1865: Mary Elizabeth Burd to Capt. John J. Miller

Lizzie’s Flag-of-Truce Letter with unidentified ambrotype

This letter was written by Mary Elizabeth (“Lizzy”) Burd (1845-Aft1920), the daughter of John William Burd (1818-1885) and Eliza A. Goodfellow (1824-1902), of Oakland, St. Louis county, Missouri.

She wrote the letter to her fiancé, Capt. John (“Johnny”) J. Miller (1842-1920), the son of James J. Miller (1811-1895) and Martha Jane Woodson (1818-1842) of Howard county, Missouri.

John Miller graduated from the University of Nashville & Western Military Institute in June 1860, receiving a Bachelor of Arts. Such prior military training earned him a commission in Sterling [“Pap”] Price’s confederate army and he was put to work as an instructor of tactics and later a promotion to captain. While performing his duty as drillmaster, “he was severely wounded by the accidental discharge of a musket in the command. This caused the loss of one of his legs.” ¹

Unfit for further field service, John then entered the St. Louis Medical College in January 1862 and graduated in March 1864. Using his newly acquired skills, he then offered his services as a surgeon in Co. B, 12th Missouri State Guard (Confederate) ² but was soon taken prisoner and sent to the Confederate prison at Johnson’s Island (near Sandusky, Ohio). Letters exchanged between John and Lizzie inform us, however, that he had already been taken prisoner and sent to Johnson’s Island by August 1863. A letter from his father informed John in March 1864 that even though he had left medical school early, the school was going to list him as graduating from the institution.

John appears to have been exchanged from Johnson’s Island in early May 1864 and subsequently sent to Richmond, Virginia. He arrived there on 8 May 1864 and was put to work at the Winder General Hospital and Libby Prison Officers’ Hospital. He remained there until the fall of Richmond in April 1865 and returned home to Missouri in May 1865. While at Winder Hospital, he instituted “the practice of turpentine dressings as a remedy for, and prevention of, hospital gangrene.”

Throughout Capt. Miller’s time in prison and during his exile in Richmond, he and Lizzie communicated with each other through a Flag-of-Truce. Such letters were scrutinized by inspectors and often limited to a single page in length.

After returning home, Capt. Miller married Lizzie (December 1865) and he launched a medical practice in the suburbs of St. Louis.

[See guide to the John J. Miller Papers, RG 505, Auburn University Special Collections & Archives]


No. 14
Oakland Home
February 1st 1865

Kind friend,

Your welcomed letters no. 24 & 26 were received a few evenings ago, and feeling so much better tonight, I thought I would answer them. I am sorry to were disappointed in not receiving as many letters are you expected from me, and also those long looked for photographs. I have begged Dell and Gennie [Shelton]  to gratify you, but girls like they are as contrary as “two sticks;” they say they are waiting to get better looking. I have one of Joe’s which I will send you. Of course you will see she is by no means flattered. She would be provoked if she knew I sent it but some think it very good and so may you. As for mine, Johnnie, you must wait until my face is one color, as it is now one half red and the other half white. I’ll bless the Dr. all my life for making me such a beauty.

Now Johnnie, you know I don’t like to arouse your curiosity, and them not satisfy it, but then as you have so little, I reckon it will not make much difference. We are to have another wedding in our small circle of intimate friends (or as Jim Otey use to say), “the one horse team”—gentlemanly, wasn’t it? But I forgot, you were one of his admirers. Yes! We are to have one of our girls in the Spring—one that you would least suspect. I never was more surprised in my life. The fortunate gentleman who has won her [hand], you do not know. He is thought a great deal of by all who know him. Now I have told you enough for one time. I fear if you don’t hurry home, you will not have the pleasure of waiting on any of your friends. I believe the young folks are going crazy. I never heard of so many marriages as has been this winter. Mar Hemphill is to marry his cousin next Thursday.

I am reading “Alone” by Marion Harland. As for my music, Johnnie, I have sadly neglected it. There is but little music in my soul now. I am sick so frequently that it is impossible for me to keep up my regular Bible reading although I always read a chapter when it is possible for me to do so.

I forgot to tell you in my last that Dr. T. has prescribed a trip South for me. ³ He wants me to go as soon as possible so Aunt Bettie and I expect to leave for New Orleans as soon as my health will permit me to travel which I think will be in a week or two. I ride out every day that is at all pleasant and I feel that it does me a great deal of good. Your Pa and his  family are all well. At Oakland, all wish to be kindly remembered to you. Your sincere friend, — L

Excuse scribbling.

¹ Source: Historical Genealogy of the Woodsons and their connections, Part 1. 1915, page 274.

² Another military record credits his unit as “Co. B, 12th Regiment, Missouri Cavalry State Guard” and conforms his rank as “Captain.”

³ Lizzie wrote in one of her earlier letters that her diagnosed her with erysipelas. She apparently did journey to New Orleans for she wrote a letter to Capt. Miller from there on 9 March 1865.


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