduates, to examine and see if I was qualified for the position, and because I missed one word, they reported me incompetent and they have ordered me again to Company B this is imposition, and I will have revenge if it cost me my own life, the fact of this business they are not willing to see a sergeant promoted to a commission. But I was company G’s preference and was duly elected their first Lieutenant and even elected by acclimation. I have written to some of my influential friends, one in the Senate and the other a member of the house of delegates, these friends have written me word that they would see the Secretary of War on the subject, and if they can get me off, they will, and I can then join any company, I may chose. If I get off I will join some other company perhaps the City Battalion. I will never serve in any regiment to which I am by law; I am entitled to a commission. I have faith fully been serving my country and always worked for the promotion of her good, the men know this fact and want me their officer and I mean to have justice done for them and myself. I have never since I have been in the service, arose in any position that I did not work my way up; favors have never carried me a step. This regiment works by favors altogether since I have written the Colonel, have found it out and thinks that the secretary of war will decide with me, that I am entitled to be relived from the duty which this regiment, and he wishes me to take my old position of Sgt Major. I politely told him I was not going to hold any office below the one I was entitled to and if I get my rights I will decline any position he can give... He finally winds up by saying I was not old enough to be a first Lieutenant of any company while on active service. He admitted I might be competent, but the Captain wanted to resign and the first Lieutenant would be promoted to his rank. I told him he knew that if justice was dealt out tome, I would get my office, but as I was not his or the first Lieutenant Colonel favorite I would not have justice, he walks off as hearty as a prince and we have no words on the subject as yet and I do not care if he never says a word to me again about it. We have had a terrible snow storm up here, but stood at better than I had anticipated we would, we have not had much suffering in our regiment as we all the men seem pretty well supplied with clothes and shoes. A Louisiana Brigade and ours used to fight snow balls while the snow lasted, officers and all. Our Brigade used to whip them everyday, you just ought to have seen them charger us, our brigade would repulse them every time.
Your kind and affectionate letter came safe to hand on last evening and I embrace this the first opportunity of writing an answer to your highly appreciated letter, nothing can afford me more pleasure than writing to you and I assure you that they are always received with the deepest emotions of gratitude. Often when I am lonesome and weary out with camp and these old familiar scenes of the soldiers life. I read and re read those old letters written by yourself, and they always cheer me up that I can go about my military duties with a light and cheerful; face knowing that one, sometimes think of absent … if I know that you ever thought of me half so often as you are thought of, Mary the world might frown but I would heed it not so long as I was remembered by lovely Mary, time would there roll on faster and not drag on as the present, things would in general present a sweeter view of the world and would then look happy and I would be happy, but I beg and entreat you not to get offended at what I have said and treat me with contempt by not writing tome again, then indeed would I be un happy. if anything in this life could make me so. But what I have written you treat as nothing, knowing who it comes from, but never the less it is true.
Enclosed you will find an article relative to my treatment received at the hands of my Colonel, which I had published in the Richmond Whig to show the public what mean and unjust laws are enforced upon the soldiers , if I was a colonel, I am sure I would feel quite cheap after seeing such a piece in a public news paper which referred to me. I hear that our Brigade General is to be promoted to a Major Gen. soon and his old … to form part of his commission as Major Genrl. And that our command will be sent to Tennessee or down to Waverly Station Sussex County Va. nearly all of his companies in the regt. are from down that portion of the state and they are raving to be sent there. But our company and company G are for staying this side of Richmond. I had rather stay up in the Blue Ridge Mountains than go down in that sickly county, though we could hide in the dismal swamp from the Yankees.
I must now finish writing for the morning as my duty will not admit of my avoiding anymore. I must now go and drill, as the drum is rolling for battalion drill in which will not be over until late in the evening. But in the morning I will finish this long letter if such it can be called, you will be tired of reading by the time you get through with it this much, so good bye until the morning.
Well according to promise I will end this letter. I received one from home this morning which brought sad intelligence; it said the small pox was in the county and that it was at Mr. Stagg’s. I have heard that I had a nephew down with it and worst of all my only sister is there and if she was to have that hateful disease I would almost go mad. For she could not survive such an attack, I would not care to live on an other day if she was taken from me, she is all I live for, and if I was to lose her, “all”,”all” would be gone and Joe would be left, she only one of his fathers family. May the supreme being for such to be my destiny in this world with no father , mother, brother or sister, horrible. I could give all up but not my sister, for no one could love a sister better than I love mine. And I know she thinks more of me than many sisters think of their brothers, for as the old adage says; the narrower the brook the stronger does its current flow. She has but one to love, and I have the vanity to say it is all centered on one object, (myself) . I have never received a line from her since I returned from Charles City. I have received letters from all around the County, and no one said a word about it thinking how unhappy it would make me, and the reason that she has not written to me was because that hateful disease was around her. I can not imagine how it could get so far in the country. I hope Mary from the heart that your home will not be visited by such a monster. I hear that it is all over Richmond raging in families as well as in the hospital. One of our regiments was sent off this morning to encamp by itself for fear that some of them had it and that it might spread all over the Brigade. I believe I as live are as have it, and unless great care is taken it figures any one so much by leaving so many years. Enough on that unpleasant subject. Hoping again it may not infest your home. Well this sheet has almost given out, so I will have to finish on another sheet, If you are very busy you will have to take this down several times before you finish it.

NEW INFORMATION...............................................................................
Receved this email June 11, 2010. Helping to find who wrote this letter/
Thank you Sherman!

Stu, I stumbled on your blog while working on the Wikipedia page for the 41st Virginia Infantry (yet to be posted) and think I may have the identity of your letter writer. Beginning in the early '70s a Virginia history professor largely self-funded a series of books on every unit from Virginia in the Civil War and I borrowed the 41st's from the library (41st Virginia Infantry, by William D. Henderson), and it includes a roster sheet in the back. This one is pretty thorough and I feel pretty confident saying every man who served in the regiment for a significant length of time is in here.

It looks like your best bet is Joseph E. Folkes, described below:

"Folkes, Joseph E.: enl. 4/22/61, Washington Point, Norfolk County for 1 year; private in Company B; Sergent 11/5/61; re-enlisted for the war March 1862, received a $50 bounty; late June 1862 at General Hospital, Camp Winder, Richmond with remittent fever; July 1862 serving as acting regimental Sgt. Maj.; AWOL November 1862 - January 1863; court-martial 1/23/63, charged with AWOL, found guilty and sentenced to forfeit 2 months pay, 'court is thus lenient in consideration of the high character of the accused'; 6/20/64 reduced to private; 8/1/64 appointed regimental Sgt. Maj. by order of Major William Etheridge; wounded 8/19/64 at battle of Weldon Railroads/Globe Tavern; 8/22 - 8/36/64 at Confederate State Hospital in Petersburg; 8/26/64 given sick furlough to recuperate; December 1864 to April 1865 at Chimborazo Hospital No. 2 (in Richmond)"

The other possibility is below, but some more about the other characters he mentions in the letter. The Colonel he mentions is almost certainly William Allen Parham, who took over the regiment officially in July 1862, and had commanded Mahone's brigade at Sharpsburg/Antietam. Parham would be recommended for brigadier general by his former commander, John R. Chambliss, in March, but never nominated. Folkes (if that is the writer) has heard incorrect gossip, because Billy Mahone (his brigadier general referred to in the letter) would not be nominated to major general until July 1864, and then he would turn down the rank (though maintaining his rank as temporary major general bestowed a few days earlier). The brigade would also not go to Tennessee or Sussex, but two other divisions of his corps would be detached with Longstreet to lay siege to Suffolk. The lieutenant colonel he refers to appears to be Joseph Powhatan Minetree, who was briefly returned from recovering from an injury, but would be gone again shortly. Major William Etheridge, who later recommended Folkes to the post of Sgt. Maj., was the effective second in command.

In early February, the 41st Virginia moved their camp from Salem Church on the Plank Road (it's still standing on VA3, surrounded by strip-malls) to United States Ford to guard against a sudden Union attack. My book notes that early 1863 was a hard time for Company B, because of the review boards passed by the Confederate Congress, illnesses, and wounds. Company B ended up with no officers in early 1863 and Lieutenant Charles Denoon of Company K acted as commander (after Chancellorsville, he would be the senior officer in the regiment for a short time, but they finally got him at the Crater). For instance, at the time of his letter writing, the Captain of Company B was John M. Tucker, who had been wounded pretty bad at Second Manassas as the first lieutenant, and been made captain in January when Clay Drewry (of the Drewrys of Drewry's Bluff) resigned, but was not at all well and not actually with the army. In Company G, where maybe-Folkes wants to be first lieutenant, the captain was John Archibald Weddell, who was unhappy. One of his brothers had been mortally wounded at Glendale and the other had left the unit because he was too obese (both had been captain of Company E). He hung around, though, and would be killed at Chancellorsville, along with all the other officers of the company, and the omnipresent Lieutenant Denoon would take over Company G, too.

I have a friend who has an account looking up Joseph Folkes to see if she can find him and his only sister in a census, and I'll let you know if she does find him.

The other possibility is:

Frith, Henry W.; enlisted 5/29/61 in Manchester, Chesterfield County for one year; Sergeant, Co. B; b 1835; 5'5", gray eyes, light brown hair; First Sergeant 11/3/1861; March 1862 re-enlisted for the war, received a $50 bounty; POW 6/1/62 Seven Pines; imprisoned at Ft. Delaware June 1862 to August 1862; exchanged at Aiken's Landing 8/5/1862; 2nd Lieutenant 6/1/63; from 6/16/64 to 6/27/64 at Chimborazo Hospital No. 3 in Richmond for acute diarrhea; 1st Lieutenant in September 1864; commanding Company B in late 1864; paroled at Appomattox

I see no reason to doubt that the letter's author didn't know his own rank, but I am not totally confident that every sergeant major in the regiment that was also in Company B was recorded. Folkes and Frith are both sergeants at the time of the letter writing, though Frith is First Sergeant so probably wouldn't describe himself as being elected from "sergeant of Company B." He also never served as master sergeant, though Folkes had been acting in that position, so he could "take [his] old position of Sgt. Major."

Anyway, thanks for giving me a fun mystery to poke around, hope this is all interesting to you.


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