1861: Unidentified “John” to his mother

This letter was signed “John” and purported to have been written by “Pvt. John Moore” of the 2nd Tennessee (Confederate) Infantry according to the “Alexander Autographs” auction house who listed the letter in September 2008. There was a 20 year-old private named John J. Moore—a wagon maker from Maury county, Tennessee—who enrolled in Co. B, 2nd Tennessee in May 1861 but I find it incredible that a private would share quarters with the regiment’s Colonel and Major. In my opinion the letter was more likely to have been written by John A. Butler (1841-1862) who later rose to the rank of Lt. Col. after Goodall resigned and led the 2nd Tennessee Infantry in the Battle of Perryville where he was killed. [Please contact me if you have any information that might confirm this soldier’s identity.]

The 2nd Tennessee Infantry that organized at Nashville on 6 May 1861 and mustered into Confederate service at Lynchburg, Virginia, on 12 May 1861. They had the honor of being the second regiment mustered into the Confederate service which is why they were sometimes called the “2nd Confederate Infantry Regiment.”

The history of the 2nd Tennessee up until the time of this letter is as follows: “They were first under fire at Aquia Creek, Virginia, on June 1, 1861, where it supported Confederate batteries in an engagement with Federal warships. It was then placed in the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Theophilus H. Holmes, along with the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment, which brigade constituted the extreme right wing of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard’s Army. About the last of June, the regiment was ordered to Fredericksburg to embark on an expedition down the Rappahanock River which resulted in the capture of the Federal mail packet, the Saint Nicholas, the Halifax, laden with coffee, and the Mary of Virginia, laden with ice.

“On July 19, 1861, the brigade joined Beauregard’s forces at Manassas, preparatory to the battle of July 21. Holmes’ Brigade was placed in support of Brigadier General Richard S. Ewell’s Brigade, and was not actively engaged in the fighting, although it came under heavy fire while shifting position in the afternoon of the battle.

“On September 13, 1861, the regiment was transferred to Colonel J. G. Walker’s Brigade, stationed at Fredericksburg, along with the 1st Arkansas and the 12th North Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiments. It remained in this brigade until December 30, 1861, when it moved to Evansport, now Quantico, Virginia, and was placed in the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Samuel G. French, in company with the 2nd Arkansas Infantry Battalion, the 35th Georgia, 22nd North Carolina, and 47th Virginia Infantry Regiments. Here the regiment assisted in the erection of batteries and other defenses. In February, 1862 the regiment re-enlisted for three years, or the duration of the war.”

After victory at First Manassas, the Confederate army established a defensive line from Centreville along the Occoquan River to the Potomac River. In October, 1861, the Confederates constructed batteries at Evansport, Freestone Point, Shipping Point, and Cockpit Point in an attempt to blockade the Potomac River to shipping and isolate Washington. By mid-December, the Confederates had 37 heavy guns in position along the river.

See also 1861: Robert Martin Rucker to Samuel Reade Rucker and 1862: Joseph Newton Jenkins to Francis Irving Park

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


Camp Dave Curren
December 10th 1861

Dear Mother,

I have been thinking for some days past of writing you a letter but have been waiting hoping that something would happen so that I might have something of interest to write but it does really seem that everything has come to a stand still & that we have to lay here & spend our time in ignorance and idleness. I wrote Mary a letter a few days since in which I gave here all the news about how all the boys were getting along & also about the war. There has nothing occurred since worthy of notice. The boys are all still well & I never enjoyed better health in my life. I have had a slight headache for a few days but not enough to make a fuss about. I am clear of it at this time. I hope by being a little more prudent in my diet to remain convalescent.

We are certainly having the finest weather that I ever saw. It seems more like spring when the trees are just beginning to put forth their leaves & the flowers blooming on every hillside & scattering their perfume on every breeze.

I have just returned from a very pleasant walk down on the beach & the beautiful sunshine with not enough breeze to cause a riffle on the water of the great and mighty Potomac, or to disturb the dry leaves that are decaying under our feet. I must confess while everything was so calm & still, while gazing on the waters of the great Potomac, & not being able to discover scarcely a riffle on the waters, that everything did look very deathlike. While standing on the water’s edge & gazing out on the rough & rugged hills around, I fancied that I saw an old age & youth fully portrayed in the forest on the hills. I could see the pine & cedar that were arrayed in their rich garb, looking as green & beautiful as if spring had just opened and the warm rains & congenial sunshine had caused them to burst forth in all their grander and beauty.

While standing right by their side was the chestnut, oak, and hickory that were stripped of their leaves & looked as if they were just ready to tumble to the ground. I could but stand & admire until the sun hid its face behind the curtain of night & dropped off into sweet repose. I then retraced my steps back to camp but had scarcely reached there before the bright & silvery moon began to show its bright face above the tops of the trees & gladden our hearts by sending its bright rays to drive away the night that was about to engulf us all in darkness. As the night is growing short, I will lay my writing aside and finish it some other time.

December 11th. This morning presents quite a different aspect. The dark and lowering clouds that are hanging around the horizon, with the heavy winds that are howling through the pines, seems to speak to us in unmistakeable language that winter is here. I again took my usual walk down on the beach & found the waters of the Potomac in a great rage—the winds blowing furiously & the waves running high, tormenting the shores. While standing and looking as far up the river as the eye could reach, I could see nothing but six old steam tugs that were as black as charcoal that were engulfed in the dark & heavy clouds that were hanging above them. But quite a different view presented itself on turning around & looking down the river. There the clouds had not gathered so thick & the reflection of the sun on the waters made everything look cheerful & gay. This was one of the most beautiful scenes that I ever witnessed. The winds began to blow furiously and the clouds gathered so thick above me that I had to hasten back to camp.

The day passed off threatening heavy rain but towards sundown, it blowed off clear, the winds shifting around to the north, gradually dispersing the clouds one by one until they were all gone & the sun again retired in the west, giving place to the queen of night, the moon, which rose in all its beauty as if boasting of having made the sun blush & hide its face.

I have to go to the river tonight on picket. I will finish in the morning.

December 12th. Thursday morning. As I have returned from my picket duties and eat my usual breakfast—which consists of two biscuits & a tub of coffee & a small piece of steak and tater and a sufficient quantity of butter to make it go well—& then lay down & took a nap of sleep & get up feeling very much refreshed, so I think probably I will be able to finish my letter. Well, the night passed off very pleasantly. I was stationed right at the water’s edge. Everything was perfectly quiet except the waters that seemed to be moved from the center by a great heart that seemed at every beat to throw its pulsation to the shore. My thoughts were wandering. I frequently thought what a nice place it would be if I had have had my sweetheart with me to talk about raising ducks and chickens.

We have not as yet despaired of having a fight. We received news a few days since that McClellan was moving on towards Occoquon Creek with a view of attacking us but that has been reported so often that we lace but little confidence in them. Our boys & the Yankee pickets enjoy themselves hallowing at each other across the river. The Yankees were in the habit of getting in a canoe and coming within four or five hundred yards of the shore & sitting there & talking for hours at the time. Our boys shot at them on several occasions but their shots had no effect more than make them take back in double quick.

There was five of them got in a canoe—three men and two little boys—the other day & started over to have another talk but our boys were too smart for them & by talking & persuading them until they got them to come across, & then they took them prisoners & brought them to camps. This morning we started them too Richmond. Capt. [Joseph P.] Tyree & [2nd Lt.] Dan Stewart was among the number that took them. Some think that the boys ought not to have decoyed them over. I expect that they promised them that they would let them go back but Tyree says that he only promised them that they should not be hurt. They say that they did not want to fight us—that they were forced into it & I think they ought to be forced into jail, or to pulling hemp without foothold.

There is scarcely a day that passes but what we can hear heavy firing up and down the river. There was some steam tugs come over the other day & shot into some fish houses & set them on fire, burning them up. A few nights since there was some little sail vessels attempted to run the blockade. Our batteries opened fire on them & was shooting hot shot but one of the caps missed fire & before they could put on another, it caught from the shot and burst the gun breaking one man’s thigh & hurting some nine or ten more badly but killing none. They are all improving. I believe this is all the damage that has been done at our batteries with the exception of one fellow that was struck by a piece of bomb that was shot from [the] Maryland [shore] & exploded in the air.

I learned through a letter that I got from Mary and Charley that you were gathering your children into the old home. I think it a good idea as you were certainly very lonesome & they will be so much company. Mary said that you all thought that I was low-spirited. I will assure you in that you are mistaken. If it was possible for you to take a peep into our cabin, you would think that there was anything else there but low spirits. The only anxiety I have is about you & Pa. I know Pa’s disposition so well & how he acts when any of his children are away. That I know gives himself a great deal more uneasiness than he ought to. I am as pleasantly situated as I possibly could be. Col. [David L.] Goodall, Major [William R.] Doak, Pomp White and myself are living in a cabin that has a good floor & loft in it. It is very warm and pleasant so you needn’t give yourselves any uneasiness about me. If I could always be certain that you were all well, I would have no cause to complain. I will now close hoping to be with you all soon.

Give my love to all the family & believe me as ever your loving son, — John

Write soon.

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