1863-65: William Taylor Presley to Henrietta (Ward) Presley

Willie Presley, ca. 1890

These letters and diary segments were written by William (“Willie”) Taylor Presley (1830-1895), the son of John and Margaret Jane (Daniel) Presley, in South Carolina in 1830. He was one of twelve children, including Calvin (1806-1892), Evan (1809-1875), Vincent (1812-1872), Emily Tazzi (Presley) Marable (1814-1894), John (1813-), Sarah (Presley) Adams (1816-), Augustus (1820-), Juliette (1827-), George Whitt (1836-1900), Charlotte R. (Presley) Wilkinson (1839-1916), and Newton A. (1842-1862).

William Presley married Henrietta A. Ward (1831-1891) in Montgomery County, Alabama on December 19, 1852 and the couple had eight children: Augustus (“Gus”) (about 1853-), George Lafayette (“Fate”) (about 1855-), Columbus Lum (1857-), Antoinette Nettie (about 1859-), Maggie (1864-1891), Newton Walter (1869-1948), William Robert Bob (1871-1943), and Randolph. One of Henrietta’s sisters, Narcissa Ward, also lived with the family for some time.

William Presley enlisted in Co. D of the 1st Alabama Cavalry on June 30, 1862 and was later promoted to Lieutenant in Co. A of the same unit. He was paroled on May 17, 1865 and returned to his family. They later moved to Titus County, Texas, where William Presley died in 1896.

[See also two letters written by Presley at the University of Tennessee Special Collections; Correspondence MS.2783; also Corpus of American Civil War Letters, A12-03, William T. Presley]


Knoxville, Tennessee
September 29th 1862

My dear Henrie,

I again seat myself to write you a few lines as I expect we will start on a march about tomorrow morning and I could not feel satisfied to leave without writing you a few more lines. I am tolerable well this morning though I don’t feel as well as I have for several days past. I have the diarrhea pretty bad which is weakening me down again though I hope it will not hold on me as it did in Chattanooga.

We are among Union men in this country and on our march up into Kentucky we will pass through a country where the Unionists are thick as hops. Henrie, I hate to say not write to me but it is useless for you to write to me any more until I get stationed at some place and write to you again where to write to and may probably get where our communication will be cut off and if that be the case, this may be the last letter that you will receive from me till I get a chance to come home. Or it may be my lot to fall and if so, this may be the last letter that you ever will receive from me. If this should be the case, remember you have a heavy charge upon you and that is them dear little children you have to look after. This is something serious to talk upon though it comes to me and I can’t help but speak it to you. If it should be the case that I never get home, try to raise the children in the love and fear of God. Remember that is all that you can do for them, That if they will try to keep that cannot be taken from them. I am almost crazy when I study about these things things to think what an awful condition you and them dear little babes will be left in—not a home nor shelter of any kind to call your own. Oh the thought is at times more than I can hardly bear. But if it is the case, I hope God will provide for you and family so that you will not suffer. Oh Henrie, if I could only be at home with you to assist you in trying to make something for the family and cheer you and them babies with my presence, but I am afraid this will be a long time first if ever I do. Though I will live in hope. If it was not for hope, heart would break.

Some say that we will have peace by Spring. I am in hopes this will be the case but am afraid that it will be several springs before we are allowed to go to our homes in peace. If I could only be at home with you to stay, I think I would be the happiest man in the world. You may think I am talking foolish but it is just my notion about it. I dreamed last night of being at home and oh, how happy I was in my dream. But when I awoke, I was here in camp in Tennessee with a least a thousand noisy soldiers around me and no one to speak a word of comfort to me, but everyone for himself.

Everything seems to work in our favor at present and I hope will continue to do so and probably we may have peace after awhile. What is a poor soldier thought of these days? He is not looked upon with as much credit as a Negro used to be before this war commenced. And how long it will be the case is the great mystery. You said in your letter that if I get sick, you would leave your children and come to wait upon me. That would never do unless I was at some hospital on the railroad where you could come to me on the cars and then the idea of you leaving the children would never do unless you was certain that it would be the last time you ever would see me for when I think of them little babes now, I console myself by saying that Henrie is with them and she will take care of them. But if you was away from them, what would the little fellows do [with] no father or mother to look after them. No, Henrie, you rest satisfied about me. I will if I get sick receive as good attention as all other poor soldiers do.

You wanted to know whether I and Bob wanted any clothing or a coat for winter. We we will probably need some winter clothing but it will be almost impossible for you to get clothing to us if we were suffering for it. I think we will probably get some winter clothing from the Government that we can make out. Socks is about the first thing to get of anything else. Bob and James Hall is gone down in town today. Bob is in good health. He told me to send his love to you all.

And [so] poor Jim Sager killed himself? He is no doubt better off than he was here in this troublesome world, expecting no doubt but the conscript would get him and the idea of leaving his wife and children made him crazy to think he would have to leave them upon the mercies of the world, to be dependent upon this cold-hearted world for favors. Oh! it is awful to think about. ¹

Henry, I was glad to hear that Gus and Fate was learning so fast. Try to keep them learning fast. I must close for the present—maybe forever.

Farewell. Farewell is a lonely sound and always brings a sigh.
Farewell, farewell is a lonely sound, most always makes me cry.
But give to me that sweet old word Goodbye.

—Willie or W. T. Presley

Prattville, Alabama

¹ James T. Sager (1820-1862) was the son of John D. Sager (1800-1875) and Elizabeth Corinne Eliza Whetstone (1800-1875). He was married to Mary (“Polly”) Tyler and had at least six children. According to Confederate Service records, Jim Sager was a private in Co. D, 4th Alabama Infantry early in the war.



[diary entries]

Things of interest taking place [beginning 5 March 1863]

Clouded up in the evening [of the 5th].

The morning of the 6th was cold, cloudy, and windy and threatening rain. All quiet in camp till about 2 o’clock when Capt. [Washington T.] Lary came over from headquarters and ordered us to mount in quick time. We were soon all mounted, the regiment formed, and away we went to find the Yanks which was not hard to do for they fired on our pickets in a few minutes after we left camp. They drove our cavalry back and come into Middleton and burned a school house, masonic hall, a store house, and shod shop and blacksmith shop after which they fell back. Only 2 men killed on our side and very few wounded. ¹ It rained all the evening and is still sprinkling while I write which is about 8 o’clock P. M.

The morning of the 7th, we again had orders to mount and prepare to meet the enemy but it was a failure for they had entirely gone. Our scouts went out about five miles but could find nothing of the Yanks. We returned to camp. All quiet during the day. I received a letter after I got back to camp from [sister] Narcissa. All well at home. The letter [was] dated 25th of February. At night we had a very hard rain.

On the 8th I swapped horses with A. V. Johnson. All quiet in camp at this time eleven o’clock A. M. on the 8th. About 12 o’clock noon, Capt. Lary come over to camp and ordered the company to fall in on foot with our guns to shoot them off which was promptly done. All quiet through the day.

The morning of the 9th was a beautiful morning. Eph Goree, T. A. Davis, and Kirkland sent on picket at 6 o’clock A. M. and K. L. Ward, W. S. Pettis, and Augustus Smith sent to shop to have horses shod. Received two letters from home.

On the 10th, all passed off quiet through the day as could be expected considering it rained from morning till night and nearly all night.

The sun rose clear on the 11th and was a pretty day. Wrote a letter to Henrie and sent home twenty dollars.

On the 12th, J. B. Hall’s wife come up and brought a man to take his place. In the evening I was sent off on picket. During the day our scouts run into the enemy scouts and captured three privates and lost three from the 8th Confederate [Cavalry].

On the 13th while I was on picket, J. B. Hall came out to see me & tell me goodbye. I sent one hundred and seventy-five dollars to Henrie [by him].

On the 14th, after being relieved from picket, I and Haygood went outside of the lines and got our breakfast and some eggs and pies and when we got to camp, the regiment was all off on scout. They came in about 3 o’clock with two Yankee deserters. Received a letter from Whit from Arkansas. All quiet on the lines. The weather warm and clear for the season.

Capt. Washington Lary was admitted into St. Mary’s Hospital at Dalton, GA, on 21 March. The complaint reads: “Vulnus Sclopeticum” which is the Lain term for “gunshot wound.”

On the 15th the sun rose clear but in the evening it clouded up and threatened rain, but on the 16th it was a beautiful spring day. On the 17th I wrote a letter home to Henrie and sent her two song ballads. [See letter below] In the evening I was detailed to act as courier for Col. [John S.] Prather. Between twelve and one o’clock on the morning of the 18th [March], I was sent with a dispatch to General Martin on the Shelbyville and Murfreesboro Pike. Got back to headquarters about four o’clock A. M. Capt. W. T. Lary was officer of the day and while out riding the picket line was shot at and wounded in the hand by a citizen who was in company with and acting guide for four Yankees who were scouting and was supposed to be trying to cut off our pickets. In the evening about four o’clock, Capt. Lary left for camps. At night there was a scout sent out from our regiment and were fired at by the Yankee pickets. No one hurt.

On the 19th there came to our pickets 5 Yankee deserters. On the 20th all quiet except the boys who were in a great glee raffling off horses. I won a fine young mare valued at three hundred dollars. Received two letters from Henrie. About 8 o’clock P. M. orders came for all the effective men in camp to be ready to march at 12 o’clock P. M. At 12 we started and went in the direction of Murfreesboro and at daylight [on 21 March 1863] drove the Yankee pickets in and about sunrise a right pretty little fight commenced lasting about 1½ hours. Only one hurt on our side which was one of the 8th Confederate [Cavalry] wounded in the leg. Got back to camp about 2 o’clock P. M. on the 21st and was detailed as courier for Major [David T.] Blakey but was sent by Maj. Blakey to Col. [John S.] Prather’s Headquarters to act as courier for him.

On the 22nd was detailed as regular courier to report to Sergt. Atwater. Three from the 1st Alabama [Cavalry] and two from the 8th Confederate [Cavalry] and the Sgt. in command was from the 8th Confederate making six men detailed as regular couriers. We came out and established a post about halfway between S. W. Martin’s and General [John Austin] Wharton‘s Headquarters sent by me a dispatch to Col. Prather in the evening and while at Col. Prather’s Headquarters, I swapped horses with Capt. Elmore. ² Got $25.00 boots.

On the 23rd was sent to General Wharton’s with a dispatch.  On the 24th, hauled with two horse wagon 10 bushels corn from [    ]. Rained in the evening and at night. On the 25th, carried a dispatch to General Wharton. Hard rain at night also on the 27th and also the 28th. On the morning of the 29th, ate breakfast at Mrs. [     ‘s] and got [illegible]. Turned cold in the evening. Wrote a letter to Henrie. Carried dispatch to General Wharton. On the 30th carried a dispatch to General Martin and one to Geneal Wharton. Snowed and sleeted in the evening. Cleared off at night and the sun rose clear on the 31st and was a beautiful spring morning. In the evening I carried a dispatch to General Wharton. It turned cold towards night and snowed some little and made threats for bad weather.

¹ A Union after action report of the skirmish at Middleton, Tennessee, reads as follows: “I have the honor to report that we met the enemy, about 600 strong, composed of the Eight Confederate and First and Second Alabama, about 3 miles north of Middleton, and drove them 2 miles beyond, meeting with considerable resistance at two or three points. Casualties of the enemy, as near as can be ascertained, were 5 killed and several wounded—number not known. Our loss, none killed, 5 wounded. Not deeming the position a good one, Col. Jones fell back about 1 mile north of Middleton on the Shelbyville dirt road, and went into camp for the night where he was joined by a squadron of the Fourth Regular Cavalry.” — Brig. Gen. R. W. Johnson

² A letter that Presley wrote to his wife on 4 June 1863 informs us that the horse was named “Stonewall.” Presley wrote: “he is a beautiful dapple Grey and is as fine as Split Silk holds his head up and can beat almost any of them traveling. I can get Four hundred dollars for him just as easy as take it. I have him in a fine clover field when I am not using him and when I take him out to carry a dispatch he is in for a play the first thing he knows me as far as he can see me, and is always in for a play with me.”



Picket Camps at Middleton, Bedford county, Tennessee
March 17th 1863

My dearest Henrie,

On this, one of nature’s loveliest spring mornings, I seat myself to inform you that I am in tolerable good health and hope these few lines may find you and all the family enjoying the same great blessing (health). It is a general opinion that the Yankees have all fallen back from Murfreesboro and gone back to Nashville except their cavalry scouts. If this be the case, we will soon be back at Murfreesboro. Our scouts were ordered this morning to go to Murfreesboro today unless they were forced to fall back. I think this little Confederacy is upon gaining ground of late. The Yanks seem to be right smartly confused from the way they are deserting and coming over to our side. They have averaged about 2 per day at this post for the last several days and if they are deserting at every post as they are at this, they will soon make a good big hole in the northern army.

Henrie, I wrote a letter to you last week and put a twenty dollar bill in it for you and then sent to you by J. B. Hall one hundred and seventy-six dollars and fifty cents (176.50) and Bob sent twenty-five dollars to Narcissa. You must write and let me know whether you got the $20 sent by mail as well as the $176.50 by J. B. Hall and I want you to pay Pa fifty dollars as quick as you have the opportunity towards that mare I bought from Newton That will be seventy dollars paid towards her and the balance you can spend for the benefit of yourself and family but let me caution you to be as saving with it as you well can be.

Henrie, I got the shirts and socks you sent me by Solon and the homespun shirt Narcissa sent to Bob. I have swapped for it. I would not take a ten dollar bill for it. In fact, I have been offered $10.00 for it. If I had two more like it, I would have shirts a plenty [and] I would throw away my old shirts. The reason Bob let me have it, when I undone the bundle, I was so carried away with my homespun shirt that I didn’t know how to content myself. But after examining it, I found it marked to B. L. Ward and that let me down about a foot. And after Bob got his laugh out of me, he told me I might keep it and he would take the red flannel shirt and you ought to heard me tell him yes sir! and thank you too! Bob is as well and hearty as ever.

I received a letter from Whit 3 days ago dated the 28th of February. He was well and doing well. He had just come from sister Charlotte’s the week before he wrote.  Her and family were well. Whit said he was going to write to you the day he wrote to me and to mother also. Henrie, I send you two song ballads to sing if you can learn the tunes to them, They are war songs and very appropriate for the times. Tell Narcissa I received a letter from her and answered it about two weeks ago. Tell her I will answer her letters and she must write often. My love to Bro. Evan and family and to all enquiring friends, and reserve the largest share for yourself. Kiss all the babies for me. Oh how bad I want to see you and then little brats. I could see you, tongue could not express my joy. I will close for the present. May the good Lord guide and protect you is my prayer for your dear family.

Your ever affectionate husband, — Willie

I have sent you in all last year and this year up to this time $296.50.



Hamilton county, Tennessee
Chickamauga Station
August 19th 1863

Dear Henrietta,

I according to promise seat myself to write you a few lines which I am happy to inform you leaves me in common health though for three or four days after I left home I was right sick though I believe I am about straight again. Bob is as fat and saucy as a pig. George Myers is at the hospital at Atlanta, Ga., sick though I heard from him yesterday [and] he is getting better.

Day before yesterday I spent the day with Newton. His regiment is in camp about five miles from here. Newton’s health is very bad. He is a perfect skeleton. It made me feel bad to see him in such condition. I am very sorry he joined the army though if he had stayed at home, the conscript would have taken him. The poor fellow is into it and can’t help himself. He is very low spirited. Seeing his condition, if I was able, I would hire a substitute for him and go in my own place. I would rather he was at home than to be there myself because I am stout and he is all the time sick. I saw in his regiment a great many of my acquaintances. Thomas Mitchell has resigned and George Welch in his Captain. Our regiment hasn’t got here yet. If I had known what I know now, I would stayed at home a week.

The morning we left home we got to the river just as the sun was rising and I was so sick that I could hardly navigate. Miss Mary Jane Hendricks asked me to inquire about a Mr. Josh Hill. Tell her I have done so and he is in Company D—Capt. Stokes’ company—though he is not here. He is coming on through with the regiment.

Henrie, you need not write to me until you hear from me again for there is no telling where we will go when the regiment gets here. I will write to you again in a week or ten days and when you write, send me a postage stamp in your letter. SEnd one ten cent stamp or two five cents stamps in every letter you write to me so that Bro. Evans won’t have to pay so much postage for me.

Oh Henrie, that vaccinating matter I intended to leave at home for you all to be vaccinated and came off and forgot to leave it with you. If you meet with any chance, you must have all the children vaccinated for we hear a great deal of talk about small pox in Montgomery yet.

I have nothing interesting to write to you as I have only been here a few days and nothing of importance has taken place since we got here. We heard from the regiment this evening. They passed through Rome, Ga., today Henrie, I am sorry I did not stay at home 8 or 10 days with you and them dear little babes. The boys are all in fine spirits. They are all lying about and have no guard duty to do. And that is more than they have been used to and they don’t know how to content themselves.

Tell John Sale I will write to him as soon as we get stationed provided we ever do. Give my respects to all inquiring friends if any there be that think enough of me to inquire after me. May heaven smile upon you, dear family is my prayer for you. I remain your affectionate husband and friend, — W. T. Presley



[diary entries]

Friday, March 18, 1864—Stayed at camps all day. Weather very cold for the season.

Saturday, March 19th 1864—Started on the march again and at night camped about 2½ miles from Roswell Factory. Crossed the Chattahoochee river at Roswell Factory on a bridge.

Sunday, March 20th 1864—Marched on to Marietta, Ga. and camped about two miles from town. Light sleet in the evening.

Monday 21st March 1864—Woke up this morning and found the ground all covered in snow. Started early on the march and had a very disagreeable day to march. Sleeting a good portion of the day. Camped at night on the High Tower river. Snowed all night.

Tuesday, 22nd [March] 1864—Still snowing this morning. Lay over today.

Wednesday 23rd March 1864—Very cold for the season. Boys all excited today about our regiment being sent home to recruit. Jack Walker and Abe Thornton came to the company. Capt. Whiting had them arrested and sent to the Provost Marshal, Still at the same camp. Capt. Whiting wrote out furloughs for  B. L. Ward, W. Kirksey, W. M. Cooper, and Simmons.

Thursday, March 24th 1864—Inspection today by Gen. [Joseph] Wheeler. H. H. Moore came over to camp today. Weather more pleasant today. Moved camps today about two miles. Rain at night which makes camps very disagreeable. Sent up a furlough.

Friday, March 25th 1864—Stayed at same camp all day. Very wet and sloppy about camps. Horse racing today by the wholesale. Cloudy today.

Saturday, 26th [March] 1864—Stayed at same camps today. Went to Cartersville in the evening. Pretty day.

Sunday, March 27th 1864—Stayed at camps all day. Carried a furlough up to Russell’s Quarters after Whiting had taken it and kept it in his pocket for two days to keep me from getting a furlough. I left it with Col. Russell but have no faith in its going through. Very pleasant day and we had a hard rain at night.

Tuesday, March 29th 1864—Got up this morning as wet as a drowned rat. Blankets and everything else as wet as water. Left camp about seven o’clock and marched on through Cedar Town in Polk county, Georgia. Very cold day for the season. I am very anxious about my furlough. I with five of the company reassigned. Rations out and hunger is kinder pinching of me.



Edgefield Court House, South Carolina
February 22nd 1865

My dear Henrie,

I seat myself this morning to write you a few lines to inform you of my whereabouts and how I am getting along. I am at Mr. Ramey’s this morning. I got here yesterday evening about 2 o’clock. I found them all well and doing well for they were eating dinner when I got here. Sister Sallie was as proud to see me as I ever saw anyone. In place of meeting a cold reception as I did last spring with Julia, I met with a warm reception. Sister Sallie met me and kissed  me and cried which came very near getting tears started from me. Oh! there is such a difference in her and Julia. I am going to leave in about two hours and you must excuse a short letter.

Sister Sallie has a little girl about six months old—the sweetest little babe in South Carolina. I won’t say the sweetest babe you ever saw, but the sweetest in S. C. Sis and sister Sallie send their love to you. Nat is at home now on furlough.

Henrie, give my love to Brother Evan and family and kiss all the children for me. It is uncertain when you will hear from me again. The Yanks have taken Columbia, S. C., and have torn up the railroad in such a way at Branchville that after I leave here I am not certain that communication will be open to Alabama. I am going from here to Newbury and then to Wineboro. I was not sent in charge of the detail from Macon as I expected to be. Lt. Savage who is a ranking officer was put in command.

Henrie, send the children to school regular. Oh, I forgot. Henrie, night before last the woods caught fire while I was asleep and burnt up my rations and forage I had for my horse before I woke up in time to keep my clothing from being burnt. One minute longer and I would have been covered in flames.

Henrie, I will write to you again soon if I find there is any chance to send a letter to you. I am well and hearty. I hope this war may soon end. I will close hoping to be where I can see you soon in place of writing.

I am your devoted husband, — Willie



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