Since we are preparing to celebrate Veteran’s Day, it is appropriate to read a letter written by a veteran of the War Between the States. This letter is one hundred and fifty-five years old, and was written by William Perry Darwin to his wife, Adelia Gillespie Darwin in 1864. William Perry and Adelia were my great-great grandparents, and this piece of history gives insight into the life of a soldier during wartime. It also shows the deep devotion of a husband for his wife, family and country.
During the War Between the States, the sixth company to enter the Confederate army from Rhea County was a cavalry company organized at Washington in May of 1862. The commissioned officers elected to serve were the following: W.P. Darwin, Captain; F.J. Paine, First Lieutenant; H.C. Collins, Second Lieutenant; W.P. Thomison, Sr., Third Lieutenant. This company was mustered into service in Washington during May of 1863, leaving immediately for Knoxville. Darwin’s company was named Company “C” of that Battalion.
William Perry Darwin, born February 22, 1830, was one of fourteen children of James Adams Darwin and Bethiah White Clements Darwin. He married Adelia Gillespie (July 11, 1839-April 29, 1889), a daughter of R.N. and Hannah Leuty Gillespie on May 23, 1860. They had four sons and six daughters; one daughter, Ella Adelia, was my great-grandmother. W.P. died November 4, 1894, and both he and his wife are buried in Pierce Cemetery at Darwin Station (now Evensville). Before the war, he was a merchant at Washington as Darwin, Bean & Company. (Darwin Station was named for James A. Darwin.)
Company C saw fighting in East Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and at the Battle of Chickamauga. Darwin surrendered his company and was captured at Athens, Georgia on May 8, 1865 (one month after the war was officially over) then discharged shortly afterward. W.P. then returned home to try and save his business, but there was very little left. He later moved to Darwin Station and became a successful merchant, trader, farmer and large land owner.
While he was away from home during the war, W.P. Darwin wrote letters to his wife, Adelia, in order to keep in touch and let her know where he was from time to time. Also, he included news about himself and the places where his company camped. The following is one of the only letters which survived, as far as I know. It is transcribed exactly as it was written.
Camp Near Newton, N. Carolina
I wrote you a long long letter only yesterday and started it South-but thinking it may meet with some mishap (as others I have written have) I will write a line to night and Start it in a different direction. I never let an opportunity slip of writing, when I see the least chance of getting a letter any where in the direction of home. It is a source of pleasure to write you, though I am aware of the great uncertainty of my letters reaching you, but among the many I start, Some I feel sure will reach you. I have heard nothing definite from home since Ganaway brought me your letter and that was the first I had since I left you at the River,-I saw a letter from Mrs. P.-also one from R.T. Howard a few days ago written the 20th March. They both stated that you was well, nothing more-that was a great satisfaction to me-but nothing to compare to a letter from you,-I felt disappointed that I did not get one at the same time-but I know you did not know of the chance to send it out. Nor do I know who brought them out as neither of the letters stated-they were mailed at Atlanta. I will not attempt giving you a description of all our moves-and marches-since I saw you. I suppose Ganaway gave you a history of our retreat from Socks ferry-too and around Knoxville, and up to the time he left us at Blanes X Roads. He-Ganaway made a Successful trip and re-joined us at Dandridge about the 20th of Febry. Many hearts were made glad on his arrival, for he had news for all. Oh you can not imagine the pleasure it gives a soldier to hear from the dear ones at home, there is nothing as encouraging to the weary & wayworn-Nothing that would inspire him with so much Zeal & Courage as to receive a line of encouragement from the loved ones at home,-It is Second only, to conversing face to face-would our facilities were better for corresponding. Since Ganaway left us, we have been on the front picketing & occasionally Skermishing with the Enemy from Blains Cross Roads to New Market-Dandridge, and along the Chucky River-until about the 20th of March. Our stock was so much reduced that we were ordered to Vaughn’s Brigade at Rodgersville-and from thence to Kingsport-where we remained until the 12th Inst and on account of forage being so very scarce-the whole Brig-(except 200 men left there on Picket) was ordered to this place to recruit-a distance of 150 miles, all the way through the Mountains-we were 8 days on the road-it raining and snowing all the time. Crossed the Blue Ridge on the 17th- the snow 4 inches deep-but we are now in a better Section of Country and find forage in great Abundance-and the people here scarcely know that there is a war going on. They have heard something of it-but in reality they know nothing. They treat us-however-very kind-and if we are not ordered away, we can have our stock in good order in five or six weeks. It is quite a treat for us to get so far from the enemy-where we can lay down at Night without any fears of being aroused before Morn.-after having been on the watch both day and night all winter-we are now for the first time in 8 months in comfortable quarters-have a good tent-a Scaffold with Straw to sleep upon-and plenty to eat. Newton is a nice little Village in Catawba County on an arm of the Rail Road-we have two trains a day here, and get the news regularly-which is very encouraging to our Cause, and I now think that light is beginning to dawn, and ere the Autumn leaves begin to fall, we will have peace. We are now being successful at every point, where we have engagements with the enemy-and we are just on the eve of two great Battles-one at Richmond-the other at or near Dalton. At each of these places we have the best armies the world ever produced-Commanded by our Ablest Generals-well disciplined, well equipped-in fine Spirits, ready & eager for the Contest. If we are successful at those two points (and I verily believe we will be) I think surely the Enemy will then see the error of their way. and give us what we ask-a final Seperation, peace & Independence. Nor will we stop short of that. We have now lost too much to make any sort of compromises, & Reconstruction, is entirely out of the question. Our armies every where are in better condition, than ever before-remarkably healthy-in fine spirits and plenty to eat,-(rumors to the contrary notwithstanding) there is now great commotion and dissatisfaction among the North-and they are resorting to every sort of means to keep up their armies-even enlisting the Africans-and there is no better evidence of their weakness. But we have an army now, that the combined forces of the world will never conquer.
The principal growth of this Country is Women-resembling very much the Blackjack in our Ridges-on the Scrubby order-they are very numerous-this is Court week in Newton-and more than 100 of them are in attendance-they attend Court and all public gatherings. Then they are not accustomed to seeing many Soldiers and our Camps are continually crowded with them-they are so different from our Ladies-low, heavy, rough featured, dark complected-“principally dutch”-noted only for their extreme ugliness and large feet-many of them are very forward, and are the subjects of many remarks from the Boys-Such as-“there goes one that grew up in the night—there is one that has the big end of her leg turned down, etc., etc.” They have no attraction for Tennesseans who are accustomed to blue eyes & Rosey cheeks etc. I do not know where we will be ordered from here but suppose we will go back to Tenn. As soon as we recruit our stock. I think we will have possession of Our Country by the Middle of June-and Oh how I will hail happy the day when we can deliver our loved ones from under the yoke of tyranny & Oppression-be of good cheer-that day will surely come-and I hope and pray-and even believe that it is not far distant-then it will be, that those that have been enemies to our cause-and oppressors of helpless women and children will be known. Such I learn is the case of a few men in our country-and if true of them-far better that they had never been borned than for our Boys to get possession of our Country again & meet them. How very anxious I am to get home again-and hear all-if I only knew that you and Willie, and our other friends there was getting along well-I would feel Satisfied,-I do hope & trust you are-
From this letter we can gain a better understanding of Darwin’s thoughts about the war, his love for family, friends, country and also his ideas about the place where he and his men were camped. It is amazing that he was able to keep a sense of humor during wartime; however, it is also interesting to read Darwin’s description of the war and its effect on the land and its people. This letter was written approximately a year before the official end of the war, and gives us insight into life of one hundred and fifty-five years ago. It is necessary to preserve historical artifacts such as this because these kinds of items give us a window into the past and help us to understand life as it was for our Rhea County ancestors during wartime. As your historian, I remind you to appreciate and study the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.