Wednesday, 28 March 2012

J.S. Walker's Thirty-Second Letter

Camp Near Youngs Mill,
15th Regiment Va. Vols.,
15th Oct. 1861.

My dear Wife:

                I have not written to you for several days, but wrote to David all my troubles and asked his advice, what my course should be. I have prayed over it and come to the conclusion to sink self and bear my ills to the end, trusting alone in the Lord and seeking his deliverance, aid and strength, and He can make man’s folly praise him. There has just been an order issued by Gen. Magruder that he will not allow leave of absence to officers or furlough to men until 1st January, so it may be that I will not get home before 1st February, if then, and tho I expect to have to live in my tent till at least 15th December, I am now with the buffalo robe proof against the cold and can keep warm with the clothing I have. Gen. Magruder seems to apprehend an attack of the enemy at any time in large force, tho I think he is mistaken, but it is our duty to be prepared and to expect them whether they come or not. I wish as a people we could recognize the chastisement of the Lord in this war, then might we hope for speedy termination, recognizing Him in all things. Christians should renew their strength and wrestle with the Lord, not only for victory over our enemies but as a nation over sin. I think if I do not get a leave of absence to come to see you all, I will make arrangements about the middle of November for you and the children to come to Williamsburg, where I can meet you and speed a week or ten days together. I do not know what my happen in the meantime, so do not count upon this arrangement with any certainty. If made, you can have a very pleasant trip by steamer down the River James to Grove Warf and then by stage or hack eight miles to Williamsburg, where I can get pleasant board in a private family or boarding house for you all.
                As there is no system about getting boxes from Yorktown yet, I will not expect you to send me anything till the weather gets cooler and I advise you. I wish you would ask David to see Snydor and see if he can get a tent stove for burning wood, with ten or twelve feet of pipe and one or two elbows and if it can be packed in a barrel so as to come securely. If so and I am likely as it now appears to remain in my tent for six or eight weeks, I shall get him to send me one, as it will contribute greatly to my comfort in cold wet weather. I told David to tell you by all means to have the gas put in the small room. It has occurred to me that as there is no saying how long this war may last and everything is now very high and will so continue during the war and I have now no business to contribute to pay the expenses particularly of a number of servants, that it might be a very favourable time to sell out my furniture at a very satisfactory price. Our Congress is to meet in Richmond in a short time and the city will be crowded, many wealthy Southern men attend, and many officers are there who desire to live in their own homes, and who would probably pay a good price for the furniture if it is in good order, in order to get the house, which no doubt would rent for $300 more than I pay for it. If I could get about cost for the furniture, it would relieve me of one of my youthful follies, give me $3,000 or $4,000 cash, which I could invest profitably, and the balance buy new good enough furniture for my means. I could also send David Butler and family south and put them on a plantation, while Nelly, Milly, Betsy and Francis, with George would be all that we could possibly need. Of course, I am looking to getting a good price for my furniture and home, such an opportunity may not present itself, and I do not wish you to speak of it to anyone but Davis, to who I wish you would refer it and ask his advice, and let me hear from you all. If the war continues, as the North seems absolutely determined it shall until they subjugate us, then my occupation is gone in tobacco and I must look to something else to support my family during its continuance.
                I have been merely thinking about these things, have not set my mind upon them. Tell Luly Father was so glad to get her nice letter and know from it that she is a good girl, and I hope she is a good example to her younger brother and sister, and that they are all good, say there lessons and think about and pray for their father.
                Give my love to all friends, and direct your letters to Capt. John S. Walker, Co. B, 15th Regt. Va. Vols., near Yorktown.
                                                                Yours most affectionately,

                                                                                Jno. S. Walker

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Help

Last week my wife and I watched The Help. Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the movie tells the story of a young woman who sets out to write a book recounting the lives of the black women in Jackson who work as maids for wealthy white families. Obviously, most of the story is focused on Jim Crow and bigotry.

The movie got me thinking. There was a time when I was a little bit ashamed by movies like this, that portrayed so many southerners as either evil racists or blind followers. These were, after all, ‘my people’. But time and distance has a way of shifting perspective. There is no doubt there were a lot of evil racists in the south and a whole lot more blind followers. My ancestor John Stewart Walker seems to fit well into this second category. But there are many southerners I can be proud of –

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Georgia boy and Rosa Parks was from Alabama. In my hometown, four men had the courage to sit at the Woolworth’s counter where they weren’t allowed and started a movement that swept across the country. These are ‘my people’ too, and I’m damn proud of it.

And those are just a few of the most obvious examples. It took thousands of people, black and white, southerner and northerner, to beat down Jim Crow. It’s sad that they had to do it, but it is a glorious victory that was won by ‘my people’.
So, before anyone asks, no, I’m not ashamed of my Confederate ancestors. I’m sure they did the best they could with the world as they understood it. I know they were wrong on a major issue, but it is not for me to judge them, better to learn from their mistakes.

That said, I will always carry with a bit of pride the story that my great granddaddy James D. McCullough, (grandson of Col. McCullough and a minor politician from South Carolina) once received a threat from the KKK because they found him just a little too ‘liberal’ on certain racial issues...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

J. S. Walker's Thirty-First Letter

Camp Deas, Youngs Mills,
9th Oct., 1861

My dear Wife:

                I have just returned from 24 hours duty with my company on Picket at our infantry outpost. I had rather a bad day as regards weather, being rainy and cold, which is unpleasant without shelter. I am thankful to say that I am real well notwithstanding it all. I take the best care I can of myself and trust the Lord to shield me from disease as well as my enemies.
                Your last letter sympathizing with me in my cloudy experience comes very opportunely, for I am beset behind and before. My troubles are not only of an earthly character, but I feel that my earthly ills augment my spiritual – in other words that I am not content with my present position and cannot see that the Lord so orders or allows it, but that I am responsible for continuing it myself. Col. August is not fit to command and I am satisfied his Regiment suffers in consequence.  Col. Stuart has left, Peyton has left, and here I am without a field officer in whom I have confidence, and I am almost persuaded it is my duty to resign and go home to my family, for tho late in October, damp, cold weather, we have not yet prepared or commenced to prepare for winter quarters. Our situation is a very unseasonable one, for if we remain during this October season in our tents, our men on damp ground, they will either be in their graves or the hospital for the winter. If I could get my Company transferred to another Regiment, I would do so, but that cannot be done. I must either transfer myself or resign.
                I thank God that while these things trouble me, as they should on account of my own health and my family’s dependence on me, yet I have every confidence in His ability to perform His part and even to bring out of this apparent evil good to me both in this life and the next. I am rereading Headly Vicars*, which I hope will help me to be content under the difficulties by which I am surrounded.
                I will write you more fully tomorrow. I am in haste now and I have to give this to a man who goes up tomorrow.
                Kiss the dear children and give love to all friends.
                                                                Yours most affectionately,
                                                                                Jno. S. Walker

* This perhaps refers to the Memorials of Captain Hedley Vicars by Catherine March. Hedley Vicars was an Evangelical preacher and British Army officer who was killed during the Crimean War.