This letter was written by Col. George Washington Wortham (1823-1883) who began the war as a Captain of the “Granville Greys.” “He was commissioned as a major in the 50th Regiment of North Carolina on 15 April 1862, and promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 01 December 1862, then to colonel on 10 November 1863. Wortham was placed in command at Plymouth, North Carolina after its recapture (May-October 1864). In late 1864, Wortham’s regiment was ordered to assist in the defense of Savannah. They subsequently fought at River’s Bridge, Averasborough and Bentonville.
In the latter battle, mentioned in this letter, Wortham is said to have “shown the white feather,” fleeing to the rear to “report the disaster.” Meeting a brigade courier en route, he described the battlefield deaths of Colonel William Hardy and several other officers, all of whom were subsequently found alive, though bloodied. See Nathaniel Hughes’s Bentonville: The Final Battle of Sherman and Johnston, UNC Press, 200, p. 148.) Wortham was paroled on 01 May 1865 in Greensboro, North Carolina and returned to the practice of law.” [Archives, Collection of George Wortham, Gilder Lehrman]
George wrote this letter to his father, Dr. James Lewis Wortham (1797-1866) of Oxford, Granville county, North Carolina. In the 1860 US Census, George was residing in the Tar River District of Granville county and had ten slaves ranging in age from 10 to 67.
Headquarters 50th North Carolina Troops
March 23rd 1865
My Dear Father,
I am so rushed of time that I can only say we have had four days hard fighting—one at Averystown where we whipped one corps of Sherman’s army, & a three day’s fight at Bentonville in Johnson County from which we came off victorious but were compelled to fall back by Schofield threatening our rear from Goldsboro.
I was in the whole of these fights. On Sunday we lost one third of our brigade in a few minutes. I am unharmed (glory to God) except by one slight scratch on the shinbone, or rather the shin which is from exposure and want of rest becoming inflamed & troublesome. I hope it will get well as soon as I can rest. My health is excellent with this exception.
We have fallen back on Smithfield. Where we are going, I do not know. General Joseph Johnston is in command.
Remember me in your prayers. Give my love to all ad write to me at Raleigh.
Truly & sincerely your affectionate son, — Geo. Wortham
Sherman’s Army is evidently much cowed. They fight much more timidly than at first.