This letter was written by Capt. William A. Ferguson (1831-1902) to his wife, Mary Campbell (Chalmers) Ferguson (1842-1920) of Pickensville, Pickens county, Alabama. William served in McCaa’s Rangers, 4th Battalion, 2nd Mississippi Calvary, which after the battle of Shiloh became the 8th Confederate Calvary, in which he served in Co. D. William was taken prisoner on 27 June 1863 at the Battle of Shelbyville—the battle in which Union cavalry claimed to have finally achieved parity, if not superiority, over Confederal cavalry in the western theatre. This letter was written just a few weeks before the battle.
Mary Chalmers was a school teacher at an academy in Pickensville—the Pickensville Female Academy—where she had previously been a student. She was the daughter of James Chalmers (1820-1899) and Eliza Campbell. In April 1861, Mary married William A. Ferguson, only son of Bryant Ferguson (1803-1835) and Martha Cotton (1805-1852). After the Civil War most of the Chalmers family moved to Salem Va, including William and Mary Ferguson.
Camp Middleton ¹
May 16th 1863
My Dear Mary,
I am in receipt of two letters from you of the 15th and 25th April. Their precious contents have been fully digested—more especially those delightful scoldings that you so kindly administer. You surely have been taking lessons under someone that is well skilled in the useful art or perhaps I am mistaken. I rather expect that the nature if the case is such as to induce you to have made it a study of late so I will try and not give you any more grounds for the exercise of your faculties in that line again, but I hope that you will not think that I accuse you of doing that which it is not your duty to do, You are perfectly right.
I am pleased to learn that you are enjoying yourself so well at home these war times. Would be delighted to be with you so as to enjoy some of those nice picnics that you have been indulging in of late.
There seems to be but little doing in this part of the Confederacy at this time. All is quiet along our lines. You have seen through the papers an account of Gen. [Earl] Van Dorn’s death—an unfortunate affair it was. Gen. [Nathan Bedford] Forrest, I understand, is to take his position as Major General.
I was out near the enemy’s line yesterday and heard a considerable fuss going on in Murfreesboro. Think the enemy are sending troops off from there to reinforce Grant [outside Vicksburg]. ² The arrival and departure of trains and the beating of drums keeps up a continual noise. The impression here is that they will make another demonstration on Vicksburg soon. I see no visible indications of a battle here at present although our forces seem quite busy entrenching between this and Shelbyville. It looks to me like labor lost but Gen. [Braxton] Bragg knows his business.
We are anxiously looking for Col. [William B.] Wade’s return. Our regiment needs his presence very much. I learned in Shelbyville yesterday that Gen. [Gideon Johnson] Pillow had ordered Col. Dow to Columbus to relieve him.
I saw Dud yesterday. Says he will write to you again soon. Our boys are all in fine health at camp. Have a few cases only at hospital. I took dinner today with a Presbyterian minister of the Secesh order and had splendid fare. He has a nice family and one of the best farms that I have seen since I came to Tennessee. The Yankees have stolen several negroes and horses from him.
Walker, Henly, and Lang, I understand, are at the reserve camp. Haven’t seen them yet. Suppose they will be up to the regiment tomorrow.
Say to Jones’ Pa that if my roan horse shows any disposition to improve, not to dispose of him if it can be avoided. I may need him. I have a good horse at this time.
My love to all at home. A kiss for you and the sweet little girl [Mary].
Affectionately yours, — William
¹ Middleton was a small village located about three miles west of Fosterville on the old stage route leading from Murfreesboro to Shelbyville, Tennessee.
² Actually Rosecrans feared that Gen. Bragg might withdraw his troops way from Shelbyville, Tennessee, to support Pemberton in Vicksburg, so Gen. Rosecrans ordered an offensive to tie up Confederate troops in Tennessee.