1863: Lizzie Blackburn to Major Thomas Blackburn Rodgers

How Lizzie might have looked

How Lizzie might have looked

This letter was addressed to Major Thomas Blackburn Rodgers (1836-1916) while he was confined as a prisoner of war in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Thomas was the son of James Russell Rodgers (1805-18xx) and Margaret Blackburn (1810-18xx) of Mercer, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. He took up the study of law and was admitted to the bar in 1857. By appointment, he served as the clerk to the County Commissioners from 1857 to 1861 when he resigned to accept a commission as a First Lieutenant in Co. G of the Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves. He participated in the Battle of Drainsville in December 1861 and was discharged from the regiment in May 1862.

In August 1862, Rodgers once again enrolled in the service as the Captain of Company B, 140th Pennsylvania Infantry, but was quickly elevated to Major of the regiment. He served with the regiment on garrison duty until after the Battle of Fredericksburg, when the unit was added to the decimated ranks of Samuel K. Zook’s Third Brigade, First Division, II Army Corps. He then fought at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where the 140th Pennsylvania took heavy casualties fighting on the line in front of the Chancellors House, and at Gettysburg. Major Rodgers was captured at Gettysburg on 2 July 1863 by a flanking party of the enemy between the peach orchard and the wheat field. General Zook was mortally wounded in the action, and the 140th Pennsylvania’s commander, Colonel Richard P. Roberts, was killed. Rodgers was taken to Libby Prison where he remained for nine months before being paroled and sent to Annapolis and Washington.

When he returned to his regiment, Thomas Rodgers was advanced to Lieutenant Colonel to fill vacancies caused by the Gettysburg combat. He would serve in this capacity until the end of the war, fighting in the Mine Run Campaign, The Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the Siege of Petersburg, and the final Appomattox Campaign.

After the war, Rodgers married Marion E. Long and relocated from Pennsylvania to St. Louis, Missouri, From 1867 to 1870, Col. Rodgers was agent of the US Quartermaster’s Department and from 1870 to 1879, he was engaged in the real estate and insurance business.

The letter was written by a young woman from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, who called herself a cousin of Major Rodgers. I believe the letter was written by 18 year-old Lizzie Blackburn, the daughter of James and Margaret Blackburn of Westmoreland County. Lizzie married T. W. Bedford in 1869 in Brownsville, Nebraska.

1863 Letter

1863 Letter

Addressed to Major T. B. Rodgers, 140th Regiment Pa. Vols.
Libby Prison, Richmond, Va.
Care Commanding Gen. of the Department of Va. Fortress Monroe, Va.

No. 1

Greensburg [Pennsylvania]
December 28th 1863

My Dear Tom,

I could not tell you how rejoiced I was when I received your letter of the 14th & 16th this morn telling me you had the boxes. I am only sorry I did not send you more things. I have thought of so many things I would like to send. I was told not to send a large box for it would not go. If I can, you shall [receive] more things before you get home. Oh Tom dear, I did wish for you so much on Christmas. I had an elegant dinner and hoped to have Fan Davis, her brother, and Sam T. here and they all disappointed me. On Christmas day I don’t know why but I felt as tho you would come and looked for you all day. I had dreamed you were coming. I suppose that is the reason I thought you would be here. Mother did not get home to spend Christmas with us. We all missed her. Sadly it was the first Christmas we ever spent without her. I had a letter from Sam T. this morning. He will be here I think this week. I received some handsome presents. One was “Festus” — a poem by Bailey. ¹ I suppose you have read it. I had some photographs taken and meant to send you one in the box but it was not good so I would not send it.

Mary Tomy is coming here this week and if Lam comes we will go home with her. Could you not come too? Fan Davis is here. She came on last Sunday evening. She will make us a long visit. I think Sis will come down with Lam. They sent you a box from home. Sis writes we have nice wine. I am saving ever so much for Tom. They all say, “Lizzie would keep everything from Tom and make us do without.” You give me too much credit for the box. It was more from Father than me but I got it up. I am in hopes you will get home soon. Don’t pass here before you go home without stopping or we will never forgive you. I met such nice rebel officers this summer. I told them about you. They said if they were exchanged, they would find you out and be kind. I will tell you all about them when you get home. All send you love; your friends regards. Mother will be home this week. She is so much better. Em wrote to you. Did you get her letter? I wish I had your ivorytype now. I almost forgot what you look like. Good bye my dear Tom.

With much love, your cousin, — Lizzie

¹ In its first edition in 1839 Festus was a substantial poem of a little more than 8,000 lines. By its seventh edition in 1889 it had swollen to almost 40,000 lines, an expansion assisted by Philip Bailey’s decision to subsume within what had once been independent poems.


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