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.