[Various locations in Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. November 4, 1861 - November 9, 1864. Twenty-two war-date autograph letters, signed, totaling approximately seventy-eight pages, and 14,000 words, plus three post-war letters and documents. Typed transcriptions accompany all but one of the letters. Original mailing folds, some fold lines tender, a few letters with mostly minor paper loss. Minor toning, occasional dark stains or discoloration, with little effect on text. Overall in good plus condition, the handwriting quite easily read. Item #WRCAM56188
A collection of personal letters by Mississippi Captain William J.H. McBeath during the Civil War, writing home to his future wife, Sarah "Sallie" Lewis in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and covering three years service during the heart of the war. McBeath writes to "Sallie" about their relationship and his love for her, as well as the usual subjects like camp life, military news, fellow soldiers who have fallen ill or died, troop and unit movement, and descriptions of engagements with the enemy. The latter reports include mentions of or details about battles at Corinth, Stone River, Chickamauga, and the Atlanta Campaign. Throughout these letters, which conclude several months after Sherman's important victory at Atlanta, McBeath expresses an optimism in the inevitability of a Confederate victory that is revealing about his mindset, which was no doubt shared with his fellow rebel soldiers. William J.H. McBeath (1836-1928) served as captain of Company K, known as the "Scotland Guards," in the 5th Mississippi Infantry. He married Sarah E. Lewis (184?-1914) sometime after the war, and the couple later settled in Texas where McBeath taught school in Somerville County. The 5th Mississippi Regiment was part of the Fourth Brigade of Mississippi Volunteers, known as the Army of Mississippi, and the organization of the regiment was completed by September 5, 1861 at Enterprise, Mississippi. The unit participated in a number of important battles and campaigns, including Shiloh, Corinth, Murfreesboro (Stones River), Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Peach Tree Creek, and Franklin, some of which are addressed in the present letters. McBeath himself was wounded at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. McBeath's first letter comes two months after the 5th Mississippi Infantry was organized. Here, McBeath reports on a drunken soldier who was disciplined, much to McBeath's satisfaction ("a drunkard is fit for nothing, and worse than nobody"). McBeath writes that he would prefer not to "go up into Ky" as he does not like cold weather, but thinks the unit will "go down on the coast." He was correct. There is also an undated, one-page note from McBeath to Sallie here, in which he informs her that he and his unit "are about to leave here tomorrow bound for Pensacola Florida." By the time of his next letter on December 6, 1861, McBeath's regiment is in Warrenton, Florida. He writes to Sallie that he is not well: "I am in a bad fix for fighting; I am scarcely able to sit up to write to you; it fatigues me very much to write. Sallie you cannot imagine how bad it is for one to be sick in the army, and where you cannot get Medicine, our Regt. is about out and it seems that one cannot get supplies." McBeath's regiment left Florida in March, 1862 and went from there to Mobile, Alabama, then Corinth, Mississippi, and then to Iuka, Mississippi. From there the company ended up in Tuscumbia, Alabama, near Corinth. At camp near Tuscumbia, McBeath writes to Sallie on March 18, 1862: "We are now stationed in one mile and a half of the Tenn. River and the Yankees are trying to land a large force near Corinth. The pickets have been firing up each other several times since we arrived here....There is a battle expected here every day, though I don't hardly think it will come off it at all, under three or four weeks. There are more soldiers here than I have ever seen in my life and yet we will have to have more. It will never do us to give up this Rail Road. I think the hardest Battle that has yet been fought, will be between here and Corinth. Soldiers are coming from all parts of the Southern Confederacy." McBeath's next four letters are written from Camp Bridgeport, Alabama. His January 9, 1863 letter was written days after the Battle of Stones River (also known as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro), which resulted in a Union victory that prevented the Confederate Army from controlling middle Tennessee. McBeath writes soberly about the engagement to Sallie: "The battle commenced heavy in the morning of 31st of Dec. 1862, and continued so until the evening of the first of Jan, 1863. We succeeded in taking a number of prisoners, the details of which, you will doubtless see in the papers before this letter can reach you. I therefore deem it unnecessary to say much about the fight this time. We lost about half of the Regt. (engaged) killed and wounded, but a great many, were slightly wounded....Though I was struck with a couple of spent balls...neither one of them entered [my] body, but had it not been for the breast fold of my India rubber over Coat, my haversack and Sword Belt, I would have got pretty badly hurt....Our Regt. and Brig. suffered greatly, we had to fight the enemy in their breastworks. We lost many a good and Brave man." McBeath's June 11, 1863 letter to Sallie from camp near Shelbyville, Tennessee is written on the verso of a manuscript roll of non-commissioned officers and privates for the 5th and 8th Mississippi Infantry during the month of February and March 1863. The roll itself appears to be written in the hand of McBeath, who may have composed it in his role as an infantry captain. In this letter, McBeath tells Sallie that he met up with her brother: "Greatly to my surprise I met up with your brother Thomas. He is in the 4th Texas Regt. Genl Churchills Brigade Claiborn's Division. Thomas looks to be in good health as I ever saw him." By mid-July, McBeath's regiment was camped outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. McBeath's correspondence in and around Chattanooga over the next two months comes in the midst of a series of battles in the area generally known as the Battles of Chattanooga. In a July 17, 1863 letter to Sallie, McBeath writes: "The report is that the Yankees are taking and burning everything as they go. I do not know what will become of the poor women and children. There are Refugees all through this Country. They left their homes on account of Yankees. Number of Citizens on the other side of the River have been burned out of house and home. We have had a great deal of reverse fortune, but I trust that the tide will soon change in our favor again." On August 22, McBeath writes to Sallie just days before the Union siege of Chattanooga began. McBeath describes a surprise shelling that occurred while he and his fellow soldiers attended church in the town the day before: "Suddenly we were aroused by the roar of the Cannon and the bursting of shells from the other side of the River. We could hardly believe our ears, hence for a moment no person moved and not a word was spoken, and we saw with our eyes, we saw the smoke of the Cannon, and the balls came head long tearing up everything in their course...a time of distress with the Citizens....All eyes seemed to be looking to the Soldiers for protection, and I had hastily to repair to my post of duty...the balls flew thick and close...the bombardment lasted until late yesterday evening. The Enemy are reported in considerable force on the other side of the River....I saw a dreadful sight yesterday. A woman was running across the Street and a bomb shell exploded as it passed near her left side, tearing nearly all the flesh off her arm and wounding her dreadfully in the hip and side." On September 23, 1863, McBeath writes from outside of Chattanooga that he is "safe from the projectiles of the enemy" after he and his regiment participated in the recent Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga: "But I am greatly fatigued having been on tramp for the last 8 or 9 days, two days of which we were giving the Yankees battle. Skirmishing, as a prelude to the great battle commenced, on Friday the 18th, the regular engagement commenced the morning of the 19th and continued until Saturday night after dark at which time the enemy was routed from their last position and pursued them to Chattanooga Tenn. They are I suppose in our old fortifications, a very strong hold. We taken six or seven thousand prisoners, the rise of 50 pieces cannon and it is said that we captured about 15000 Stands of Small arms. It was a desperate battle and a glorious Victory." McBeath again mentions the Battle of Chickamauga in his next letter, dated November 13: "Your Father Thos. and myself are making arrangements to go and see the Battle Field of Chicamauga in which many of the gallant dead in one silent grave are laid. Sallie, you have very justly complained on account of not securing letters from me. But at the same time I am not guilty of inconstancy. I Recd. a letter from you on the night of the 7th Sept. just as we were striking tents to go meet the enemy on the Battle field of Chicamaugh. I also Recd. one from you about 7 o'clock on the night of the 20th and about one hour and a half previous to that hour closed the bloody Battle of Chicamauga, and although I was surrounded by the dead and dying, yet upon achieving such a glorious victory, and after that to get an affectionate letter from you truly gave me joy beyond measure...Victory is achieved, which tells us that the God of Battles, who governs the destinies of nations, Giveth not the Battle always to the Strong." After their service at Chickamauga, McBeath and his regiment were assigned to head south to Dalton, Georgia. McBeath's regiment would participate in the Atlanta campaign that lasted from May to September, 1864. In his first letter in Georgia on February 3, McBeath expounds upon the religious nature of his calling and the Confederates' cause in the war: "It seems that the Angel or son of Peace vanishes but over the broad arch of our political sky, the sentinel stars keep their watch and shine their lamps, and the moon proclaims his glory to the night; and so, when our political sky is dark and our hearts stricken with the horrors of war, those to whom the high career of fame has been assigned, should shine with the light of God and his pardoning influence shed abroad in their hearts; Then it might be said of such a one that he is prepared to battle for his Country and his Country's cause." Several more of his letters emanate from camp near Dalton, Georgia, and as early as April, 1864, McBeath and his regiment are gearing up for the Atlanta Campaign. He writes on April 27 with a rather lofty view of the Confederate position in Georgia: "There are great preparations being made for a Battle at this point and I judge from what I can see that the direful struggle will soon take place....Several light skirmishes have taken place in front and a few prisoners are brought in every day or so. The great portion of Polk's Army is in striking distance of this place in case of necessity. I think if we can whip the Yankees here and at Richmond the Yankees will give us peace willingly. There is without a doubt great dissatisfaction brewing in the North. I think that ere long it will take a large portion of their armies to keep down rebellion in their own Country." By July 17, McBeath's regiment was camped outside of Atlanta, and he is still confident of a Confederate victory in Georgia: "I have no doubt but that a great many citizens think that we are about gone up and Censure Gen. Johnston for not pouncing upon the Yankees long ago, but they are not here, they do not understand the matter. Let Sherman do the pouncing as he has done and old Joe will do the killing as he has done on this 'Campaign.' I saw an official account of the yankee medical director in Chattanooga, he stated that they had lost forty five thousand men killed and wounded, and if he would give another account, he would have to give in something near sixty five thousand for they have made several desperate charges on our lines, and they have been repulsed in every attempt; and I assure you that the slaughter was a real whole sale business from six hundred to a thousand were often seen lying on no more than an Acre of ground. Our losses were very small, as we were always fast enough to have our breastworks ready to fight behind. I have great Confidence in Gen. Johnston as a General. I believe he knows when and where to make the decisive blow. The yankee Army was represented as out numbering ours by some more than two to one. But agreeable to their own figures, they are minus 45,000 men, nearly as many as our Army numbered at the opening of the Campaign. We have good news from Miss. We have it that Forrest has again routed the yankees at Tupelo." The Battle of Atlanta occurred on July 22, 1864, resulting in a decisive victory for General William Tecumseh Sherman's Union Army. McBeath was wounded during the battle, and mentions it briefly in his last letter from Georgia, written on August 21 near East Point: "Sallie you ought not to urge on me to come home there is no chance without I were to come home wounded and I know you would dislike to see me in such a condition...." In the same letter, McBeath's former confidence in Confederate domination of the Union seems to have been replaced with a simple hope for a peaceful conclusion to the war. He writes Sallie of his optimism regarding the outcome of the war, asserting that his fellow troops "are in good spirits and in great hopes of peace. It is my candid opinion that hostilities will cease between now and the 4th of March 1865, and Oh! what a time of rejoicing then will be; a considerable peace party has risen up in the North and it is the opinion of many that a peace Candidate will be nominated and elected president of the U.S. The prisoners we capture are very tired of war, have despaired of subjugating us, and are anxious for peace as we are. Oh! That peace may come, that we may all return home to our hearts dearest to family and an honorable peace." McBeath's optimism had faded more significantly by November (it is not clear if he had heard of President's Lincoln's reelection). In his final Civil War letter, dated November 9, 1864, McBeath describes his world as marked by "sorrow, distress and disappointment.... We are now undergoing a tremendous hard time. We are having rain in abundance. The Roads are nearly impassible and our Rations are very short indeed....I have almost and might say quite despaired of living to see the close of this cruel war, for it does appear that the tide of war is raging more furiously than ever." Toward the end of this last letter, McBeath mentions that "Gen. Hood has informed the Army that we will start into Tenn. today or tomorrow. He says it will be a short campaign and after we get back he said that he would give furloughs as liberal as he could. He does not intend to fight the enemy without having an equal force. Sherman has got one corps in Atlanta two at Marietta one at Dalton one at Chattanooga one at Decatur Ala and the balance of his forces scattered from Bridgeport to Nashville. I am very well pleased with Gen. Hoods plans for the Campaign. I expect we will be gone about four weeks...." Three weeks later, on November 30, McBeath and his regiment participated in the disastrous Confederate defeat at the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee, part of General John Bell Hood's larger and even more disastrous Tennessee Campaign. The three post-war letters and documents relate to McBeath's later life and teaching career in Texas. A rare and unique record of Confederate service during the Civil War, with important information on key battles in Tennessee and Georgia during a particularly rough period for the Confederate Army.