1862: Joseph Alston James to Father

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15th South Carolina

Initially I thought this letter was written by Jas. A. James, but the letter was written from Confederate-occupied Scottsville, Virginia, and there were no Confederate soldiers named James A. James. Upon further study, I concluded the author’s signature was Jos. A. James instead. If this is the case, then I believe the letter was written by Pvt. Joseph Alston James (1829-1908) of the 15th South Carolina — the only Confederate soldier by that name. He served in Company G initially — a unit raised in Williamsburg County that called themselves the “Williamsburg Rifles.” Being an 1852 graduate of the Medical College of South Carolina at Charleston, he eventually rose in rank to Asst. Surgeon, and then chief surgeon of Kershaw’s Division.

Joseph was only eight years old when his father, William Huger James (1799-1836), died. It is reported that Joseph and two younger siblings were then raised by his mother’s family (Capers) — presumably the “dear father” to whom this letter was addressed and who put him through medical college.

The 15th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment mustered into Confederate service in September 1861, at Lightwood Knot Springs near Columbia. They had their baptism by fire at Fort Wagner on Hilton Head Island during the battle of Port Royal Sound on November 6, 1861. In July 1862, the 15th South Carolina was sent to Virginia in Brigadier Thomas Drayton’s Brigade. Drayton’s Brigade was assigned to Major General David R. Jones’ Division of Major General James Longstreet’s wing of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. They fought under Drayton at Second Manassas, South Mountain and Sharpsburg.

General Robert E. Lee transferred the 15th South Carolina to Kershaw’s Brigade after the battle of Sharpsburg. In Kershaw’s Brigade, they fought at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. After the battle of Gettysburg, the 15th South Carolina and the rest of Kershaw’s Brigade accompanied General James Longstreet to North Georgia and East Tennessee where they fought in the battles of Chicamauga, Knoxville, and Bean’s Station. Following the winter of 1864-65, Kershaw’s men rejoined Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia just in time to particpate in the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna, Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg, including the significant battle of First Deep Bottom near Richmond in late July 1864.

While at Petersburg in August 1864, Kershaw’s Brigade and the 15th South Carolina was assigned to General Jubal Early’s Army of the Shenandoah Valley. Here they fought against General Phillip Sheridan’s army at Hupp’s Hill and Cedar Creek, before returning to Petersburg in November 1864.

Before the war, Joseph resided near Murray’s Ferry on the Santee River in Williamsburg County, South Carolina. After the war, Joseph resided in Ridge, Williamsburg County, South Carolina where he made a living as a physician and a planter. He later moved to Cheraw, Chesterfield County, South Carolina where he is buried.

TRANSCRIPTION

Near Scottsville, Virginia
September 22d 1862

My Dear Father,

Thinking you would like to hear from me, I take this opportunity of writing you. I am quite unwell at present. Have been sick some three weeks but am better now.

I was not in the late battles which has taken place in Virginia. ¹ I am now on my way to join my regiment having been at and near Scottsville for several weeks. I was sent up there to the hospital but did not stay but one night at the hospital. A very kind gentleman took me to his house & very kindly attended to me. I meet with very kind friends but still I would be rejoiced to see home again. I hope this wicked war will soon be brought to a close so all may return to their homes and enjoy peace and the pursuit of happiness once more.

I have not drawn any money since I wrote to you. I want you [to] have me a pair of drawers & 2 pr. sock ready & in my next letter I will direct you where to send them. You requested me to let you know how things are selling here. Everything is very high owing to the great army in Virginia which has nearly consumed everything like provisions. Corn is selling for 2 dollars a bushel. Wheat $2.90 per bushel. Oats 3 dollars & other things in proportion. All kinds of dry goods are very scarce — common shirting 75 cts a yard, shoes 10 dollars a pair. I will write again as soon as I reach the regiment. I hope you all are well. Give my love to all.

Your affectionate son, — Jos. A. James


¹ References to the Battles of Second Manassas and South Mountain in which the 15th South Carolina was a participant. 

 

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