Probably written in the late summer of 1862, at the zenith of the glory of the Army of Northern Virginia, this truly outstanding letter captures an important moment in American History. The letter is about and by a unique family that served in some of the most storied units of the Army of Northern Virginia. The author, W.C. Stoddard, is serving as a Private, in Company E, 14th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Greggs/McGowans Brigade. Stoddard will die in service with this unit around 4/11/63 at Staunton, Virginia. His body will be returned to New Harmony Church, near the Laurens/Greenville County line, in South Carolina, where he will rest with other members of his family who perished in Americas most defining war.
Among those listed here we find the deadliest killers of that most killing of American wars, messengers of death like the one called typhoid fever, who did indeed take Steve B. Moore in Richmond on 8/5/62. As implied, he was also a member of Company E, 14th S.C.V.
David Stewart (D.T. Stewart, Company E, 14th South Carolina) however will avoid the call of death by illness and recover only to meet his end, 5/3/64, making real the most audacious victory ever achieved on this continent. He will die with many of his friends and the strong right arm of the Confederacy at a little crossroads called Chancellorsville. Joining him in death at the moment of his greatest victory, Old Jack, will also lay his life on the altar from wounds received that day and Lee will have "lost his strong right arm."
Cousin R.J. Stoddard remains one of the best-known sergeants in this famous brigade. Well documented in Varina Davis Browns work about her father Colonel J.N. Brown, you may find and read about the arguments that raged 50 years after the smoke of battle died away. Cousin R.L. will sneak through the tangled underbrush at the Wilderness, at the behest of his beloved Colonel Brown, to tell the Georgia boys they are firing on friends. All the more chilling when one considers how close they were to the place where Old Jack was killed a year before and where Longstreet and Micah Jenkins will soon fall to friendly fire.
To quote from Varina Brown's book, A Colonel at Gettysburg and Spotsylvania, The Life of Colonel Joseph Newton Brown and The Battles of Gettysburg and Spotsylvania, The State Printing Company, 1931.
Mr. Robert J. Stoddard, of the Fourteenth Regiment, an honored veteran and Presbyterian elder of Owings, and of South Carolina, (1) made in April of 1925, a statement that they were in rear of Harris' Brigade only a few minutes moving on the charge to the right. He said: "I found no one in the works where I entered and which we occupied. I soon saw Colonel Brown pass behind me in going to take charge of the brigade" Mr. Stoddard and other members of the Fourteenth, the left regiment nearest General Harris, stated, "There was not a soldier at the breastworks when we entered," but, Mr. Stoddard said, "a little later some Mississippians came in on us in rear and fought with us; a Lieutenant-Colonel was with them and was killed there." Mr. Stoddard's high character and his clearness of mind and of memory give great weight to the his testimony that the Mississippians came in behind the Fourteenth - an occurrence deeply impressed on my memory.
(1) See Also Dr. Stoddard's letter, Appendix, page 308, infra
R.J. Stoddard is also mentioned on page 128 of the same book and reference made to Vol V of the Confederate Military History, South Carollina. On page 240 and 241 another account of the fighting in the Wilderness by R.J. Stoddard - This Mr. Stoddard avers, was the only time that he ever saw Colonel Brown excited in battle; he quickly asked Sgt. Stoddard, "Where do those balls come from?" "I don't know answered Stoddard." "I wish you would go and see," Col. Brown said, whith characteristic courtesy even in time of peril. Sergeant Stoddard says: "Dodging from one small tree to another, I ran toward the firing line- until I saw a Confederate flag! Calling out an order to stop firing on friends, I went nearer and found that it was a Georgia Brigade." They had been ordered into action on McGowan's left, or Heth's -
The James Tollison mentioned is with Shank Evans and the Tramp Brigade over in Company C of the Holcombe Legion. The sun still shines and many days and deaths will pass before they will face the trials of Charleston, Jackson, Kinston, and back again to a little crossroads called Five Forks, where, with the rest of Shanks old brigade, they will be the first to take a step toward a place called Appomattox Courthouse. Tollison will never know this sad lost day, for he will die of the wounds he will receive at Second Manassas.
At least one of the Thackston boys is over with the other Stoddard cousins in the Third South Carolina in Kershaws Brigade. Z.A. will make it to 7/21/64, having survived till Petersburg, where he will die of wounds. He would never know the sting of the valley, as a starving army stops to eat in victory, and by so doing, sets the stage for Sheridans famous ride, and ultimate defeat. . Simion Thaxton is S.R. Thackston, a Corporal, in Company G and D, Third South Carolina Infantry, Kershaw's Brigade. He is still alive in 1924. Ray is E.R. Thackston a Corporal in Company G of the Third South Carolina Infantry, Kershaw's Brigade. Wounded at Savage Station he is crippled for life.
Tom Halk is a Private in Company E, 14th South Carolina, he appears to have survived the war.
You can smell the crowded wards of Chimborazo and the hospitals in Richmond. You can see them, as "McGowan's boys" are caught alone on the point, and begin to back down in the Wilderness. This is the place where they do not run fast, and they do not run far, but they did run, and there, who is that coming? The Texans and Kershaw with the old Third South Carolina and other Stoddard relatives, and there is Robert E Lee. "Lee to the rear," cry the Texans, and another storied legend is born in sight of the Fourteenth South Carolina and these men. Can you feel the wind in the valley, or walk with Stonewall at Chancellorsville or Old Pete in the Wilderness. They are all here, the real ones, the ones who broke the best generals the United States Army could field. Count them... Hooker, Pope, Burnside, all laid to waste. These are the brigades of Gregg and McGowan and of Kershaw. This is South Carolina in the Army of Northern Virginia.
This tender letter written by some one who attended young William in death needs little explanation. However, it does reflect the fact that even when surrounded by death men can remain humane.