This letter was written by Horace Moore Polk (1819-1883), a planter on Bayou Bartholomew near Bastrop, Morehouse Parish, Louisiana. Horace was the third child of Captain Thomas Independence Polk (1786-1863) and Sarah Isham Moore (1787-1840). He was a resident of Tennessee and Louisiana and served in the state legislature of both states. He attended the 1860 Charleston and Baltimore presidential nominating conventions as a supporter of Stephen Douglas. He opposed succession but followed his State when she seceded. He served as a Colonel in the Trans-Mississppi Department.
Horace married his cousin, Ophelia Jane Bills (1826-1885) in 1843 in Bolivar, Hardeman County, Tennessee. He wrote this letter to his father-in-law, John Houston Bills (1800-1871), a prominent Tennessee merchant, plantation owner, and Freemason. John lost his first wife, Prudence McNeal, in 1840 but was remarried to Lucy Ann Duke in 1846. Clara Bills (1839-1924), mentioned in the letter, was Ophelia’s younger sister.
Bastrop [Morehouse Parish, La.]
July 15, 1861
Major John H. Bills
I have written but very seldom since I got up from my sickness. I have got nearly all my flesh back, but recover my strength very slowly indeed. This may possibly have resulted from my nervous system being so severely attacked. Ophelia’s health has continued to improve. Has a good appetite, and her food agrees with her. My children are all well. There is a good deal of sickness here and some of it if a serious character. Some have died in a short time from attacks, accompanied with a stupor, from which it seems difficult to arouse them — congestion about the brain. I saw a young man this morning (who came out with Mr. D. Hunt) in this condition, and I doubt very much if he lives through another day. He was taken sick last night.
Our corn crops are now made. Mine is excellent, and will give me an abundance or corn for another year. My cotton is not as large as some in the neighborhood but is growing and on the front looking very well. The back land cotton is small.
In a few days the planters of our Parish will meet in Bastrop to subscribe to the government cotton loan. I think the planters will general subscribe liberally. We cannot wage this war without money. Mr. Lincoln is calling for a large amount, but I think stands much less chance to get it than Mr. Davis. As to his 400,000 men, he will have to double the number before he can hope to make and impression on the South. In less than 30 days, we will have nearly that number (400,000) in the field, and there are 10’s of thousands only waiting to see our country invaded to fly to arms. Our Governor will not furnish any more arms to troops unless they remain in the state. We have been furnishing 3 or 4 states liberally and now must look to our own necessities.
When I was sick, 5 companies were raised and partially raised in our Parish. 2 have gone — 1 more is complete — and 2 others, not full yet. I expect it would be difficult to raise another unless we are invaded. Our voting population is (I think) less than 800. Ophelia is persuading me to stay at home. If I knew what to do with my family, I would very soon be off to the wars. But Mr. Potts thinks we should hold on and be ready for their descent of the Mississippi River (if they are fools enough to try it) and any attack they may make via New Orleans from below.
We are still on the Bayou and will probably stay here through the summer. If I were not afraid to bring Evelyn home in the summer, I would get my brother Tom to bring her to us. I think I had better wait till October.
We have recent intelligence of a splendid victory of [Claiborne] Jackson’s over Speigel [Franz Sigel] in the southern part of Missouri [see Battle of Carthage]. I sincerely hope it is so. Once defeat them, and with McCulloch, we will drive them back across the Missouri River without a single check.
I would be glad to hear from you soon. My kind regards to Mrs. Bills & Clara.
Yours as ever, — H. M. Polk