WWilliam Graham's War Between the States

Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee

The Tennessee letters begin on October 4, 1863 with a message from Decker Station (probably a misspelling of Decherd), a town on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad which the 107th Regiment was charged with guarding. William's relatively uneventful railroad guard duty in Tennessee lasted from October 1863 until April 1864.

Guarding of the railroad supply line was crucial to the Union cause and not an easy task as indicated by this excerpt from Ulysses S. Grant's Memoirs: 

"Sherman had started from Memphis for Corinth on the 11th of October. His instructions required him to repair the road in his rear in order to bring up supplies. The distance was about three hundred and thirty miles through a hostile country. His entire command could not have maintained the road if it had been completed. The bridges had all been destroyed by the enemy, and much other damage done. A hostile community lived along the road; guerilla bands infested the country, and more or less of the cavalry of the enemy was still in the West. Often Sherman’s work was destroyed as soon as completed, and he only a short distance away."

1861 map of eastern Tennessee and adjacent states with the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad highlighted

Decker Station [Decherd], Tennessee
10-4-1863

Libbie Graham

You have heard before this time about us leaving the Army of the Potomac. We left the Rappahannock River a week ago last friday. Marched 15 or 20 miles and a week ago last sunday we took the [railroad] cars. [R]ode till yesterday all the time with the exception of changing cars and crossing rivers. We went clear into Alabama and stayed all night and were ordered back here yesterday.

Our brigade have not all come up yet. We expect to go on before long to Chattanooga to reinforce Gen. Rose[crans?]. The Eleventh Corps have got there I guess before this time. It is about 75 miles from here.

I have not time to give you a history of what we have seen or come through. We did not know where we were going till we got half way here. We lived first rate along the road. We had plenty of money and some places in Ohio and Indiana the ladies gave us good things.

We have passed through 4 or 5 state capitals and the finest country I ever saw - that is Ohio and Indiana. Whenever we struck the slave states we traveled through I should think 800 miles of the best (?) limestone land and coal. In fact I never saw so much fine country before.

Sister it is awful to think that men should try to breakup such a country. I don’t know where the South gets their army, for the little state of Ohio appears to have as many inhabitants as four southern states we have been in. But I think we will have army enough here before long to drive the Rebs out of existence, with the help of the Lord.

My health is very good, thanks to the Lord, considering the hard journey. We had not got hardly any sleep, the cars were crowded so full. I tell you we were a dirty, lousy lot of soldiers. But if we could only find plenty of water, we could clean up. But water is scarce here and very cold nights. Colder than with you.

Now dear sister see father as often as you can. Write soon, address the same as before but put on the army corps. I will write to Anna and to you all as often as I can and sister you must write soon and often for it will take letters longer to come through. Remember me to Mr and Mrs. Scobey

Commentary

The Army of the Potomac was the major Union Army in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War. The 107th was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863, right after William Graham rejoined his regiment.

During the American Civil War the Rappahannock River provided a recurring barrier and defensive line for the movement of troops. It was an especially difficult barrier for Union troops in attempts to advance into southern Virginia. Control of the river changed hands multiple times during the course of the war. Significant battles fought along the river include the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Rappahannock Station, fought in 1862. The defensive line of the river was finally circumvented by Ulysses S. Grant in the Overland Campaign of 1864, resulting in the final Union victory in the war.

The 107th Regiment probably traveled in similar boxcars to Tennessee

The railroad journey to Tennessee lasted from September 24, 1863 to October 3, 1863 and extended over 1200 miles. The travel and sites were quite awesome for a poor farmer from Ireland. Given the railroad track routes existing at the time, William may have been a bit optimistic about the number of state capitals they passed through. Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana were the most likely.

Brigadier General Alpheus Williams, commander of the 12th Corps
The journey was initiated on September 23, 1863 when President Lincoln ordered the 11th and 12th Corps detached from the Army of the Potomac and ordered to Tennessee as a reinforcement for Rosecrans. They were sent to the Western Theatre to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland after the disastrous Union defeat at the battle of Chickamauga.

The two corps were placed under command of General Hooker. William Graham's company and the 107th Regiment was in the 1st division of the 12th Corps. Arriving in Tennessee, the 1st division of the 12th Corps under Brig. General Alpheus Williams was stationed along the railroad from Murfreesboro to Bridgeport. The 2nd division of the 12th Corps moved to the front at Chattanooga under Geary.

Abraham Lincoln was keenly aware of the importance of Chattanooga. The President had said that, "...taking Chattanooga is as important as taking Richmond." Rails from the city linked major distribution centers of the Confederacy; it was a key in his plan to "divide and conquer" the Confederacy. Lincoln ordered reinforcements to the city on the Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River and gave Ulysses S. Grant command of all forces west of the Appalachians. Grant immediately relieved Rosecrans from duty and appointed General George Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga" as commander of the 40,000 troops in Chattanooga. From Virginia, Joseph Hooker moved 20,000 men. From Mississippi, William Tecumseh Sherman came with another 20,000.

Decherd was founded in the mid 1800's. 'Decker' was most likely Decherd Station, and 'Decker' was a phonetic representation of what was originally a French word.

Decherd owes its beginning to the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad which was completed in 1851 through what was to become the town of Decherd. The town is named for Peter S. Decherd, who gave the rights-of-way to the railroad company with the provision that a depot be located near the "Decherd Plantation". Mr. Decherd came to Franklin County from Virginia in the early 1800's.

The Civil War dominated life in Decherd during those years. No major battles were fought in the area, but several skirmishes were fought over control of the railroad and Elk River. Federal General Don Buell established headquarters in Decherd in August, 1862 before moving north to encounter Confederate forces under the command of General Braxton Bragg. In 1863 Federals under Colonel John T. Wilder drove a Confederate force from Decherd and destroyed about 300 yards of the railroad between Decherd and Cowan. Telegraph and commissary stores of the Confederate forces were burned in the raid.

Elizabeth (Libbie) Graham was a domestic servant living with the Scobey couple for around 30 years, documented from 1855 to 1880. She finally moved away when she married Eugene Pangborn in 1884.


Shelbyville, Tennessee
11-1-1863

Libbie Graham

I seat myself this pleasant Sabath morning to write you my second letter while in this state. My last letter I wrote at Decherd 30 or 40 miles from here. Since then I can not describe what we have come through.

It has been march and counter march the most of the time, I might say for six weeks. We were in camp about a week while here at Elk River. We supposed we would be left there but when we got comfortable quarters built and little fireplaces in them the orders came as usual to get ready to pack up and march in an hour.

Off we started right in a rainstorm and marched over mountains, gorges, woods and rocks and every other [cussed?] obstacle for 3 or 4 days. Then the orders came to counter march right back over the same road marching faster than we did going down. Well we passed our old camp and through Tullahoma on toward Nashville part of the time on the railroad and always within a few miles of it till we came opposite this place. Then our company and Co. K were detached and sent here while the rest of the regiment went along the railroad for 10 or 15 miles to be stationed as guards.

We were marched over here 8 miles from the Nashville and Chatanooga Railroad and the best I have got to tell yet. We are quartered in a good brick house in this good Union town. It is the county seat of Bedford County.

Well sister must tell you the Lord has blessed me with good health and strength. Through all the hard marches I was up at the head of the 107th every night and carried a heavy load. Through some of the [biggest?] marching that has been made during the war our brigade is called the Flying Brigade.

We have had but 2 mails since we left the Army of the Potomac. I can not tell you how bad I wish to hear from you. All I had [was] one letter from Dr. Bell. I will send it to you to take care of. He is going to send me a box with some necessaries. He says father is well. I am very glad to hear it. You must see to him sister.

Commentary

Shelbyville and Bedford County was divided on the great questions which led to the late civil war, and when the election was held June 8, 1861 to vote for or against separation from the Union and representation in a Confederate Congress, the county voted in the negative by a majority of nearly 200. When the time came for action the county furnished almost as many soldiers to the Northern as to the Southern army.

So loyal was Shelbyville to the Union as to earn for the town the name of "Little Boston," and being on the line of march of both armies, witnessed many movements and counter-movements of large bodies of troops, and though much damage was sustained to property and not a few lives lost, yet through the influence of prominent citizens on both sides the consequences were no more serious than could have been expected in time of war.

In 1863 a lively skirmish occurred between the Fifth Tennessee Cavalry and the Confederate Cavalry under Gen. Wheeler at Wartrace, and in October following, Gen. Wheeler again had a brush with the Federal Cavalry, between 3,000 and 4,000 men being in the fight, two miles west of Shelbyville, in which quite a number were killed and wounded.

Shelbyville, the only Union town of Tennessee - Harpers Weekly, Oct. 18, 1862

In May, 1864, twelve soldiers belonging to the Fourth Tennessee Mounted Infantry (Federal), were captured while guarding the Shelbyville depot, which was stored with hay, by Robert B. Blackwell, who was at the head of a company of bushwhackers. The depot and contents were burned, and the twelve soldiers escorted a short distance from town and shot.

Four months prior to this letter and before the arrival of the 107th Regiment in Tennessee, the Battle of Hoover's Gap with a Union victory occured in this area. Following the Battle of Stones River, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Cumberland, remained in the Murfreesboro area for five and one-half months.  To counter the Yankees, Gen. Braxton Bragg, commander of the Army of Tennessee, established a fortified line along the Duck River from Shelbyville to Wartrace. On the Confederate right, infantry and artillery detachments guarded Liberty, Hoover’s, and Bellbuckle gaps through the mountains. Rosecrans’s superiors, fearing that Bragg might detach large numbers of men to help break the Siege of Vicksburg, urged him to attack the Confederates. On June 23, 1863, he feigned an attack on Shelbyville but massed against Bragg’s right. His troops struck out toward the gaps, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas’s men, on the 24th, forced Hoover’s Gap. The Confederate 3rd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment, under Col. J.R. Butler, held Hoover’s Gap, but the Yankees easily pushed it aside. As this unit fell back, it ran into Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson’s and Brig. Gen. William B. Bate’s Brigades, Stewart’s Division, Hardee’s Corps, Army of Tennessee, which marched off to meet Thomas and his men. Fighting continued at the gap until just before noon on the 26th, when Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, the Confederate division commander, sent a message to Johnson and Bate stating that he was pulling back and they should also. Although slowed by rain, Rosecrans moved on, forcing Bragg to give up his defensive line and fall back to Tullahoma. Rosecrans sent a flying column (Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, the same that had spearheaded the thrust through Hoover’s Gap on the 24th) ahead to hit the railroad in Bragg’s rear. Arriving too late to destroy the Elk River railroad bridge, the Federals tore up lots of track around Decherd. Bragg evacuated Middle Tennessee.

Battle of Chattanooga - Charge near Orchard Knob on Nov. 24, 1863
A few days before the date of this letter, on October 29, 1863, the 11th Corps was ordered to the support of the 2nd division of the 12th Corps, in the Battle of Wauhatchie, opening the supply lines to the besieged city of Chattanooga. Arriving there, Col. Orland Smith's Brigade of von Steinwehr's Division charged up a steep hill in the face of the enemy, receiving but not returning the fire, and drove James Longstreet's veterans out of their entrenchments, using the bayonet alone. Some of the regiments in this affair suffered a severe loss, but their extraordinary gallantry won extravagant expressions of praise from various generals, including General Ulysses S. Grant.

The Battle of Chattanooga (including the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge) was fought November 23–25, 1863. A part of the 11th Corps was also actively engaged at Missionary Ridge, where it cooperated with William T. Sherman's forces on the left.

As a result of these battles, one of the Confederacy’s two major armies was routed. The Union forces held Chattanooga, the “Gateway to the Lower South,” which became the supply and logistics base for Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign. After this battle the 11th Corps was ordered to East Tennessee for the relief of Knoxville, a campaign whose hardships and privations exceeded anything within the previous experience of the command.


Wartrace, Tennessee
2-13-1864

Libbie Graham

We very unexpectedly got paid 2 months pay last night. So you know I promised to send you a little change to pay postage and such things. Almost all the small change I have is $1.50 enclosed. Sister send me some good newspapers such as the Trybune or Indepent? Evenglist? or some of the same stamp as the above.

Well I must tell you something about the state of things here. After pay day the largest part of the boys gamble more or less as soon as they get the greenbacks. You will see small partys go right to some tent and go at it.

Some have a great thirst for whiskey and away they go and this class will run into any kind of danger and pay any price - $3 a quart - fairly risk their lives for it.

Then again there is those who want good things to eat. This kind will pay any price and buy everything they see that they are not accustomed to in camp.

Then there is once and a while one who saves every cent and is in for making something. As a general thing we have to pay three or four times what a thing is worth with you. If the thing is to be found that they want and I tell you they generally find it no matter at whose cost or what cost.

Guy Adams is home before this time. I sent a packet of old letters with him and a letter to you. I have had no letter from Anna in a long time. I don’t know what is the matter with her. I have not meant to offend her.

Oh sister you must go to see father as often as you can. You know it will comfort him to see you. Tell him I am well thanks to the Lord. He will have a lot of things to tell you to write to me here. [Handle] him patiently for you know that he is old and afflicted and notional[?] Tell him to not want for anything but get it from the doctor and let me bare the cost.

Send me a darning needle in a letter. I hope the Dr. will have my boots ready when Guy comes along and a watch I want him to send. I need a watch very much when I am on picket to know when to relieve the guard in the night.

I had a letter from Comstock. He has left Fort Schuyler. The hospital is changed to David’s Island and he is there.

Write soon and often for you know you are my only sister and your words of advice and are precious to me.

PS. I had a letter from Thomas Boyes and one from Elizabeth lately. They were telling me about Uncle Bell getting married. Well I think that old man takes down everything that I have ever heard of. I would not have been as much surprised as I had heard of his funeral. This marrying must have great attractions about it if we are to judge by him. I wonder what John and father say now.

You must excuse this scribbling for I wrote in a hurry and you see it is a little different hand writing. But I write so many love letters for Boyes that I can not write. I can scribble on any subject as fast as a lawyer but of course it is all mistakes. You ought to see some love letters I write for Boyes who never thought of expressing the tender Passion in such a shape. 

Commentary

The New York Tribune was one of the major newspapers of the day. The Tribune was created by Horace Greeley in 1841 to provide a trustworthy media source in an era when newspapers such as the New York Sun and New York Herald thrived on sensationalism. Although considered the least partisan of the leading newspapers, the Tribune did reflect some of Horace Greeley's idealist views. During the Civil War the Tribune was radical Republican in view, supporting abolition of slavery and subjection of the Confederacy instead of negotiated peace.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, a strong abolitionist wrote for both the New York Evangelist and the Independent...”

The NY Evangelist was published from 1830 to 1902. To give a sense of the opinion of the publications read by William Graham, a writer for the New York Evangelist wrote on July 25, 1861: We are now opening our eyes to the unwelcome fact that they are enemies of the country, and must be dealt with as TRAITORS. This once settled, scruples fast vanish about the mode of conducting the war. We feel bound to use every means in our power to put down a rebellion which is striking at the very life of the nation.

In the same issue the Evangelist asked: why not make a speedy end of this dreadful business by at once proclaiming freedom to the slaves?…Whatever rights they [southerners] had before as loyal citizens, they have forfeited by their treason and rebellion.

There are 74 Comstock’s with NY regiments, none with the 107th. In the 1860 Census the only male Comstock of young man age in Schuyler County (Town of Reading) was John age 13, which would have made him 17 in 1864.

During the American Civil War, Fort Schuyler held as many as 500 prisoners of war from the Confederate States Army and military convicts from the Union Army. It also included the MacDougall Hospital which had a capacity of 2,000 beds.

Davids' Island is a 78 acre island off the coast of New Rochelle, New York, in Long Island Sound. Currently uninhabited, in the past it was the site of Fort Slocum. The island was rented by the U.S. Government in April, 1862, and was used for hospital purposes. Wooden structures were immediately erected which housed thousands of wounded prisoners from the battlefields of the Civil War. At the end of the war, Congress authorized its purchase for military purposes and it was conveyed to the United States in 1867. It was used until 1878 as a sub-depot for the recruiting service, and, in that year, it became the general recuiting depot. It was later converted to a coastal artillery defense post and was given the name Fort Slocum after Major General Henry W. Slocum, U.S. Volunteers.

Uncle Bell was the father of Dr. Robert Bell. Uncle Bell's first wife Elizabeth died in 1846 and was the sister of William Graham's father. The 1860 census has William Graham (age 24), born in Ireland living in Orange, Schuyler Co., NY with the family of farmer Thomas Boyes (age 60) and wife Mary (age 48). Mary was William's cousin and sister of Dr. Robert Bell. In 1860 they had seven children living at home; Mary, Elizabeth, Susannah, Thomas, Hannah, Francis, and Robert (ages 24, 22, 16, 16, 14, 12, and 10, respectively). Elizabeth and Thomas, the younger, would have been age 26 and 20 respectively in 1864.

The writing of love letters for another is one practice that seems to have disappeared in our society. It still occurs in societies on this planet where literacy is less universal. Not sure who was the Boyes for whom William was writing love letters.


Wartrace, Tennessee
2-28-1864

Libbie Graham

Your letter of Feb 21 has just come to hand and found me well and just preparing for Sunday morning inspections. This sabath day has been delightful. Weather it reminds me of a May day only the trees have not leafed out here yet.

We lack a good deal of having a Christian Sabath here. No meeting except a prayer meeting in one of the tents in the evening. There is little here to remind one of that great father who made this day and hallowed it and commanded to keep it holy and do no work on it. Yes, Holy Sabath emblematic of that rest remains for the people of God in that better world where there is no wars.

Yes sister you must pray for me for I am in the midst of sin. My companions are wicked men. There is not more than one man in our company besides myself who does not swear and gives loose reins to their passions. You may think it is awful yet it is true.

I am very glad to hear that Guy Adams has got home all right. Tell him he has got a new 2nd Lieutenant in his company since he went away. The lucky man is the Sergeant major. I think Guy ought to enjoy himself. I could. There is nothing waiting for him here. Why can’t he be happy.

You said you sent a note to Dr. Bell about the boots. I sent you a letter to send to him inside of the package. I thought you would see it at once. I want him to send me a watch as well as boots.

Sister I wrote a letter to you some over a week and enclosed 12 shillings $1.50 to you. I trust you have got it before this time. Libbie I would not send anything with Guy unless a lettle dried fruit or some such thing for he will have enough to carry.

You spoke of Anna having moved. I am glad to hear that. She is so near you for I know she will be company for you. I don’t know what is the matter with Anna. I have not had a letter from her in near two months. I think the last one she wrote me was a little different from her common style. It did not suit me and I may have talked rather plain but you know that is my way. I think about that time I got a letter from you which tended to confirm me in regard to her coldness toward me. But at any rate, I thought none the less of her. I should think she would write to me. I wrote her a letter the other day. I trust she will answer it.

Now sister you must not forget our dear father fore he is alone and no one to talk with nor sympathize with him. Do go down and see him and tell him that I am well and that I weigh more than I ever did and that this climate agrees with me first rate which I am thankful for. I know he will feel thankful to hear. Tell him I think this cruel war will soon be over. Then with the help of the Lord I will go home to him.

Commentary

Wartrace was one of the Tennessee towns along the railroad guarded by Union soldiers.

William Graham's comments about living in "the midst of sin" and his frequent references to the Lord indicate he was a religious man of the stricter sort. At the same time, his comments about slave owners and his preferences in newspapers would indicate that he was an abolitionist.

Abolitionism had a strong religious base including Quakers, and people converted by the revivalist fervor of the Second Great Awakening in the North in the 1830s. Belief in abolition contributed to the breaking away of some small denominations, such as the Free Methodist Church.

Methodist camp revival meeting in the 1830s

Evangelical abolitionists founded some colleges, most notably Bates College in Maine and Oberlin College in Ohio. In the North, most opponents of slavery supported other modernizing reform movements such as the temperance movement, public schooling, and prison- and asylum-building. They split bitterly on the role of women's activism.

William was raised a Presbyterian in Ireland. The Free Methodist Church was founded in 1860 in western New York near where William Graham worked as a farmer. They opposed slavery, supporting freedom for all slaves in the United States. The denomination was more conservative than the regular Methodists with regards to drinking, smoking, gambling, jewelry and modern dancing. Given these beliefs, and the association of his descendants in Schuyler County with the Methodist Church, there is a strong possibility that William was a Free Methodist.

Guy C. Adams is recorded as being with the 107th by the Nat’l Park Service database. Like William, he went in as a private and out as a Sergeant. Guy Adams, age 15 is listed in 1860 Census living in the Town of Dix, Schuyler County, NY with father John Adams 57 a farmer, Harriet 37, Lucy 17. Guy, who would have been 19 in 1864, is mentioned in a number of William Graham's letters.

Dr. Robert Bell - Lived in Monterey, town of Orange, Schuyler co., NY.  He was born August 24, 1815, in County Down, Ireland, about 12 miles from Belfast city (now Northern Ireland, or Ulster).  He was the son of William Bell and Elizabeth Graham.  He was 12 years old when his family left Ireland and landed in St. Johns, New Brunswick in 1827. His mother was the sister of James Graham, William’s father. Thus Dr. Bell was William’s cousin.

This mention of a shilling is the only indication in William Graham's surviving letters of his Irish origins.

Anna is mentioned in a number of William Graham's letters. In 2008 one might call her a girl friend, but his comments about her to his sister convey an ambivalent feeling on both sides. Whatever transpired in their relationship, he eventually married another woman, Mary Platt. A later statement by Elizabeth Graham, William's sister, in an affidavit supporting Mary Platt Graham's application for a pension, indicates that Elizabeth knew Mary during the Civil War.


Wartrace, Tennessee
3-21-1864

Libbie Graham

Your welcome letter came duly to hand & found me well and made me glad to hear all was well at home. Dear Leib I thankfully acknowledge the receipt of a package of newspapers. I can not tell you how much good it does me to receive such newspapers and letters from home. I can sit down and read the letter and then the papers, advertisements and all. Then there are some of the boys waiting till I get through till they get a chance at them.

Anna sent me the Rural New Yorker not long since and we all read it then. I took it to an old widow lady who lives not far from our camp here, a real sensible old woman.

I must tell you what I got the other day, well I suppose you can guess. It was Anna’s photograph. I think it looks first rate. But I don’t think it looks as natural as the other likeness I have of her. But she looks very ladylike and lovely. I am very thankful for such a beautiful [present.] I will always carry it near my heart.

Three things I always want to carry, even on the field of battle. I want my little bible first, your picture next, and Anna’s next. These I want to carry in my breast pocket and if I fall they will be some consolation to me if I can but see them. May a rebel ball pierce my heart if I ever carry them in a disgraceful retreat from before the enemy. No dear sister, with the word of God as my guide and friends whose [image?] I carry to stimulate me, I trust I will be found where duty calls me if ever death is the result.

Now sister send me your picture. I want to see how you look now. Now I want you to go see father and tell him I am well and all above.

Dr. Bell’s folks are very kind sending me papers and they write often to me. I have got an old quill pen as you will notice by this writing. I can scribble fast.

Tell Guy Adams the boys are all well and the news is now that we are going to Kentucky. They say they are expecting a raid in there. But tell him that I don’t believe it. I think it is only one of the camp rumors.

Commentary

Rural New Yorker, a farm paper founded in 1850 as Moore's Rural New Yorker, dedicated "to home interests of both country and town residents."

Wonder what happened to Anna?

Interesting the importance placed on the photo, the picture of loved person as a representation of that loved one. Photography was then a new technology and had a fascination and significance which has diminished today.

Blockhouse at Union camp guarding the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad

The rumors about heading to Kentucky were wrong. William's suspicion in that regard was correct. But change was indeed afoot, the Atlanta Campaign culminating in the fall and burning of that city would begin in a little over a month - on May 7, 1864. William and the 107th Regiment would again experience the stress, fear and excitement of war. The boredom and sins of the last six months would be no more. Now a different sort of horror would bathe the land of Georgia.

H Graem © 2008