Tuesday, 25 January 2011

John Stewart Walker's Eighth Letter

Yorktown, 11th June, 1861

My dear Wife:

I wrote you on Sunday from Bethel Church. Since then I have seen stirring times, as we had a hot battle on Monday, commencing at 9½ o’clock and continuing very hot for 2½ hours. I will not give you a detailed account of it as Brother Bennett, who will take this up, will give you all the incidents as we have given them to him.  Suffice it to say that we were in the hottest of the fight and bullets whistled and fell like hail, but a good and merciful Heavenly Father extended His broad arm of protection around us and not a hair of the head of one of us was hurt. I think yesterday’s day closed with more perfect happiness and gratitude to my Heavenly Father than any I have ever passed, first gratitude for His protection and the grace He vouchsafed to me to keep me cool and self-possessed during the engagement. I don’t think I ever entered the Sunday School with more perfect self-possession, or retained it, than I did during the whole engagement. In addition to this, in two or three hours after the engagement three of my men professed a saving faith in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, making four who had professed religion since we have left home.
After the battle, my company were sent two miles off to prevent the advance of the enemy on the flank of our men, and we had then to march three miles to join our regiment upon our return to this place. We reached there at dark and waited one hour for the Regiment to join us, and then alone in the line, with musket in hand, offered up a fervent prayer as a company for the continuance of God’s blessings to us and acknowledge our indebtedness for his superintending care during the fight. It was a solemn time, great feeling and earnest prayer.  I felt more like shouting than I ever did in my life. Bro. Bennett will tell you all about the fight.
My health is as good as it ever was in my life.  I sleep out doors, eat anything I can get, and am bitten to death by ticks, chiggers and chinches, and get up 3½ o’clock in the morning, work or fight hard all day, and sleep or march fifteen or twenty miles at night, as may be. When I sleep, I sleep, and so of all other duties and privileges. 
Of course, I could have no higher earthly gratification than to be allowed to see my dear family, if but for a day, but I don’t encourage the desire, but put it under subjection to duty and as I have assumed the duty of a protector of my rights and State, I intend, by the Grace of God assisting me, to make everything else subordinate to that duty. If Providence should open a way for a furlough I will be thankful. If not, I hope I can be content.
I understand Col. Magruder has made honourable mention in the dispatches to Gen. Lee of the Va. Life Guard, of which you may hear, but it matters little with me whether he has done so or not, as I have no military ambition to gratify and have the conscience assurance that I did my whole duty yesterday in battle.
The steamer is coming and my letter must close to let Bro. Bennett have it to take up with him.
Kiss all the children. Return thanks to all who contributed to provide us tents. Give love to all and continue constant prayer that I may have Heavenly direction and support in every hour of duty. I could write volumes of the battle, for I watched it closely and coolly and observed the action of all the men, but I must forego it.
You can continue to write me to this place, but you had better not send anything for I am here today and tomorrow may be 20 or 30 miles away. I have now no abiding place.
My men are all well except small complaints of no consequence, every one being in the battle. Minno very well.
Remember me to Sister Hayes always, and B Bro. Shell and the Sunday School generally.

                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Gen. Edwin Bakerton, Lord Chalgrove

As much as I love my growing Confederate Army of Oxford, I have to admit, they are just a little bit drab. Gray and butternut just aren't flashy colours, especially when the uniforms are only 28mm high. So, I've been looking for ways I can add a little bit of color to the army. Here is my first effort, Gen. Edwin Bakerton, Lord Chalgrove.

Inspired by the story of Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac, the French Prince who fought for the Confederacy, I thought I would add a bit of aristocracy to my own army. Lord Chalgrove, known affectionatly to his men as 'Ol' Eddy Chlagrove' will command one infantry wing of my army once it has been assembled.  He is a veteran of the Crimea, where he lost is left-forearm. Unable to adjust to civilian life, he travelled to America, where his nephew owned a plantation in Louisana, and got caught up in the succession crisis, offering his military expertise to the Confederacy.

The figure comes from Empress Miniatures. It is actually from their Zulu War range. Although the figure is a bit anachronistic, I don't think it is overly out of place in the Confederacy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Battle of Bethel, June 10, 1861

Battle of Bethel, 1861. From the Union perspective.

John Stewart Walker's Seventh Letter

The Battle of Bethel (or Big Bethel or Bethel Church) is considered by many to be the first real land battle of the war. There had been a few minor skirmishes, but this was the first clash that that seemed to earn the distinction of being a battle. It was a resounding Confederate victory, and J.S.W was right in the middle of it. Here is his account.


Camp at Kings Mill Warf,
(Date of Battle of Bethel, June 10, 1861.)

My dear Lucy, David and Mary:

                Papa must try and write you a letter about the battle when we made the Yankees run. While we were all sleeping in our houses made of brushes, and at 3 o’clock in the morning, the trumpet sounded for us to jump up, put on our swords, and take our guns and go to meet the enemy. We were soon all ready and marched, but only a part went down the road. Father’s company stayed, and with spade and shovel threw up the earth to stand behind to fire at the enemy. We had our breakfast brought to us by Jim Crow and Charles and we ate it, and the we saw our soldiers who had gone down the road coming back, and they told us to get ready to fight as soon as we could, as the Yankees were coming, 5,000 men, and we had but 1,200. So we all got ready to give them some bullet and cannon balls for their breakfast, and we soon saw them coming and the cannon began to fire at them and kill them, and they fired their cannon back at us, but the Lord did not let them hurt us, and presently Father saw some Zouaves with red breeches on coming slyly through an orchard under the trees to keep us from seeing them, but I saw one of them standing under an apple tree a long way off, 500 yards, and Father said to one of his men named Baldwin* (not the preacher), “Baldwin, stand up and see that man under the apple tree”, and he said “I see him, sir”. I then said “Take good aim and fire at him”, and he fired and killed him, and when the battle was over our Colonel went under the apple tree and there was the Zouave with a ball through his heart, and Papa made more of his men shoot and more Zouaves fell, and then they all ran away that were left, and were afraid to come back any more.
 If you could have heard the roaring of the cannon and the whistle of the bullets as they flew over and around Father you would have thought he would be killed, but he had a shield and they could not strike him, and that shield was the Lord’s, who kept him from danger, and you ought to be very thankful to your Heavenly Father, and you ought to pray to him every night and morning to spare your Father and take care of him as he did in the Bethel battle. The cannon balls would strike the poor horses and they would shriek out and run madly about and then fall down and die, and some of the Yankees shot three or four of our soldiers and they would come in bleeding, but they weren’t hurt much except one poor fellow, a brave man, who was shot in the forehead and died that night. He was trying to burn down a house behind which the enemy had hid themselves and which protected them from our fire on them. We did not want to burn the house, as it belong to a poor widow, and we spared it as long as we could, but we had at last to do it to save ourselves, and he went up to the house to apply the torch and one of the Zouaves that was hid behind the house shot him.
While the battle was going on, the General (McGruder) came up and said “Where is Capt. Walker?”
“Here am I, sir” I said, and he said “Captain, I want you to take your company and go as fast you can about 1½ miles off and keep the enemy from coming around to shot at us in the rear”, and Father said “I will do it”, and away he went, 65 men to keep 1500 off and fight their forces away, but they did not come but thought it was best to go back the same way they came, and away they ran, throwing away everything to get along the faster, and Col. McGruder followed them but they ran so fast and burned the bridge behind them, so they got away badly whipped and routed, and after we had buried their dead, for we had none of our own, we came back to our quarters at Yorktown. When Jim Crow and Charles hear the cannon balls and musket balls they ran away and hid themselves to keep from being killed, and Charles says he knows if he had been where Mars John was that he would have died for certain of fright.
Pap sent up to Uncle David a musket from one of the Zouaves that was killed, which I give to my little David as a memento of the Battle of Bethel.
Some of Father’s men carried up 13 prisoners to Richmond the other day that were taken in battle. If you could have seen them you would have seen a set of very mean looking fellows.
I could write a great deal more of the fighting, but I must wait till I get home and then tell you all about it and a great many stories about the war, and what we did and all that, and now, my dear little children, you must be very good, obey your Mother, pray for your father, and ask Him to have mercy upon your enemies and turn them from their mad designs that we may not be forced to kill then in defence of our rights.
Give Pap’s love to all the little cousins and children in the neighbourhood.

                Your very affectionate Father,

                                Jno. S. Walker

* Probably Pvt. William H. Baldwin

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The War is Over

Tonight, I finished the third and final volume of Shelby Foot's Civil War: A Narrative.  It took me just under a year to read all three, including breaks between volumes. Still, that is significantly less than the twenty years Shelby took to write it.  In my opinion, it is a monumental work, an American epic that inspires the reader to seek more knowledge about the vast cast of characters that lived and breathed during the four most turbulent years in American history.

I will miss it, but I'm also glad to have completed it. While I've read several other books alongside Shelby, I have never felt free to fully concentrate on any of them.  It is time to move on, both in my Civil War reading and in other genres. I don't know if I'll ever read it again, but I suspect I will take it down from the shelf on numerous occassions, just to see what ol' Shelby had to say on a given subject.

Monday, 10 January 2011

John Stewart Walker's Sixth Letter

Bethel Church Camp.
York County, 9th June, 1861

My very dear Wife:

                I have not written for several days, as I have been marching, camping out and so busy that I have not had time. I am very much gratified at the tents which the ladies have sent down to us by Mr. Bennett, and only regret that I have them not at present, as I am having a brush tent made hastily and cannot keep out the rain, and tho the tents are within 15 miles of us, we cannot get them, as all the transportation wagons are busy about more important matters, but I hope with experience and time that things will work better soon.
                We are within a few miles of the enemy and have been frequently called out to meet their approach, but they will come along after a while and we will give them a warm reception.
                I am very well and hope I may so continue, and hope the Lord will protect and defend my company and myself not only from the enemy but the diseases incident to camp life.
                J. Thompson Brown is now in my brush tent and says you must go and see his wife and cheer her up. He is very well and very much occupied with his command.
                Write to me at Yorktown, care of G. Gaston Otey*, but do not send me anything as it is more than probably I will never get it. I received the shirts today by one of my men.

                                                Yours very well & affectly.,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker

Kiss the dear children for me.


*After the mention of Gaston Otey in the last letter, I asked my aunt if she could identify the man. The results were more than I ever expected. She said he was probably, George Gaston Otey, brother of John Stewart Walker's wife. This seems almost confirmed as here J.S.W. has given his first initial as well. George Gaston Otey was also the founder of Otey's Battey, which served from the beginning of the war. George Gaston Otey was killed in 1862 and command of his battery passed to David Norvell Stewart, who, unless I'm mistaken is the younger brother of John Stewart. It is all very exciting stuff, but I think I had better put it aside for the moment and concentrate on my direct ancestors.

Saturday, 8 January 2011


"Butternut first appeared extensively at South Mountain (14 September 1862), when it was noticed that hundreds of the Confederate dead were wearing the new, coarse uniform. Production was simple and ideally suited to the home economy then being forced by necessity on the South. Wool and cotton were carded together and spun into yarn. This was then dyed with walnut or butternut oil and woven into cloth on homemade loms. The cloth was then dyed again until it became a reddish brown, after which it was cut and sewn into uniforms."

Combat Uniforms of the Civil War by Mark Lloyd, Mallard Press, 1990.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Walker Family

Here is the only picture I have of John Stewart Walker's family. It is a rough photocopy, and I have no idea who holds the original. Still, I feel very luck to posses any image of them at all. The front row from the left to right: Mary, Lucy Otey Walker (wife of J.S.W.), baby John Stewart Jr., and Lucy.  Standing at the back is my great-grandfather, David. 

Written on the page, I believe in the hand of my great uncle, is a note saying 'His wife sent the picture to him a few months before he was killed at Malvern Hill'. It would certainly explain why the picture was taken and why John Sr. is absent. Also, it appears that David is wearing a military style hat, possibly with crossed cannons?  

Another detail I like in this picture is that the little girls are wearing dresses obviously made from the same material. Of course this makes perfect economic sense, but how many parents would dare do such a thing today? 

Monday, 3 January 2011

John Stewart Walker's Fifth Letter

5th June, 1861

My dear Wife:

                I wrote you on yesterday which letter you will not receive before this.  I received the gaiters by mail. They are about one inch to small in the leg, and I will have to give them away. You can make me some two pair more and send them down by the first opportunity. Dr. Parker may go up in a day or two. If so, he can bring them down.
                As regards the servant, I want him furnished with good shoes, flannel shirts, a pair of stout pants and a blanket, and sent to me at Yorktown. If Mr. Chambers will take him to the York River R. Road, he will almost certainly find someone coming down who he can get to take charge of him and delivery him to me or Gaston Otey at this place. Bro. David can give him a pass which will ensure his coming safely.
                You had better for the future direct your letters to Capt. Jno. S. Walker, Va. Life Guard, 3rd Regiment, Va. Vol., Yorktown, and I will get it.
                There are a good many troops arriving here daily, and we are getting pretty strong. We have a good deal of rainy weather, which is hard on our pickets and guards, but it is better than dust.
                There is nothing new. Persons may volunteer to bring things down to me. If so, do not tax their kindness too much, as I can get along as well as others with what I have. You had better make me two more brown linen shirts to send down by Dr. Parker when he comes. Let them be done up, as washing is hard to get done here.
                Love to all, and kisses for the little ones,

                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker


While this letter has little of interest for the war historian, it has a couple of intersting family history notes. The first is the reference to Gaston Otey. "Otey" is the maiden name of JS Walker's wife, so it is probably safe to assume that Gaston is related by marriage. JS also mentions 'Bro. David'. I have reason to believe that JS's bother Norman served in the regiment with him, but this other brother is unknown to me. I'll will have to consult with the family archivist to see what can be uncovered.