1861: Sarah (Fleming) Broun to William LeRoy Broun


Sallie (Fleming) Broun in later years

These two letters were written by 25 year-old Sarah (“Sallie”) Jane (Fleming) Broun (1836-1883), the wife of William LeRoy Broun (1827-1902). Born in Middleburg, Loudon County, Virginia, William was the son of Edwin Conway Broun and Elizabeth Channel. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1850 and was a professor at the College of Mississippi in 1852; at the University of Georgia in 1854; and was principal of Bloomfield Academy in Albemarle County, near Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1856 until the outbreak of the Civil War.

William and Sarah were married in November 1859 in Hanover County, Virginia. Sarah’s father, George W. Fleming (1802-1883) was a physician in Hanover County. Sarah mentions her brother Malcolm Nassau Fleming who was a surgeon in the 21st Virginia Infantry. She also mentions a “brother Bob” who I cannot identify. It may have been her cousin, Robert Thomas Coleman, who was also a surgeon with the 21st Virginia Infantry. By May 1862, Robert (“Bob”) was chief surgeon of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s Division. He assisted Medical Director Hunter Holmes McGuire in amputating the left arm of Gen. Jackson by administering anesthesia.

At the opening of the war, 34 year-old William enlisted in the Confederate army as a lieutenant of artillery and rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the ordnance department. On account of his high mathematical and scientific attainments, he was made commandant of the arsenal at Richmond — one of the most important positions in the Confederate service. He is known for having developed the Broun artillery shell.

Remembering the war in his memoirs, Broun wrote, “My eldest son, LeRoy, was one year old when I volunteered in the army and was made a lieutenant of artillery in the Albemarle Artillery Company. The company was sent near Yorktown, Va. I never in the world expected to come back, and my wife went to her father’s, Dr. George Fleming’s in Hanover County, Va. The next spring I was ordered to Richmond, Va., by the Secretary of War, Colonel Randolph, and was made major in the ordnance department, commandant of the Richmond arsenal, in charge of which I remained until the surrender of Gen. R. E. Lee.” [Source: Dr. William LeRoy Broun, compiled by Thomas L. Broun, 1912, pg. 7-8]


Richmond Arsenal Ruins (1865)

Several of the Fleming family slaves are mentioned in these letters — Ben, George, Ike, Old Ike, Edmund, and Richard. The 1860 Slave Census indicates that Broun only owned one slave — perhaps the one named “Ben.”

In the first letter, Sallie informs her husband that it is impossible to buy a “black coat” in Richmond as no dark cloth could be had at any price. In the second letter, Sallie ponders who among the family slaves might best serve her husband in camp. She settles on “Old Ike” because of his loyalty and knowledge of cooking.


Addressed to Lieut. W. L’Roy Broun, Albemarle Artillery, Care of Capt. Wm. Southall, Yorktown
[Beaver Dam Depot, Dec. 17, 1861 written on Envelope]

Wednesday night,

My Dearest Husband,

I am sorry I cannot write you a long letter, but on account of my eyes I am unable for they are still very weak. I can’t begin to tell you, my darling, how perfectly charmed I am that I am to be with you 12 days — how delighted I will be. I want you (if my precious boy is well enough to leave) to take me to Middleburg so if you think there is nothing to prevent I want you to write them at once so that Brother E. could send for us to the Plains. It would be a delightful trip for both of us & I want to see you happy with your friends & relations in Middleburg & be there to see & enjoy your happiness, with a consciousness all that time that I am the best beloved. Oh! me, do I talk of happiness when our dear country is in such peril. Oh husband, it makes my heart ache to think how the enemy is gaining on us & how much I fear that fleet coming to Yorktown.

Roy is very poorly (teething Ma says) but as he has been sick longer than usual (since Saturday) & suffers with nausea & entire loss of appetite, I can’t help feeling very anxious. He has no fever & Ma says she does not think him ill. He is asleep now & is more precious than ever when he is sick. I hope this attack will pass off in a few days. As much as I would hate to leave him, I would fear to take him to Middleburg this winter for the weather is uncertain & he might have pneumonia. If my boy is right well & there is another reason why I should not go to Middleburg, I want very much to go & if I don’t got to Middleburg, I want to go with you back for while to our beloved home (Bloomfield). I will certainly be here next Monday week, & if you will be at Beaver Dam on that day, we will send for you if you will let us know. Write at once & tell me your plans. I want you to come here to see Roy & if we go to Middleburg, start from this place.

I authorized Pa as he said a black coat could not be gotten in Richmond at all. Neither could a good one of any sort be gotten for less than $35 — to get you a very nice gray cloth overcoat the same kind of cloth as your uniform & give $35 for it. I hope I did not do wrong but Pa said he could get no blacker or darker blue cloth, & if you object to the price, receive it as a present from me. You could not get a coat you would wear for $20 now — everything is so high.

I send you a comfort by Ben, 6 towels, a pair of gloves ___ by Grandmother & Aunt Maria, a sheep skin. Ma sends the towels & sheep skin. The oil cloth Gerry claims as his & Ma has decided not to cut it so you can have no gaiters out of that but I will try & get oil cloth elsewhere. I have some beautiful gingham to make your shirts. Do you need them now? I have paid aunts M & I $107 which they take in full for all you owe them. Aunt I. reduced Ike’s hire on account of his worthlessness to $60 which was ____ too much. Aunt Maria deducted from George’s hire because she was the cause of his coming down. I send you two books — Macauley’s Miscellaneous [Essays] & Grigsby’s [Discourse on the Virginia] Convention of 1776. Take good care of them & let them come back to this library. Love to Malcolm.

Yours loving wife, — S. F. Broun

I received 3 letters last Monday from you at one time & thank you dear husband for them. Brother Bob is at home.


Chantilly ¹ [Hanover County, Virginia]
December 17th

My Dearest Husband,

Today is the day that I had looked forward to with many joyous anticipations as the day of your expected visit but my dearest husband, how disappointed I have been & with what anxiety I am looking forward now to a terrible battle I am not able to tell you, my darling. When you pray to God, ask earnestly & particularly that your precious life may be spared. I believe in thus petitioning our Father & I do have the faith to believe that he will hear my prayer offered up in spirit, I may say, every moment of the day asking for your protection & preservation. I put afar off from me, my darling, the thought of anything happening to you. If I did not, my life would be unsupportable. Oh! misery musing “which way could I fly” — but I put my trust in my God — he will spare you to me & to doing good in the world. How heartily I thank you for your charming letters of late. They have been great comforts to me.

This morning I was up at an early hour for the purpose of writing to you a long letter as I would have today an opportunity to Beaver Dam. Whilst dressing, Jane rushed into the room saying that Ma had fallen, breaking her ankle bone. I threw on my dressing gown & was downstairs in a few moments and dear Mr. Brown, it was the absolute truth. She had fallen on her foot stepping from Grandma’s room into the porch twisting it & her whole weight being on the ankle bone broke, though brother Bob & Pa neither of them think it the worst kind of fracture though she is suffering the most intense agony. Poor Ma, she will so illy endure the confinement of 6 weeks which will be the time before she will be able to walk & she can stand pain worse than anyone you ever saw. This is a great affliction though it might have been much worse. If it should so happen that you can come up soon, bring her by all means some oysters if you can get her any. I heard her say the other day that she wanted some very much.

Oh dear, dear husband, how rejoiced i will be to see you. As to your coat, I will be delighted & highly pleased if it suits you & think it much better to get a good one at once. I need nothing under the Heavens in the way of dresses so please don’t trouble yourself on the subject of Roy’s & my clothes. It would be a great trial to me to be obliged to wear a fine dress now when my heart is sad almost to breaking at times & I think if we could possibly manage during the war to have enough from your salary to pay all we owe for the hire of servants that I would be very glad & it would be much better now to pay all we can with this paper money than to let it run on until after the war. I thought I would like to go to Middleburg but as Annie is at Bloomfield & Conway & Annie are not in Middleburg, I think I would much prefer going to Bloomfield & spending there with you, my dearly beloved, your whole furlough.

Malcolm ² has been commissioned Asst. Surgeon to the 21st [Virginia] Regiment & when he leaves the Penninsula, of course Ben will not return & you must have a servant of your own. I think Edmund would answer if you do not fear the Yankees taking him or his going over to them. I don’t think it would do to take Richard from the farm. You seemed to think before you left Bloomfield that Isaac — your Old Isaac — would be the least efficient of any to go with you, but I have been thinking a great deal lately about your having somebody who would suit you & I think if you could be induced to try him, that Old Isaac would answer infinitely better than any of your servants. He is slow, it is true, but he would be perfectly faithful & to wait only on you & attend to your horse he would answer well — & besides, he knows a good deal about cooking which none of the others know anything of. He could be spared from Bloomfield by our hiring Aunt Maria’s George ___ year, but not at $25 — that is too much these times. $12 or $10 & his clothes is a plenty for him.

I enclose your letters. I wrote by Ben when I thought he would go to the Peninsula for there are some things I would like you know & I have no time to write them. You have the liberty of exchanging your coat if you don’t like it. It is at Kean & Baldwin’s — by exchange, I mean that Kean & Baldwin have promised to take it back & you can get one anywhere you please. Tell Malcolm of Ma’s sad accident. My heart aches when I think of her terrible confinement. I am fondly your wife, dearest husband, — S. F. Broun

Brother Lewis who has been ill is better. I am sorry to tell you we have diphtheria here amongst the servants. Roy is well.

¹ Chantilly was the name of the Fleming family estate in the far western end of Hanover County, Virginia.  By 1850, Dr. George Fleming (Sarah’s father) owned the “stately farm house” and maintained his medical practice on third floor of the brick addition. The home remained in the Fleming family until about 1900.

² Malcolm Nassau Fleming was described in the Civil War diary of John Samuel Apperson as “one whose cast of countenance has something solemn and stern — a mingling of destiny and determination — while behind all this can be seen wit and humor which turns nearly everything into jest. Careless perhaps in all matters of domestic arrangement — kind and gentlemanly.” [Repairing the “March of Mars” — [Source: The Civil War Diaries of John Samuel Apperson, Hospital Steward in the Syonewall Brigade, 1861-1865, page 272]

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