03 August 2010

Thoughts on 'A Letter Home From War'

      On Monday I posted a letter that my GGG-Grandfather Franklin E Leaphart wrote to his wife during the Civil War. In his letter, he touched on many different topics, all of which provide great insight into his life and the world around him. 

The War
     On 9 February 1863, Franklin E Leaphart was camped at Fredericksburg, Virginia with the rest of Company C of the 15th South Carolina Infantry (he had originally enlisted on 28 December 1861 in Lexington, SC with the 20th Regiment). At the time of the letter, Frank and his regiment were at rest. He does not give any information on previous battles, but given that he had been at war for over a year, he must have seen fighting by this time. I wonder why he doesn't talk about it directly? A quick reference check shows that the 15th fought at the battle of Fredericksburg, which had taken place a few months prior, so Frank should have fought in that battle.

     At the time of the letter, Frank wrote that,
"I cannot tell you anything positive about the war. We have orders for General Lee to be ready at all times. To march to battle at a moments warning."
"We suffer enough without fighting. Tongue cannot express how bad we fair out here but O how thankful I will be to my maker if I am spared to see peace made and get home to you and our dear litle children, there to have rest from my pains and trouble during this unfriendly war."
     Reading this, I feel bad for the conditions that Frank and his fellow soldiers find themselves in. They are miserable and can only look forward to more bad times for years to come. The 15th would fight at Gettysburg, Chicamauga, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg, to name a few battles. Frank himself died on 12 Oct 1864 from wounds and disease in a Virginia hospital. It really makes me sad to know how he died, his last years in misery, and that he could not live to an old age with his family.


Ida Leaphart Hyler
     Frank's wife was Julia Ann "July" Craps / Crapps, the daughter of David Craps. The couple made their home on land purchased from David. In his letter, Frank makes reference to "our little boys," Wade and Pierce. At the time Wade would have been eight and Pierce was only three.  A bit further down in the letter, Frank talks about Julia's "confinement." Julia was then pregnant with her daughter, Ida, who was apparently conceived while Frank had been "sick at home" the previous fall. Frank writes that he hopes to come for his daughter's birth and "will use every exertion to get a furlough to come home about that time." Ida was born on 30 May 1863, a time during which Frank is listed as "present"with his regiment. However, a year later Frank did make it home. On 6 May 1864 he created his will, which was witnessed by three of his neighbors. I'm glad that he came home at least once and met his daughter, since he never made it home from war.  Also, it seems that he truly loved his wife, signing his letter as Julia's "true and affectionate husband until death." Julia died less than a year later (cause unknown to me). I wonder if things would have been different if Frank had come home?

The Economy
     A good amount of Frank's letter is instruction to Julia on running the farm: clearing ground, moving sheep, buying land, etc. It makes me wonder about the way the family ran the home. Is this just a reminder of the general way to run the farm that Julia probably already knew how to do? Or was this needed instruction that Julia didn't previously know? I suspect the former. I can't see that a farmer's wife wouldn't know some of these aspects of farming and animal care. I would also guess that many of these decisions were up to Frank. He was probably the one who set the schedule on when to do what, so Julia might not be used to making such decisions and would appreciate the guidance. All of this shows that Frank is not only fighting a war, but he's also running a farm from hundreds of miles away.
     In his letter, Frank also talks about the price of paper. Part of the letter is missing here, but paper costs $3 - though for one piece or more is unclear. That's pretty expensive for paper! He instructs Julia to tear out pages from a book in order to write back. I wonder how much paper would have cost her - or if it was even available?

     The third sentence in Frank's letter gives reference to slavery. Apparently in her last letter, Julia had informed her husband that she had "hired a Negro" to work on the farm. This would have meant that Julia had paid a slave owner for the use of their slave.
     Later in the letter Frank asks about a slave that have been offered for sale by "old... Fort" for $600. The slaveowner's first name is missing here, but looking at census records, I think that the owner is probably A H Fort. Mr Fort is the only indexed Fort in Lexington County and, at 73 years old, would qualify as "old." He owned 34 slaves in the 1860 census. Frank wants Julia to try and purchase the woman for $400. I cannot find any record of Frank & Julia owning slaves in the 1850 or 1860 slave census records, nor in Frank's estate records. I'm not sure if Julia left a will, which might have reflected slave ownership. I do know that Julia's father, David, owned three slaves in 1860 and there are a number of men named Leaphart in Lexington County who owned slaves.
     So, I can't say for certain that Frank & Julia bought the woman - but they were willing to. I know for a fact that my Craft, Albea and Quattlebaum ancestors owned slaves. As many white Americans whose ancestors owned slaves, I find myself conflicted on how to view my ancestors. On one hand, this was the culture of the time and the way my ancestors were raised. On the other hand, there were millions of other whites in the country and around the world that had already come to the realization that slavery was wrong, wrong, wrong. Seeing where my ancestor was bargaining for the price of a human being makes it so much more real and heartbreaking. I can't help thinking about the poor woman that is being offered for sale. She's already been hired out as a worker to their neighbor, and now she might be sold to yet another person. She had no say in any of this. Considering the number of slaves that Fort owned, some of them were probably family. She might never see them again. Maybe some of the many children that Fort owned were her children. I hate that in a letter in which Frank writes so lovingly of his family, he can be so oblivious to the sufferings of others.

     Frank ends his letter with a prayer:
"July, I want you to take good care of my little boys. Try to raise them right and if I never meet you and them no more on earth, I hope to meet you in heaven. May the Lord be with us in all our troubles and help us with the pleasure of meeting again before long, to stay in peace at home and raise our children and to rest from our troubles in this war."
     I'm not sure what religion Frank followed, though it should have been some form of protestant Christianity. It's possible that they were Lutherans. The book, "Journal of the Rev. Godfrey Dreher, 1819-1851," by a Lutheran reverend lists numerous Leaphart and Craps individuals from the area. Regardless of their exact denomination, it's obvious that Frank is a, at least relatively, religious man. He places his hopes for the future in God's hands and hopes for the best. Again, this prayer makes me sad when I know that Frank will never come home from war.

     Every sentence in this letter provides clues into the lives of Frank & Julia Leaphart. This letter touches on both the good and evil in life, but in the end it paints an honest picture of my ancestors. I only wish that I had a letter like this for all of my ancestors!

1. Franklin E Leaphart, letter to Julia C Leaphart, 9 Feb 1863.
2. "F Leapheart," Confederacy, South Carolina. American Civil War Soldiers [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.
3. "F E Leapheart," Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of South Carolina. Footnote.com (NARA M267, Record Group 109)
4. "DreherJournal" at Palmeto Genealogy Association.


Kristin said...

at least the war would be over and slavery with it a few years from the writing of this letter. as the descendant of slaves i hold no grudge against the descendants of slave owners. i just wish i could find some who had the records that named my people!

Kristin said...

and i found the letter home very interesting and look forward to other posts on your ancestors.

annie said...

Great letter---- Had a cousin who married the daughter of a QUATTLEBAUM female. Got any connection to the Rev. James K INABINET from the late 1800's? My folks were scattered all around the Orangeburg, Charleston, Pamplico, Florence areas.


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