I believe this letter was written by 12 year-old Susan Elizabeth (“Liddie”) Kite (1850-1885), the daughter of Capt. Hiram Alexander Kite (1818-1907) and Margaret Caroline Miller (1823-1889) of Conrad’s Store (now Elkton), Rockingham county, Virginia. Libbie’s father served as the captain of Co. H, 2nd Regiment of 7th Brigade, Virginia Militia throughout the war. It was in the Captain’s home [see Miller-Kite House] in April 1862 that General Stonewall Jackson made his headquarters for the planning of the famous Valley Campaign leading up to the Battle of 2nd Bull Run. The home was built by Libbie’s grandfather, Henry Miller, Jr. in 1827 and passed to Libbie’s mother.
Liddie had two older brothers that served in the Confederate army as well. They were Charles R. Kite (1844-1863) who was Captain of Co. H, 97th Virginia Militia, and killed at Chancellorsville in May 1863; and Edwin (“Ed”) Kite (1847-1928) who was a sergeant in Co. H 3rd Battalion Virginia Militia, sometimes known as “Crissman’s Boy Company.”
The letter is datelined “Sylvan Retreat” which is a puzzler because I cannot find any reference to the Miller-Kite House being called by that name. It was not uncommon in the mid-19th Century to give a home or an estate a romantic or idyllic sounding name so I can’t rule that possibility out. There were schools by that name in Virginia but I never found one in Rockingham county which is where it appears she wrote the letter.
Liddie never married. She died in 1885 from tuberculosis.
December 9th 1862
No doubt you have censured me much for not answering your last letter, but I have so many apologies to offer I shall not try to numerate them. I had the exquisite pleasure of seeing some of the great men of our country last spring. Gen. [Stonewall] Jackson, [Richard] Ewell, [Richard] Taylor, [Arnold] Elzey, and Maj. [Chatham Roberdeau] Wheat. The major stayed here all the time. O! we had a delightful time. If you remember, the Armies stayed here four or five weeks; we had soldiers from every state. There [were] some very nice men from Lexington (Rockbridge Rifles) ¹. The First Lieutenant resigned whilst the Army was here—Lieut. Chapin. He was only seventeen and a Lieutenant. He was a very nice man.
We hear a great many rumors but can’t believe half. Great many soldiers passing here daily. Poor soldiers—I know they will almost freeze this winter. There were three froze to death in Lynchburg Sunday night.
There were a regiment of South Carolinians passed here several weeks ago on their way to [J. E. B.] Stuart; they seemed to dread this winter so much. I feel very sorry for them indeed since it has turned so cold. I know they are almost froze this cold morning—poor fellows, so far from home without a friend. Some said they never expected to get home again.
Cousin, I must ask you for a favor—that is, inquire in Lexington for me some guitar string as I am taking lessons and need string. Get me a D string, B string, and E string. Pay for them and I will pay you. Send them when you answer this. Be sure and get me a D string if it is to be had for mine is nearly in two. I am taking lessons of Cousin Annie Jennings. ²
Have you heard from Alice Cowen lately? I wrote to her concerning the school as Ma wished to send me out there. She replied and said it was impossible to procure board & they did not give lessons [on] guitar. I have a very fine one. I rather expect to go to Staunton the first of February. If I do, I intend to study very hard. They intend to have an examination. If I go there, you must call to see me whenever you pass for I expect to get very lonely.
Ma sends best love and says Mr. Perry has not found the way through the long woods yet. He is paying addresses to Millie Brown of Bridgewater, poor taste.
Cousin Annie Cowen was here last week. She said she heard Aunt Jennie and Capt. [James Corbin] Blackford were to be married and Aunt Joe and Mr. David Plecker. I don’t think Aunt Joe would ever marry Mr. P. Please don’t hail this to no one. I don’t know what Aunt Jennie & Capt. Blackford might do. Lizzie Byerly’s ³ daily thought and midnight reveries are about him (Blackford).
Please excuse mistakes—bad writing as it is. Mail time. All send best love. Write a long letter & don’t forget the strings.
Write very soon & long letter to your affectionate little cousin, — Liddie
¹ The Rockbridge Rifles were from Lexington, Virginia. They became Co. H, 27th Virginia Infantry. When the regiment was organized in 1861, George W. Chapin was 16 years old and entered the service as a Third Sergeant. He was elected 2nd Lieutenant in October 1861 and again in February 1863 but declined the honor each time. In February 1863, he reenlisted in Co. I, 4th Virginia Infantry wand was wounded at Chancellorsville. He recovered and six months later was killed in action at Payne’s Farm
² Cousin Annie Jennings (1837-1910) never married. She grew up in Elkton, Rockingham county, Virginia and is buried there.
³ Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Byerly (1846-1918) was the daughter of Daniel and Sarah Byerly of Rockingham county, Virginia. She married B. Frank Shaver in 1872. From the letter we learn that Lizzie doted over Capt. James Corbin Blackford of the 12th Virginia Cavalry. Blackford was killed on 6 January 1864 when he was captured and shot by “Jessie Scouts” (Yankees wearing Confederate uniforms for deception) in Newton near Winchester, Virginia.