Letters from the Front – 90 years of letters sent home from Civil War to WWII

By C.J. Johnson

Days turn into months, which turn into years and decades and centuries. Choctaw County is almost one hundred and eighty years old, and through those decades, there have been several wars, fought at home and around the world. During times of strife, those away from home yearn for news from their loved ones. And those left on the home front ache for those who are away at war. In the Civil War, correspondence was written with pen and paper. Mail sometimes took months to be delivered. Many soldiers could not read nor write and had to ask someone else to write for them. Others had a limited education and spelling was often phonetic or “close” to being correct. The same was true in World War I and World War II, although it was more likely that soldiers had a better command of the English language and would write personal letters home to friends, family, and loved ones. In the current wars, communication is much quicker, via e-mail or texting. The gap between letters or messages is not often not months, but hours. Times have truly changed. Here is a sample of letters from or to Choctaw County area residents, from the 1860s through the 1940s. [Spelling has not been corrected.] THE CIVIL WAR Bowling Green, Kentucky January the 5th, 1862 Written by John F Porter to his family Dear Father, Mother, and family, I take this opportunity of droping you a few lines to let you know that I am well except a little cold which I had about two weeks. James had same cold, also Henry. I hope these lines may find you all well. There is a good deal of complaint in this Regiment of colds, mumps, measles, etc. Some deaths. A man died last night in our Regiment by the name of Dr. Metts. He was chief Surgeon of this Regiment. Also a cousin to M. A. and D. W. Metts. Some companies have half of their men in the hospital. We have none in the hospital. We have nine unable for duty name of William Tate, William Green, James Files, Napolian Roach, Dr. Hooker, S. M. Bateman, Capt. Halfacre, Henry Johnson, Wesley Miller. We moved since I wrote to you. We moved one mile and a half down on Barron River, one mile from town. We use water out of a spring. We have wood a plenty here. We have a two horse wagon. It is busy all the time, Sunday not excepted. James Moorehead is driver. He has wood to hall two miles. They have us working on the forts every day. There is seven forts here in sight of each other. Some of them are done and some are not. We have only forty six men in our company and they detail four men each day to work on the fort and four or five to stand guard and some sick and by them, means a fellow’s turn comes round about every second or third day. They are tight on us, that is our field officers. I am very well pleased with our company officers but our field officers I am afraid is rather a ticky set. They all drink. Our Colonel is a clever man but he knows but little about filling his office. Our Agitent is dispised by nearly every man in the Regiment. Even the Captains dislike him. He has the bighead most awful bad. Some of them are talking about making bands for his head and General Rubin Davis (?) eyes is as red as a taripin’s all the time. Capt. Leathrop (?) from Natches knows more than Davis and Patton put together. Some of them are tring to make a company out of this regiment for twelve months but don’t think they will join them. The boys are tired of Bowlinggreen. We can’t get no hog meat here without paying fifteen to twenty cents for it. We bought some molasses we payed seventy five cents per gallon. I never was so tired of beef in my life. The boys say they are afraid they can’t look a cow in the face after they get home. They have been talking about a fight here in a few days ever since we got here but I see no more sign than when we got here. More than the troops keep gathering in here. They say there is one hundred thousand soldiers here and between here and Green River. Rusel’s (?) Regiment is here. All the Webster boys are here. I went to see them once. They have been to see us. I saw George Ennis the other Day. He was well. Morison was about twelve miles from here. He had the measles. I don’t know whether he has got in yet or not. Davis said if the battle did not come off before our time was out he wanted us to stay until it did come off but if we would not stay he would see us home that is to Mississippi. Our captains say they are going home when our time is out. They want stand the treatment we get here. We are not treated like the other soldiers are. I have seen them drilling and practicing their cannon here. They have some artillery here. Their horses jump mightly sometimes when they shoot. There is a good many Lincolnites here but they are afraid to open their mouths. I want you all to write to me often. I have not got a letter except the one Met Metts brought. Tell William to write. I wrote two letters to you. Tell Mr. Woodward and Adline (?) to write. Nothing more. Your son, John F. Porter P.S. I will not pay on this letter on account of their not leaving when paid. (letter-Information courtesy of Mrs. Roy McCarty) —————- Tuscumbia, Ala. March the 24/62 Written by — F. Porter to his sister and family Dear Sister and Family, I seat my self this night to drop you a few lines in answer to your letter whitch I received today. I was glad to hear from you I received one from Mary (?) today also whitch was wrote a few days before yours. I am sorry to hear of Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher’s (?) bad health. I am in hope when I hear from home again their health will be better. (?) I haven’t time to write but a few lines as it is now 10 o’clock and we start in the morning to Corinth (?) at 6 o’clock to meet the Yankees on Mississippi soil. The big fight will come off their in a day or so from all accounts. They say there is (looks like 60 to 80 thousand) landed their. They landed 26 miles from Corinth. I don’t think they will wait for the Yankeys to make the attack this time. I don’t think they will whip us this time. They will have the Bloody fifth to contend with. (???) Cavalry passed through today. I saw George Ennis, did not see Morrison. He was not well and was not in ranks. They were marching and I did not have the chance to say but a few words to him. I forgot to tell you about our health. I am not very well at present. The changed water has made the most of us sick and it is so much colder that we all have had colds. We left Lark (?) Turner at (?). I never expect to see him again. There has several of the Regiment died since we came here. I am afraid the change (?) will kill a great many. I must close. I am going to send this letter to Louisville by Leut. Quarles. He starts at 5 o’clock in the morning for home. He has bin unwell for several days. He is going home on a furlough. Write soon. I am always glad to hear from any of you. I haven’t time to write no more at present. I will do better the next time if I should be spared to see another change. Nothing more. I remain your brother. (—) F. Porter (courtesy of Mrs. Roy McCarty) —————— LaGrange Georgia Law Hospital Brown Wood July 9, 1864 Written by Alvin Dempsey to Mrs. Sarah An Franks, Bankston, Mississippi Post Office Mrs. Sarah An Franks, I am sorry to inform you that your husband died at this hospital last night at 11 o’clock . He requested me to write to you. He called me to his bed a few hours before he died and said to me, says he, this is my last night. I am going to die tonight. Says he, I want you to write to my wife and tell her that I am prepared to die and that I am going to rest. He said tell you he never would meet with you in this world. He wanted you to prepare to meet him in heaven. He was in his senses even until his death. He was as willing to die apparently as anyone I ever saw die. He died very easy. He has a note calling for seventy five dollars to paid in new issue. If you wish to write me concerning him, direct your letters to La Grange, GA., Brown Wood Hospital. I will close. Respectfully yours, Alvin Dempsey (Courtesy of Mrs. Laura Franks Crenshaw, Ackerman, via Mrs. Mary Dempsey) NOTE: In a second letter to Mrs. Franks, dated August 4th, 1864, Mr. Dempsey answered her questions about how long her husband was in the hospital, the type of care rendered, the cause of death, and details about his burial. He went on to say, I am a Mississippian myself. I belong to the 7th Miss. Regiment Co. H. I live in Winston County, 8 miles west of Louisville, one mile north of Weir Road. You said you wanted me to remember you after the war. You may rest assured I will ever remember you after the war. I thought a great deal of your husband. Mrs. Franks, I hope to be remembered by you in all your prayers. If I should live to see this war close, I will come to see you. I will send you his comb. His hat and shoes were turned over to the Steward of the hospital. I went and tried to get them and he couldn’t find them. I kept the note myself. By that means you will get them. If his shoes and hat can be found I will send them to his brother. Mrs. Franks, I would take all manner of pleasure of reading your letters if you feel disposed to write to a soldier friend. I would be very glad to receive letters from you. I love to hear from my old state how all is coming along. I received a letter from my father the other day. I haven’t heard from there in some time. I would like very well to get to go home and see my old father and mother once more. I will come to a close hoping to hear from you again. I hope God will bless you and your little child who is left without a father and comfort you in your distresses and save you and crown you in his kingdom is my prayer for you. Your Ever Remembered Friend Alvin Dempsey (Courtesy of Mrs. Laura Franks Crenshaw, Ackerman, via Mrs. Mary Dempsey) ——————- WORLD WAR I Fort Sill, Oklahoma August 16, 1918 Written by John Wiley Dobbs to the Editor of the Plaindealer Dear Sir: Believing that many of my friends back there would be glad to hear from me, and as I do not have time to write to all of them, I take this method of sending them a letter. I enlisted in the Army March 25, 1917 at New Orleans La. and was assigned to the 23rd Cavalry, stationed on the historic battleground of Chicamagua Park, Ga., where the Blue and the Gray fought so valiantly for what each believed to be right. This was one of the most beautiful army posts I have ever seen and it held a great personal interest to me for it was here that Wirt Adams Cavalry made up of Mississippians and Alabamians, distinguished itself in the Civil War. My grandfather, I. J. Dobbs was in this famous Cavalry regiment and took part in this battle. Lookout Mountain silent and grim overlooks this battlefield and it is one of the great scenes of this country. It is a very high mountain and on it the battle of Lookout Mountain took place. I saw the place where General Grant had his headquarters while stationed near there. In and around this place are many monuments, marking the last resting place of some valiant hero who fought so bravely in those stirring times. No one could witness these scenes, and look upon these monuments to bravery and gallantry without being thrilled, and without resolving to emulate the example of some fallen hero whose monument might be found here. One night while stationed at Chicamagua Park, I sat in the Y.M.C.A and listened to a man make an address. At its close he asked if there was any one in the audience from Mississippi. I introduced myself to him and found that he was a brother of Mr. H. A. Hearon of Ackerman and that he was engaged in Y.M.C.A. work. He took an especial interest in me and made me feel I had a true friend in him. After being stationed here for about three months I was transferred to Battery D. 81st Field Artillery and was sent with my regiment to Fremont California. We were seven days making the trip our first stop being New Orleans where the Red Cross met us and gave out luncheon to us. From New Orleans we went West through Texas and across the great deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. We traveled for two days without seeing any signs of life only sand, sand as far as the eye could see, then through the famous death valley into the mountains, where I saw some of the highest peaks in the United States. The tops of the mountains were covered with snow while down in the valley the temperature ranged from 110 to 120. The stations along this route were fifty and sixty miles apart, and we would often travel miles without seeing anything except a scant growth of vegetation. Occasionally we would see an Indian, whose hut had been carved out in the side of the mountain. After a seven day journey over this historic route filled with many interesting sights we arrived at Camp Fremont about forty miles from San Francisco. This camp is located in the St. Clare Valley, and when we arrived there the flowers were in bloom, the oranges had just begun to ripen while looking far back to the mountains you could see the snow. After being there a few days I made my first visit to San Francisco. It is a beautiful city of perhaps 350,000 population. I visited Golden Gate part and witnessed a beautiful sunset also visited Chinatown and saw the curious customs in vogue there. Next I paid a visit to Angel Island, a big government prison, from which it is said no prisoner had ever escaped. Near Camp Fremont is Stanford University where they were 5000 students enrolled at the time. The campus is covered with palm trees and beautiful beds of flowers. The faculty and students always welcomed us royally and make us feel glad we had come. After spending about four months in Camp Fremont, I was sent here to Fort Sill. I arrived here just in time to bid my brother, Jim Dobbs, “good bye” his regiment was leaving for some eastern point and has since arrived in France. This country does not in anyway compare with Mississippi or California. It is dry and desolate country in which rain is a novelty. I would advise anyone thinking of coming to Oklahoma not to do so. Lawton, the town near Fort Sill, has a population of about 10,000 and is a very unsanitary and badly kept town. The business men are money mad and it is the big army camp here that keeps the town up. I found my cousin, J. M. Dobbs, in the aviation camp here, where he is getting along nicely and seems to be doing well, he and his wife live in the camp. I have just returned from a two day hike out across this sand swept country. We visited medicine park, the famous summer resort near here, where the meals cost one dollar each and the hills are so steep that people could not haul in lumber to build their houses and had to use rock, which is very plentiful and say it is some meal you get here for a dollar. A glass of water, some celery, an egg, and a tooth-pick about fills the bill. You could not get an ice cold drink out there, because the people could not get ice. I heard Mercer Dobbs say that the only way you could reach Medicine Park was by aeroplane or foot. I do not wish to go by either route again. It has not been my fault that I am not now in France, for I enlisted with the intention of going and I regret very much that I was not with my brother, Hicks, who was killed in action and now sleeps on foreign soil. However I hope to get across before the fight is over, and do my bit toward driving the Hun out of Europe. I have been in three or four big army camps since I enlisted and I have not found a single enlisted man who was not anxious to go across. Some who could not stand the physical examination and were rejected cried and begged to be given a chance. I trust my friends back there will do all they can toward winning the war, as we boys who have followed the colors are doing and to each of them I say, “Good bye and good luck” and I will see them all after the war. With kindest regards and best wishes I am, Very truly yours, John Wiley Dobbs, Battery D. 81st F. A. ————————— WORLD WAR II January 21, 1942 Written by Lt. Troy Biggers to his brother Johnnie Biggers Dear Bud: You can see by this letter that I am a long way from the U.S.A. How are you getting along? I am feeling fine and am seeing quite a bit of the world. We will be in our destination in three or four days. I can’t write where, but you can guess—- Do hope you are out of the hospital and doing fine by this time. When have you heard from our parents? I haven’t had a word since December 26. Don’t expect to hear in two or three months. But write me at the address I sent to you, at least once a week, and maybe some bright day I’ll get them. Write to Mother and Father often, and make them cheerful as possible. It is twelve o’clock p.m. here, and 10:30 in California. It is my bedtime – because we flew all day today and leave here at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow for a 6-hour hop. A Bud That Loves You, Troy B (Note: Lt. Biggers was killed in action 8 days after writing this letter.) ——————————- The Adjutant General’s Office February 17, 1942 Written to Mr. Joe Abb Biggers, Chester, Mississippi Dear Sir: It is with profound regret that I confirm my recent telegram announcing the death of your son, Second Lieutenant William Troy Biggers, 0-431791, Air Corps. It will be impracticable to return the remains of your son to the United States during the present emergency. Consideration will be given this question after the cessation of hostilities. Should any further information be received, it will be furnished to you. Adjustment of all matters pertaining to Government insurance, arrears of pay and six months; gratuity will be made as follows: [And after a listing of details, the letter closed with…] Information concerning personal effects will be furnished you at a later date. All communications regarding the foregoing matters should give the officer’s name, rank, and serial number as shown above. You are advised that it is not necessary to employ the services of an attorney or claim agent. Expressing my deep sympathy in your loss, I remain, Very truly yours, E. S. ADAMS Major General, The Adjutant General NOTE: Troy Biggers was the first known Choctaw County resident to die in the line of duty during WWII. He enlisted in February 1941 in the Army Air Corps and was killed in January 1942, having just been home on leave the previous November. —————————— USS Mississippi, February 25, 1942 Written by Lieut. Alvin Richardson to his parents Dear Mama and Daddy: It has been several days since I wrote you, a longer time that I had meant, but the last few days have been unusually busy ones. Every time I think that I am about to get my head above the water, something new and unexpected bobs up. At last I think I have everything fairly well in hand, and maybe I shall have a few minutes I can call my own. Mary and the baby arrived here on the 16th, and it has been wonderful to see them again. They came by plane, which is just about as cheap as coming on the train, and much more convenient when you think of taking care of the baby. However they flew into bad weather and had to come part of the way by train, from Cleveland to Chicago and from Denver to Reno. It was their first trip by plane and they both enjoyed it very much. Mary has her return trip routed via Memphis and she plans to stop off there and come to see you on her way back. Can you meet her there of shall she go via train or bus? I do not know when she will be going back as that will depend somewhat on my movements which I cannot tell. Anyway, we shall keep you advised when and if she does go back. I am anxious for you to see little Mary Franklin. I suppose all new parents think that their baby is the most wonderful thing in the world, but I really do think little Mary is quite attractive. At first she was rather skinny, but now she is fat and roly poly with a nice double chin and a very pleasant disposition. As soon as we can get a Kodak we will take some more pictures of her and send them to you. The latest news from the Orient is more encouraging, and we feel much better about it. If people ask you what the Navy is doing you may tell them that we are on the job, and when all the details can be published I think they shall have cause to be justly proud of what we are doing. Of course the necessary preparations must be made but I cannot go into details with you now. Once we get all set, we are going to give them what they have needed for a long time. From what I can learn, all my close friends who were in Hawaii are all right. I am glad that Cousin Billy Starnes is all right, but I have not had any opportunity to see him. Remember me to all my friends and lots of love to both of you. As always your son Alvin