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Death of a Confederate

Arthur N. Skinner

Publication Year: 1996

Spanning nearly a century, the letters in this collection revolve around a central event in the history of a southern family: the death of the eldest son owing to sickness contracted during service in the Confederate Army. The letters reveal a slaveowning family with keen interests in art, music, and nature and an unshakable belief in their religion and in the Confederate cause.

William Seagrove Smith was a private in the signal corps of the Eighteenth Battalion, Georgia Infantry. Smith was part of the force defending Savannah until it fell in late 1864, and then marched with General William J. Hardee in his famous retreat out of the city and through the Carolinas. Like so many other soldiers on both sides of the conflict, William Smith fell not at the hands of an enemy but from disease. He died in Raleigh, North Carolina, on July 7, 1865. A parallel and complementary story about William's younger brother, Archibald, also emerges in the letters. As a cadet at Georgia Military Institute, Archibald was (as his parents fervently wished) exempt from service; however, he ultimately saw--and survived--action before the war's end.

Scattered among the many lines in the letters that are devoted to the two brothers are a wealth of particulars about agricultural, industrial, and social life in the family's north Georgia community of Roswell, the Smith family's flight from Sherman's invasion force, their lives as refugees in south Georgia, and a final reunion of the Smith brothers outside of Savannah just after the city's fall. Also included are a number of moving exchanges between the Smiths and the family that cared for William in his final days.

A brief history of the Smith family through 1863 begins the correspondence, while the letters following the war reveal their fortitude in the face of William's death and the hardships of Reconstruction. The volume concludes with selected letters from the subsequent generation of Smiths, who conjure images of the Old South and revive the memory of William. Like the most distinguished Civil War-era letter collections, The Death of a Confederate introduces a personal dimension to its story that is often lost in histories of this sweeping event.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

This book is about the Civil War and its aftermath in the South. Drawn from actual correspondence, the book tells the story of a loyal Confederate planter's family that settled in the wilds of northwest Georgia. It tells how General Sherman's march through that state uprooted the family and swept them along in a relentless ...

Genealogical Chart: The Family of William Seagrove Smith

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pp. xiii-

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Introduction

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pp. xv-xlv

Our purpose in this introduction is to provide enough background on the Smith family of Roswell, Georgia, to enable the reader to appreciate their Civil War correspondence, particularly with their eldest son, Willie. We will also survey extant family letters and recollections to the year 1864, when dislocation and war ...

List of Correspondents

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pp. xlvii-xlviii

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"A Time of Anxiety and Apprehension": January–May 1864

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pp. 3-44

A happy new year to you my precious child. There is little now in the outward circumstances of life to bring happiness, yet I trust we all possess that within which gives joy & peace under all circumstances. After a great deal of rain it has cleared off intensely cold & I cannot keep my thoughts from the sufferings of ...

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"Driven from Our Homes": May–November 1864

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pp. 45-140

In leaving Roswell and in becoming refugees in late May 1864, the Smiths were just ahead of the tide. When Sherman started south in May, travelers in north Georgia had already begun to notice abandoned homes in the area. Most Confederates around Atlanta thought that the decisive battle would be fought to the north of them, ...

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"The Vile Wicked Wretch": November–December 1864

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pp. 141-160

In late 1864 the Smiths had two sons to worry about. No Confederate leader knew what Sherman had in mind after he had occupied Atlanta. When he left Atlanta on November 15 to begin his famous March to the Sea, Archie and the GMI cadet battalion that was guarding the state capital at Milledgeville constituted ...

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"The Failure of Our Hopes": January–July 1865

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pp. 161-198

When he left Willie, Archie and the GMI cadets had to endure a "long and tedious" march from Hardeeville through South Carolina before halting at Bamberg, then taking trains to their new duty station at Augusta, where they were to guard the arsenal.1 Because of illness, Archie was granted leave and traveled to his family ...

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The Monument: September 1865–February 1867

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pp. 199-249

Following Willie Smith's death, the Smiths and Masons maintained a fairly regular correspondence for the next two years, a correspondence that is dominated by details of his sickness and death and preparations and negotiations for a stone to mark his grave. Owing to the disruptions in communications noted earlier, ...

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"The Last Time I Saw Him": 1869–1956

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pp. 250-267

The only member of the Smith family who is known to have visited Willie's grave site in Raleigh was Archie. In May 1869, while on his way to attend Baltimore Business College, Archie stayed with the Mason family. "We think he scarce needs a letter from us to certify who he is," wrote Archibald to the Reverend Mason, ...

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Afterword

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pp. 268-270

We do not know what Arthur replied to Robert Stephens, nor do we know what our Uncle Arthur knew about his Uncle William's life or his death. Of his other ancestors we never heard mention. We regard Arthur as one of the kindest, most generous gentlemen we have ever known, but he was also somewhat reticent, ...

Bibliography

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pp. 271-280

Index

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pp. 281-296


E-ISBN-13: 9780820342955
E-ISBN-10: 0820342955
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820318448
Print-ISBN-10: 0820318442

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 36 b&w photos
Publication Year: 1996

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Georgia -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives, Confederate.
  • Roswell (Ga.) -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives, Confederate.
  • Smith family -- Correspondence.
  • Smith, Archibald, 1801-1886 -- Family -- Correspondence.
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