1861-63: Hiram Talbert Holt to Angeline Caroline (DeWitt) Holt

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Hiram Talbert Holt’s June 1861 Letter from Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, with image of an unidentified Alabama Volunteer [image posted by Peggy Dillard, Civil War Faces]
This letter was written by Hiram Talbert Holt while serving in Co. D, 2nd Alabama Infantry. He later served in Co. I, 38th Alabama Infantry Volunteers. “Holt was a talented and prolific writer, and has been cited in various books and historical papers including Southerners At War…The 38th Alabama Infantry Volunteers, Arthur E. Green, c. 1999, Burd Street Press and A Confederate Soldier’s Report to His Wife During the Campaign from Tullahoma to Dalton, Robert Partin, Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol.12, 1953. Some of the biographical information provided below has been gleaned from these sources.

PRE-CIVIL WAR LIFE

Born 16 July 1835, at Choctaw Corner, 8 miles from Thomasville, Clark County, Alabama, Holt—who did not own slaves—was both a school teacher and a small farmer. A school contract of 16 October 1858, originally hand written by Holt, stated, “Holt binds himself to teach a school, near Joseph DeWitt’s, to the best of his ability…he further obligates himself to do nothing derogatory towards the advancement of his pupils, morally or in any other way…The branches to be taught are as follows. Spelling, Reading, Writing, Elocution, & Composition, E. Grammar, Latin Grammar &c. Arithmetic, Algebra, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Book-Keeping, &c…”

Additionally, a list of Rules & Regulations accompanied the contract, which stated in part:

“…Each pupil upon entering the school room in the morning shall salute the Teacher…Each pupil shall become accountable to his teacher for want of politeness towards his school mates…The girls & boys are required to occupy their respective play grounds…Neither are they to hold any communication either by word or letter…”

Holt, by virtue of the demands of his profession, was clearly an educated man, as evidenced by his remarkable letters that are highlighted by his insights, thoughts, concerns, and passions. His words often reveal an abiding faith in God, a philosophical nature, a deep appreciation of the beauty of the South, and an utter devotion to his wife and children.

Talbert Holt married Angeline Caroline DeWitt—-whom he referred to as “Carrie”—on 1 September 1859. They had two beloved children, the youngest of whom Holt never got to see as he was on the field of combat when she was born and never received a furlough in order to visit his family prior to her passing. His youngest daughter—“Little Carrie”—died in the winter of 1864.

MILITARY SERVICE

Some time prior to 4th March 1861, Holt enlisted as a private in the Suggsville Greys, a volunteer company from Clarke County. The Greys were quickly dispatched to Fort Morgan, Alabama, where they became Co. D of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, Alabama Volunteers. Holt remained with this company both at Fort Morgan and at Fort Gaines at least through the end of February, 1862.

In the spring of 1862, Holt was promoted to 1st Sergeant and was sent to Fort Pillow, Tennessee, which, at the time, suffered under 18 days and nights of relentless bombardment. Prior to the felling of Fort Pillow, Holt was transferred to Mobile, Alabama, where, on 12th June 1862, he became 1st Sergeant of Co. I, 38th Alabama Infantry Volunteers.

In the spring of 1863, Holt and his regiment traveled via river boats and railroad box cars to join with the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma. Holt was encamped and campaigned at several notable locations including Wartrace, Fairfield, atop Cumberland Mountain, Tina’s Station, Chattanooga, Charleston, and Missionary Ridge. He also served in Georgia at Lafayette, La Grange, and Dalton. Three of Carrie’s brothers—Lee, Josey, and Lewis DeWitt—served with Holt during most of the Tennessee-Georgia campaign.

Hiram Talbert Holt died on the battlefield 24 February 1864. At 5:00 PM that day, General Clayton’s brigade received orders to march up Crow’s Valley to meet the enemy. Upon arriving at one of their former camps, the battleline was advancing from a distance of approximately 300 yards, with skirmishers fronting the line. With Captain Greene in command, the 18th Alabama had been on picket and was fighting gallantly, moving forward. The Union troops almost succeeded in overtaking the camp, and were pursued by the Confederate brigade for about ½ mile during which time the Federals fired off 6 shots from their artillery. It was during this battle that Holt met his death, which was witnessed by Jack DeWitt, another of Carrie’s brothers. Originally buried on the battlefield, Holt’s remains were disinterred, brought home to Clarke County, and buried in the family plot at Choctaw Corner. Following the war, Holt was given a Masonic funeral, but his grave was not properly marked and its exact location is unknown.

After her husband’s death, Carrie never remarried. The remaining 75 years of her life were spent living with relatives, rearing and educating her surviving daughter Alma Drucilla, teaching school, nursing the sick, and, in later years, keeping house for her daughter’s family. Carrie passed away 11th January 1939 at the age of 97.”

Source: Civil War Voices—Soldier Studies

See also: The Sustaining Faith of an Alabama Soldier by Robert Partin; Soldiers of the Cross: Confederate Soldier-Christians and the Impact of War by Kent T. Dollar; and Courage Under Fire: Profiles in Bravery from the Battlefields of the Civil War by Wiley Sword.

Two of Hiram Talbert Holt’s letters appear in “Southerners at War – the 38th Alabama Infantry.” Others are published in The Tennesse Historical Quarterly and the Alabama Review while some others are in private hands. (Art Green, 2/22/2005)


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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Fort Morgan [Mobile Bay]
June 21st 1861

Dear Carrie,

I have just come off from Battalion Drill & am very tired but I know no way to rest myself better than by writing to you. I have just watched blazing Sol sink behind the big hill (as John used [to] tell me twelve years ago when I picked cotton [as] a little shirt-tail boy).

Carrie, what shall I write you? Have I not exhausted all subjects? Yes—but nevertheless, I will give you a slight description of these parts.

On the eastern shore, as it is called, you will find a profusion of decaying timber that has been brought down the Alabama & Tombigbee rivers—all sorts that you ever saw—the trunk of the old oak, poplar, pine, and many other varieties unknown to me. Mingled with this you may see the wrecks of vessels, broken barrels, bottles, refused provisions, alligators,  turtles large as your table, porpoise by thousands rising in the water, mullet in swarms, [and] crabs by millions. Farther up the bay towards Mobile is shrubbery of various kinds, sand hills as large as your imagination will be apt to reach. On this are our tents.

But the most conspicuous as well as lonely thing I see is the grave of a pirate captain buried I don’t know how many years ago. His grave is walled up with brick but as he is very close to the water, the sand has partly been washed away displaying a part of his skeleton. In fact, I had his chin & jaw bone in my hands. Poor fellow—he is enjoying different scenes in yonder’s world to what we now contemplate, whether for weal or woe.

From this shore we look far up toward my home—my own dear home—till the eyes are dimmed in the mists & clouds of the distance. Looking westward you perceive plainly the western shore & Fort Gaines whose flag waves to us in complete view. Looking still further, we see those channels of water verging upon Lake Pontchartrain. Still to the left you see Pelican and another island where there are tens of thousands of birds at all times. The Southern coast & scenery offers less objects of notice. No timber there. Looking across the Gulf you see Sand Island, the light house upon it, a little to the right a wrecked vessel stands lonely and immoveable & again to the left the enemy’s vessels. Beyond that, nothing but water raging bottomless & deep. This to us is grand but to those never viewing it is perhaps not so.

The people here are of all descriptions—the handsome, the ugly, the lame, the fine formed, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the noble & the ignoble. As Doyle says, some must have been sworn to by both parents so small, others so high they have to get on their knees to scratch their heads. You find some gentlemen, a great many rascals who can really steal you looking at them. Their avocations too are various—some cursing, some singing, some whistling, hallowing, talking, laughing, cooking, washing, sleeping, writing, reading, drilling, fighting, and everything else you could by any chance invent to your minds eye.

Carrie, you ought to be here to enjoy the turns of wit constantly going the rounds. They are particularly striking to the visitor. Such expressions to you as, “right dress, close up in the rear, left, left,” and a thousand things I can’t mention. Perhaps a visitor will be offered a decaying haunch of beef or refused crackers &c.

Carrie, I am well this morning. Some two or three of our company gave out in ranks this morning.

[No signature]


TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Camp 38th Alabama
March 10th 1863

Dear Carrie,

Tonight I feel remarkably lazy but I guess you would not think very well of me if I made that my excuse & not write to you. So here goes, as the boy said when he ran by himself. My health remains good. In fact I feel  that I am particularly blessed in this. Since I came back, I have not had no very ill moments—my sickness all being transitory. Josey’s health remains good, He is charging about pretty much as usual, asking my opinion about peace, to the tune of about a dozen times each day. He stands camp life better than I had supposed he would. He is not so despondent as Lee is, and therefore, gets along better than he in that respect. He seems to be in a fine humor tonight. The cause?—a mess of collards and bacon.

There is another about my size who feels somewhat relieved about the gastronomic region. The health of the boys is upon the main good—most of the sickness being among the recruits. Dewitt Smith has the measles but tell his people he is getting on finely & is well cared for. He wanted to come back to camp today but I advised against it, feeling it my duty to act by him as if he had been a son of my best friend now that he is far from his people. Besides, it affords me pleasure to be able to overcome past antipathies.

John Drinkard is also sick, the result of grieving about home. It is manifestly nothing else but I would have you carefully refrain from publicity in all such cases things which I communicate & instruct others to keep such things to themselves for there is disquietness enough in the world. Besides, the name of a gossiper is no very enviable one to us. I am not much fearful of you committing yourself upon such things, but you are yet young & in some things probably need more experience.

Our regiment has grown to be a very large one numbering considerably over a thousand now and will, if they continue to come in, be filled to its utmost capacity. The morale of the regiment is hard to tell. Sometimes I think & see a good change in the troops. I hear not so much swearing & see not so much gaming, but then again it breaks out in all its horror. Three of our regiment joined the church the other night—one from our company. We have a great want of the refining influences of woman among us. I would to God that the Ladies of world only knew & would use their good influences in society. The memory of one good Christian woman can soften the adamantine hearts of hundreds of rough soldiers. The most noble & lasting impressions it has ever been my honor to feel were wrought by woman.

The weather has been very unsettled here for some time—first cold, then warm followed by great quantities of rain here. It does not trouble us but farther north it must be very unpleasant, so much so that forty of soldiers froze to death a week or two ago.

News from the seat of war up to this day was not very interesting. Nothing decisive done on either side. I feel very anxious for active operations to commence as I need excitement—constant excitement—to buoy me up. Yet I am pretty well satisfied that it shall be our policy to fight as little as….[paper torn]…may have to just wear…The great wish of…body of our troops are….ease, quiet and comfort. Thus, being separated from loved ones is a very irksome thing to us. This is our great never ending thought. We travel backward over departed time and bring back to life every long spoken & cherished word or action. I often search anew for some darling expression used by yourself long ago. It comes like magic! an old remembrance, soft look, a long past smile, a sparking eye, a note in a song, a well-remembered ramble. Even the twig where it was pleasure to select a bush to scrub your pretty teeth. The fatter twig that tore a hole in your coat; even the small drop of sweat seen standing on your brow are all brought back to life to undergo another memory. And oh! how dear to my heart are all these recollections. When I think of the twig you broke, I want it to hold, because you have held it. I want to pass the gate because you have passed that way. Want to look upon those dear old fields, hills, and vales and rivulets because they each and all bring home the memory of thee! And as to kind words, old [paper torn] which I received when [   ] home from the [   ] school room, why I declare it sets me more than crazy to get to clasp you once more in my arms. A poor soldier, bereft of the society of loved ones, old and familiar scenes & haunts, is an object most to be pitied by man or angels, because the most miserable his existence.

The winds are blowing sweetly against my little cabin tonight, Carrie, like messengers from aa far off spirit land. I hope they are sweetly fanning your brow as it reposes in health upon your pillow. May it bear some sweet messages from me to thee…And my little girl, may the angels be loving around her, teaching sweetness & goodness. Yes, sweet dreams to you and Alma and heavens protecting hand guard you.

Now to my bunk to court some sweet vision in the form of wife till it shall please Morpheus to take me to his fond embrace & drown my memories till the dawn of another day.

So hoping the God of all may watch over & protect you for all time to come. I bid you, Alma, & relations an affectionate good night. Yours sincerely, — Talbert

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