[Near Wartrace, Tennessee]
June the 14th, 1863
We are all well this morning but have not heard from home this week. Tom got a letter from Jane yesterday but it was dated May 31st. She stated that she would go home on the 17th on this month.
We have moved since I wrote to you. We are about 3 miles from Wartrace [Tennessee] in a very pleasantly situated place but we do not have good water. The water is rotten limestone water and not very plentiful at that — though we do not expect to stay here long. We are in Tennessee now and it is a place in which a soldier does not get much rest though I suppose it is about as good a way as any. It keeps us from becoming attached to any particular place which would not in any way be military — which last word I have learned heartily to despise.
Dear Mamma, you need not trouble yourself about sending me anything in the way of clothing. Not knowing when you would have a chance to send anything, I have drawn clothes — 1 pair of shoes, 1 pair pants, and 1 pair of drawers — which was all that I needed. I was nearly barefooted when I got the shoes. I have got a splendid pair of shoes with very thick heavy bottoms which will withstand the rocks and hills of Tennessee finely. Tom did not draw anything. He speaks of taking a pair of shoes the next chance he gets which will probably be in a few days if we stay in one place long enough for the Quartermaster store to get up with us.
The weather is very cool up here for the time of the year. There was a heavy rain here last night and we did not have our tent staked properly and the rain blew in, leaked in, run in under the tent, and come in on us generally every way.
There is a great deal of interest and suspense among the soldiers at this place about Vicksburg as I suppose there is all over the Confederacy as there ought to be. But I am afraid there is too great confidence put in the agency of great Generals and armies and not enough in the one that gives the victory or causes the defeat if this war is brought on us as an affliction. I am awfully afraid that as a nation we are becoming more hardened and wicked instead of more humble as we ought to be. I do not think it will be a disadvantage to me to be in the army if I live to get out of it for I am learning lessons every day that will be of use to me as long as I live — painful lessons though they be of human nature. Still it will all be of service to me in life. I learn a great many of the weaknesses of men that it is a humiliation to me to know of. I simply find out more than I like to know about some men. I know now why you never would let us associate with every one. The less one person knows of another to a certain extent, they like them better. Friendship is like the glow of foxfire — it shines beautifully till it is brought to light and it proves to be nothing but a piece of rotten wood and it will not do for one person to depend too much on another for friendship. If a man goes at that, he is depending on a broken stick for support. Enough of that.
When you write to me, I want to know if the bees are all dead or if Papa saved any swarms this year. I hope I will be at home this time next year to attend to them. How is my dog getting along in this troublesome world? Give my love to Papa, Jane, Becky and John B. and Dear Momma, receive the love of your affectionate son, — J. A. Durrett.
Chattanooga Valley, Tennessee
November the 12th 1863
We received your very welcome letter of 1st November yesterday evening. It was the first we have got from you since you left us though we heard from you through Pompey Deason who got back to us a week ago today. He brought us some things which were very acceptable to us in the present state of affairs. The shoes came in very good time. Tom and I were both just about bare-footed — or very nearly so. The chestnuts also were a great treat to us. They were the first I have seen this year. They sell for from $3 to $4 per quart. As you would suppose, that is more than I think they are worth so I never go about where they are selling for fear I might wish for them. The chickens and biscuits you sent us were perfectly sound and still tasted of home though they had been on the way more than a week. We have not eaten our potatoes yet. We are going to make potato bread of them this evening. We have not eaten all of our bacon yet. We are by it like you were by flour when I first remember. You were never without it for if you had only five pounds, it was good to keep it all of the time — so it is with us. If the rest of the boys get a little bacon or anything else from home, they will pitch in and feast until it is all gone. They will wonder how we can keep such things so long while theirs is all gone.
I am very sorry you were so troubled about us for though I will not try to deceive you as to the inconveniences and hardships we have to bear with, it is a think I take for my part and let it trouble me as little as possible. I know there are a great many who are worse off in every respect that we are. We are both alive and have our health, can be together and enjoy one another’s society, besides being blessed with a Mother who takes such good care of us. We might be situated more pleasantly than at the present time, but I look around me and think, am I better than others that I should escape all this? I do feel that I am not thankful enough for all these mercies but I do not feel disposed to grumble at the hardships. Do not feel uneasy about us. We will be taken care of as long as we deserve it.
I will tell you something about our rations at present. We have not drawn any meat of any kind for the past four days but we have drawn sugar in its place which makes a splendid mess. I like it better than the beef but some of the boys do not. Tom and I can make out very well with what bacon we have for some time yet so if you get this before you start from home, you need not hurry off until you get everything ready. The overcoat you sent us has done us a great deal of good already. It serves us for both coat and blanket. Tom wore it on duty last night. He said it was very comfortable.
I have but little to do now. Every other day I have entirely to myself. I am going to get some of our books the first chance I have to go back to the wagons where they are in care of Lieut. [William H.] Cohill who has charge of our baggage. We want you to bring us a little more red pepper if you have it — also a small tin box to keep it in as it mashes up and we have no place to keep it but in our knapsacks. Lucy, I would like to eat some of her pumpkin bread, fatty bread, potatoes, baked possum, baked chicken, and other eatables, but I content myself for the present and think how I will do when I get home. Tell Luke I hope I will be at home next summer to help him make a crop. Tell Papa to write me. Give my love to him and Johnny.
From your affectionate son, — J. A. Durrett
Camp near Dalton, Georgia
December 2nd 1863
I suppose you have heard the sad news of Tom’s capture before now. I know that a wise Providence has and will direct all things to be as they are, but I sometimes wish that I had been permitted to have shared his fate. I know that if alive, a long and tedious captivity and exile from home and all that is dear to him awaits him, but he can feel that he has done his duty, and that will sustain him in captivity — or death if need be. I will tell you all I have been able to learn about him.
When our Brigade went into battle it went into an ambush the Yankees had prepared and the first notice they gave of themselves was to pour a deadly fire into our Brigade from three directions. This threw us into confusion and a great many — seeing that they were flanked and nearly surrounded — started to run but being rallied by the officers, stopped and fought until the officers — also seeing the danger of being cut off — gave the command to retreat. Tom with eleven others of our company either not hearing or not wishing to obey such an order, stood their ground and while the rest made their escape, were surrounded. The rest is left to conjecture whether they continued to fight and were killed at their post (which I do not think probable), or, seeing they were surrounded and no chance of escape, surrendered. But if the worst happened and God in his mercy saw proper to remove him from this world of sin and troubles to himself in heaven where there is no war, no sad partings, we should not grieve as those who have no hope, for though there is nothing perfect in this world, I believe Tom lived as pure and godly a life a man can live under such circumstances. Through all the vice and wickedness incident to camp life, he was as uncontaminated as when he left home now nearly three years ago. What I lose even by his absence, God only knows, for he was to me brother, friend, protector, counsellor, and all that I could ask for. But it has pleased God to remove my main earthly stay and support that I may learn to call on Him in the hour of adversity and need.
I was not in the battle. I was detailed to hold the Colonel’s horse. Because I had no gun, my business does not require me to keep a gun, and as we were not expecting a battle even in the morning of the day it came off. I had no chance to get a gun, but I think I will be prepared for the next one. I came very near being captured — so near that I was obliged to throw away my knapsack and haversack and run about five miles. But I suppose I had better not tell that part of it as it is not military to throw away baggage on a retreat. I will close for tonight.
Thursday morn. Dec. 3rd
I am well this morning. The weather is very cold here, and as we have no shelters to sleep under, the frost is in a thick coat on our blankets every morning. But it is a great deal more pleasant than wet weather, though a great many of us men are barefooted and you can imagine that is not very pleasant in itself. I have a right lonesome time of it without Tom now but camp is a bad place to be lonesome for no matter what happens, everything goes on the same joking, trifling way. It would be a real treat to me to hear a good serious conversation but no such thing ever takes place between two soldiers. You must write often to me for you know Mamma does not write often and Papa not at all. You must remember that everyday when the mail comes, how anxiously I look for a letter. I will write as often as I can. Remember me to Mrs. Peak. Kiss Becky for me. I have not time to write any more. Remember me in your prayers.
From your affectionate brother — James A. Durrett.
[12 miles from Mobile, Alabama]
February 12th 1865
Sunday evening is here and again I am writing to you. If I get half as many letters as I write, I could not grumble. However, I will not grumble anyhow. I went to Mobile on Tuesday and got there just in time to see Papa leave. His regiment ¹ went to Selma. I do hope they will be disbanded and go home. I staid in Mobile several days with Papa before I came over here. I was very sorry to see those old men imposed on by military rules. It is hard enough for the boys to have to undergo, but the old men who have their habits formed and their plans fixed for life — and their families to support or trouble their minds while away from them — let them go home and make a living for us and for the home folks and we’ll do the fighting.
I would like very much to hear from you now to know how you are getting on in this troublesome world of ours. I fear you are almost by yourself since Mamma is gone. Tell me all about it when you write. What did Mamma carry to Tom and when do you expect her to come back? Who is staying with you? for I can not think Mamma would leave you alone.
I have had a right gay time since I left you — especially while I was in West Point [Mississippi] where I made the acquaintance of some nice young ladies; one particularly that I shall tell you something about. Well, she is about as tall as you, slight and graceful form, beautiful neck, brown hair, brown eyes, and the sweetest smile that awakes just a possible little dimple on each rosy cheek. She was just fifteen years old, well educated, lively and interesting in conversation, can card, spin, and weave which you can’t do. Her name is Miss Lizzie Faulkner. ² But I will hush about her or you will think –– but never mind what you think, I do like her very well but not so well as I do somebody else.
Did you go to [church at] Mt. Zion today, and who did you see there?
I must tell you something of our situation here. I find only 130 in my regiment of the 800 brave men who left here two years ago. We are camped on a hill rising from the bay with nothing but pines and sand around us. We have a fine view of the bay but as is generally the case with everything in this world, there is something unpleasant in the sight, for there are four Yankee gunboats in plain view at all times except when dark. “Our boys” all seem lively and in good spirits but personally speaking, I have had the blues ever since I left West Point. Strange, isn’t it? but I had plenty of books there and I haven’t here.
Spanish Fort is twelve miles from Mobile and just opposite across the bay. Tarrant’s Battery is stationed at Blakely, six miles above here. I saw Cousin Brant ³ and several acquaintances a few days ago and they were all well. [Cousin] Henry is well and sends respects, etc. We get along finely now. Do our own cooking, eating, etc. How do [sister] Beckie and [brother] John B. get along without Mamma and a little switch occasionally? I am thinking they will be troublesome to you without a moderator.
We had preaching in our regiment today for the first time in many months. I heard a very good sermon. I wish I could hear as good a one every Sunday. Give my love to all the cousins, respects to friends, etc. Write to me often and all that happens in the settlement — the news I mean.
Good bye — J. A. Durrett
¹ James’ father, John Andrew Jackson Durrett (1815-1910), served in Co. G, 3rd Regiment Alabama Reserves.
² Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Faulkner (1849-1933) was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — the daughter of F. A. Faulkner (1824-18xx), a Maryland-born merchant. By 1860, the Faulkners had relocated to West Point in Lowndes county, Mississippi. Lizzie married William Phillip Merrill in 1871. Twenty years later she married George Lewis Franks.
³ James’ cousin, Newbern Brantley (“Brant”) Durrett (1845-1928), served as a private in Tarrant’s Battery.
This letter was addressed to Marian Abigail (Fitch) Searcy, the wife of Dr. Reuben Searcy of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Abigail was a teacher in the Tuscaloosa Female Academy prior to her marriage with Reuben. Their children included: Evalina Fitch Searcy (1838-1924), Dr. James Thomas Searcy (1839-1920), Stella Maria Searcy (1842-1910), Reuben Martin Searcy (1844-1863), and George Alexander Searcy (1851-1917). Their son Reuben died on 7 January 1863 at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, while serving as a Lieutenant in Co. F, 34th Alabama Infantry.
February 18th 1865
My Dear Friend,
You must excuse me for not writing sooner for since I left home last August, I have not been settled in one place long enough to expect an answer if I had written. But I hope that we will stay at this place for some length of time though it is scarcely reasonable to expect much of a rest — especially if Hood’s Army has much fighting to do.
On returning to my regiment from the Hospital, I found it much decreased in number. In fact, but very few who went into Tennessee returned. Of my company, but two escaped capture — though strange to say, none were killed or even wounded — all captured [and] doomed to waste away their lives in Yankee prisons. Slowly and wearily the time will drag along with them, but then it is a soldier’s fortune and, as such, they will take it nor grumble at the hardship, but be thankful that life is spared to them.
I came very near being captured by a raiding party of Yankees after I left home the last time. I had got to Okolona, Mississippi, on my way to my regiment when the railroad was torn up thirteen miles above there by the raid. I joined a company and went back to Egypt Station, seven miles below Okolona. At daylight next morning, and while we were asleep, the enemy surrounded us. As soon as this was known, the company to which I belonged was ordered to get on the cars as an attempt was going to be made to run the train out and save it from capture. We ran out almost through the enemy’s lines, they firing at us all the way, and we returning it with interest. ¹ After making so bad an out in my first attempt to reach my regiment, I concluded to wait for a quieter time and remained in West Point, Mississippi, until my regiment passed on its way here.
We are stationed on the bay, twelve miles from Mobile and on the opposite side of the bay. There are six Federal Gun boats lying in plain view of us all the time but they never make any demonstrations of hostility so they trouble us no more than if they were Rebs. There are rumors of an anticipated attack on Mobile but rumors are so plentiful that we pay no attention to them.
The topic of greatest interest with us now is the arming of the slaves in the South. ² We know but little of the policy of such an act but look upon it with dread as to the consequences but willingness if it is for the public good. However, politics is not my forté, so I will leave such things to wiser heads. The consequences will not affect us personally [or] materially, but Heaven protect our defenseless loved ones at home.
The anxiously looked for mail has come at last but no letters for me. I have not had a letter since I left home. I am almost ashamed to own it, but it is so, and who is to blame, I cannot tell. We have an easy but very dull time here. Though not very industrious, yet I hate to be idle. I feel like the best of my life is passing away and I am not improving myself or any one else. I must close my letter. Give my respects to the Doctor, Miss Eva and Miss Stella. Remember me kindly to Georgie. Tell him I almost envy him the privileges he enjoys and the chances he has of learning and improvement. Tell him to make good use of his time and he will never regret it.
I remain you friend, — J. A. Durrett
¹ This raid on the Egypt Station was conducted by Union cavalry commander Gen. Benjamin Grierson on 28 December 1864. During the battle, Grierson’s troops attacked two trains carrying reinforcements and prevented them from linking up with their fellow Confederates at Egypt Station. The battle was clearly a Union victory; more than 500 Confederates were captured, while an unknown number were killed and wounded.
² The first serious proposal for arming the slaves was entertained by the Confederacy in the fall of 1864; up until then they had only served in non-combatant roles. A bill was not introduced to the Confederate Congress until February 1865, however, and it narrowly passed in March — too late to be of any use.
March 13th 1865
I have not written before in over two weeks and would not have written now but there is a probability of a blockade between here and home and I though I had best write while I could.
We have a merry time here preparing for the Yanks. [We] work day and night building fortifications, cutting timbers in front of them, mounting guns, &c. I suppose from the signs of the times there is every reason to expect an attack — perhaps a long, weary, deadly struggle like the siege of Vicksburg — perhaps only a raid to frighten the good people of Mobile — but certain Dame Rumor is very busy spreading the news of a large force [with] great numbers &c. landing on both sides of the bay below this place. And if I can trust eyesight, there was a fleet twenty-one (21) vessels in sight day before yesterday, shelling our batteries and displaying their mischief-loving propensities in various ways. But there are only seven in sight this morning. I don’t know what villainous projects the other fourteen may be hatching down the bay, but certain they have no good will for us, and there is no love lost between us so if they persist in troubling us, there is a probability of some body getting hurt.
I will suppose that all are well at home for that is all the way I have of coming to any conclusion about the matter — that is, by supposing a case. But I would like to know if Mama has got back. However, I can’t even suppose that I will ever know any more about it than I do unless by accident. Are you all dead or is there no stationery in Tuscaloosa that I don’t get a letter? You need not expect to hear from me anymore shortly — if you get this — for if we are attacked here, I won’t have any chance to write. Give my love to Beckie and Johnnie and Mamma — if she has got back home.
Your affectionate brother — J. A. Durrett
P. S. Don’t mind about answering this. I don’t get your letters.
March 22, 1865
I received a letter from you on yesterday dated Feb 20th and it was with great pleasure I received it too, I assure you, for I had almost despaired from hearing from you by mail and I must confess that I was a little vexed at it. But as I did not know who was to blame, my vexation did not amount to much except sundry unprecations against postmasters, mail carriers, &c. I received one this morning from Pater [father] with one of yours to him enclosed.
I am glad to hear that you are getting along so famously with your business. I predict you will make an excellent farmer — that is, if your talents in that line of business are properly cultivated as they at present seem likely to be. I am very sorry for you to be so much alone, but I am glad also that you have too much good sense to give way to such silly fears as would trouble some young ladies in your situation while at the same time you are brave and skillful enough to defend yourself in case of actual danger, which I hope may never threaten you.
We have good news concerning our prisoners, if it only be true. I heard through our officers that 200 prisoners of our Brigade had been exchanged. I do hope it is so for you can guess by your own feelings how glad I would be to see him. It has been almost three years since he has been home. How glad he will be to get back to our dear old home again. I would like very much to hear from Mamma. I hope you have heard from her before now. When you write to me, tell me all that has occurred at home and in the settlement, when your were at church and who you saw there. When did you see Mrs. Searcy and family? I wrote to Mrs. Searcy but have received no answer.
I read a letter from Cousin Harriet yesterday in which she said she thought of paying you a week’s visit. I hope she did for it would be so much more pleasant for you to have her company. [Cousin] Henry and I are in the best of health and spirits and are very pleasantly situated. We have a little house to ourselves, good water, plenty of wood, and the bay to swim in and plenty of reading. There is considerable excitement here on account of the demonstrations of the Yanks. The gunboats — 16 in number — shelled our troops 6 miles below here day before yesterday. Give my love to Beckie and Johnnie.
Your affectionate brother, — J. A. Durrett
This letter was written by Henry Durrett, Company “E” 18th Alabama Infantry. It is written to his cousin Jane Durrett to tell her about the death of her brother James Durrett at Spanish Fort, Alabama. Henry was with James when he was mortally wounded. At this time James’s older brother, Tom, was in a Yankee POW camp.
[3 April 1865]
It is with painful regret that I inform you that Jimmy was this evening mortally wounded, being shot directly through the brain. He was wounded about four o’clock this evening. While standing in the ditches, he imprudently raised his head to look over at the enemy which was firing at our line. He is now at the field hospital and will be sent to Mobile tonight. As he had written the letter enclosed with this [dateline 22 March 1865], I concluded to send it to you with a lock of his hair.
I am, dear cousin, yours with great sympathy, — Henry Durrett
The following letter was written by Major Nicholas Harleston Brown [or Broun] (1821-1906) — a former Mobile cotton merchant — who served in Capt. Mullany’s Company D of the 1st Regiment Mobile Guards (local defense). Later in the war they were reassigned to Moreland’s Fire Battalion of Mobile. In January 1864, Brown was appointed a special agent of the War Department and given $250,000 by the Confederate government to purchase cotton and sell it abroad so that the profits might be used to supply War Department needs. N. Harleston Brown was the son of Archibald S. Brown and Ann Harleston of South Carolina. He was married to Mary Chestnut Deas (1816-1898) of Kershaw, South Carolina.
The letter was addressed to James Durrett’s mother giving her official notice of James’ death at Spanish Fort.
April 7, 1865
I very much regret to have to inform you that your son James is dead. He died about dark on Monday evening the 3rd of this month from a gun shot received that evening near Spanish Fort, about fifteen miles below Mobile. The ball penetrated his forehead just below the edge of his hair and came out near the top of his head. The blow seemed to produce insensibility and he never spoke afterward, but continued to sink until death. Henry Durrett, who accompanied him to the field hospital, was present at his death, and I — who saw him about half an hour before — agreed that it would be better to have the body carried to Mobile for burial than to leave it there at a place that the enemy would more likely get possession of first and perhaps retain possession of longer.
It is probable that Dr. Hamilton took immediate care of his body on arriving at Mobile as a letter was sent to him upon the subject &c. I need not say that I sincerely sympathize with you in the sad loss you have sustained in the death of your youngest son. Oh! how long shall we continue to make these heart-rending sacrifices to the cruel demands of this relentless war.
Please inform sister Caroline that Henry was well at the time of your son James’ death and that — as I have some promise of getting away from Spanish Fort sooner than he — and of having an immediate opportunity of visiting — he requested me to write concerning his arrival in Mobile yesterday. My company also returned here temporarily. Our troops are closely pressed at Spanish Fort and I do not think the prospect of holding Mobile permanently is as good as desirable. My health has been quite bad for a week or two.
Very Truly &c. — N. H. Brown
Mrs. Ann Durrett, Tuscaloosa, Ala.