Description

    Archive of a Confederate Cavalry Captain's Letters To Home: 133 Letters Detail the Horrors of War & Riding with Generals Wade Hampton and JEB Stuart. This outstanding archive of 133 handwritten letters from Confederate Cavalry Captain Leonard Williams of South Carolina's 2nd Cavalry are a remarkable insight into the life of a cavalry captain who fought with General JEB Stuart, against General George Armstrong Custer at Gettysburg, and who met General Robert E. Lee. Nearly all the letters were written from the battlefield to his wife Anna Laval Williams in Greenville, South Carolina from July 18, 1861 to February 11, 1865. While a few of the letters were to other family members, one letter was from Captain Williams to his servant, Ned.

    Leonard Williams was born on his father's Sycamore Grove, South Carolina plantation on December 15, 1823. Since the American Revolution, his family had a long tradition of service to their country. After graduating magna cum laude from South Carolina College, he founded Newberry Academy (later Newberry College) and became its principal. He moved to Greenville, South Carolina in 1855 and became a merchant and married Anna Laval, the daughter of Major William Laval of Charleston.

    Heeding the call to arms in 1861, Leonard Williams was one of the first to join up with Greenville's Brooks' Troop of Cavalry, eventually becoming part of General Wade Hampton's Legion that would become famous in the war. Captain Williams would see action in some 75 battles, sending home vivid details of the greatest cavalry battle ever fought on America soil at Brandy Station. Here he would fight alongside General JEB Stuart with Hampton's Legion. It was at Second Brandy Station where Captain Williams would be severely wounded.

    His campaign with the Confederate cavalry is easily traced through these eloquent, sometimes passionate and romantic letters from this educated cavalier. He would see much more of the war at Antietam and lead cavalry charges at Upperville and Jack's Shop with General JEB Stuart personally commending him for his "efficiency and bravery" at that action. After Robert E. Lee's Confederate army retreated from Bristoe Station, Captain Williams was right there with JEB Stuart's cavalry as they surprised the advancing Union cavalry under General Kilpatrick. The Confederates routed the Union troopers and chased them five miles in what became known as the "Bucktail Races".

    In these thrilling letters Williams describes some scenes during the war as being able to "...furnish the painter with a grand subject", others convey the stark reality of war. When once crossing a bloody battlefield he wrote, "I rode through the field on my way here. The dead Yankees literally covered the ground for miles." Other letters direct his precious wife Anna to continue running their plantation back in South Carolina with passages such as, "Have you sowed your turnips yet?" or "Put up all the pickles you can conveniently and buy dried peaches and apples...they are very much needed by the soldiers."

    But as much as these letters are a goldmine of war stories told by a cavalryman straight from the field to his wife at home, they are an insight into Southern life during the war. As Williams was a slaveholder himself, many of the letters to his wife concern proper treatment of the slaves, keeping their quarters clean and making sure they are properly dressed. In that case, not only are these volumes of letters particularly insightful as contemporaneous war memoirs, they serve to give one a view into the life of a southern plantation during time of war.

    Almost in the form of a novel, this intelligent man captures the tone and content of the war as it progresses. He related that the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry had been reduced from its original strength of 950 cavaliers at the beginning of the war to just 150 by the last year of the conflict. In his letters of 1865 he holds out hope as he hears news of Sherman's March to the Sea. "If he should meet with a severe whipping, our cause would revive at once and confidence and hope be reestablished," he wrote in February 1865. But, by then, the cause was lost. As Captain Williams and his men joined up with General Johnston's' troops in North Carolina they fought their last battles there. Ever the optimist, Williams always held out hope for the South. His letters end after the fall of Williamsburg and he begins his journey back home.

    Leonard Williams would rebuild his farm and build a legacy of public service in Greenville, South Carolina after the war. He became auditor of Greenville County and worked in economic development to aid the war-torn region. Fortunately for us, his letters from the Civil War where he served with such greats as JEB Stuart are here with us today. A hardbound trade-sized book written by Williams' great-grandson, David G. Douglas, accompanies these letters. Titled A Boot Full of Memories - Captain Leonard Williams, 2nd S. C. Cavalry (Gray Fox, Camden, SC), it was written with Robert L. Brown using these letters as the basis for the historical novel. Many of the letters are transcribed in the author-signed book. The letters are contained in individual slipcases and all are in legible and in varying conditions and sizes of paper. Most are in very good condition but there are some ink stains. One letter is even written on Northern stationary that Captain Williams obviously liberated. This is a fascinating, historically important collection.




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    Auction Dates
    December, 2006
    1st-2nd Friday-Saturday
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