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    [John Taylor Wood]. Robert E. Lee War-Dated Autograph Letter Signed, Preserved in a Scrapbook Containing an Archive of Original Letters and Documents Chronicling John Taylor Wood's Service in the Confederate Military. Comprised of letters, telegrams, commissions, newspaper clippings, and other documents spanning the dates 1810 through 1893; the bulk of the material dates from 1862 through 1865. In all, there are over thirty letters and telegrams from notables in the Confederate government and military including General Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Custis Lee; President Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina; Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory; Secretary of War James A. Seddon; et al. Held in a 9.5" x 11.75" copy of U.S. Light-House Establishment Rules Regulations and General Instructions, the letters (all but one), telegrams, clippings, etc. are affixed to the pages within, fashioning a makeshift scrapbook. The book is bound in brown leather over boards with title and border in gilt on the front cover.

    Most notably included in the scrapbook, is a war-dated letter from Robert E. Lee to Wood dated February 19, 1864: "I have read with much gratification your report of the 8th Inst: of your operations near Newbern. I congratulate you & the brave men with you on accomplishing so well your part. I regret the failure of the general plan, but I know how hard it is on an extensive field, to harmonize all the movements of a combined attack. Had this been accomplished, I think the place would have fallen. I hope you will press forward the completion of the gunboats. Gen. Hoke has detailed from his brigade to work on them 92 mechanics and 50 laborers."

    In January 1864, General Robert E. Lee's attention focused south to New Bern, North Carolina, situated on the confluence of the Trent and Meuse Rivers, where a fleet of Union ships was under construction. These made inviting targets and he recommended a plan of attack to President Jefferson Davis, who immediately ordered the action. To head the naval portion of the attack, Davis immediately chose his nephew, Col. John Taylor Wood (who also held an officer's commission in the Confederate Navy). On February 1, 1864, Major General George Pickett, commanding the forces on land, made a three prong attack. The following day, Wood captured the USS Underwriter with the intention of using her to attack the Union navy yard, but they were set upon and Wood fired the ship. Repelled, the Confederate attack was called off on February 3. Wood, whose capture and destruction of the USS Underwriter was one of the few rebel successes that day, received this letter from Lee in response to his report.

    Also included is a copy of Wood's report to Lee, dated February 8, 1864, in part: "I report to you the result of the late attempt upon Newbern . . . Passed down & up in front of the town . . . without discovering the G.B. A thick fog shut in everything. At daybreak returned . . . only one gun boat in sight. After dark attacked & captured her. She was moored close inland in order to [illegible] the approaches on the right of their line. I tried to move her but failed . . . in attempting to tow was subject to a fire of infantry & artillery. Fired her . . . The next morning all of our forces were ordered back. The water front of the town I found unguarded & as far as I could judge the fort was guarded by 3500 men." For his action at the Battle of New Bern, Secretary of the Navy Mallory wrote to President Davis on February 7, 1865, recommending Wood for "promotion to the grade of Captain in the Provisional Navy."

    On October 4, 1861, Wood was commissioned a lieutenant in the Confederate Navy (the letter informing him of his appointment is included in this lot) and was assigned to the CSS Virginia. He was on the Virginia when she fought her famous battle against the USS Monitor at the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. Following the Virginia's destruction several days later, he commanded a company of sharpshooters on Drewry's Bluff, a rise overlooking the James River just south of Richmond, repelling an attack by a Union flotilla. After the engagement, Wood's wife, Lola, received a letter from Confederate First Lady Varina Davis, undated though likely March 1862, saying, "As I promised to let you know if I heard anything of John, I only write to say that Mr. Davis wrote to me he was particularly efficient upon the day he commanded the batteries at Drury's Bluff [Drewry's Bluff] and day before yesterday he wrote that he and seen him in fine health & spirits."

    One year later, in a letter dated February 9, 1863 (included in this lot), Wood was made aide-de-camp to his uncle with the rank of colonel of cavalry, signed by James A. Seddon, the Confederate secretary of war. Having already been given a lieutenant's commission in the navy, he would, from this point forth, hold dual commissions in both branches of the Confederate military. That same day, he received a letter from President Davis ordering him to "proceed to Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, Port Hudson and Vicksburg" where he was to "inspect, at each of these places, the naval defenses & the vessels afloat, armament, and powers of offence and defence. . . . You will examine the naval and machine works . . . the measures that have been adopted to obstruct the channels of harbors and rivers, and the facilities for ingres [sic], and egres [sic], to vessels running the blockade. You will notice the character and position of the guns bearing upon the shipping, and whatever, in your judgement, may require attention, with reference to our water defences."

    Wood had determined to make a presence in the Chesapeake Bay area and was given the go-ahead by Davis in a letter dated July 6, 1863, three days after the devastating loss at Gettysburg: "Now is the accepted time, it seems to me, to attempt your contemplated effort on the Chesapeake. While attention is concentrated on the operations in Pa. and fear is entertained for the safety of Washington a demonstration on the water approach will have its greatest effect and be least likely to be guarded against. It may happen that transports with archives and government officials would offer a fit reward for daring and enterprise."

    In late August 1863, Wood began operating in what would become known as the Chesapeake Expedition. On the night of August 22, he made a daring raid on two Union gunboats - the Satellite and the Reliance. On August 25, Davis wrote to Lola, saying, "I have just received a note from your husband . . . He says, 'I take great pleasure & pride in reporting upon the capture of the Yankee gunboats Satellite and Reliance, each 2 guns & 40 men with slight loss on our side.'" She received a similar letter dated the same day from Col. William P. Johnston, the son of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, reading, in part: "We have the agreeable intelligence from your good husband that he has been eminently successful. He has captured the Yankee gunboats Satellite & Reliance two guns & 40 men each. Lt. Hoge is badly wounded & three of our men. A Yankee Captain & seven or 8 men wounded." Four months later, Wood received a letter from Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, dated January 7, 1864, informing him that he had been given a commander's commission in the navy "for gallant and meritorious conduct in boarding and capturing . . . the United States gun-boats 'Satellite' and 'Reliance.'"

    On April 20, 1864, Wood wrote to Davis with the results of the Battle of Plymouth [April 17-20, 1864], where a combined force of army and navy captured the town of Plymouth, North Carolina: "Heaven has crowned our efforts with success. Genl. [Robert F.] Hoke has captured this point with one thousand six hundred prisoners, twenty five pieces of artillery, and navy cooperation." A second letter to his uncle, though not dated, reveals more specifics of the battle: "Will be in Richmond tomorrow. The prisoners will number about twenty five hundred. Three or four hundred negroes - thirty pieces of ordnance - complete garrison outfit - one hundred thousand pounds of meat - one thousand barrels of flour - and other provisions. . . . Two gunboats were sunk - one crippled - and one small steamer captured. . . . Our loss about three hundred in all - Colonel [John T.] Mercer killed." As stated, the letter is undated, but Col. Mercer was killed at the Battle of Plymouth.

    Also included are two clipped Zachary Taylor signatures (his grandfather), one of which is a franking signature; a telegram from General Robert F. Hoke, dated April 7, 1864, from Richmond written entirely in cypher except for the words "progressing since"; and one 3.75" x 5.5" circular with dispatches from General Joseph E. Johnston to Secretary of War Seddon regarding the fall of Vicksburg: "Jackson, July 7 . . . Vicksburg capitulated on the 4th inst. The garrison was paroled, and are to be returned to our lines, the officers retaining their side-arms and personal baggage."

    The majority of the newspaper clippings dates from the war and includes news of battles and troop movements. Several date from after the war while the family resided in Canada, with one interesting article titled "Southerners in Halifax."

    Condition: All but a small portion of the spine covering of the book is missing exposing the textblock; the front and rear boards are detached. The pages of the book show areas of light to moderate toning from the documents affixed inside. The letters and newspaper clippings show adhesive ghosting from the verso where they have been mounted to the pages.


    More Information:

    John Taylor Wood (1830-1904), the son of Union General Robert Wood and Anne Taylor, the daughter of twelfth president, Zachary Taylor, began his career in the United States Navy in 1847 and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1852, second in his class. Initially maintaining a neutral stance following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, his sympathies headed South after the Battle of Fort Sumter. On April 21, 1861, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy and retired to his Maryland farm. The farming life did not last long, however, as life was becoming too dangerous. Fearing for the safety of his family, the Woods moved south to Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the new Confederate States where his uncle, Jefferson Davis, was now president (Jefferson Davis' first wife, Sarah Taylor, was Wood's mother's sister).

    By April 1865, the situation looked grim for the Confederacy. Wood was with his uncle on April 2, attending St. Paul's Church in Richmond, when a telegram from Lee arrived informing the president that Petersburg would soon fall and the government must evacuate. That evening, he, Davis, and other members of the Confederate government boarded a train for Danville, Virginia. They continued their flight south, where, on May 10, 1865, near the town of Irwinsville, Georgia, Davis and Wood were both captured by Union forces. Wood soon made his escape, with his uncle's permission, by bribing one of his captors and hiding in a nearby swamp until the Federals and their prisoners left the area.

    Wood made his way south to Florida and met up with Major General John C. Breckinridge. Acquiring a small boat, Wood, Breckinridge, and several other men first attempted to row east to The Bahamas, but abandoned the plan and decided to instead make their way south toward Cuba. He managed to trade with a crew of Union deserters his boat for their slightly bigger sloop. They reached the north shore of Cuban on June 10. He remained in Cuba for two weeks before heading north to Canada, where his family soon joined him. Reunited, they settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and remained there for the rest of their lives. John Taylor Wood died on July 19, 1904.

    Lots 49094 through 49099 in this auction relate to Wood's service during the war.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2015
    4th-5th Wednesday-Thursday
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