During the War Between the States, many letters, diaries and journals were kept by those brave men who were fighting for the North and South. Many of these manuscripts have been lost over time, but some have survived. One such document is a letter from William G. Allen to his wife, Mary E. Thomison, written in 1862.
William Gibbs Allen (October 21, 1836—November 28, 1924) was the son of Valentine and Ann Frazier Allen; Mary Elizabeth Thomison (July 31, 1837—March 6, 1915) was the daughter of William Preston and Nancy Smith Thomison (my great-great grandparents). “Lizzie” as she was affectionately called, married W. G. Allen on December 15, 1859 at her parents’ home in Old Washington. Will and Lizzie also made their home in Washington, with eight children.
When war broke out, Will served in the Fifth Tennessee Confederate Cavalry, and was promoted to the rank of Major. He was in a number of battles, being wounded seven times. After the war, he wrote about his experiences, with his accounts being published in the Dayton Herald newspaper and in other publications by the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society.
One of his letters to his wife has survived since 1862, and appears below in its original form, with spelling and grammar errors, and no paragraph indention. However, we have to remember that time was precious, and that this letter most likely was not written completely at one time. This letter, written one hundred and fifty-eight years ago, is a window into life during the War Between the States.
William G. Allen’s Letter To His Wife, Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Allen
Camp Clinch, May 13th 1862
I again embrace the present moments to wright you-- I still am blessed with good health, which I am very thankful for, and I hope by the mercies of an alwise God that the Same blessing may be with you and my Dear Babe. it is with Some degree of reluctance that I am forced to wright you again without hearing from you, when your last letter was So full of Sorrow and Sadness. But I try to wright you once a week at least, and I do want you to do the Same you cannot tell how Sadly I was disappointed on last evening when I arrived back at camps and found no letter from you nor any of my friends, do try and do better in the future. it does not matter whether you hear from me or not, for you cannot expect me to wright to you when I am on a Scout, we left here on last Tuesday night at Eleven o clock in the night-crossed the River and marched to Clinton, next day to Jacks Boro, and up to Woodson Gap which is about 15 miles above Jacksboro, Some 25 miles from the Gap. on Saturday we left for Kingston, most all the Boys are Sick, we had but one officer a long and his horse got foundered, and, I had to take command of the Company. we got back all Safe, our
Capt was gon to Knoxville, when we left on the Scout. I Saw George at Woodsons Gap he is well and cannot get his Transfer till the first of next Month, then he will come to our Company.
I Learned from Wm Benett that Father was going into the Service I was Sorry to hear it and think that he is Treating himself his family and me wrong he has a large Family, Two Boys and myself in the Service already. and I am Sadisfied that he can Serve his country better at home than any where else, and more I have left you in his care, and if he leaves I Shall Try and make Some arraingments to move you on the South Side of the River. But I hope he will reconsider, and Think well how and in what Sort of a condition he is leaving Mother and all his Family, will he, can he, leave you all, and be Satisfied, I would answer no with the candor of all my heart, and I do believe when he thinks it all over he will not leave, I no that he wants to Serve his country, and will not he Show more Patriot ism by staying home and taking care of his Family and making Something for the Army than any other way. yes Lizzie I want you to wright to me as Soon as you get this and let me Know what your Pah is going to do and if he is going into the Service any how, wright me where you will be Satisfied to Stay on the South Side [of the] River, if you have any choice. I will try to make Some arranigments about you Staying and if not wright me what you want to do and I will try to Situate you as comfortable as I can any thing that in my Power I will do for you and Willie, is all that I live for now, and when I know that you are not Satisfied I am in distress, and moment after moment passes away only by the force of imagination, leaving a Space more Sad and doleful for the next and if my Time all passed as heavly as when I Know that you are in Sorrow many would be the furrow that would cross mu Brow, and Soon would my head be Silverd with hary hairs, but let me Know that all is well at home and well Satisfied and the Sweet moments pass away in Sun Shine and bliss. Now my Dear wife do you want to know what I think of this war, and many who are taking no part in it. I believe that it will not last long, not longer than 12 mo. For war its Self will ware out, and I know from the way that things are progressing that we will not be found acting on the Defensive much longer, not longer than we get organized again Then will the North begin to feel the Ravages of war. And as to myself I feel that I am duty bound to be a Souldier as long as my country calls me. I feel that I have a wife who would rather See her Self left a widow and her Darling Babe left an orphan , Than have a husband who would not Serve his Country when all that is Holy & Sacred calls him, yes my Dear wife let me be a Soldier ever ready to do his Duty and if the God of Battles sees fit in his mercys to let the hand of Death come upon him by disease by Swored Ball or Cannon, and my Bones left to bleach on Some lonely mountain or in Some dark and dismal Swamp who nothing Save the hoot of the owl is herd, then you can Say that he died the death of the noble and Brave Battling for his wife his Babe Home and all that is Sacred to him, and asks not a place to be buried. Oh Lizzie while I am wrighting I see a man of Noble form and look come and bow himself beside a fresh made-mound as you and I did when we parted with Little Jimie, and my heart is full mine eyes are all in tears, and my Body nealed beside a Grave with Pen Ink and Paper on the Tombstone Trying to wright to you. Bless God oh prais him for my Soul is happy and Tears moistens my paper. I cannot Tell why nor how I feel, I can only say that I am happy in Jesus. Raise Willie to Love his God. My Dear wife you must excuse me for asking you to pray for me so often for I do feel that you have prayed and God has answered your prayers by blessing my Soul this Beautiful morning a mid So much wickedness, I have ever found religion to be precious but more So in Camps, if there is a place on this green Earth where a mans faith is Tried it is in Camps but I feel that I am able by the grace of God to go Through mutch wickedness, tell Mother houdy for me when you see her, and that I think often of the prayers that she has Sent up to high heaven for me, and I bless God to day That I ever had a praying mother one who taught me to pray, and if I Should fall ere we meet on Earth that we will meet in heaven yes that is my every wish, tell her to wright to me how Val is getting. I must close by telling all my friends houdy now my Dear wife I want you to wright to me often, Kiss Willie for me
I am your Husband
W. G. Allen
Tell all my friends to wright
As the reader can see, there are many misspelled words, wrong word forms used, and multiple grammatical errors in the letter. But, it is important to remember that people during the early years of our history spelled words like they sounded. However, I left this letter in its original form for the reader to understand the significance of a letter written during a time of war. W. G. Allen did not have time to think about proper punctuation or grammar—he was encamped in a situation in which the enemy might attack, or the group could be called upon to move out at any given time. He just wanted to feel close to home, to speak to his wife through this letter, and to literally pour his heart out to her. He, like so many other fighting men, missed home and family. This letter reminds us that we need to study the past in order to understand the present and be able to live in the future, for it is a document such as this that provides a window into the kind of life which people lived during the War Between the States in the area of Rhea County and the Southern States.