1862: Theodore P. Johnston to Sister

This letter was written by 61 year-old Theodore P. Johnston (1801-1884), the son of William S. Johnston and Mary Hall of Eversham, Wythe county, Virginia. By the 1840’s, Theodore had married and relocated to Athens, Tennessee. By 1850, he had relocated to Chattanooga Valley, Walker county, Georgia. In 1860, Theodore was enumerated at Lafayette, Walker county, Georgia. After his first wife died, Theodore married Matilda Crockette (b. 1802) who bore him several children. Three of his sons— Oscar F. (1830-1898), George T. (1835-1862), and James Bradford (“Jimmy”) Johnston (1844-1913) are mentioned in this letter. He also mentions three of his daughters—Matilda and Ann, b. 1827, and Mary (b. 1833).

Oscar was a graduate of the US Naval Academy in 1852. During the Civil War, he served the Confederacy as a lieutenant in the Navy. He served on the ironclad floating battery CSS Georgia and then joined the crew of the CSS Savannah. He later served on the CSS Virginia II and the CSS Peedee. He was married to Mary Irvin Leet (1845-1865) in 1862. After her death, he married Belle Billups (1847-1917).

George T. Johnston served as a private in the 4th Georgia Infantry. He was killed on 8 October 1862 at the Battle of Perryville in Kentucky.

Jimmy Johnson served as a private in Co. G, 9th Georgia Infantry.

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An antebellum Georgia Cotton Plantation (Cowan Auctions)

TRANSCRIPTION

Lafayette, Georgia
August 22d 1862

My Dear Sister,

After my respects and best love to self and dear niece Fannie, I must inform you of the receipt of your kind letter in answer to mine of which I was fearful for some time you had not received as I did not get it for so long a time. I was fearful I had not given the right direction to it, so I was much pleased to hear from you and the children was delighted to hear from their new relations. Oh, what a time they have had lately. I will commence by stating that Oscar came home shortly after I returned and was married to Miss Leet—a very pretty girl [and] one that we all knew and was well pleased with, having had her in our family over 2 years. She is like our own. They were married sooner than we expected when I wrote to you before owing to his being up here at the time and not knowing how soon the Yanks might get him. She thought it best to make hay while the sun shone and so they were married and he has gone back to his station which is the floating battery at Savannah, Georgia.

In the meantime, George came home from Shiloh having been in the western army for some time—15 or 18 months. He returned to his command for a few days and obtained a permit to remain at home for a short time and I went after him and he is now at home and they are having a good time now. They have been separated for over seven years and he seems like another added to the family. So you see we have had two accessions to our family since I returned. All this, my dear Sister, has kept me in some measure from thinking about this unholy war that is upon us.

I was glad to hear that Fannie has heard from her brother Joseph. I do hope he may become steady and a help to her instead of a drawback as I was afraid of when I was there. It is so hard for sisters to be annoyed by dissipative brothers, but it seems to me that if the country is saved at all, the Ladies will be in it as they are foremost in doing good wherever I have traveled and I think I notice these things as close as most of men and I am willing to give them all praise, and they will be rewarded in the end by Him that rules on high, by returning to them their brothers, husbands, and sweethearts—sober, steady, and God-fearing men I hope.

We have had two letters from Jimmy lately. He is with Jackson in the Valley of Virginia near Gordonsville and was hearty and well. I have no fear of him as regards dissipation and he sends his money home regularly. He has sent home $170 or 80 (since he left home). Matilda is at Tryon trying to make up lost time. She will bring the cotton up with her when she comes home and I hope will be able to let me know whether she can come up or not. If she don’t, I will and bring one of the children with me. I have been put back mightily by the troops passing by from Corinth. So many and all wanting something. It seems to me that the whole western country is in the army—poor fellows. What they have suffered. I am in hopes that our country will soon be rid of those that seek our destruction.

My dear sister, I cannot bear the idea of becoming subservient to a heartless set of creatures who have not the fear of God before them and set His word and the law of Nations at defiance—all for their own aggrandizement and villainous purposes. It would be a great relief to me if I could keep from studying about this wicked war [even] if it was only long enough to write you and dear Fanny a good, kind letter. It seems to me that all the good feelings and thoughts are gone or turn to hatred, and each day adds to its flame so that I fear I never will be rational again. Forgive me dear sister, I ought not to say one word to you about these things for well do I know that you would far rather think and talk about better things.

Ann and Mollie are both with me today. Ann has two [children]—a son and daughter. Mollie has a daughter. All fine little ones and that would in other times and under other circumstances entertain and employ our minds and employ our time in a far better way and much more satisfaction to all concerned. It would add so much to our happiness to have you and Fanny with us while we were all together but the question arrises how on earth is that to be done in your helpless condition. I would undergo anything in the way of expense and the trouble would be a pleasure if the thing could be accomplished.

Well, while they are all gone to meeting, I am trying to write to you but my mind wanders from one [thing] to another, all under other circumstances would make me quite happy. But there is still thus uneasiness hurting me—not being able to see [you] and of this strife. It is a source of pleasure to me to think there are some old friends and some new ones there that sends howdy to a rough old stick like myself, but I still hope to see once again some of them and have a good shake of the hand from them as of old.

Remember me to all—especially to those mentioned in Fannie’s letter, and her Wythe friends when she sees them. Tell Fannie she has my best wishes for her good luck in getting a good, clever fellow for her husband and that I would like to see her prosper in this work for the sake of her excellent Mother and for her kindness to me while with you. I am so sorry to hear of Mr. Staly’s neighborhood. Tell the Black ones that I am glad they send howdy to me. I will try to remember them. Tell Little Frank to be good to Old Missie and I will remember him if I don’t die soon. When I come, I will have something for all of them, I hope. Get Fannie to answer this and tell Ma all the news and what her own prospects are and all about her sister Matilda’s and her Uncle’s if she can hear. I am interested in them all.

Now, my dear sister, goodbye. May God bless you and take you to himself. Your brother till death, — Theodore P. Johnston

4 thoughts on “1862: Theodore P. Johnston to Sister”

  1. I found this letter extremely interesting. Thank you for posting it. I am a great grandson of James Bradford Johnston, referred to as “Jimmy” in his father’s letter above. My own research has revealed that James was in the Army of Northern Virginia serving in the 9th Georgia infantry until his capture at Gettysburg (in the Wheatfield) on 2 July, 1863. He spent 21 months as a Union prisoner before his release on parole on James River in the spring of 1865. James went north after the war, had many children, and his descendants now range from Florida to Canada and even Hawaii.
    My question to you is do you know who was his mother? That is the one name I can’t find in my ancestry searches and I am uncertain it was Ms. Crockett. Thanks for your help.

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      1. One of thousands I have transcribed for a client who buys and sells letters on eBay. He authorizes me to post them on Spared & Shared in exchange for the transcriptions which he uses in advertising his letters.

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