Looking Back: Civil War letter

Published 12:35 pm Saturday, May 9, 2020

Charles H. Talbot of Danville wrote a letter Sept. 20, 1862, from Covington to his Edwards cousins in Philadelphia, just after having a recent visit together.

Talbot described conditions he witnessed as he and his grandmother traveled back to Danville shortly before the Battle of Perryville.

Jane Ann (Finley Smith)

Talbot had escorted his grandmother, “Ma”, Jane Ann Finley Smith, of Burnt Tavern, Bryantsville in Garrard County, to see her granddaughter, Eliza Rice Edwards and her husband, Jonathan, in Philadelphia. Eliza grew up in Danville and was a daughter of Phineas G. and Almira Finley Smith Rice

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“We arrived in Louisville to find it full of refugees from Danville and vicinity — fugitives to escape rebel fury. They told us that it would be perfectly safe for Ma to venture home, but that I could not accompany her without serious molestation. Ladies pass and repass the lines, with comparative ease, in private conveyances, but men, make their way only by taking to the bushes.

“We found that public conveyances of every description had ceased their regular trips and that private conveyances could be obtained only under heavy bonds for their safe return; so our prospects at first for proceeding farther seemed rather gloomy.

“On the morning after our arrival, I heard of a hack that was just starting to Frankfort, with some ladies and having a vacant seat. This was offered to Ma and she embraced the opportunity. In a few hours after we arrived in Louisville, she was on her way to Frankfort, under guidance and protection of an ‘intelligent contraband’.

“She took but little of her baggage with her, leaving her large trunk in Louisville in the care of E.B. Owsley. Ma thinks it will be very easy to get Pa word of her whereabouts from Frankfort or Lexington and he can go for her. She can remain in Frankfort or Lexington a good while if necessary, in considerable comfort, as she has very near relatives in both places.

“After getting Ma underway, I concluded I would move my quarters from Covington to Louisville.

Johnathan Edwards

I had plenty of acquaintances in Louisville, but no friend. I have friends here, besides some acquaintances. And so I am comparatively well situated. I am staying with the Fultons and feel very much at home with the family. They have manifested their affection for me on more than one occasion in willing deeds of substantial kindness. I am here not knowing when I shall see Danville.

“I never knew before yesterday morning what it was to be unable to afford a respectable breakfast. Bear in mind, I did not reach Mr. Fulton’s until yesterday noon.

“The rebels are holding high revelry now in our native village. J. Warren Grigsby is Provost Marshall of the 6th Ky. Cav., and Nelson Lee is Gen. Col.

“The conscription law has been put in force by the rebels and the oath of allegiance of the Southern Confederacy is required to be taken by all who wish to remain. Many have fled to avoid the oath and some to avoid the cursed consention.

“I will not take the oath for any consideration. I would rather die. I would as soon think of taking an oath to support the Kingdom of Satan, and to pray that others may be brought into it and that its prosperity and glory may be hastened. Some of our frightened citizens have perjured their souls and called heaven to witness their giving in allegiance to all alligator government.

“Some of our old homeguards even have shown the white feathers and taken the oath and voluntarily gone into the rebel ranks. Some of the Secesh about Danville are rendering themselves particularly agreeable to Union themselves particularly agreeable to Union men just now by their intercessions in their behalf.

“Conspicuous among these appears paternal Uncle Albert (G. Talbot). It is said he is very active in alleviating the condition of the oppressed in alleviating the Unionists. A Talbot still though a rebel. I thought he could not be a fiend. The nobility of his nature forbids his stooping to the level of most of his brethren. We might alleviate mine, but I dislike putting myself under obligation to him. And so I must content myself with being a refugee from home without bed and board, with no place to call my own.

“My present circumstances have embittered my feelings no little. I can shed fraternal blood with little compactions of conscience. Never have I felt before in personal realization ‘Man’s inhumanity to man that makes countless thousands mourn.’


Military affairs


“Military affairs in Kentucky appear much better when viewed from Philadelphia as a standpoint that under a close inspection, as from this city.

“‘Distance lends enchantment to the view.’ We have no lack of soldiers here or at Louisville. The hills back of this place are bristling with bayonets and still the regiments pour in an endless throng. The Federal forces here are badly managed, They are larger I fear than the men of Wright’s Calibre can wield. I went out with Mr. Fulton on a locomotive some twenty miles back of the city to look after a bridge, reported burned by the rebels. Some half dozen employers of the road with Mr. Fulton and myself composed our party.

“We had nothing in the shape of arms except a couple of Colt’s revolvers.

We found the bridge partly burnt, saw no enemy and returned safely.

The bridge will be repaired in a few days and we will go down to Falmouth and see what was going on.

“Maybe — peradventure the forces under military control will advance after civilians have piloted the way.

“A thousand cavalry under the commander of a bold spirit can penetrate to Lexington without any difficulty. We talked with General Jeremiah Boyle of Danville and he said ‘we have a power of men and instead of trying to wield that power,’ he indulges himself in derogatory harangues on his brother officers.’”

Boyle also treated the group to a dissertation on McDowell.

“He says McDowell has a pug nose and that is the reason of his failure. He also thinks pug nosed men never were any account. He would just as soon trust a man with a cockeye as a man with a pug nose.”

“Many in Louisville confess their only hope for Kentucky is in and through McClellan’s success on the Potomac. We have no one here to whom we can look with simplicity confidence and we can but mourn from day to day our inefficiency.

“Viewing the recent trip under today’s impressions, I feel that had we not visited Philadelphia, we would have had in no wise a pleasant time, but having made you a visit I feel that our whole journey was none other than an agreeable one. You will never know how much you contributed to our comfort and enjoyment. And we cannot but wish to be able to repeat our visit at no distant day.

“And the remembrance of the many kindnesses, with loving kindness where with you crowned our visit would be strengthened materially by allowing us an occasion of reciprocating them. I on my own score must cordially thank you both in the fullness of gratitude for the introduction into Philadelphia Society obtained for Ma.

“I live in the hope that I may be able to keep unbroken the newly formed acquaintance made among your flock. Give my love to Effie and yourselves my most cordial esteem, believe me as ever.”