The Last of the Battle Letters
November 17th, 1865:
My Dear Missus Isabelle Parker,
I’m sorry this letter is such a long time in coming, but it has been a long and tedious return from West Texas, back to the great State of Alabama.
I write you concerning the events of this past May. The Tories had already won the war, but we didn’t know that. Even “The Great Emancipator” his-self had been struck down at Ford’s theater. But we did not know that either. The news that would have averted this last battle came on the sixteenth...news that was doubly hard to swallow on the heals of our great victory over the Yankees at Palmetto Ranch on May the 13th.
All this makes the news I must send you all the more tragic, as your son, Lieutenant Jed Leroi Parker, was slain on 13 May, eighteen hundred and sixty-five at the battle of Palmetto Ranch.
I’m told, it will be officially noted as the last battle in this war of Yankee aggression.
I’m enclosing the letter Jed was composing before he was killed along with the Confederacy’s sincerest thanks. I can attest that Jed had fought bravely and perished in victory and if it be any comfort, I’ll add an observation that Jed and I shared less than one week ago.
We was speaking of what we’d do after this war was finally over and he remarked that the saddest sight he’d ever seen had to be that of an old soldier unable to get on with living after conflict.
In our youth, we’d all seen those old vets, from the 1812 campaign. I’ve seen so many of them toothless and without shoes, talking to anyone who’d listen, about the exploits of the younger men they claimed to have once been.
Seems the world has no place for such men.
Perhaps the worst possible wound that war can inflict is the ingratitude of the people you’ve fought it for. Since I’ve arrived home, I’ve heard the accounts from Georgia where they hanged Lew Wirz, the commander at Andersonville prison for “war crimes.” I hear he was hanged in the courtyard of the prison he presided over for the last two years of this war. I hear Jeff Davis is in chains and General Longstreet has turned Yankee sympathizer, taking a position in the Johnson administration.
Perhaps it’s a mercy for the dead that they did not have to endure seeing all this.
If that be so, then Jed will never suffer that fate Missus Parker, for he is of the honored dead now, and like so many others has finally and forever found his peace.
I have written too many of these letters to too many mothers and if there is one consolation with the close of this one, it is that I shall not be required to write another one after this.
My deepest condolences,
Major Archibald Montgomery
Dear Momma and Pa,
May 11, 1865:
As of today, May the eleventh, eighteen hundred and sixty-five, we, that is what’s left of the Confederate Army of the West, comprised of the remnants of the Thirteenth of Alabama, two cavalry regiments from Louisiana, a collection of Missouri Red Legs and some Texas Raiders have been tracking what’s left of the union’s Army of the West – the very same one that General Grant himself commanded just a few short years ago.
I do believe that both sides are equally as tired of marching and fighting and thin rations. Through our camp rumors run like fevers about Atlanta falling and maybe Richmond too and even Jefferson Davis being on the run, but none of us really believe any of that.
As we prepare for bivouac tonight, we know that a Yankee attack is but a day, or maybe two at the most, away.
We are ready. Our advantage all along has been that we’ve been defending our homes. You can see that most of the Yankees don’t have the same fire in their bellies.
Major Montgomery says that if we can route the Union’s Western flank, we might be able to take back Tennessee and the Shenandoah Valley and then reinforce Lee’s Army of Virginia and finally take this war into the North.
I swear Momma, if those Yankees see the horrors this war has inflicted up close, they will soon sicken of it. I pray that this all ends before long...maybe sooner than that. I hear that Lincoln will not be re-elected and that McClellan’s running on the Democrat line under the banner “Peace at any cost.”
We all pray that McClellan’s words become the prevailing Yankee sentiment. That is a sweet enough dream to sign off with and so I will.
Goodbye for now...
...I’ll continue tomorrow,
May 12, 1865:
More hard marching and short rations Momma. I haven’t fired my rifle in anger since late April, but the Yankees are close...so close we can near smell’em. Some say there be negra troops among'em. I must say that I’ve never seen nor imagined such a sight.
It’s been unusually hot and dry, even for West Texas and as hard as it’s been for us, they say the Yankees are even the worse off.
Our scouts say the Yankee cavalry is within two miles of here. They’re probably going to wait for the infantry to get here before they engage.
Captain Westbrook wants to attack them tonight in their beds, but Major Montgomery has overruled him. We have already lost thirty-eight hundred of the six thousand we started out with. The Yankees are camped on high ground and any attack would leave us too long exposed to fire. The Major wants the federals to have to attack us.
We’re just a few miles away from Palmetto Ranch, a position that will give us the advantage of shade, cover, higher ground and plenty of water.
Well, we’re on the move again, so I’ll write again later.
May 12, 1865:
It is night now and we have marched for more than six hours and are within an hour’s march of Palmetto Ranch, which we will reach tomorrow morning.
Our scouts figure us about six hours ahead of the Union forces, so we figure to be engaged by noon tomorrow.
I hope you are both doin’ fine. I think about y’all all the time...even when I don’t write. I know you think of me too, even though I haven’t heard from y’all in awhile neither.
We have lost so many good men – maybe the best of us, and glory don’t look so fine and polished no more. All of us left just want to go home. We want things the way they were before. We want our friends and our lives and our land back.
I’ll write again tomorrow.
May 13, 1865:
I’m in the hospital tent Momma. I’ve asked Major Montgomery to send this to you and Pa lest I don’t git back there. I do fear that I have been kilt by this Yankee bullet. I’ve already lost much of my left leg and nearly half of my left arm and the doctors fear fever from infection.
I’ll write while I can.
The good news from here is that we WON! The fighting was fierce but we won Momma! I hear that we may be heading back east to take back Tennessee in a matter of weeks. I can see the end to this thing now. We will take this war to Yankee soil. It can and it must be done.
Sure there is more grousing and complaining now. We’re hungry and tired and low on ammunition and supplies. Worse, is since the Conscription Act, lots of guys see it as “a rich man’s war and a poor mans fight.” Aside from Major Montgomery, I don’t believe there is a large tract landowner left among us.
It’s true that the Yankees had some negra soldiers among’em. They seemed surprised that so many (maybe two dozen) coloreds fought on our side. They still don’t get that we’s fighting for our homes and our way of life, not for those rich plantation owners. After this war, this whole colored problem will have to be figured out. The Major says we gonna have to make’em their own country. He’s been told it’ll be in some place called Nigguraggah or some such land. I hope that comes to pass, for if it don’t future generations may have to endure further conflict and I don’t wish this on no one.
I’m hurting Momma...I swear I can feel where my left arm and leg used to be. I could swear I feel a throbbing. I feel worse since starting this short note and I do fear I may not make home.
I want you to know that I’ve thought about y’all every day four the past three years and will continue to think and pray and God willing; look after you in the life hereafter. As much as all this hurts, and it hurts aplenty, the fear that I may not see y’all again hurts even more.
I gotta go. The doctor’s coming and he’s looking pretty solemn.