1862 September 2: “You seem to be having War near your own doors, but no doubt those Indian raids are caused by the instigations of white traitors”
Edwin Levings covers a lot of topics in this short letter.
The Battle of Britton’s Lane took place on Monday September 1, 1862, near Denmark, Tennessee. Confederate General Frank C. Armstrong’s cavalry brigade (3,300 men) had been raiding through western Tennessee in late August and skirmishing had taken place near Bolivar and Jackson on Saturday August 30, but by the morning of the 31st Armstrong’s brigade had disappeared. Fearing Armstrong’s return to Jackson, Union General Elias S. Dennis’ command (1,500 men) was ordered to Jackson to help. The two forces, neither one expecting a battle, ran into one another on Britton’s Lane. Edwin Levings seems not to have as yet heard about the Battle of Britton’s Lane when he is writing this letter, and refers only to the fighting that occurred earlier, which was not as “hard” and did not involve as many troops as he believed.
Ed’s information on the Second Battle of Bull Run, which had taken place on August 28-30 in Virginia, is also wrong. In a repeat of the First Battle of Bull Run, the Union again lost, although not as disastrously as the first time.
In his post script, Ed mentions the Indian troubles in Minnesota and suggests that it was instigated by the rebels, who “boast of having made treaties with the Border Indians & that they are going to give us trouble.”
The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Humboldt [Tenn.], Sept 2nd 1862.
I hasten to answer your letter of the 23rd August received the 29th. It was a great pleasure to us to get your likenesses, but I can readily perceive they are not perfect. We shall ever look upon them with gratitude and pleasure, however, and they will awaken new and deep home affections, never to cease, and not to grow less during our separation from you. [paragraph break added]
One object of my writing to you is to inform you that we are daily expecting an attack. Saturday and Sunday [August 30-31] there was hard fighting at Bolivar 45 miles south of here. Report says there were 15,000 on a side, but it needs confirmation. Our forces were too much for the rebels. We have since learned they are between that place and Jackson making for that the latter and this the weakest place. Col. Bryant [George E. Bryant] has telegraphed for reinforcements from the new Regiments at Columbus or Cairo, but it is doubtful about his getting them. To reinforce to any extent from places along the R.R. is out of question, all the troops being needed where they are. A strong body of rebels are rumored to be at Brownsville 25 miles from here on the Memphis road & more to the East of us. We have slept with our clothes on the last 3 nights and with loaded guns, ready to fall in line at a moment’s warning. I have lain down at night expecting as much as could be we would smell powder before morning, but the 12th still holds the place with the Battery, & Tenn boys who have as yet not got their arms. The place is threatened and if attacked it will be with 3 or 4 times our number. We shall fight them in good earnest if they come and the rebels know it. Ere this reaches you we may have a fight and yet we may not. But don’t entertain any fears nor look on the dark side. [paragraph break added]
This dallying policy reaches every part of the Western army, & it is not strange the rebels should try to profit by it and that they are becoming so bold. Offensive movements will save the Union Army and destroy rebels utterly, thus restoring the Union & peace to the country. Defensive movements will be our ruin. We have just received reliable news of a great battle at Bull Run in which Pope [John Pope] was completely victorious killing & wounding 15,000 rebels, his own loss being 8,000.1 Pope drove the combined forces under Jackson [Stonewall Jackson] and other Generals into the mountains, capturing vast amounts of ammunition &c. The secesh feel rather down here at this news. [paragraph break added]
I have been writing some lately for the Capt. making out the muster rolls. Government allows us $42.00 worth of clothing each for a year. I have had of clothes $35.81. Homer $40.78 during the year. We shall need boots next winter and so the Co. has deleterined [sic]2 to have them. Mr. Newton3 of Prescott has been written to about the matter & says he will make such boots as we want for $5.00 or 5.25. He had my measure. I shall write him soon. Dale4 is quite unwell, but is getting better.
12 o’clock M. —- One train from Columbus has just arrived, the 2nd train is to bring down the 54th Illinois Regt. to reinforce us. A brother of Mary Graham is in the 7th Battery.5 We have formed his acquaintance. He appears to be a nice sort of fellow. No more this time. If any thing happens we will duly apprise you of it.
Yours in good health as usual and excellent spirits, with our best wishes for your safety and welfare,
Edwin and Homer
P. S. — You seem to be having War near your own doors, but no doubt those Indian raids were are caused by the instigations of white traitors for the rebels boast of having made treaties with the Border Indians & that they are going to give us trouble. Duty is plain here. Nothing is too bad to do.
1. Confederate casualties were approximately 8,300 killed wounded; Union casualties were around 10,000 killed and wounded.
2. Perhaps Ed meant “determined.”
3. George Newton (1825-1903), was a shoemaker in Prescott in 1860 (according to the 1860 federal census), although he will spend most of his life in the hotel business (according to his obituary in the August 6, 1903, Pierce County Herald).
4. Wilber P. Dale, from Prescott, has been back in Company A of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry since May 1, 1862. He had been left behind in Wisconsin because of illness when the 12th left Wisconsin in January 1862, and was put in Company G when he finally was well enough to join the regiment in Kansas.
5. There was a James Graham, from Whitewater, and a John Graham, from Two Rivers, in the 7th Wisconsin Battery. John Graham will die on January 8, 1863, in Jackson, Tennessee, from wounds.