I have been watching Ken Burns’ film series on The Civil War. Parts of it were very hard to watch. The prevalence of death and destruction is beyond belief. And then, of course, I started thinking about my ancestors and their experiences. Just among my direct ancestors and their siblings I found 9 men that participated in that War.
Most of them were connected to one family; Titus and Phoebe Perry, my 3Gr-Grandparents. They had five children: three sons, John [my 2Gr-Grandfather], George, and Clark, and two daughters, Jane and Mary. Titus himself was too old for the War but for a time in 1865, all three of his sons and both of his daughter’s husbands were soldiers in The Grand Army of the Republic. That’s a heavy investment.
Fortunately, they all came home alive. But Jane’s husband, Wallace Spencer did sustain an injury to his leg. We know that because he spoke of it in some letters that he wrote home to his wife. We have these letters because they were in his Pension Files as evidence of his injury. But they also tell a much more interesting story about a man, his family, and a war. I will speak of the other veterans at another time, but for now, here are Wallace Spencer’s letters home from the front.
transcription notes: Spelling is all as Wallace wrote but I have added some punctuation and line breaks. Explanatory notes and links [in brackets] are mine. hint: in old handwritten documents, “ss” frequently looked like “fs”.
December 16th, 1864
This is the first chance that I hav had to write for the last day or two sow will try & improve the time I hav. lots that I would like to write but dont now [know] as I can think of what I wanto but will try & do the best I can.
I guefs [guess] that I will commnese back a little for I want to tell what a good General we hav. the night that I got hurt he was about a mile from me & as soon as he hurd the news he putt spur to his horse & came to see me & when he had lurnt [learned] the particulars he sent his orderly to camp after an ambulance. but he is good & kind to all of the men that are under him his name is General Forse (Manning Force) a brigadeer. he was wounded before Atlanty he was shot in the wright cheak just below the ey & came out on the left cheak. he came from the hospital the time that we wer on the other rade north.
Well, we are in our old camp yet & guefs we will stay here untill we get our supplies. here all that we hav had to eat for some time is rice & a little meal that we hav had to grind and cook for our selvs but I am glad to get that. but I guefs we will get our hard tack by tomorrow & then we can live on the top shelf.
I am fat as a pig & more so & as lowsy as a hog. that is in a polite way of speaking. I hant had my close washed since I left Atlanty nor cant get them washed till we get some soap.
but Fort Macalister is in our hands & communication are now open with the land of living & my opinion is old bily Shurman will soon hav possesion of Savana & the rest of the river & then I guefs Charleston had better look out.
this rade [Sherman’s March to the Sea] is one of the greatest undertakings of the war. We have destroyed the raleroad from merietta to within twenty miles of Savana & my opinion is the south will feal & now [feel and know] of this raid as long as they live for we hav not only destroyed the raleroad but hav lived of from the country & burnt houses whare thay wer in arms against us & every cotten mill & all the cotten has been destroyed by fire.
I guefs that I shal havto stop this poor writing for I want to write a few lines to my Father & Mother but there is one thing I like to hav forgotten & that is the socks that you sent & the butter that Mother Perry sent & the buries that mother Spencer sent & alsow the tea. The butter & buries are ate up but the tea & socks I hav got. I am thankful for these favors & hope I can do as much for you someday.
I bought me a watch the other day & paid $12 dollars for it.
We hav warm weather sow far with the exception of 2 or 3 days. The Pickets are firing Pretty Saucy at the rebs expect the old canon will soon open on them. The land is swampy & leavel & pine timber no [next line illegible]
this must answer for all of you till I can get time to write, love to all. W.A. Spencer
Camp near Beaufort South Carolina
Jan 12th 1865
Dear Wife & Children
We hav got marching orders & expect to start tomorrow morning but guefs we wont go far for I can hear the cannon boom about 7 miles off. I am on duty today sow shant hav long to write. this is the first time that I hav been on duty since I was hurt. my leg dont get much better. It is hard work for me to march I hav to take my own time for it. my health is good with the exception of a sour stomach this morning (bad sine I guefs) but hope nothing searious.
I was going to write a letter to Clark [Jane’s brother?] today but don’t believe that I will get a chance I wish that those that are at home would write once & a while & not wate for me to answer every on of there letters. I begin to think that you are the only friend that I hav. Well I am sory that I hav don any thing that should cas [cause] them to feel in that maner towards me. I havent had a letter in over three weeks but will keep a stiff upper lip & hope for better days. I now [know] that you do the best you can so wont blame you
I hant seen any snow this winter nor much cold wether the trees are green & every thing looks like sumr
I can heer the reports of the big guns firing as I sit here in my shelter tent writing & think perhaps tomorrow by this time I may bee in the contest & if I fall you may now [know] that I am thinking of you & those little ones of ours but don’t think the rebs will stand to fight us long unlefs [unless] they hav got brave all at once.
I sold my watch yesterday got the same as I paid for it.
My love to you & all enquiring friends from your worser half.
W. A. Spencer
In camp near Ft Pocotligo Jan 18th 1865
Dear Wife and Children
I guefs I will write you a few lines to let you now how I am. I am well and my leg is getting some better & if nothing happens I think it will bee entirely well in a few weaks hope it will for it is hard marching. We left Beaufort the 13th & drove the rebs back to their place the second day on the march. we lost a few men & we expected to have a fight on sundy but we got up in the morning and found the rebs had fled & left their stronghold for the yanks. we are on the Charleston & Savannah rale road we are within 35 miles of Charleston. we expect to start for that place as soon as we get our supplies & hav the 15 core com up then we will have communications open to Savannah & Beaufort. I think if the rebs dont leave Charleston before we get thare they never will we may have some hard fighting there but they now [know] as well as can bee that their cake is done. I hope General Shurman will be as good as his word he says that the war will bee ended in 3 months.
I got a Paper last night that David [could be Wallace’s brother] had sent me & I expect to get a letter from him soon. I was glad to get it
I hant got any of answer from the letters that I hav riten sinse we first came in front of Savannah but I shal stop writing till I get [illegible] from you to do so I presume that I will get a pile of them when I do get them.
I presume that you hav got my Diry before this time there is some things that I will explain some time dont now but I had better this time.
Give my respect to all of the neighbors that enquire after me. I will try to write another letter to you before we leave here.
Tel the boys to write.
The regiment hav gone out foraging.
Oh how I wish that you new my thoughts of you & those little ones of ours but tongs [tongues] cannot tell nor neither can I write it. excuse this Poor letter & believe me as ever your husband.
W. A. Spencer
Ps I will send a few leaves of what has happened up to this time in this letter if I can get them into the envelope.
Wallace Albert & Jane Marie Perry Spencer