Letters from a Confederate Officer (1862)
James B. Griffin (1825–1881) was not one of the towering figures of the Confederacy, nor was he simply a soldier in the ranks: he was a southern gentleman, like many others, who went to war to defend his rights and to liberate the South from the North's attempts to subjugate her. He did not specifically state that he fought to preserve slavery, but among the rights he fought for was the right to continue his way of life. Griffin, as one of the wealthiest men in the Edgefield District of South Carolina, belonged to his society's elite class. He was, however, not rich enough, nor powerful enough to be part of its aristocracy. He did hold leadership positions in his community and state, the most prestigious being brigadier general in the South Carolina militia, but he generally preferred to focus on planting rather than politics. Griffin owned 61 slaves and 1,500 acres of land in 1860 and used both primarily in cotton production. When war threatened his world in 1861, he was primed to act. That spring Wade Hampton III of South Carolina created a special regiment, a legion that combined the three arms—infantry, cavalry, and artillery—of the military. Hampton appointed Griffin to the post of major of the cavalry. When the Legion's second in command was killed at Manassas (the cavalry missed the engagement as they had been left behind to continue their training), Griffin was promoted to lieutenant colonel. While fulfilling his duties on the Virginia front (attended by two slaves, Ned and Abram), he wrote regularly to his wife, Eliza, nicknamed Leila. Griffin remained with the Legion until June of 1862 when, after it was reorganized and the field officer ranks were opened up to elections, he lost his position to another officer and resigned.


  Head Qrs. Legion Camp Wigfall
Sunday night January 5th 1862
My Darling Wife
. . . Camp life is so monotonous, so much of a sameness, that it is really trying to one's patience at times. This frequently accounts for the fact that Soldiers grow extremely eager for a fight. They want something to relieve the dull monotony of the camp life. This is the case, at this time with our troops. I believe they would, almost to a man, be delighted if the Enemy would come along. . . . Col Hampton had another regiment sent to him to day, he now has under his command, besides the Legion, three Regiments and a field battery. He will now be able to give the Yanks a warm reception, wherever they may choose to try to cross the Occoquan. It looked a little squally day before yesterday evening. There was a succession of fires apparently signal fires, from away up the lines near Alexandria, down the Potomac. I dont know what was the meaning of them—It may have been their signal for an advance, but if so they were deterred by a sleet which fell that night. . . . It is now exceedingly cold, but I dont suffer from the cold. A good many of our men have been skating for the last day or two. One poor fellow from the Ga Regiment, was drowned yesterday. Two men were skating when the ice broke and they both went down. This Georgian jumped in and saved them—And afterwards went back to show how he saved them, when the ice broke with him, he went down and drowned before they could get him out. I wrote to you in my last that Maj'r Butler was sick. I am happy to inform you that he is convalescent—I saw him to day—I hope soon to see him again in the saddle. We have a good many Commissioned Officers now sick—On that account we are in bad condition for a fight—So far as the men are concerned we are in very good fighting condition. I am satisfied that the condition of our army would not be improved, by going into winter quarters, without an engagement. I feel the army would be a good deal demoralized, by such an event. I dont know what to think, whether they will attack us or not. I am fully confident if they do come that we will lick them. And if we give them a thorough licking, in their present shattered condition, I think they will begin to think about giving it up. I wish they would quit their foolishness[.] For I tell you, I would much prefer being at home with my Wife and Children—I am delighted to hear that the citizens of old South Carolina, and old Edgefield especially, have come up to the mark—without being drafted. It would have been an everlasting disgrace to have drafted the men when the Enemy were on our own soil. . . .

*   *   *

 Head Qrs Legion
Camp Near Occoquan Jany 10th
1862
My Darling Leila
. . . Oh, My Darling what a comfort to me it is, to know that you and the dear Children although separated from me, are well, and appear to be getting along so well. I am also delighted to hear that the Negroes are behaving so well—Do say to them that I hear with pleasure of their good behaviour, and hope they will continue to behave well—tell them they shall not loose anything by keeping it up. I hope also from what you and Willie both write, that our new overseer may do well. Tell him, I have entire confidence in him although a Stranger, from what I have heard of him, and he must do his best. Do ask him if he has a good stand of wheat and oats, and how they look. Has he fed away all the pea vines yet, and how does he get along with his business generally. Tell him to be economical with the corn, I think there is no doubt but he will have plenty, but still it is safest to be economical. Do tell him to see himself to measuring the corn when they go to the mill, and see that no more is sent than is necessary, and that it all comes back. Dont forget sometimes to have the wheat sunned. My Darling I do think you are getting to be a first rate manager. And whilst I hope that the time is not near at hand for you, Still, I believe you would make a right managing Widdow. But excuse me—My Darling that is too serious a subject to joke about just now. I am pleased to hear that you have your garden in such fine order. I hope to enjoy some of your nice vegetables this year. Dont forget the Watermelon patch when the proper time arrives. Tell your man Peter, that he knows my plan for planting, and he must pursue it just as if I were there to attend to it. Tell him to make some hills next month, dig the holes deep and put the manure low down, that is the secret of success. If you have an early Spring he might plant a few hills as early as the 10th of March and then keep on planting all the time after that, every week or two. By the way you have never written me how much cotton you and Peter made last year. . . . I really am at a loss to conjecture what is the programme of the Enemy. It was said when the weather was so fine that they were waiting for hard weather. Now we have had that and they still tarry. I am thoroughly satisfied, that McClelland [sic] doesnt want to come at all. It has been said by some that he has feigned sickness to give him an excuse for not advancing. It seems that Public opinion would force him to move, as they are already speaking of one who is to supercede him. My opinion is that his reputation now hangs upon a rather slender thread. If he advances, and gets whipped, his reputation is gone—and if he does not advance, it appears as if they will call in another. I hear that he has pledged to advance by the 15th of this month. And I dont believe now he can do so if he wishes. The rains have made the roads so soft, that I dont believe Artillery can be carried over them. But as the Frenchman said, "we shall see what we shall see". My Darling I am really afraid that my letters are not very interesting to you but you must bear in mind that I have nothing else to write about. Tell Willie I am obliged to him for his letter, tell him he doesnt improve as much in writing as I would wish, but to keep trying, he will learn after awhile. Tell him to write to me every week. Give my love to all the Children and kiss them for me. Also remember me to all my friends and relatives. Abram and Ned beg to be remembered to all. Good night, My Love—
 Your Jimmie
You asked me if I would like to have a pair of pants. Why, certainly I would be proud to wear them—spun[,] wove and made by your own direction.
 JBG

 Head Qrs of the Legion
Jany 30th 1862
My Dear Leila . . . My Darling this is another gloomy day, been raining all day. Yesterday was a very pretty day, it seems as if we cant have more than one pretty day, and then pay for it by having three or four rainy ones. The sun hasnt shone, I dont think more than three or four days this whole month. I have been closely engaged to day, My Darling, examining the Commissary's quarterly report. It was an exceedingly tedious job. And consequently I feel rather tired. I should have written you last night, but for the fact that I didnt sleep much the night before, and was quite sleepy. I said, I didnt sleep much, night before last—It was quite an eventful night. Let me give you an account of it. In the first place a lot of young men from the "Washington Light Infantry" (Citizens of Charleston) took it into their heads to give a concert. They accordingly went to the village of Occoquan, distant from the camp about two miles, and about four from the camp of the Enemy. Just think of that, the idea of having an entertainment of that kind almost within gun shot of the Enemy's lines. But then we had the river Occoquan between us. I knew nothing of the affair until the arrangement was all completed. In the morning before the night of the concert—they asked through their Capt, permission to have it. I consented on condition that they would preserve good order, conduct themselves properly, and not report anything about it in the newspapers. They invited our Field and Staff and said it was gotten up for our express benefit. So that we all concluded to go. Col Hampton being in Richmond. I left the camp in charge of Capt Gary and went down. When I arrived, I found the audience already in attendance. The room was a very nice one, small, and pretty well filled. The crowd consisted mostly of Officers and about a dozen Ladies. I assure you I was surprised to see, in this country, such a collection of the "Fair Sex." True they were not so pretty but they were so dignified and Lady like. The Boys had erected a stage in one end of the house, and had one corner canvassed off for the performers to retire in. This canvass consisted of a very large and handsome quilt, which I suppose they had borrowed for the occasion, and a couple of Soldiers blankets. The curtain which was used to expose the Stage was made of the fly of a tent. They didnt have gas light, but good old tallow candles, with a wick about the size of your little finger. So you may imagine that the light wasnt very brilliant. The Performers were all blacked, and sung various songs, and performed beautifully on several instruments. They had the piano, two violins, a tamborine and one fellow played the banjo and another beat the bones. The music was really exquisite, and the whole affair passed off very pleasantly indeed. They closed about eleven oclock and we set out for camp—We had ridden about a mile when my ear caught the sound of a rifle, in the direction of Colchester. The very place we are guarding and where we always keep a picket. In a few seconds I heard another, and then another, and then a volley. I was riding my fine mare "Belle Tucker". I gave her the spur and she soon carried me to the ferry where our Picket was stationed. I was accompanied by Adjt Barker. I found after seeing the Picket that the firing was over the river, in an old house just across the ferry. It had by this time all ceased. But I could distinctly hear the moaning and groaning of some one who was undoubtedly wounded. I immediately suspected the cause. We have for a long time had eight or ten Texians over the river who have been acting as scouts for us. They have harrassed the Enemy a great deal and they the Enemy have made many fruitless attempts to catch them. It turned out as I suspected[.] The Texians were all in this old house (there were eight of them in all[)], and had all gone to bed, leaving no watch at all. The Enemy were doubtless piloted to the house, and the first thing the Texians knew, the Enemy were trying to break the door down. The house was a two story one with several rooms in it—they separated some in each room, and the firing commenced. The night was exceedingly dark—and the Texians couldnt tell how many they were fighting. Certainly a pretty large crowd. The firing lasted only a few minutes, and the Cowardly rascals ran off—leaving two of their men dead and one badly wounded (died that night) in the yard. One of the Texians was wounded but not seriously. I ordered more men down to the river, and awaited to see what would turn up—It wasnt long before I heard a whistle across the river—I answered, and the Texians asked for a boat—I sent over and had them brought over and the wounded man attended to—He is now doing very well. Those Texians are number one men, and their conduct on that occasion was as gallant and brave as any thing that has occurred in this war. Just think of their cool courage, to be suddenly surprised by an Enemy, from whom they had no reason to expect any quarter—Surrounded in the night by these rascals, in an old house, which was but a shell—and see them separating themselves each man with his rifle in hand slipping to a window and firing at their opponents—who were also pouring the bullets into the old House. Just think, I say of this conduct and compare it to the dastardly cowardice of the Enemy who had at last found the very men whom of all others they wanted to find—they had them completely surrounded and one would suppose just where they would like to have them. They also from the sign, next day, had a large force—And notwithstanding all this as soon as their men began to fall they actually ran off—The Texians say they carried off several wounded, they could distinctly hear them complaining and groaning as they went off. But they left one wounded man on the ground who hallooed and begged them to come back after him. I suppose he was the one I heard crying after I got down. The Texians came out after the Enemy were gone, and found this wounded man and two dead ones—They carried the wounded man in the house—built up a fire for him, gave him some water—took the arms of the three men, and then brought their own wounded man down to the river—When I sent for them as I have already told you. The next morning they went over and decently buried them. I didnt get back to camp that night until near three O Clock—and that is the reason I was so sleepy last night. Dont you think it was quite an adventerous night? . . .

*   *   *

 Head Quarters of the Legion
Camp near Occoquan Feby 2nd
1862
My Dearest Wife
. . . This is the rainiest—snowiest—muddiest and with all, the most disagreeable country I ever met up with. This has been a clear sunny day—and now, (ten O Clock at night) it is raining—Night before last it snowed—Yesterday it thawed, and it seems that every thing combines to keep the earth saturated with water. The roads, being traveled over every day by wagons, of course continue to grow worse. I havent travelled over them but from accounts, and from what I see around here, I know they are awful. I have been trying for the last two weeks—to have some new batteries built—but owing to the dreadful weather, get along very slowly. We never have two days in succession in which we can work. I never was so heartily tired of mud and water in my life. Col Hampton has not yet returned from Richmond—He has been gone a week—I am expecting him every day.

My Darling, you have no idea how proud I felt, yesterday while reading one of your very dear letters to find that you felt that you had reason (as you thought) to be proud of your Husband. It done me a power of good. For while I dont expect much from the cold Charity of the world—And indeed ask for little, It is really charming and enspiriting to feel that you are appreciated by one who loves you and one who is prompted by no deceitful motives, to bestow praise on you. But My Darling, let me say, while I thank you for the compliment, I have so far done nothing to merit it—Except perhaps, in showing a willingness to do, whenever an opportunity may offer. I have so far, never had the fortune (whether good or bad) to be engaged with the Enemy—I hope however, if it shall ever be my fortune to be engaged with them, that my conduct will be such, that if I do not merit your praise, will not cause you to feel ashamed—I, like every man, of course would not like the idea of being even wounded in battle—But I would dislike very much to go out of this Campaign without going through at least one battle—More especially as most of the officers of the Legion have had that good fortune. I assure you that the dangers of a battle, are not near so great as one, who is unacquainted, would suppose. I do not expect any fighting of consequence, in this army before Spring—But I think it will come then pretty heavy, if there is no change.

I honestly believe that the battle itself is about the least of dangers, to which the Soldier is exposed. Sickness is much more dangerous, caused from necessary exposure. The health of our Command is very good, at this time considering the quantity of bad weather we have had. My own health continues very good—I wouldnt have believed that I could have gone through what I have. But it doesnt hurt me at all. I have entire command of the Legion, during the Col's absence and flatter myself that we get along very well. I cant tell whether the men like me or not—they are very respectful to me, but that they are obliged to be—Military authority is the most powerful known to man. But doesnt do harm unless abused—I think the officers generally like me and most of the men two [sic] but some of them I reckon do not—An Officer, as a general rule, who does his duty is apt to make some Enemies.

*   *   *

 Head Qrs of the Legion
February 19th 1862
My Dear Leila
Well, my Darling, I have at last received my trunk, it came to day—Just four weeks from the time you started it. My Darling you just tried yourself to see how many nice things you could send. I opened the trunk to day (it came about twelve O Clock) and had a regular party. Invited the whole mess and Capt Gary, Lieut Tompkins and Ball from Laurens, a member of Gary's company. I cut one of the cakes, which was beautiful and very nice, and opened the apple cordial. All agreed in pronouncing it splendid. You were very highly complimented, while the cake & cordial was rapidly consumed. Every thing came perfectly safe and sound, notwithstanding the length of time it had been coming. The sausages were somewhat moulded, but I dont think are at all damaged, at least I hope not, for I am really longing for some. We also sampled the nice brandy peaches, I told the party that they were put up by your own fair hands, and four years ago at that. They were really very nice. Col Hampton is laid up in his tent with the mumps. (I tell him he is the largest case of mumps, I ever saw) So that he could not participate in the feast. I, sent him, however, a share of the good things. My darling every thing you sent is really a treat, but I believe I appreciate more than any thing else, the nice butter. I can eat it with a relish, and have the satisfaction of knowing it is clean and nice. We had such a nice lunch and enjoyed it so much, that we didnt have dinner until five O Clock, and it being a dark evening we had to have a candle lit. I suppose you will think that we are quite aristocratic. And so we are. Our usual meal hours are as follows, Breakfast from nine to ten (Dark rainy mornings from ten to eleven.[)] Dinner from three to four, tea from eight to nine. Dont you think that is rather aristocratic. We sampled, at dinner, your catsup—it is splendid. Every thing is nice very nice, ham[,] biscuit and all. For all of which my Darling will please accept the sincere thanks of her husband, and also of the whole mess. I am also obliged to you for the clothing you sent. I didnt need any thing except the towels and handkerchiefs, I have lost some that I had. The shirts you sent are very pretty, I will wear them after the cold weather is gone. I wear nothing now but the calicoe. . . . My Darling the Mail has just come and the papers bring the unwelcome news of the capture of Fort Donnelson [sic] by the Federals. Our reverses have been frequent of late—It seems that we fought gallantly at the Fort—but the full particulars I havent seen. Our defeat at Roanoke was really disgraceful. Well, I hope the day of triumph is not far distant. I have no other news to write—It has been raining all day as usual. Do remember me kindly to your Father and family, also to all friends. Give my love to all the Children, and accept for yourself the warmest love of your devoted
 Jimmie
 Camp of the Legion
February 26th 1862
My Darling Leila
I am delighted, my Darling to learn by your last letter that Minnie has at last "Come through". And I am also pleased, and tender my congratulations that she has another Boy. Notwithstanding you all were anxious for her to have a daughter. I really think she should be proud that she has another Boy. This is the time, above all others, that men should be raised. And this too, is the time above all others when females deserve sympathy. I assure you, I feel, far more anxiety about my dear little daughters, than I do about my Boys. For while men can manage to work for themselves, and can fight the battles of their Country if necessary, Females are very dependent. True, they too can do a great deal, and, 'tis true that our Southern Ladies have done and are still acting a conspicuous part in this war[.] In many instances (to the shame of our Sex be it said) a much bolder and more manly part than many men. But still, when it comes to the physical test, of course, they are helpless. It is on this account, that I think the Parents should congratulate themselves on the birth of a son rather than a daughter. We cannot see, My Darling, into the future, but I trust & have confidance in our people to believe, that if the unprincipled North shall persist in her policy of Subjugating the South, that we, who are able to resist them, will continue to do so, until we grow old and worn out in the service, and that then, our Sons will take the arms from our hands, and spend their lives, if necessary, in battling for Liberty and independence. As for my part, If this trouble should not be settled satisfactorily to us sooner—I would be proud of the thought that our youngest Boy—Yes Darling little Jimmie, will after awhile be able and I trust willing to take his Father's place in the field, and fight until he dies, rather than, be a Slave, Yea worse than a Slave to Yankee Masters—Have you ever anticipated, My Darling, what would be our probable condition, if we should be conquered in this war? The picture is really too horrible to contemplate. In the first place, the tremendous war tax, which will have accumulated, on the northern Government, would be paid entirely and exclusively by the property belonging to the Southerners. And more than this we would be an humbled, down trodden and disgraced, people. Not entitled to the respect of any body, and have no respect for ourselves. In fact we would be the most wretched and abject people on the face of the Earth. Just be what our Northern Masters say we may be. Would you, My Darling, desire to live, if this was the case? would you be willing to leave your Children under such a government? No—I know you would sacrifice every comfort on earth, rather than submit to it. Excuse me, My Darling, I didnt intend to, run off in this strain. You might think, from my painting this horrid picture to you, that I had some doubts as to whether we might not have to experience it. But No, I havent the most remote idea that we will. I think our people will arouse themselves, shake off the lethargy, which seems now to have possession of them, and will meet the issue like men. We must see that we have all—Yes our all—staked upon the result—And we are obliged to succeed and we will do it. Just at this time the Enemy appears to have advantage of us. But this is no more than we have, all along, had of him, until lately. He did not succombe and give up for it—and shall we, Who have so much more to fight for than he has, do so? I am completely surprised and mortified at the feeling manifested by our people at this time. But they will soon rally and come with redoubled energy. Our Soldiers too, or rather our Generals have got to learn to fight better. The idea, of a Genl surrendering with 12000 men under his command,1 is a species of bravery and Generalship, which I do not understand. I wish Congress would pass a law breaking an officer of his commission who surrenders. . . . My Darling tell Spradley, not to commence planting corn early[.] My land will not admit of early planting, of either corn or cotton. I generally, commence planting corn from the 15th to the 20th of March, and cotton about the same time in april. I see that Congress is about passing a bill, to impose a heavy tax on cotton raised this year[.] If they pass it—I wish no land planted in cotton except the new ground, and the field next to the overseers house, all the ballance planted in corn. I will write you, however in time. My Darling, Now is the time to bring out all your courage—Do not become despondent—Dont matter what alarmists and Croakers may say—take advice from him whom you know will advise you for the best. Keep up your spirits and your courage, and the clouds will soon pass away, and sun shine will return—My sheet is full—and I will close by begging to be remembered to all—My love to My Children and my Darling Leila
 from your Husband


1. Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner surrendered the garrison at Fort Donelson. (Return to text)
[From Judith N. McArthur and Orville Vernon Burton, eds., "A Gentleman and an Officer": A Military and Social History of James B. Griffin's Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 132–37, 141–48, 159–65. [Editorial insertions that appear in square brackets are from the McArthur and Burton edition—Ed.]]
Print This Page      Close This Page