This letter was written by Benajah (“Ben”) Crumpler (1839-1863), the son of Micajah B. Crumpler, Jr. (1809-1884) and Barbara Ann Butler (1809-1889) of Honeycutts, Sampson county, North Carolina.
Standing 6’2″ tall and hardened by years of farming, 22 year-old Ben was an imposing constable in Sampson county when he answered his country’s call to enlist as a private in Co. F, 20th North Carolina, on 9 May 1861. He was promoted to sergeant on 15 May 1863, just after writing this letter to his parents describing the Battle of Chancellorsville, during which he was “highly complimented for bravery.” The letter is very fragile, though not difficult to read. It was purchased inside a much more recent vintage envelope docketed with the following: “This is the last letter Benajah Crumpler wrote. He was killed about a week after he wrote this letter.” Also added was: “To Perry—keep this letter & let it be handed down from generation to generation. — Mother.” [Ben did not have a brother named Perry so the “Mother” who docketed the envelope was most likely a daughter or grand-daughter of Ben’s mother.]
Although the letter may actually have been the last letter that Ben wrote, it is not true that he died “about a week” later. Shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Lee decided to steal a march on the defeated and dispirited Union army and take the fight into Maryland and Pennsylvania, culminating in the Battle of Gettysburg in early July 1863. Members of Lee’s army had very little time to write for the next two months as they were kept constantly on the march and beyond the reach of Confederate mail delivery. The only letters that made it home during this period were those that were hand-carried by fellow Confederate soldiers.
“If I can’t never come home again, I am for death or Independence,” Ben poignantly wrote his Mother in this letter. His pledge would come true. Ben died on the first day’s fight at Gettysburg when he was cut down while advancing into the fields below Oak Hill along the Mummasburg Road in an attempt to turn the right flank of the Union’s 1st Corps. Without skirmishers, and while leading from behind, Brig. Gen. Iverson sent his men forward where they were surprised by six veteran regiments of Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter, hidden behind a stone wall, who made the 20th North Carolina pay for their brigade commander’s error. The regiment suffered 68% casualties in a little over 30 minutes and lost its flag in the bargain. The dead Carolinians were buried in trenches, later called “Iverson’s pits,” just to the rear of where they fell.
At left: Elijah Gregory at the time of his enlistment in the 10th N. C. Infantry, later redesigned the 20th North Carolina State Troops. Elijah was taken prisoner at Gettysburg on July 1st and sent to Fort Delaware and later Point Lookout Prison where he died on 2 August 1864. (Dennis Headlee Collection)
[This letter is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster and is published by express consent. The header image is an artist’s depiction of Jackson’s flank attack (that included the 20th North Carolina) which fell hard on the Union’s right flank—routing the XI Corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville.]
Camp near Fredericksburg, [Virginia]
May the 8th, 1863
My Dear Parents,
I seat myself this evening to drop you a few lines to inform you that I am well at present and also to inform you that I received your kind letter which came to hand the 28th of March. I was glad to hear that you were all well hoping that when these few lines reach you they may find you enjoying the same good blessing of God.
Father, I can say to you that since I received your letter I have seen hard times. I have been under the range of shells eight days and I have been in regular musketry three days but with the help of God I have come through the struggle safe. I can say to you that I was hit in two places but not hurt bad enough to stop fighting. I thought that the Cold Harbor fight [Battle of Gaines’ Mill] was as hard as men could fight but it was not a circumstance to what this was. But after the loss of many a brave man, we drove them back across the [Rappahannock] river.
I will give you the names of the killed in our company. Killed: Lieut. John J. Wilson, James C. Carr, Solomon Hall. The Wounded: [Sgt.] Haywood Fisher, T[homas] L. Owen, [1st Sergt.] B[arney] B. Lewis, H. W. [William H.] Hall, and [Lt.] A[rchibald] F. Lawhorn, and there is three more of our company missing. We don’t know whether they were killed or not. Robert [Mathew Crumpler] was wounded through the arm but not dangerous. ¹ There was several of Holmes’ Company [Co. A, 30th N. C. Infantry] killed and wounded. I will not name them for you will hear before you get this letter.
I saw Capt. [James C.] Holmes and he said that Robert [Crumpler] was gone to Richmond to the hospital. I think that he will go home again but it was so that I could not get off this time. But if I can’t never come home again, I am for death or Independence. I can say to you that there is the most rain that I ever saw when we came from the fight. We were in the wind and water knee deep most all the way but Saturday night. We had to lie in entrenchments where the water was half leg deep such as that hurts the soldiers worse than fighting.
Mother, I got that meat and hat that you sent me and I was glad to get it but I have lost my hat in the fight. But I found me another one on the field. I want you to write soon and give me the news. I heard that they have been conscripting around again. I want to know if they got William or not. Tell him if he has to go off, he had better not come this way for there is hard times here. I will come to a close for it is now dark. Nothing more at present. I remain your true son until death, — Ben Crumpler
To Micajah Crumpler [and] Barby Crumpler
Write soon if you please and I will write soon. The end. So goodbye.
¹ Robert Mathew Crumpler (184-1918) served in Co. A, 30th North Carolinsa Infantry. He was wounded four times during the war: At Gaines’ Mill, at Chancellorsville, at Kelly’s Ford, and at Silver Springs (Md). Robert must have been a cousin of Ben’s. He was also from Sampson county, North Carolina.