Baptists and the American Civil War: December 12, 1863

Leonard Stephens Kentucky

Leonard Stephens

Winter is setting in following decisive summer Union victories at Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) and Vicksburg (Mississippi) and a series of major victories in Tennessee during the autumn months. While far from settled, momentum now resides with the United States as armies North and South settle into winter camps.

On the home front, Kentuckians remain caught between both sides. A neutral state, Kentucky is sometimes traversed by troops going elsewhere and has been the site of some battles, most of which have been minor in scale. Citizens have long waited for a resolution to the war raging in and around their state, yet the conflict is far from over.

Today, as Christmas approaches, long-time Kentucky Baptist layman and former state politician Leonard Stephens writes his brother William (now living in Missouri), conveying family news and a few comments and observations on politics, society and the economy during the war, sometimes in a humorous fashion. The importance of family is conveyed in Leonard’s letter.

Dear Brother William,

It is Saturday evening & our folks having taken holiday I have decided to try to write you a letter. I have made various promises to myself that I would write & one thing or other has prevented me from doing so, but I now think that with this evening & tomorrow I shall likely be able to do so. I was truly glad to know from your letter of the 15th October written the morning after your arrival, that you had gotten home safe, and that nothing of an unpleasant nature had occurred on the way. When you next write I want you to state at what time you arrived at St. Louis & at what time you left the next morning for the North Mo Depo, at what Hotel you staid in St. Louis, & whether you found any acquaintance on the way, either between Cincinnati & St. Louis or between there & Rennick. Benton & John Stephens staid here last Saturday evening & from Benton I learned that you were all well some ten days previous as he had recd letters from Mo, stating that fact. He also told me that some of the friends there your Grandchildren had been marrying, Temple & Melissa. Well it is all right & I hope you will give them my earnest congratulations, for I am always glad to hear of my young friends getting married, for I know from experience there is no being satisfied without. So as the Good Book tells us let them marry. There has not been any marrying here since you left, & Lord knows that there is anysuch thing likely to be.

I have no arrangement myself, so not even for a kiss itself. I think that all the women folks here abouts ought to let me kiss them now in your place for it is certain you done it when you were here, but no they never say Turkey to me once, for if they were to I would certainly be on hand. There is nothing of an interesting nature to write about. I think it is in the main a time of pretty good health. There is no sickness among our friends. Bittie, Will Respess’ wife, I understand is quite sick or so I heard today. I shall go to see her tomorrow. She has a baby about four weeks old, a son & called it Jerome after her brother that is from home. I think the rest of the friends are well. I staid all night at Napoleon’s last Tuesday night & they are now all quite well. I had not been to Covington since you left until then. Our Turnpike Board had a meeting in Florence on Monday & adjourned to meet in Covington the next day to attend to a business matter there.

When you left, Napoleon you know was only just recovering from a spell of flue. A short time after setting about he & Jack were riding in a buggy & the horse got scared & ran away & smashed the buggy, threw them both out on the pavement & came very near killing them both. Napoleon was out of joint at the shoulder socket for about four weeks before it was discovered, quite a compliment you would say to the doctor who pretended to know everything. They have both recovered however & are now I think weller than usual or Napoleon at least. He & Henderson are driving ahead with Resin Coal Trade & I suppose doing well, indeed I so understand from Napoleon. They have got your picture framed & it looked very well.

I understand from Benton & John that our East Bend friends are all well. Brother Edmund staid with me about a week since you left & seemed to enjoy rather better health than usual. He is now I understand on a visit to Berry Wilson’s.

I calculate now on having our friends here on Christmas day, & would indeed have my heart gladened if you would come over and be with us. The bed you used last time you were here is right where you left it, & I believe you would find things to have changed very little. I cordially invite you to come either then or at any time you may take a notion to do so. We held a meeting of about two weeks at our own church in Florence Since you left & rec’d three additional two by relation & one by experience which is the first Brother Whitaker has baptized since he has preached for us. The meeting was conducted by Brother German whom you saw at our house. He is employed by the association as a missionary. Brother Whitaker was not present when the persons joined. He however done the baptizing in Brother Scott’s pond.

Jim Blackburn has got into business for the RailRoad Company & has moved to Nicholasville, Jessamine County. I got a letter the other day from Lutie they were all well & she professes to be well pleased with her new home. The months of November & December so far have been unusually favorable, but little cold weather & today is more spring like than winter. It rained in the morning but finally broke away, the Sun came out warm & this evening the Bees are flying. Still it is too warm to continue & must either rain more or turn cold. We have commenced gathering our corn & it is turning out badly. Take the quantity & quality & it is very little if any more than a half crop.  We shall be hard pressed to make it last us through, untill another crop, as I think. The Beech mast is keeping the Hogs so far which is certainly a help. We sold our surplus hogs for five dollars & a quarter gross delivered & weighed at Covington. Reuben Bristow got five dollars & sixty-six cents for his, they were better hogs. The best you left here, I gave to Benton last Sunday as you directed. I understand from him that he was at work for his Uncle, or Cousin, Tom Stephens, Brother Ben’s son Tom.

You left another article here that is safe & will be subject to your order, a box of percussion caps. Isham Rector went to your part of Missouri lately & came here to get a memorandum of the way, But I did not think of the caps or I would have sent them. I suppose you saw him as he promised to go to your house. There was a sale of land in the neighborhood the other day. Doct. Swetnam bought twenty acres of Drusilla Rice, it lies down next to Mr. Wait’s all in the woods at fifty dollars per acre cash. Well sold as I think.

There was a lot of five or six negroes ran away from the neighborhood of Florence three weeks ago. The owners have had no intelligence of them, & I believe took no steps to recover them. Some seem to think that there may be a good deal of that sort of thing shortly. I would not be surprised, but yet I see nothing about mine to make me think they may go. Frank Hughes has returned from the South & is staying at his Brother Harvey’s. He came from Chatanooga by a pass from the Federal authorities there. He was arrested in Covington but released on showing his pass. I have delivered all the pictures you left, one to Sister Agnes, one to Sister Polly & the other to Eliza Riddell & now in conclusion I desire you to present me affectionately to all your children & Grand children & for yourself accept a devoted brother’s love. All your relatives here desire to be remembered to you.

May God Bless You,
Leonard Stephens

Source: Leonard Stephens’ letters (link) and biography (link)

Special thanks to Jim Duvall of BaptistHistoryHomePage.Com for bringing Leonard Stephens to my attention.