Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

Camp Fourth Texas Regiment,
February 27th, 1864.

Know All Whom It May Concern:
That this certificate is freely given to Mr. John C. West, Confederate States District Attorney, Western District of Texas, as a testimonial of my appreciation of his services as a soldier while a member of my company, and to his character as a gentleman and a true patriot.

Mr. West entered the military service while constitutionally exempt and holding a position of comfort and ease, which would have shielded him permanently from conscription, and this, too, at a time when the dangers of battle and hardships to be endured had become comparatively familiar to our people, thus showing that he faced calmly and deliberately terrors upon which others had rushed through enthusiasm and excitement. He has conducted himself as a true and faithful soldier on every occasion, having never shirked a duty or missed a roll call from his company.

In taking his discharge from the army, he is but acting upon the earnest and matured counsel of friends who believe that his services will be more valuable to his family and country in the capacity of a civil officer than as a soldier in the ranks.

It is proper to add that this certificate is given without solicitation and at my own suggestion, being moved by the consideration that Mr. West has acted in a manner singularly uncommon and unselfish, and deserving special notice from those who admire true patriotism and self-sacrificing devotion to our country’s cause. And while I am glad to see him return to his family and friends in Texas, where he can administer to their comfort and necessities, I deeply regret the loss of his company in camp-life and his example as a soldier.

T. J. Selman,

Captain Commanding Company E.,
Fourth Texas Regiment.

I fully concur in the above account of Mr. West, and with pleasure annex my signature.

Ed. Tilly,

Second Lieutenant Company E., Fourth Texas Regiment.

Adjutant’s And Inspector Gen’l’s. Office,
Richmond, February 19th, 1864

Special Orders No. 42.

XVI. The following named privates will be discharged from the service of the Confederate States: John C. West, Company E., Fourth Texas Volunteers.

* * * * * * * * * *

By command of the Secretary of War.
John Withers,
Assistant Adjutant General.

John C. West,
Thro. General Longstreet.

Letter No. XXVIII.

Morristown, January 9th, 1864.

My Precious Wife:

I have an opportunity, the first in a long time, of sending a letter to Texas direct. I did send one about a month ago from Knoxville by a wounded soldier, but as he was quite feeble, I fear you did not get it. I have besides written frequently short letters and trusted them to the uncertain mail, which has been lately established across the river from Meridian, Miss., to Shreveport.

I have written to Mrs. Carter, to Sister Mary and Brother Charles, to Judge Devine and to John A. Green and others, hoping that some one of my numerous letters might reach their destination, and that you might learn that I was well and in good health, and thus feel contented and satisfied. I have received but three letters from you since I left home, one while in Pennsylvania and two at Chattanooga. I fear that many which would have been very precious to me, which would have come as rays of sunshine to a storm-beaten traveler, have been lost by the wayside or been perused by strangers, but nevertheless, you must continue to send them, for if I get one in ten, it will only be prized the more.

Other men in the company have received letters, all of which are sent through Mr. Gushing at Houston. Soldiers are under great obligations to him in this matter. His kindness has sent a thrill of joy to many a weary soul and given strength and courage to sinking hearts. I wrote you about Colonel Harrison. He has been in about one hundred and sixty fights and is a noble soldier. He is getting quite gray but is firm and unflinching in our cause and sanguine of final success. The Waco boys are all well, but like all the rest, nearly all barefooted and half clad. Many of our best men have been killed, and we begin to look like a remnant. It is said that the brigade will be sent across the Mississippi to recruit and be rested, but I do not believe it.

If it is for the benefit of the government, I trust it will be done, as no one will rejoice more than I will at the opportunity of getting home for awhile, but I do not think it practical and doubt the policy very much. You must be contented and happy, and strive to forget me when you have other things to think of, and recollect that your uneasiness cannot help me. Attend to your scholars, your Latin, your music and your children, and you will receive your reward whether I ever return to you or not, for you will be independent of charity from either your friends or the government. Keep all the Bible injunctions in reference to appearing “not unto men too fast.” I have not heard from Columbia for some time, owing to the irregularity of the mails. The last time I heard they were greatly distressed because they had not heard from me in two weeks, and wondering how you must feel. I told them you were a heroine and prepared for the little incidents of the war. I do not think I will write you any more except by opportunities to send letters directly across the river, as I have very little confidence in the mail, and feel little satisfaction in writing. You know there is a regular mail established across the river. I live in hopes of hearing some precious words from you.

How I have seen soldiers suffer and be strengthened by the thoughts of home. I have seen many noble fellows fall—better men than I and more worthy to live— and learned afterwards that a noble and Christian wife and little ones awaited them at home, and only received the cold list of casualties without a comment, and the simple but awful word, “killed” opposite his name. This has sometimes happened when a furlough had been promised and was then at headquarters awiting the signature of the general, but the beneficiary was in his shallow grave before the paper returned to his company. Kiss the little ones and tell the servants to give you no trouble, and never look for me until you see me coming.

Your husband, faithfully ever,

John C. West.

Letter No. XXVII.

Camp near Morristown,
December 25th, 1863.

My Precious Wife:

My first word to-day shall be to you and my little darlings. A merry Christinas to you, and may God grant us a happy reunion and many pleasant hours ere another twelve months passes by. I shall leave you now and see what a Christmas our soldiers are enjoying with their bare feet and ragged clothes.

December 26th: Well, I had a piece of fried chicken for breakfast, but no bread; but in passing through the regiment found Bennett Wood (brother of Aaron) and his mess had made big hominy, besides having obtained some fresh pork and pure coffee (the latter captured from Yanks). I breakfasted with them and discussed the prospects of getting home this winter and having our Christmas after awhile, as the rumor still floats that we will be sent across the Mississippi this winter. From our regiment I went over to Jenkins’ brigade to see Jim Whitner, my old college class-mate. He had succeeded in getting two eggs, and Henry, who is on the general’s staff, had sent him some brandy. We made a “tom-and-jerry,” and enjoyed it very much while we talked over old college days and of friends who have passed to their last account. They were busy as we were in building winter quarters, but Jim insisted on my coming over to dine to-day, which I did, and have just returned. We had a first-rate chicken pie for dinner, backed by genuine coffee sent from home. Was not that glorious for a soldier? What better could he have, unless he was at home with a sweet wife and obedient children?

Sunday, December 27th: The axes still ring busily chopping logs and splitting boards for cabins, as it is said we will be here two months yet, if the Yanks do not run us off. Be cheerful, keep your Latin and music and the little school moving on. It may be a blessing to you some dark day. Trust in God and keep your (powder dry) courage up.

Your husband, faithfully ever,

John C. West.

Letter No. XXVI.

Camp near Knoxville,
December 19th, 1863.

My Precious Wife:

I would like to write you a long letter but it is so windy and disagreeable, and the smoke blows so much in my eyes that I will hardly be able to get through a short note to let you know that I am well. I dream many sweet dreams about you and the children. We are having pretty tough times now; only half rations and half of our brigade barefooted. I was without shoes for two weeks, but have a good pair now.

Macon Mullens, Sam Billingsly, Billy Robinson, Joe Ben Majors and some others, whom you do not know, have been barefooted for three or four weeks, but we have pressed a good deal of leather from the tan yards about here, and several of our men have been shod, and I trust all soon will be. Many letters reach us through Mr. Gushing, of Houston. I have nothing to write which I would enjoy writing out here in the cold. Billy Dunklin has seen Colonel Tom Harrison. He is well and full of fight. Your husband, faithfully ever,

John C. West.

Letter No. XXV.

Camp Near Knoxville,
December 2nd, 1863.

My Precious Wife: I have just this moment seen Captain Rust, about to start to Arkansas, and he gives me five minutes to write you a note. I am quite well and hearty, and wrote you a long letter a few days ago, but I am afraid the carrier was captured as we are entirely cut off from everybody by Bragg’s falling back. I received a letter from Brother Charles dated October 30th. He says you were all well on October 20th. I have received only three letters from you since I left home.

Your husband, faithfully ever,
John C. West.

Letter No. XXIV.

In Yankee Quarters,
Near Lenoir Station,
November 21st, 1863. )

My Precious Wife:

I am comfortably seated in some Yankee general’s or colonel’s quarters, by a stove, with a chair to sit in, and a table to write on. It is raining quite hard to-day, and has been since yesterday. It is just such a raw, damp and uncomfortable day as would have kept me at home if I were at Waco.

I have spent my time thinking of you and the little darlings, and wondering if you can possibly think of me as often as you are the subject of my thoughts. If you do your little school must suffer from neglect or absence of mind.

We, that is Longstreet’s corps, left Chattanooga on the 5th of November, and have passed through Cleveland, Athens, Charleston, Sweetwater, Philadelphia, Louden, etc., and are now at Lenoir Station, on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, which runs from Dalton to Knoxville. We have passed through a rich and thickly settled country, which has made me wonder, as I did in Virginia, why any person ever left it to go to Texas or anywhere else. Most of the people whom I have seen were farmers, who were unable to leave home on the approach of the army, having no where to go. I saw Major Pear re yesterday. I came on him very unexpectedly seated by the roadside among his wagons and mules, and looking as fresh and as well as ever, and quite natural. He is brigade commissary, and I suppose he has his hands full, as the office is no sinecure. He informed me of the death of old father Harrison, of which I had not heard before. Longstreet pressed on to this place so rapidly that the Yanks had no time to destroy their stores. We captured sixty wagons besides large quantities of ammunition and medical stores. They had fixed themselves in winter quarters, and had built 500 or 600 cabins, nicer and more neatly arranged than most of the cabins on the prairies in Texas, reminding me very much of a well fixed plantation. They are all laid off into streets, with the regularity and precision of a city, with fire places, mantel pieces, bunks and stools, and the scoundrels have taken nearly all the sash out of the windows in the neighborhood, as well as cooking and parlor stoves, omitting nothing which would contribute to their comfort or convenience. Our quartermaster took possession of one of the largest and most comfortable.

The greatest curiosity which I have seen is a medical wagon, which is as complete as a drug store, having drawers, compartments and every conceivable size and shape of bottles, with little springs for each vial to rest upon to prevent concussion. There was also a regular cooking stove with utensils in the back part of the wagon; indeed everything which a sick man or a surgeon could want was there. I found a considerable quantity of coffee thrown out on the ground, and have picked up enough to last me some days. I drank a pint this morning, and wished you were here to share it with me. It excites me almost as much as whiskey. Billy Dunklin has found an India rubber ball and given it to me to take home to Stark. The road is strewn with shells and ammunition from here to Knoxville, and there are signs of burning everywhere. Longstreet has Knoxville surrounded and I trust we will capture the entire force.

Colonel Tom Harrison is about Knoxville, but I have not seen him yet.

November 22nd: I have no opportunity of sending this to the rear, where it might reach a regular postoffice, so will keep it until an opportunity offers. To-day I have taken a long walk into the country round about, and find that the Yanks have taken everything from the citizens in this neighborhood, chickens, ducks, turkeys, hogs, etc. I succeeded in getting two or three canteens of buttermilk, and gave the old lady three or four pounds of wool which I had taken from the hides of slaughtered sheep. I skinned one sheep and am sleeping on the hide.

November 25th: I have foraged a little to-day and got two or three canteens of molasses, which my mess enjoyed very much. The people seem to have been pretty well fixed up here. I never saw more beautiful women anywhere; nearly all of them very fair, with black eyes, black hair and pretty teeth. There are many handsome residences, but in a ruined condition, the owners being refugees to the south. I slept last night in somebody’s stable lot, under a large oak tree, with the moon straight over my head, and thought that perhaps you and the children might be looking at it and thinking of me. I find it was a good thing to keep my letter, as there is a member of the Fifth Texas who will start for home to-morrow, and will take letters for $1.00 a piece. Yesterday was a very bad and ugly day, but Burwell Aycock and myself concluded to try foraging among the Unionists about here, whom the Yanks have left unharmed, and they, consequently, have plenty of everything. We found very few willing to sell for Confederate money, but by walking six miles we got two chickens, two dozen apples and four canteens of molasses for which we paid $11.00, just one months wages. It rained very hard as we were going back, but getting wet and sleeping wet does not seem to make much difference. My blankets were quite wet last night, but I am all right this morning. I have on no flannels, and just half a foot on my last pair of socks, but will replace them to day with a new pair, which one of those fine looking, kind hearted women gave me yesterday. After Burwell and I got back to camp we could not help joking over the idea of walking six miles through rain and mud for a gallon or two of molasses and a chicken. It is pretty rough, and sometimes serious, but there is something ludicrous in it. We seem not to have Knoxville entirely surrounded. The Yanks have an outlet into Blount county, where they are obtaining provisions. I understand that we are to attempt to capture about 18,000 hogs which the Yanks have penned. There is continued skirmishing going on between our pickets. We had two men killed yesterday; N. P. Moore, of our company, one of the best men in the company, and another in Company D. We can see the stars and stripes waving over the Yankee breastworks. It is said that we will have two more divisions here to day, and if so we will have a hard fight to-morrow and capture the town. One of the Fifth Texas was killed this morning. There is a report that our brigade will be sent across the Mississippi this winter.

November 26th: Skirmishing still going on in front, and some of our brigade killed. Selman and Mullens had letters from home to day.

Your husband, faithfully ever,
John C. West.

Letter No. XXIII.

Camp Near Louden, East Tennessee,
November 15th, 1863.

My Precious Wife:

I have been deterred from writing to you on account of our continued movement. We left the front of Chattanooga on the 5th of this month; that is, Longstreet’s corps. The remainder of Bragg’s army still lies in line of battle, where they have been for six weeks. We are now in about thirty miles of Knoxville, with-Burnside in front of us or at Knoxville, I do not know which. Think there will be a fight in a day or two, unless the Yanks fall back. If we can whip them we can get in the rear of Chattanooga, and Thomas (Rosecran’s successor) will be compelled to fall back to middle Tennessee or Kentucky, but it is almost impossible to conjecture what will take place, as a single movement of the enemy may change the entire face of affairs in a day.

I wrote to Mrs. Carter about two weeks ago, and also to Judge Devine, giving him my reasons for not being at the January court. J will write to Brother Charles to-day. I saw John Kennedy from Camden, South Carolina, this morning. He is colonel of the Second South Carolina Regiment. I used to help him in his Greek and Latin at school. He is one of the handsomest men in the army, and a good officer. James Villipigue is quartermaster. Frank Gilliard is lieutenant-colonel of the same regiment. Henry Green, our old college sheriff, is their chief cook and bottle washer. I was forcibly reminded of my old college days and times, and have had my happiest moments since I left you in meeting old South Carolina friends. They have been my most congenial associates. The air is so chilly and damp that I shall have to cut my letter short, for there is little satisfaction in writing in the open air.

I am getting quite anxious to see you and the children, and occasionally I am very homesick, and always tired of the war, as is every man in the army, without exception. Nevertheless it may prove a blessing in making us all appreciate home and its blessings. I am satisfied there are few or no occasions which are sufficient causes for war; its horrors will never be dreamed of except by soldiers actually engaged in it. Don’t be uneasy about the children; make them obey your rules, but do not make your rules severe or numerous. Do not have too many rules on any subject, but have one universal rule; you must be obeyed. Then be cautious how and what you order. I often look from my blanket to the stars and think of the childrens’ favorite, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” and wonder if Stark has taught it to Mary yet. I want to see them grow up and love each other, and we can look at them and be happier. I feel like I will see you all again after awhile, and even if I do not there is much consolation in the 11th verse of the 59th chapter of Jeremiah. I have time to read a good deal now when we are camped, and have read several interesting books lately; among them is, “Great Expectations.” Oh, how many passages I have read and wished you could enjoy them with me, and we will enjoy them yet.

Give my love to all who love me, and tell the servants to obey you or look out for my ghost. All the Waco boys are well. Billy Dunklin received letters from Frank and the doctor yesterday.

Your husband, faithfully ever,

John C. West.

Letter No. XXII.

Camp Near Chattanooga,
October 31st, 1863.

To Mrs. James D. Blair, Austin, Texas.

My Dear Sister:

Your surprise of August the 6th reached me ten days ago. I call it a surprise because I thought that you trans-Mississippians were so crest-fallen at the Vicksburg catastrophe as to regard yourselves as entirely cut off from friends on this side of the river, and so would cease all effort at correspondence. My wife writes me in the most gloomy and desponding strain, while my letters to her are full of hope and encouragement. The army here, that is, the Virginia army, simply looked upon the fall of Vicksburg as to be expected, and have never ceased to find opportunities to send letters home at a dollar per letter, and most of us have received as many as before, and now since the post master general has arranged for a regular mail, I trust you will all write me more frequently, for you have no idea what a comfort it is to stand in mud to the ankle, on an empty stomach, and read a line of comfort from sympathizers at home. Newspapers may exhaust their stereotyped phrases, and correspendents may discourse eloquently about the sufferings of the “poor soldier” until the phrase becomes a by -word and fails to excite an emotion of pity, much less a tear, but I will say now (for perhaps I may not live to say it face to face in the better day to come), that the sacrifice made and the toils endured by the private soldier in the service of the Confederate States cannot be appreciated or expressed in words, nor will they ever be known except to those who have shared them. Not even the officers of infantry, whose duties are almost as arduous, can tell the tale of hardships which fall to the lot of the man in the ranks. He is the lowest mud sill in this structure which is being reared, and when the edifice totters all the props and braces must be placed upon his shoulders. My thoughts are all the news I have—we seldom get a paper here. We have been in the mud for over a month in an almost continuous rain, and are not allowed to send to Richmond for blankets and overcoats, which many of us have there, because it will not be thought of until the hospitals are filled with pneumonia and pleurisy.

When some sagacious surgeon, who has been in a comfortable tent, with plenty of blankets, will suddenly discover that a barefooted man cannot well keep warm under one blanket, which has not been thoroughly dry for three weeks. I have been quite blessed. I was barefooted about a week ago, but then the water was too deep for shoes, so it made very little difference. It has never been necessary for me to take a dose of medicine yet, so you may know that I stand it pretty well, never having missed a roll call or a duty of any kind. I will write to Brother Charles in a day or two, and give him my thoughts on heroes and stragglers. The former race is not extinct, but dying out rapidly. The latter is increasing alarmingly. You observe that we have a good deal of time to think while in camp, and not on active service, and some time to read, too. I have read lately, “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” “Aurora Leigh,” “Davenport Dunn,” “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, and innumerable articles in magazines, which I have picked up in waste places. I now have on hand “Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered,” which belongs to our quartermaster. I have carried a Bible and Milton in my knapsack all the time, so you see we are not absolutely illiterate. Your brother, truly,

John C. West.

Letter No. XXI.

Camp Near Chattanooga,
October 24th, 1863.

To Mrs. Theodore Stark, Columbia, S. C..

Dear Mother:

Yours of the 13th inst. came to hand about three or four days ago. You are mistaken in supposing that I stint myself to send a little money home once in a while. There are so so few chances of buying anything that I really have no use for money. Most of us spend money for tobacco, but I use so little that it does not amount to an item in my expenses, and when we are out of rations nothing to eat can be purchased within ten miles of us, so you see it is useless for me to keep money on hand, as I may lose it; besides I would rather it be used some time or other for Mary and the children—in case I should get beyond the reach of money.

I have a good pair of shoes now, and an extra jacket which I use as an overcoat. I have other articles of comfort for winter in my carpet-sack at Richmond, but do not know when I will have an opportunity of getting them, and a great many of our men have things deposited at the Fourth Texas depot, of which they stand much in need, and I suppose after a good many die of cold and pneumonia the authorities will take some steps to have the winter clothing brought to this place. But you need not be uneasy about me; I am getting on very well now, though not so well as for the first five months. It has been raining for the last three weeks, and I have not been thoroughly dry in that time. I forgot to tell you that I have found my Texas blanket, which some one stole from me on the cars six months ago near Kingsville, South Carolina. A man in General Mart Gary’s regiment had it. I have been offered seventy-five dollars for it. You know that Gary and I were in college together. I went to his headquarters to see him, not having seen him in eight years. While talking to him I recognized my blanket spread out on some bushes to dry over a hundred yards off. The claimant seemed as much surprised to see me as I was to see the blanket. He gave a very satisfactory account of his possession, which made the history of the blanket quite interesting and strange. This blanket was woven for me in Texas out of native wool, and 1 prize it greatly. Love to all in Columbia. Your son, truly,

John C. West.