Confederate Mail Delivery during the Gettysburg Campaign

Tom Elmore

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Each Confederate infantry and cavalry brigade, as well as artillery battalion, appears to have detailed one soldier from the ranks to serve as their mail carrier/postmaster. I have identified only a few of these individuals. During the Gettysburg campaign, the mail carriers (excepting those attached to Early’s division and most of Stuart’s cavalry) continually traveled back and forth between their respective commands and the main mail facility at Winchester, Virginia.

It was a safe and quick trip when the commands were still on friendly turf and not too distant from Winchester, but once the army entered and proceeded deeper into enemy territory, it became a hazardous undertaking, since mail carriers often rode alone or sometimes with only a small escort. The threat came not only from Federal cavalry, but also citizen bushwhackers, who seemed particularly aggressive around Greencastle, Pennsylvania. A shot was fired at a mail carrier as he rode through Greencastle, although he escaped unharmed. Once, during the retreat, an (outbound?) mail of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division was reportedly captured, which would explain a remark made by James N. “Newt” Martin of the 3rd South Carolina in an early August 1863 letter: “I cannot account for my letters not reaching home, as I wrote frequently.”

Generally speaking, mail and newspapers were periodically delivered up until June 28 to units of the main body in Pennsylvania that were west of Gettysburg; thereafter, delivery was suspended for the most part until July 7-8, after the army had retreated into defensive positions around Hagerstown, Maryland. However, some soldiers received mail between those dates, including while the battle at Gettysburg was in progress.

The following schedule of incoming and outgoing mail is broken down by brigade using extant information found in diaries and letters. More data is available for certain brigades than others. When the number of days it took for letters to travel from the sender to the army recipient can be determined, the information is provided in parentheses highlighted in (bold). It includes the time required by the sender to get their letter to the nearest post office, which might be several miles away in the mostly rural South.

Law’s Brigade

July 7, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered in the evening. Lieutenant P. Turner Vaughn of the 4th Alabama wrote that their mail carrier was chased by Yankee cavalry, and that the mail of McLaws’ division was captured.

Anderson’s Brigade

(Private John W. Ward of Company A, 7th Georgia was detailed as the brigade postmaster from October 1862 through at least February 1864.)

Benning’s Brigade

July 9, at Williamsport, MD. The postmaster, headed to Winchester with outgoing mail, was unable to cross the Potomac because of the rising water.

July 12, at Williamsport, MD. Mail delivered. Brigade quartermaster, Major Edgeworth Bird, received a packet of six letters, five from his wife and one from his children. Another letter arrived that was dated July 2 (10 days).

Garnett’s Brigade

June 30, in Chambersburg, PA. The mail carrier arrived and presumably delivered his letters. He expected to return shortly, giving procrastinators time to scribble off a brief note to their loved ones.

July 2. Mail delivered late in the day. Private Randolph Shotwell of the 8th Virginia stated that the letter he received had been “nearly three weeks on the way” (about 20 days).

Armistead’s Brigade

(Private Samuel R. Anglea of Company K, 38th Virginia was detailed as the brigade mail carrier.)

Kershaw’s Brigade

June 28, near Chambersburg, PA. Mail delivered. Lieutenant Alex McNeill of Company F, 2nd South Carolina, retrieved the mail for the men of his company from the quartermaster (of the regiment or brigade).

July 8, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail sent in the morning.

July 10, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered. Colonel D. Wyatt Aiken of the 7th South Carolina received a letter dated June 22 (18 days).

July 15, near Martinsburg, WV. Mail delivered. Lieutenant Alex McNeill of the 2nd South Carolina received a letter dated July 5 (10 days).

Barksdale’s Brigade

June 20, near Paris, VA. Mail delivered. Private N. Newton Nash of the 13th Mississippi received a letter dated June 4 (16 days).

Alexander’s Artillery Battalion

June 18, near Millwood, VA. Mail sent. The mail carrier departed for Winchester, according to Colonel E. P. Alexander.

O’Neal’s Brigade

June 28, near Carlisle, PA. Mail delivered. Private Samuel Pickens of the 5th Alabama received three letters from home, the latest dated June 6 (22 days).

July 7, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered at night.

Ramseur’s Brigade

June 28, at Carlisle, PA. Mail delivered in the morning.

Nelson’s Artillery Battalion

June 28, at Carlisle, PA. Mail sent.

Carter’s Artillery Battalion

June 30, at Chambersburg, PA. The mail carrier, a member of Captain R. C. M. Page’s Virginia battery, was passing through Chambersburg on his way to Winchester. He agreed to take the prepared letters from men of the 56th Virginia in Garnett’s brigade whom he encountered in town, but he would not wait for those who had put off writing until that moment.

Brockenbrough’s Brigade

June 22, near Berryville, VA. Mail delivered in the evening.

July 8, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered. Commissary Sergeant Richard Rowzie of the 55th Virginia received a letter from his sister dated June 25 (13 days).

Posey’s Brigade

(Private Michael Noll, Company A, 16th Mississippi, was detailed as the brigade postmaster/mail carrier from May 1862 through the end of 1863.)

June 26, six miles east of Chambersburg, PA. The brigade mail carrier (presumably Private Noll) delivered the mail, along with Richmond newspapers published as recently as June 22 (4 days). Private John B. Crawford of Company F, 16th Mississippi received three letters from his wife dated June 6, 7 and 14 (12-20 days).

July 8, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered. Sergeant Jerome B. Yates of the 16th Mississippi received a letter dated June 7 (31 days).

Mahone’s Brigade

June 28, three miles east of Chambersburg, PA. Mail sent.

July 3, near Gettysburg, PA. Mail delivered at night. Sergeant Leroy S. Edwards of the 12th Virginia received a letter dated June 24 (9 days).

July 7, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail sent.

Wilcox’s Brigade

July 10, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail sent.

Lane’s Brigade

June 28, near Fayetteville, PA. Mail delivered in the evening. Major John M. Turner of the 7th North Carolina and Chaplain F. Kennedy of the 28th North Carolina separately lamented that nothing came for them.

Perrin’s Brigade

(The brigade postmaster was captured with the wagon train by Federal cavalry, probably on the night of July 4/5 at Monterrey, PA.)

Fitz Lee’s Cavalry Brigade

On July 12, near Hagerstown, MD. Corporal Heath Christian of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry learned that a large quantity of mail was waiting for the brigade at Winchester, which was retrieved by Private St. George Tucker Brooke of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry after they recrossed the Potomac. Brooke was given the proper paperwork to provide to the post office officials in Winchester in order to collect the brigade’s mail.

W. H. F. Lee’s Cavalry Brigade

(Private William K. Poe of Company K, 10th Virginia Cavalry, served as the brigade postmaster from July-December 1863, as the division postmaster from January-April 1864, and as a clerk in the army’s post office through September 29, 1864.)

Sources:
-McHenry Howard, Recollections of a Confederate Soldier, H/2 MD BN
-Letter of James “Newt” Martin, 10 August, E/3 SC
-Diary of Turner Vaughan, C/4 AL
-Compiled Service Record of John W. Ward, A/7 GA
-The Granite Farm Letters, Civil War Correspondence of Edgeworth Bird, Benning’s staff
-Randolph Shotwell, Three Years in Battle and Three in Federal Prisons, H/8 VA
-“I wrote you word,” Letters of Private John Lee Holt, I/56 VA
-Nothing But Glory, by Kathy Georg Harrison and John W. Busey
-Letters of Alexander McNeill, F/2 SC
-T. N. Simpson, letters, “Far, Far from Home,” 3 SC
-Letter of Col. Aiken, 7 SC
-Letter from John Jeffries to his father, 23 June, 15 SC
-Letter of N.Newton Nash, 21 June, The Official Records of the Thirteenth Mississippi Regiment
-E. P. Alexander, Fighting for the Confederacy
-Letter of Frank A. Chappell, 8 July, D/3 AL
-Dear Sister, Civil War Letters of the Branscomb family, Jim Branscomb, 3 AL
-Diary of Samuel Pickens, D/5 AL, Voices from Company D.
-Letter of Weldon E. Davis, 28 June, B/30 NC
-Diary of W.E. Ardrey, K/30 NC
-Letter of Thomas Cleveland, 28 June, Fluvanna Artillery
-Diary of Robert T. Douglass, F/47 VA
-Letter of Richard R. Rowzie, 9 July, 55 VA
-Compiled Service Record of Private Michael Noll, A/16 MS
-George S. Bernard, E/12 MS
-The 16th Mississippi, Civil War Letters
-Letters of J. B. Crawford to wife, 28 June, F/16 MS
-Letters of Leroy S. Edwards, E/12 VA
-Letter of Wm. F. Baugh, 7 July, G/61 VA
-Letters of William C. McClellan, 9 AL, 9 July
-Letter of Major John M. Turner, 7 NC
-Diary of Chaplin F. Kennedy, 28 NC
-Letter of Assistant Surgeon Willis W. Keith, 10 July, 12 SC
-Autobiography of St. George Tucker Brooke, B/2 VA CAV
-Letter of Heath Jones Christian, Jr., 13 July, D/3 VA CAV
-Virginia Regimental Histories Series, 10 VA CAV
 
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#2
Each Confederate infantry and cavalry brigade, as well as artillery battalion, appears to have detailed one soldier from the ranks to serve as their mail carrier/postmaster. I have identified only a few of these individuals. During the Gettysburg campaign, the mail carriers (excepting those attached to Early’s division and most of Stuart’s cavalry) continually traveled back and forth between their respective commands and the main mail facility at Winchester, Virginia.

It was a safe and quick trip when the commands were still on friendly turf and not too distant from Winchester, but once the army entered and proceeded deeper into enemy territory, it became a hazardous undertaking, since mail carriers often rode alone or sometimes with only a small escort. The threat came not only from Federal cavalry, but also citizen bushwhackers, who seemed particularly aggressive around Greencastle, Pennsylvania. A shot was fired at a mail carrier as he rode through Greencastle, although he escaped unharmed. Once, during the retreat, an (outbound?) mail of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division was reportedly captured, which would explain a remark made by James N. “Newt” Martin of the 3rd South Carolina in an early August 1863 letter: “I cannot account for my letters not reaching home, as I wrote frequently.”

Generally speaking, mail and newspapers were periodically delivered up until June 28 to units of the main body in Pennsylvania that were west of Gettysburg; thereafter, delivery was suspended for the most part until July 7-8, after the army had retreated into defensive positions around Hagerstown, Maryland. However, some soldiers received mail between those dates, including while the battle at Gettysburg was in progress.

The following schedule of incoming and outgoing mail is broken down by brigade using extant information found in diaries and letters. More data is available for certain brigades than others. When the number of days it took for letters to travel from the sender to the army recipient can be determined, the information is provided in parentheses highlighted in (bold). It includes the time required by the sender to get their letter to the nearest post office, which might be several miles away in the mostly rural South.

Law’s Brigade

July 7, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered in the evening. Lieutenant P. Turner Vaughn of the 4th Alabama wrote that their mail carrier was chased by Yankee cavalry, and that the mail of McLaws’ division was captured.

Anderson’s Brigade

(Private John W. Ward of Company A, 7th Georgia was detailed as the brigade postmaster from October 1862 through at least February 1864.)

Benning’s Brigade

July 9, at Williamsport, MD. The postmaster, headed to Winchester with outgoing mail, was unable to cross the Potomac because of the rising water.

July 12, at Williamsport, MD. Mail delivered. Brigade quartermaster, Major Edgeworth Bird, received a packet of six letters, five from his wife and one from his children. Another letter arrived that was dated July 2 (10 days).

Garnett’s Brigade

June 30, in Chambersburg, PA. The mail carrier arrived and presumably delivered his letters. He expected to return shortly, giving procrastinators time to scribble off a brief note to their loved ones.

July 2. Mail delivered late in the day. Private Randolph Shotwell of the 8th Virginia stated that the letter he received had been “nearly three weeks on the way” (about 20 days).

Armistead’s Brigade

(Private Samuel R. Anglea of Company K, 38th Virginia was detailed as the brigade mail carrier.)

Kershaw’s Brigade

June 28, near Chambersburg, PA. Mail delivered. Lieutenant Alex McNeill of Company F, 2nd South Carolina, retrieved the mail for the men of his company from the quartermaster (of the regiment or brigade).

July 8, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail sent in the morning.

July 10, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered. Colonel D. Wyatt Aiken of the 7th South Carolina received a letter dated June 22 (18 days).

July 15, near Martinsburg, WV. Mail delivered. Lieutenant Alex McNeill of the 2nd South Carolina received a letter dated July 5 (10 days).

Barksdale’s Brigade

June 20, near Paris, VA. Mail delivered. Private N. Newton Nash of the 13th Mississippi received a letter dated June 4 (16 days).

Alexander’s Artillery Battalion

June 18, near Millwood, VA. Mail sent. The mail carrier departed for Winchester, according to Colonel E. P. Alexander.

O’Neal’s Brigade

June 28, near Carlisle, PA. Mail delivered. Private Samuel Pickens of the 5th Alabama received three letters from home, the latest dated June 6 (22 days).

July 7, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered at night.

Ramseur’s Brigade

June 28, at Carlisle, PA. Mail delivered in the morning.

Nelson’s Artillery Battalion

June 28, at Carlisle, PA. Mail sent.

Carter’s Artillery Battalion

June 30, at Chambersburg, PA. The mail carrier, a member of Captain R. C. M. Page’s Virginia battery, was passing through Chambersburg on his way to Winchester. He agreed to take the prepared letters from men of the 56th Virginia in Garnett’s brigade whom he encountered in town, but he would not wait for those who had put off writing until that moment.

Brockenbrough’s Brigade

June 22, near Berryville, VA. Mail delivered in the evening.

July 8, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered. Commissary Sergeant Richard Rowzie of the 55th Virginia received a letter from his sister dated June 25 (13 days).

Posey’s Brigade

(Private Michael Noll, Company A, 16th Mississippi, was detailed as the brigade postmaster/mail carrier from May 1862 through the end of 1863.)

June 26, six miles east of Chambersburg, PA. The brigade mail carrier (presumably Private Noll) delivered the mail, along with Richmond newspapers published as recently as June 22 (4 days). Private John B. Crawford of Company F, 16th Mississippi received three letters from his wife dated June 6, 7 and 14 (12-20 days).

July 8, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail delivered. Sergeant Jerome B. Yates of the 16th Mississippi received a letter dated June 7 (31 days).

Mahone’s Brigade

June 28, three miles east of Chambersburg, PA. Mail sent.

July 3, near Gettysburg, PA. Mail delivered at night. Sergeant Leroy S. Edwards of the 12th Virginia received a letter dated June 24 (9 days).

July 7, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail sent.

Wilcox’s Brigade

July 10, near Hagerstown, MD. Mail sent.

Lane’s Brigade

June 28, near Fayetteville, PA. Mail delivered in the evening. Major John M. Turner of the 7th North Carolina and Chaplain F. Kennedy of the 28th North Carolina separately lamented that nothing came for them.

Perrin’s Brigade

(The brigade postmaster was captured with the wagon train by Federal cavalry, probably on the night of July 4/5 at Monterrey, PA.)

Fitz Lee’s Cavalry Brigade

On July 12, near Hagerstown, MD. Corporal Heath Christian of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry learned that a large quantity of mail was waiting for the brigade at Winchester, which was retrieved by Private St. George Tucker Brooke of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry after they recrossed the Potomac. Brooke was given the proper paperwork to provide to the post office officials in Winchester in order to collect the brigade’s mail.

W. H. F. Lee’s Cavalry Brigade

(Private William K. Poe of Company K, 10th Virginia Cavalry, served as the brigade postmaster from July-December 1863, as the division postmaster from January-April 1864, and as a clerk in the army’s post office through September 29, 1864.)

Sources:
-McHenry Howard, Recollections of a Confederate Soldier, H/2 MD BN
-Letter of James “Newt” Martin, 10 August, E/3 SC
-Diary of Turner Vaughan, C/4 AL
-Compiled Service Record of John W. Ward, A/7 GA
-The Granite Farm Letters, Civil War Correspondence of Edgeworth Bird, Benning’s staff
-Randolph Shotwell, Three Years in Battle and Three in Federal Prisons, H/8 VA
-“I wrote you word,” Letters of Private John Lee Holt, I/56 VA
-Nothing But Glory, by Kathy Georg Harrison and John W. Busey
-Letters of Alexander McNeill, F/2 SC
-T. N. Simpson, letters, “Far, Far from Home,” 3 SC
-Letter of Col. Aiken, 7 SC
-Letter from John Jeffries to his father, 23 June, 15 SC
-Letter of N.Newton Nash, 21 June, The Official Records of the Thirteenth Mississippi Regiment
-E. P. Alexander, Fighting for the Confederacy
-Letter of Frank A. Chappell, 8 July, D/3 AL
-Dear Sister, Civil War Letters of the Branscomb family, Jim Branscomb, 3 AL
-Diary of Samuel Pickens, D/5 AL, Voices from Company D.
-Letter of Weldon E. Davis, 28 June, B/30 NC
-Diary of W.E. Ardrey, K/30 NC
-Letter of Thomas Cleveland, 28 June, Fluvanna Artillery
-Diary of Robert T. Douglass, F/47 VA
-Letter of Richard R. Rowzie, 9 July, 55 VA
-Compiled Service Record of Private Michael Noll, A/16 MS
-George S. Bernard, E/12 MS
-The 16th Mississippi, Civil War Letters
-Letters of J. B. Crawford to wife, 28 June, F/16 MS
-Letters of Leroy S. Edwards, E/12 VA
-Letter of Wm. F. Baugh, 7 July, G/61 VA
-Letters of William C. McClellan, 9 AL, 9 July
-Letter of Major John M. Turner, 7 NC
-Diary of Chaplin F. Kennedy, 28 NC
-Letter of Assistant Surgeon Willis W. Keith, 10 July, 12 SC
-Autobiography of St. George Tucker Brooke, B/2 VA CAV
-Letter of Heath Jones Christian, Jr., 13 July, D/3 VA CAV
-Virginia Regimental Histories Series, 10 VA CAV
 



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