1864: Sarah C. (Sneed) Conrad to Fannie

How Sallie might have looked

How Sallie might have looked

This letter was written by 30 year-old Sarah C. (Sneed) Conrad (1823-1877), the wife of Jeremiah Mitchell Conrad (1816-1881). Sarah (or “Sallie”) was the daughter of Benjamin Sneed (1795-1870) and his first wife, Lucy Ann Goodloe (1803-1835). Jeremiah was the son of George Conrad (1785-1850) and Susanna Miller (1793-1861) of Rockingham County, Virginia.

In her letter, Sallie tells her friend Fannie — presumably a resident of Richmond — that the family has settled into a dilapidated cottage in a rural area of Chesterfield County where her husband hoped to raise enough food to feed his family and slaves. She laments the inflationary prices of everything caused by the war and the devaluation of the currency which has forced them to sell their Richmond business and property or face starvation. A search of the Richmond Whig newspaper reveals that Jeremiah Conrad was formerly a partner with W. W. Leftwich in the “Commission and Forwarding Business” in Richmond but carried on the business alone after September 1857 when Leftwich retired.

Dissolution of Partnership, Richmond Whig, 15 Sept 1857

Dissolution of Partnership, Richmond Whig, 15 Sept 1857

Sallie and “Mr. C” (as she refers to her husband in this letter) had several children: Her eldest was Mary (“Mollie”) L. Conrad (1844-1912) who was married to Joseph Benson Gentry (1839-1875).† Next was William Sneed Conrad ‡ (1845-1917) whom we learn was serving in Co. A., Otey’s Battery of the 13th Battalion Virginia Light Artillery. Next were three sons at home named John Mitchell (b. 1847), Charles H. (b. 1849), and Parker Towles Conrad (1852-1917) who Sallie says have been put to work with the slaves clearing land on their farm in Chesterfield County. The last two children were Ella Virginia (b. 1858) and Sarah (“Sallie”) Conrad (b. 1860).

Though Sallie had only one son old enough to serve in the Confederate army, her fourteen year-old son Charles H. Conrad was taken a prisoner at Chester Station on 9 May 1864 by Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s troops and force-marched him all the way to Fortress Monroe where he was eventually exchanged as a prisoner. His biography states that he developed a personal friendship with the general who offered to adopt and educate him. He grew up to be a banker and tobacconist but died in 1893 when he fell from a train near Amelia, Virginia.

As far as I have been able to learn, Willie Conrad served through the end of the war in Otey’s Battery and was with his company at Petersburg with their four 12-pound Napoleons during the Battle of the Crater. Their battery was located less than 500 yards from the Crater and were positioned such that they could sweep the field and stem the assault by the Union troops.


Rose Cottage, Chester
February 22 [1864]

Dear Fannie,

I did not think when I received your letter that so long a time would elapse before I answered. I was very glad to hear from you & to find that I still had a place in your memory. It had been a long time since I had the pleasure of reading one of your good old letters.

Well, I suppose you want to hear something about my new home & how I like it. Chester is a little village three miles from Richmond on the Petersburg Railroad. It is right in the woods about a dog houses constitute the place. We have cleared up the woods around our little cottage so we can see where we are a little plainer, but I can’t realize it is home yet — it is so rough & unsightly. Everything around the cottage is quite a pretty one outside but somewhat dilapidated inside — plastering off in a good many places on which I have pasted some papers, some of which have pictures on them. You know I have a great passion for pictures & gave you an instance of that when I was first married by pasting yours & Gussies ugly pictures on the wall in my room.

Runaway Slave Reward Posted by Conrad in Richmond Whig Newspaper, 3 June 1863

Runaway Slave Reward Posted by Conrad in Richmond Whig Newspaper, 3 June 1863

Dr. Knox was out here two weeks & he said he admired my papering very much. There was such a ___iety about it. We have no closet or any other conveniences except a cellar. Mr. C. has dug out since we have been here for a store room in the summer. He says he will have it finished for a dining room & add two more rooms to the house which will make it much more convenient & comfortable. He has turned carpenter & cabinet maker since he came here. Has built a stable & a negro house double cabin, & is now preparing to build a corn house. He has also made me a nice press for my earthenware & one washstand.

We sold nearly all we had in Richmond expected to go South & could not get hens potation for our furniture & what is g____ about it is it sold at a sacrifice & now we can’t get the things we sold at any price. I never shall be as well fixed as I was in Richmond. We are just like new beginners. I never lived as poor in my life. The envy of every family now is something to eat & starvation prices. Meat is now five dollars a lb. Flour two hundred & fifty a barrel. Corn meal 27 & 28 dollars a bushel. Sugar twelve dollars a lb. Molasses 33 dollars a gallon. Don’t you think the poor will have to starve at these prices? Father let me have three barrels of flour at fifty dollars but it is very dark & indifferent but it was the miller’s fault. His wheat was very good. There is a good deal of suffering in the city & county among the poor. Mr. C. says he hopes he will succeed in raising enough for our family. He is clearing up land as fast as he can to put in corn. His land was all in the wood. It takes a great deal of work to clear up new land. He has the boys working with the servants. Father sent me a negro man to help.

Mr. C’s health had greatly improved but he has been suffering terribly with a carbuncle on the back of his neck lately but is recovering from it now but it has troubled him very much. This kind of life [suits him] better than the one he led in Richmond. We have a great deal to do here before we get nicely fixed. I have planted out some flowers & shrubbery. I wish I had my pretty flowers & rose bushes from our old home in Richmond. If I had only known I would settle so near, I would have taken them up. We sold our feed corn & a fine heifer — two years old — & now we have none & can’t get one that is any account without paying an extravagantly high price for it. I manage to get a half pint of milk a day from one of my neighbors to put in our coffee. The cows about here are little poor things — give no milk scarcely. A lady living here has a cow for sale, came to sell it to Mr. C. representing it as being a fine young cow about to have her second calf. Mr. C. asked her how much milk she gave when fresh. She said a half a gallon at a milking & she thought that was wonderful, so you can judge what the people know about fine cows in Chesterfield. I think persimmons flourish here better than anything else.

George called on us as he was going & returning South. I was very glad to see him. I feel sorry that he was caught in the same scrape that we were — selling out his home & everything else & now has to go in the service. He has been in Richmond. Melvin wrote me he was room keeping. He had been up to see them several times. She told him she would have anything cooked for him that he wanted. He told her he would send up a horse for her to cook. Boarding is frightfully high in Richmond. [My daughter] Mollie regrets that [they] have not a room for him. She would like very much to have him with her.

Did your husband succeed in getting a detail? My stepmother has been down two weeks trying to get a detail for one of her boys to attend to the farm. Father’s health is so bad he can’t do it. She has not succeeded. Father has six sons in the service & I think it is hard that he can’t get one to help him food for the government or army at least. He says if he fails in getting one detailed, he will hire out his servants & just cultivate enough for his family. Father is more broken in appearance & spirit than anyone I have seen. He is scarcely himself. He looks on the dark side all the time.

Old Mr. Crom has both of his sons & his adopted son George Rosa [?] detailed on government contracts making soap & candles [from] potash. I think the army needs food more than either of the former. Willie Crom staid up in Alleghany [?] Co. all last summer pretending to make potash & I don’t believe made a lb. It makes me mad when I see the partiality shown & these people that have government contracts make more for themselves than for the government.

Brother Will ¹ has had to go back in the service. He had a substitute. He has a delicate wife with five children & expecting another. Sister Virginia ² & children have been at Father’s ever since the war commenced. It is a considerable tax but she had no other home — poor thing. Brother Ed [Edward W. Sneed, b. 1839] is still in the service. He has tried to get a discharge but they won’t grant it. Old Mrs. Willis — his mother has been stripped of all of her servants except two old ones that are a tax & everything else even down to their wearing clothes by the devilish yankees. They are nothing but devils in human shape. Several of brother Ed’s brothers have shared the same fate who were independent. Some of their families are drawing rations from the Yanks. How humiliating that must be to a Southerner.

John Willis has bought a farm in Grayson County for his mother to get her out of the enemy’s lines in Orange. The people of Orange & Culpepper have suffered terribly by the Yankees. Mr. Nell — your old beau — has moved down here not far from Richmond on the Danville Road — also Mr. Macox. Mrs. Hill’s father [mother?], Mellie Taylor is still a refugee living on a small place of father’s near him [and] says she don’t consider that she is living at all — just existing. She has only the children. Dr. Taylor is getting a fine practice & is very successful. Mollie speaks of visiting her old friend. Mrs. Sarah Vaughan is married again to Major [John Archer] Henley ³ from Williamsburg. Was married last October [1863]. He is a very nice man. I have been to see her twice since she changed her name. She appears to be very happy. The Major was a bachelor. She is still living in the same place on Third Street.

Mrs. Clark is very much broken since Jimmie, her son, was killed. He was killed last summer & she did not know it until his corpse was brought to her door. It was a great shock to her nerves.

Old Dr. [Henry A.] Tatum is dead. Vivian [H. Tatum] ♥ is married & has the consumption. Gussie is still on the carpet. Emma is grown & very frisky.

The Sheppard’s have been living down town on nineteenth street for the past year keeping boarding house. They have hard work to make ends meet but are still proud. Julia [Ann Sheppard] married a poor soldier — a Mr. [Weller Johnston] Rothrock from Vicksburg, formerly from Fredericksburg. ♠ Callie [Sheppard] is still in New York. Mrs. Sheppard enquired after you all when I saw her. ____, Ruth & Atha are grown & would like to get married.

Louisa Watts Nimmo is married to a Dr. [Virginius Williams] Harrison. ♣ Elvira is expecting to marry soon a Mr. Baker — an Episcopal Minister. Julian Times, the widow, is married to Mr. Mitchel of Richmond — a widower, wealthy, had four children, she had one. Times & ___ has a baby Mitchel. Sue Willis is still single & as ugly as ever. They live at the same place.

Lee Vaughan’s husband is in the service. The Mathers I don’t see often. Minnie & Emma called on Mellie a few weeks ago. Jinnie Mathers has gone over to Yankeedom after the substitute Will passed. I heard he had a substitute. I recon M will never recover from the effects of Walter’s death. He was killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg.

W. S. Pilcher of Otey's Battery

W. S. Pilcher of Otey’s Battery

I suppose you have heard that [my son] Willie had joined the Otey’s Battery. [He] is out in East Tennessee. It was a great trial for me to give him up. I knew he would be exposed to so many temptation to vice in the army & he is of such a confiding disposition, would be easily led astray. But he promises us to be a good Christian boy & I trust he will be ably by the grace of God to keep his promises. He writes to us that he reads his bible & prays everyday wether on the march or in camp. Unite with us dear Fannie in praying for him that he may be kept from all vice & be prepared in body & spirit for any emergency & that his life & health may be precious in the sight of God.

I feel that my trouble has just commenced as far as the war is concerned now that I have a child engaged in it. He is one of the best company’s in the service — all of nice young men from Richmond. Charles Binford is in it. I guess you have seen him at our house — a most excellent young man. He & Will sleep & mess together. I wish you would write to Willie, Fannie. His address is Otey’s Battery, Wheeler’s Brigade, Army East Tennessee.

You have no idea how much I miss Mollie though she comes out to see me often. She can come out in the morning & return in the evening. She spent a week with me two weeks ago while her Pa was suffering so much with his neck. She relieved me a great deal in nursing him. She is a very good hand at it. Has much more nerve than I have. She is very happy in her new situation ____ & she has cause to be. She has one of the best of husbands — a most noble, estimable, young man. She made a wise choice. She is living with Mrs. Jenks though the property is ___. She pets Mollie too much I think. She won’t let her do anything scarcely. She is a most excellent woman — very pious. I don’t see how any woman could be otherwise than happy with such a husband as Mollie has & hope she will continue to be happy. It is more than many married people can say. There is not much happiness in the married life unless they are suited to each other & so few are.

I received a letter from Dr. to Gussie a few days ago. They are well. The Dr. has recovered entirely from the spell he had a short time ago. Says he grew more thin he ever did  & that Gussie thinks him quite good looking now. They are a happy couple.

[My daughter] Tennie [Tiny?] Sallie had the misfortune to lose her hat out of the car window last summer. I will be greatly obliged to you if you will p___ her one & ask Lizzie please to p___ Ella one. They have both grown very much. Sallie is very sprightly & lively. Ella is more sedate. They both send their love to you. Give my love to Gussie & all my relatives. I would like to see you all. Write to me soon. Write me all the news, — Sallie

¹ William Benjamin Sneed (1827-1870) was married to Louisa Ann Howard and had six children, the last — William Lewis Sneed — being born in March 1864. William served with the 50th Virginia Infantry.

² Virginia Ann Sneed (1825-1875) was married to Edward Jefferson Willis (1820-1891). After attending Lenox Academy and Williams College in Massachusetts, Edward J. Willis earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he was practicing law when he and Virginia were married in 1843. They moved in 1845 to Barboursville, VA where he ran a boys school, practiced law and farmed. In 1849 he left with a wagon train for California where he settled in Sacremento and became a circuit judge. Later he became a Baptist Minister. Virginia, accompanied by their three small children and her young brother, proved herself an adventurous and courageous woman throughout her own hazardous trip to California in 1850, her stressful stay there and her hazardous return home in 1856. Due to family illnesses and deaths, Edward J. also returned from California, and they never went back. Virginia shared with him his distinguished and often dangerous career: attorney judge, minister, church founder and builder, fund-raiser, editor/publisher, Civil War chaplain, and captain commanding a regiment in the battle of Sharpsburg, college founder and president. 

³ John Archer Henley (b. 1818) was the son of Leonard Henley (1778-1831) and Harriet T. Coke (1800-1878). He married Sarah E. Vaughan (b. 1831) on 22 October 1863 in Richmond. He initially served as the Captain of Co. C, 32nd Virginia Infantry, but spent the latter part of the war in Richmond as clerk & Major of local defense troops.

♠ Weller Johnston Rothrock, Sr. was born in 1837 at Fredericksburg, Virginia. He died 1 July 1913 in Richmond. In 1860, Weller Rothrock lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He fought with the 21st Mississippi Infantry, Company A, as a private. 

♣ Dr. Virginius Williams Harrison was born on 7 October 1829 in Petersburg, Petersburg, VA. He died on 29 April 1873 at the age of 43. He Served as a surgeon in military hospitals in Virginia for the Confederate Army. His first wife was Mary Elizabeth Temple. His second wife was Louise Watts Nimmo.

♥ Dr. Henry A. Tatum (1798-1862) died in October 1862. He was married to Amelia S. Brooking. Their son, Vivian H. Tatum (1838-1865) died on 17 July 1865. He was a member of the 21st Virginia Infantry. He was married to Pattie Sherwin Burke, the daughter of Samuel Debney Burke.

† “Captain Joseph B. Gentry, Auditor and General Ticket Agent of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Company, died at Monticello, Florida, on Thursday.” — Alexandria Gazette, 5 April 1875.

‡ William S. Conrad was born in Harrisonburg, Va., on Aug. 15, 1845. In 1851, he moved with his parents to Richmond and was educated at Richmond College. He became a young captain of a local militia group in 1862. He resigned that post in 1863, and joined the Otey battery of Richmond, attached to the Second Battalion of the Northern Army of Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. He remained with that battery until Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865. Then Conrad returned to Richmond. His stay in Richmond was short, and by the end of September 1865, he had found his way to the lumber city of Stillwater. He held several jobs his first few years there; his first was with the dry goods store Levi & Daniels, then he moved on to the Surveyor General’s office under Ivory McKusick, then he was a clerk and bookkeeper for Julius Brunswick. He spent the winter of 1867-68 in the woods chopping trees. In November 1870, Conrad struck out on his own. With the small amount of capital that he had been able to save, he started his own cigar and tobacco business. His business grew quickly and expanded in 1881 into the then-new McKusick Block. In 1889, he moved his business to 341 Jackson Street in St. Paul, where it grew to become the largest wholesale tobacco business in the Northwest. By 1900, the Conrad Tobacco House was selling an estimated 15 million cigars annually, covering Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, northern Iowa and eastern Montana. For a few years, Conrad was in the meat and cigar business with A.C. Hospes. Later, he and John McCarthy conducted a meat business. Even with his large business enterprise, Conrad still had time to serve in public office. For three years he was city clerk, and for five he was a member of the Stillwater City Council from the third ward (for three years he served as president). Later in his life, Conrad developed diabetes. The disease took its toll on the strong businessman and wore him down. For health reasons, he moved to his cottage in Mahtomedi with his wife in July 1917. He sought medical treatment in Stillwater, staying at his home on Wilkin Street, but on the morning of Aug, 19, 1917, he died. [From: William S. Conrad: From Captain in Lee’s Army to Stillwater Businessman, 2008]

The Grave Marker of Sallie & J. M. Conrad

The Grave Marker of Sallie & J. M. Conrad


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