1861: Louisiana Tiger Letter

This letter was written by a Confederate soldier who most certainly belonged to the Louisianian Tiger Brigade. This brigade initially consisted of the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Louisiana regiments and served with the 2nd Corps Army of Northern Virginia. They were encamped at “Camp Florida” near Centreville until mid-December when the Louisiana troops relocated to a position east of Manassas Junction and went into winter quarters.

There is no envelope accompanying the letter to aid in the identification of the author who signed his name “Wm” and seems to have been from New Orleans. The only other name mentioned in the letter is a “Mr. Chinn” who we learn resided at Laurel Hill near Point Coupee in West Feliciana County. Could this have been the same Richard Henry Chinn (1826-1900) who was the proprietor of the Louisiana Chemical Works — a supplier of Bi-sulphate of Lime to the sugar planters — and a wholesale druggist/chemist with a store in New Orleans at the corner of St. Charles and Union Streets? Could the soldier have been employed by Mr. Chinn? From his handwriting, it is obvious that the soldier was well-educated — possibly employed prior to the war as a clerk or bookkeeper.

The Louisiana Tigers at Bull Run

The Louisiana Tigers at Bull Run

TRANSCRIPTION

Camp “Florida” near Centreville, Virginia
November 20th 1861

Dear Father,

Your letter of 31st ulto. I received a few days since. Mr. Chinn ¹ resides at Laurel Hill Landing — the other places of this name in Mississippi and Alabama. Laurel Hill, La. is near Pointe Coupee [in West Feliciana Parish]. That I addressed the draft Mississippi will not be of much consequence. He will, I think, pay it at once. Write Mr. Chinn at Laurel Hill, La., if you have not already done so. If he has not already answered your letter, it may probably be that he is absent at his plantation. I hope though before this reaches you it will all be right. Use the watch I sent you if you need money in such a way that eventually it can be recovered.

The weather is very cold. Ice forms in our tents every night. I would have endeavored to have obtained a furlough ‘ere this to have gone to Richmond probably to New Orleans but that being in daily expectation of a grand battle with McClellan’s whole Yankee army, I did not like to be absent from the company. Our scouts report the Yankees to be advancing in immense force. The battle is expected to take place in two days. Whole brigades of our army are sent out on picket duty and daily are capturing bodies of the Yankee scouts and foraging parties. We are all sanguine and entertain no apprehensions as to the result. From all accounts it will be a bloody battle. But pray God will give us victory.

My health is about the same. If I survive the battle, I will endeavor to come to New Orleans.

Trusting to God’s goodness for your well-being — temporal and spiritual. Your affectionate son — Wm.


¹ Could this have been Richard H. Chinn of New Orleans? The following article by Jerry Bowen, entitled “Colorful adventurer worked the spectrum from druggist to to a blockade runner” was published in 2000 on the internet:

One of the lesser known characters that once lived in Vaca Valley was a man known as Capt. Richard H. Chinn. What little is known about him came mostly from stories he told about his life to friends. Indeed, if all the stories were true, his life would read like an adventure novel.

Capt. Chinn was born in Scott County, Ky., on December 28, 1826. Not much is known about him until he moved in with Henry Clay, an American political leader. Clay was secretary of state under John Quincy Adams and an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in 1824, 1832, and 1844. He was also a law professor and a member of the board of trustees for Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. Chinn lived with Henry Clay and his family for many years and attended Transylvania University where he studied to be a druggist and graduated with high honors.

As a Southerner in the days before the Civil War, Chinn’s opinion that black people were inferior often surfaced in ill-favored ways. One such example is the day he and a group of college friends attended a stage show during a lull in their college studies. Entering the theater they took great offense at a sign which read “Negroes and College Students, one-half price.” Young Chinn and his equally foolish friends stormed the theater, demolishing all the chairs and windows before they were apprehended. There is no local record of what punishment, if any, was levied on the offensive actions of Chinn and his companions. The arresting officer, Sheriff Richard Long, would in later years move to Vacaville and become the town recorder.

In spite of his escapades, Chinn graduated with a degree in medicine and moved to New Orleans where he successfully ran a drug business for several years.

During a trip to New York by steamer, the ship was wrecked somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Luck was with him and seven other passengers when they were able to board a raft, but lady luck would soon abandon them. Drifting aimlessly for days, facing a prolonged and agonizing death by dehydration and starvation, they made the ultimate decision. Drawing lots, the loser was sacrificed, becoming life-saving sustenance for the remaining shipwreck survivors. Adrift another week they finally reached shore somewhere on the coast of Central America. Chinn would remain in Central America for a year.

Returning to New Orleans about the time the Civil War broke out, he became a blockade runner, smuggling ammunition, gunpowder and guns to the Confederate Army. Once again lady luck deserted Mr. Chinn. Captured during an attempt to run a vessel loaded with war contraband through a blockade, he was quickly tried and sentenced to two years imprisonment by Gen. Ben Butler. From this time on he was known as “Captain” Chinn.

The conditions in the prison camps were wretched; the stench was insufferable, rations were meager, and it was almost impossible to move around due to overcrowding. The sick were left lying about because the hospitals were full. Seldom was there any drinking water, except when it rained. After serving several months of his sentence under these miserable conditions, Capt. Chinn regained his freedom by bribing a guard with $150. Making his way to Cuba, he spent the next 14 years amassing a fortune, although it is not known how.

He returned to America in 1880, settling along with his new wife in Chico. He lived there for two years and in 1882 moved to Vacaville to invest in the fruit business.

Capt. Chinn was a popular guest at social gatherings where he would recount stories of his past accomplishments and colorful adventures. His home on Naylor Hill near Foothill Drive was also the scene of many social activities.

Capt. Chinn was struck down with a stroke on September 11, 1898, which paralyzed him. After the stroke, he was under the close care of Dr. J. W. Stitt on an almost daily basis for nearly 18 months. A second stroke claimed the life of Capt. Chinn in his home on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 1900. In accordance with Chinn’s instructions, Dr. Stitt shipped the body to the I. O. O. F. cemetery in San Francisco for cremation. He was survived by his wife; an unmarried daughter living in Washington, D.C.; a second daughter living in Boston, Mass., who was married to Rear Admiral Walker; and a sister, Mrs. Ripley of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Perhaps some of the stories Capt. Chinn told were somewhat embellished or entirely the product of an overactive imagination. Even so, if only some of the stories were true, he would have been quite the character worthy of an attentive ear.”

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2 thoughts on “1861: Louisiana Tiger Letter

  1. Great to see this letter shared as it passed through e-bay into its new owner’s hands. If the the new owner reads this please contact me. I believe that I may be able to help identify who the writer is and give them some context. I hope that they can add to this post and thereby give this soldier an identity and make his story known. Please contact Spared & Shared 9 for my email address.

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  2. The 2000 story on the internet isn’t quite accurate. There was a Richard Henry Chinn who lived in LA, wife was former Betsy Holmes (look it up) I’m a descendant of their daughter, Ellen A. Chinn who married Frederick R Conway. The Richard Chinn in the article has taken facts and stories about his ancestors and made them his own, plus some embellishments. Sad to say, inaccuracies like this get perpetuated. Just FYI.

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