Tuesday, 27 November 2012

J. S. Walker's Thirty-Seventh Letter

Camp Deas, near Youngs Mills,
9th Nov., 1861.

My dear Wife:

            It is Saturday night, it is raining and the wind getting around to the north admonishes us that it is going to be cold.  We began yesterday to cut logs to build huts for our winter quarters, and as we have no tools but axes and have to split out slabs to cover our huts, to make doors, etc., I cannot hope to be in a house before Christmas, at which time I should like to have the pleasure of yourself and the children at Christmas dinner, but the state of roads, the roughness of the country, and the proximity of the enemy would not justify the trip for such a dinner as a soldier would serve on his tinware.
            I am anticipating great comfort and luxury upon the receipt of the carpet and the stove and have no doubt I will get on first rate.  I am very thankful that military ambition nor worldly glory led me into this position.  Had it, I would have been cured, tho I confess the hardships of the campaign have not equalled my anticipation, for I had counted the cost and prepared myself for greater, and my chief complaint has always been the inefficiency of my superiors and the flagrant neglect on their part of the comforts and health of the troops under their charge.  In this connection, I have sorrowfully to record the death of one of my own men, Joiner, at Biglows Hospital, of Typhoid fever on the 4th inst., the first I have lost, and he a victim to the necessity of sleeping on damp ground without straw or plant to protect him.  I have some ten now in Hospital, none seriously ill and all but one in Williamsburg, where I think they will be attended to.  They are sent when at all seriously sick to Hospital 20 miles from our camp, and I have been trying for three weeks to get to see them, without success.  I shall try and get up next week.  Tom Minnow is a perfect lightwood knot, keeps well and fattens all the time.
            The continual changes of position of our camp and the bad arrangement of the camp with the cold weather, has broken in upon our prayer meetings for some time past, but as soon as we get our winter quarters completed I shall resume them, and want to adopt some plan to make the longer winter nights pass profitably to my men.  To that end, I want to have a select library of standard attractive reading for them, which will interest and at the same time improve them.  I will get them to build a house about 25 feet square for a chapel and sitting and reading room, in which I will have  a stove to make it comfortable, so that after supper and a smoke, at sunset we can meet and have prayer meetings and then reading, etc., and thus if not disturbed by the enemy or ordered somewhere else, spending the evening  more profitably than it is generally spent in camp, but we know not what a day may bring forth, so I plan with no disappointment if some order breaks in upon all my plans.
            The probability of my resigning having gotten to my men, they protest and I cannot think of leaving them to the mercies of others, and for the present give it up.  They with all honest patriotic persons who have enlisted have been so imposed upon by the officers put over them that I do not think they ought to reenlist at the expiration of their year, and I have made up my mind to let some of the “stay at homes” take my place unless circumstances at the time make it my duty, which I must discharge, but I still hope the year to 14th May, 1862, may find us at the end of the war and peace  restored, with our rights established and the glory of God shining brighter and brighter to the perfect day.
            I wish you would ask Bro. David to have me a military vest made at Wm. Ira Smith’s of Crenshaw grey cloth, and send it down by Lieut. Willis, who will come down Monday week, 18th November, with whatever else you have to send.  If you have time, have a daguerreotype taken of yourself and the children and send that also, that I may see you all without a leave of absence.  Kiss the dear children for father and tell them to be very good and obey mother.  Love to all friends, pray for me.

                                    Yours very affectionately,

                                                Jno. S. Walker

            Miss Sue Archer _______ is down here 6 miles below this and near Newport News.  She is a spy in our cause, romantic and heroic.  She has made the acquaintance of Yankee Officers down there and will probably be useful.  Keep dark.



At a guess, the woman referenced by J.S.W. in his post script is ‘Sue Archer Tally’, a writer and a friend of Edgar Allen Poe who was arrested during the war for being a Confederate spy, though later released.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dr. Pierre Paul Noel D’alvigny

Of all my civil war ancestors, probably the most interesting and certainly the most enigmatic is my great (x4) grandfather, Dr. Pierre Paul Noel D’alvigny...

Pierre Paul Noel D’alvigny was born in Paris on April, 13 1800. The only information available on his early life comes from family lore, which says that he was the son of minor aristocrats who came very near to losing their heads during the revolution.  As a young man growing up during the Napoleonic Wars, Noel joined with the legions of Napoleon, serving  as a surgeon’s assistant, and at some point won the Legion of Honor (the highest gallantry award) for his quick thinking that saved the life of either a general or a surgeon. (1).

Until recently, this is all the information known about D’alvigny, before his immigration to America.  However, after a lot of research, I have discovered a few more pieces to the puzzle.  In 1826 a Parisian named Noel D’alvigny had a daughter named Louis Julie D’alvigny by a woman named Marie Louis Prou. (2) Then, in 1832, Noel was involved in the Paris riots made famous by Victor Hugo.  When later called as a witness to testify about his involvement, D’alvigny claimed he was only there helping the wounded. Also around this time, Noel’s house was raided by the police (although whether this occurred before or after the trial is unclear).

Sometime in the next three years, D’alvigny left France and immigrated to America.  In 1835, he was working as a dentist in New York.  In the same year, he received a patent on a new type of vapour bath (an early form of shower).

In 1836, D’alvigny married Emiline de la Foy, another descendant of French aristocracy, whose father had fought at Waterloo.  Later that year, the couple moved to Charleston, where their first son, Eugene Victorine D’alvigny was born.  Unfortunately, the child died in infancy.  Their next child, Louise Elizabeth D’alvigny, lived only two years, before dying in 1843.  Thankfully, on September 13, 1843, Emiline gave birth to Charles Frederick Stanislave D’alvigny, who would live to a ripe old age. (3)

1848 proved to be a huge year for the young family.  Another daughter, Pauline, was born; however, later that year, her mother, Emiline, died of consumption.  Noel picked up the family and moved to Atlanta, where he had been offered the job as curator of the museum at the Atlanta Medical College.  He also married Caroline M. Crovatte.  According to family lore, she had been the children’s nurse, and Emiline had requested the marriage before her death.

From this time, until the outbreak of the Civil War, Noel seems to have been a minor figure in the Atlanta Social Scene.  He was also heavily involved with the Free Masons, a connection which certainly stretched back to Charleston, and possibly further than that.  Despite owning a slave, Noel doesn’t seem to have taken issue with working with African Americas, and there are several stories of his working with the black community, both before and after the war.

Although Noel was sixty when the Civil War started, he volunteered his services to the Confederacy, serving a brief stint as the surgeon for the Ninth Battery of Georgia Artillery, before ill health forced him home.  However, although Noel couldn’t go to the war, the war eventually came to him. The aging doctor applied his medical skills throughout the siege of Atlanta, and when the Confederate forces eventually pulled out, he was apparently the only doctor left in the city.  It was at this time, that Pierre Paul Noel D’alivgny performed his most famous deed.

When D’alvigny learned that Sherman’s men were coming to burn the Atlanta Medical College, he got several of his helpers drunk on whisky, dressed them up as patients, and put them in bed.  When the soldiers showed up with their torches, Noel stood on the steps and shouted at them. He said that he’d lived through revolutions, but never seen anything so evil as soldiers who would burn a hospital filled with the sick.  The confused soldiers replied that they’d been told the hospital was empty, whereupon Noel showed them his “patients”.  The soldiers gave Noel one day to have the sick moved somewhere else, before they returned with their torches.  The next day, Sherman ordered his army out of Atlanta, and the torch wielders never returned to the Medical College.

After this incident, Noel continued his work as a surgeon, though as often treating Northern soldiers as Southern ones.  According to family lore, he was given a commission in the Union Army, as a Southern surgeon wouldn’t have been allowed to treat Northern soldiers. (4)

After the war, Noel once again went to work with the black community, taking a post in the Black Georgia Hospital which had been established by the Freedman’s Bureau.  In 1868, Noel became deathly ill after injuring himself during an autopsy. He pulled through, however, living nearly another ten years, before he finally died in Atlanta in 1877 from causes unknown.  He is buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.
Although Dr. D’alvigny is not a widely known figure, he has achieved a degree of immortality, having apparently been used as the basis for the character of Dr. Mead in Gone With the Wind.

(1) The medal won by D’alvigny was passed down my family until it was stolen from the house of my Great Grandfather while he was off fighting in World War I.

(2) It is perhaps worth noting that D’alvigny is an extremely unusual name, even in France.

(3) Charles would also fight for the Confederacy, more on him in the future.

(4) If this is true, it make Noel the only one of my ancestors that I know about who served in the Union Army.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

J. S. Walker's Thirty-Sixth Letter


Camp Deas, near Youngs Mill,
6th November, 1861

My dear Wife:

                I did not write to you by Lieut. Mills, who went up yesterday, as I did not have time and wrote to David.  I was a little unwell yesterday, but kept to my tent and fasted and am quite myself today.  There is nothing in the monotony of camp life that can interest you in a letter, and I will save all for the long winter nights of another winter, if we are all spared to meet around it.  I hope the Lord is going to give great success to our arms in other places, that he will make bare his might and let loose the muds of Heaven to put the armada under the waves, and thus cause the wicked to acknowledge his might.  I also hope he will give us quite on the Peninsular, since I have no confidence in those who in authority do not acknowledge Him.  If we live for Him it matters little to us whether we live or die, since he directs, controls, and at last receives.  Let us pray earnestly to the end.
                Lieut. Willis will be a favourable opportunity for you to send my gloves, socks, etc.  I want you also to send me my over-shoes, thick boots, cravat, clothes brush.  I should also like a good cap or hat for the winter, which Bro. David can select for you.  As regards eatables, some pickles, smoked sausage, tongue, beef, etc., butter, eggs, etc.  I can buy nothing in the world to eat here but sweet potatoes, fresh beef and bacon, and I am tired of them.  I also want a gallon of whiskey, a gallon of brandy, fine for medicinal purposes and the stomach’s sake.  Put all up in a box for Lieut. Willis to bring down to me.  He will come down in about ten days, sayd 16th of November, and if you leave the box at Geo. Bidgood’s with a letter he will get it and attend to it.  If you have sent nothing by express via Yorktown, do not do it now, but send to Grove Wharf by Steamer on James River on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and we will have a wagon to get all packages for our Regiment.  Willis will be the safest chance for you to send by.  Direct your letters via Grove Warf to Capt. J. S. W., 15th Regt. Va. Vols. and they will come more promptly.

                Kiss the children, love to all.

                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                Jno. S. Walker.

I have commenced numbering my letters.  I sent No. 1 a day or two ago.  You will find this No. 2.  If you will adopt the same plan we can tell whether our letters are all received, remember always to number them.

                We are now having a real thunder storm, lightening and the biggest hail I have seen for a long time, as big as partridge eggs. I hope the Lord’s hand is in it all and that he will scatter the fleet that would pour out our free blood on our own soil.  May the Lord have mercy upon them and then destroy them.

                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                Jno. S. Walker.