Baptists and the American Civil War: October 25, 1863

lettersIn churches throughout both nations, soldier wives worship and wonder–wonder if their husbands will one day return safely. Outside, the weather is cold, warning all of impending winter.

Philadelphia is “very cold and dreary,” relates Emilie Davis, an African-American young woman who today attends church services. Her concerns are for the many blacks for whom freedom is yet but a hope. In Arkansas, Captain Eathan Allen Pinnell of the Confederate Eighth Missouri Infantry writes that last night was  “clear and cold.”  In Union-occupied Chattanooga, soldiers are hard at work winterizing their “shebangs,” or tented shelters. “Got some brick to make chimneys for the boys. All quiet,” writes a Union officer in the 73rd Illinois Infantry.

Some seventy miles northeast of the Union chimney building activity, the 6th Georgia Cavalry is camped near Sweetwater, Tennessee. Today feels anything but a day of worship as Lieutenant Henry W. Dean sits down and picks up a pen. The task before him is one of which, no matter how often he does it, there is no joy.

One of his men was killed five days ago. The wife of the lately-deceased Private Solomon Boss must be notified.

A form letter will not do, although there are certain formalities which must be observed in breaking the news of the death of a beloved husband on a battlefield far from home.

Perhaps the Lieutenant knows the unsuspecting widow; the regiment is formed of men from Troup County. Many of the soldiers knew one another prior to the war, and there are brothers and fathers and sons serving together.

The message must be stated in such a way as to convey genuine sadness, appropriate respect, and a friendly–if distant–touch.

And then there are the children. The Lieutenant doesn’t want to think about the agony of the children.

No soldier wife ever wants to receive such a letter, Dean is only too well aware. But, at the least, the officer is able to offer a few words of hope because of a common faith he shared with the deceased soldier: Private Boss was a Baptist Christian, as is Dean.

There are other letters to write also. He must get on with it. And so the Lieutenant stoops to his forlorn task.

Hd. O 6th GA. Cavalry

Near Sweetwater, Tenn.

October 25, 1863

Mrs. Emily Boss:

Dear Madam:

It is my melancholy duty to inform you of the death of your husband Mr. Solomon Boss, who was killed by a shell on the 20th last, at the fight at Philadelphia Monroe Co. Tenn. We had your husband buried as decently as circumstances would permit, and we know the spot where he now lies. If I could offer you a word of consolation I would now do so.

Your husband was a good and kind hearted man, and had the esteem of the whole company, both the officers and the men. You no doubt feel deeply his loss, but you should remember that your loss is his eternal gain, for I believe he was a Christian. I was glad to know he was a Baptist the same faith to which I hold. I know your heart will bleed for our husband but let me say to you, it is the lot of man to die and we have this consolation, when our friends die and go to rest, we can not bring them back again, but we can go to them. Let me encourage you to press for the mark of the prize of the High Calling as it is in Christ Jesus.

He had $70.15 in his pocket, I also ad his saddle bags and clothes sold at auction because we could not carry them, which brought $17.95 making in all $88.10 which I have now in my possession subject to your orders or I will send it to you by the first chance. I have made no disposition of his horse yet, I will have him cared for and send him to you as soon as I can, or you can send and get him. There will be some more money due you the amount of which I don’t know.

I do not know you personally but be assured of one thing, you have my warmest sympathy for the loss of your husband. Hoping the Lord will smile upon you and your children.

Your true friend.

Lieut. H. W. Dean

P.S. He had a small pistol which he lost.

Sources: Eathan Allen Pinnell, Serving with Honor: The Diary of Captain Eathan Allen Pinnell of the Eighth Missouri Infantry (Confederate), Iowa City: Press of the Camp Bookshop, 1999, p. 115 (link); The Emilie Davis Diaries, October 25, 1863 (link); Newlin, W. H.. A History of the Seventy-Third Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers: Its Services and Experiences in Camp, on the March, on the Picket and Skirmish Lines, and in Many Battles of the War, 1861-65. Springfield, IL: Regimental Reunion Association of Survivors of the 73d Illinois Infantry Volunteers, 1890 (link); Roster, 6th Regiment, Georgia Cavalry (link); Letter from Lieutenant H. W. Dean to Mrs. Emily Boss, October 25, 1863 (link)