DescriptionJohn Taylor Wood Archive comprised of twenty-six letters spanning the years 1863 through 1865, the bulk of which date from 1863. On February 9, 1863, Lt. John Taylor Wood, a Confederate naval officer, the son of Union Col. and Assistant Surgeon General Dr. Robert C. Wood and grandson of former president Zachary Taylor, was named navel aide-de-camp with the rank of colonel of cavalry (a dual commission he would hold for the rest of the war) to Confederate President Jefferson Davis - who happened to be his uncle.
One of his first missions in his new role was to travel to the South's major ports (by rail) and inspect the coastline defenses. Upon his return he would report back to the president. Five days after his commission he was in Wilmington, North Carolina, examining the port city, arguably one of the most important bases for running the Union blockade. Writing home to his wife, Lola (to whom all of these letters are addressed), he discusses his visit to the city, in part: "Feb. 14th 1863 ... I spent yesterday with Genl Whiting visiting the Forts at the mouth of the River... Generally they were in good order, but some things require rectifying. Six of the Yankee Blockaders were in sight, two of them very close, not more than two miles. For some time an attack has been expected here, but just now it is quiet, the enemy having passed down the Coast to Charleston."
Less than one week later, having made a stop at first Florence and then Charleston, South Carolina, he entered Augusta, Georgia, where, on February 20, 1863, he wrote again: "I left Charleston last evening at six & have been traveling all night & reached this place at 4 this morning. . . . I will reach Montgomery to-night some time & Selma my next stopping place tomorrow some time. . . . There are rumors of an attack on Savannah, but they are premature I think." Four days later he had reached Mobile, Alabama. Having earlier received news of the president's ill health, he was relieved "to hear that the President is better. I felt uneasy about him. . . . I want to leave here day after tomorrow for Vicksburg, the rail-road is out of order, which will delay me." Two days later (February 26, 1863), still in Mobile, Wood wrote again with his assessment of the port of Mobile, saying, "Yesterday I was all day down the harbor visiting the Forts, this place is very strong & I see the probability of an attack."
Shortly before leaving Mobile for Vicksburg, he received distressing news regarding his brother, Robert, himself a colonel of cavalry in the Confederate Army. After arriving in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he wrote to his wife on March 2, saying, "I heard a report at Mobile that Brother had been taken prisoner & Killed, this made me unhappy & it was only on my arrival here, that I learnt there was no truth in it. He is stationed some distance from here, but has been sent for & I hope may arrive in time." Of the enemy he says, "Across this River the Yankee Fleet can be seen as well as their camps, covering the country for miles, but they are doing nothing as far as we can see, but working on their canal, by which they hope to get down the river without passing this City. This place is almost entirely deserted except by the military, the effects of the bombardment can be seen everywhere. . . . the town was under fire for two months, it is astonishing that it did not suffer more." The canal mentioned by Wood was first put under construction by Gen. Benjamin Butler in July 1862, but was abandoned until Grant resumed construction in January 1863. Flooding of the river in late February-early March filled the canal and two dredges were brought in to clear the channel, but Confederate artillery drove them off and the project was abandoned in late March 1863. He continued his assessment of Vicksburg in a letter four days later (from Jackson, Mississippi) while on his return east: "March 6 . . . Things at Vicksburg are quiet at present, but cant remain so long. I don't altogether like the looks of affairs in this country. Genl. Pemberton is not popular with the Army, nor has its confidence. Provisions are becoming very scarce."
By March 11, Wood had reached Savannah, Georgia: "Some days ago there was a probability of an attack upon this place but it has passed over. The enemy has withdrawn, undoubtedly Charleston is to be the point that they may well concentrate their forces & there expend their wrath. . . . I find all over this country there is a great deal of sickness, both among children & amongst adults, in which there is a great deal of scarlet fever & erysipelas, at other places the same with typhoid fever. . . . I fear that starvation will yet stare us in the face. It is something much more to be feared than the Yankees."
Several months later, he was in the capital at Richmond when word reached them of the victory at the Second Battle of Winchester. Placed in a postscript to a letter to Lola dated June 16 (the day after the battle), Wood writes, "God has crowned our armies with another victory, Winchester has been taken with Artillery &c." The following day, he again writes of Winchester: "We learn glorious news from Winchester, but Genl. [Joseph E.] Johnston is doing nothing & says he cannot save Vicksburg." At the time, Johnston was in command of the Department of the West and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was laying siege to the city of Vicksburg. The city fell on July 4, 1863. Two days later, on June 18, he described the loss of the CSS Atlanta, under the command of Commander William A. Webb: "We have awful news from Savannah; Webb went out in the 'Atlanta' & after a half hour's fight surrendered to two iron-clads [monitors Weehawken and Nahant]; we have no particulars; as we only saw the fight from shore at a distance."
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. Writing to Lola the following day off the coast of Virginia, he relates his victory: "I have been successful, last night we boarded & captured the Yankee Gunboats Satelite [sic] & Reliance, each 2 guns & 40 men."
One month later, Wood was in Charleston and gives his impression of the city under siege: "Sept. 18 1863 . . . Everything here now is quiet the enemy are not firing at all, our batteries fire but slowly on their working parties. Their occupation of Morris Island gives them almost certain control of the harbor & as soon as they are ready, they will be able to shell the City with care. that they can destroy this City there is no doubt."
Back in Richmond, Davis discussed with his nephew the possibility of raising a number of troops from among the Catholics: "Oct. 16/64 . . . Last evening I rode with the President . . . At his request I spoke to [illegible] about enlisting in our service the . . . Catholics among the prisoners held by us . . . he thinks a Brigade can be raised & that he is willing & indeed anxious to take command of them. . . . It is reported that [Gen. Benjamin] Butler has put a number of our prisoners at work on his canal under our fire. His reason is because we have returned to their owners slaves that we have captured & he has made slaves of our men. . . . Still we must keep up our fire. it wont do to let the scoundrels approach the city in this way. . . . There is a report from the Valley that [Gen. Jubal A.] Early has whipped the enemy. I trust it may turn out true." Five days later, the tide had turned and rumors were circulating "that Early has been again whipped. I trust it may not be so, for we have had misfortune enough in that quarter."
The Civil War literally tore Wood's family apart. His father served in the U.S. Army for nearly forty years, being breveted brigadier general near war's end. While he remained loyal to the Union, his sons, John Taylor and Robert Jr., both allied with the Southern states. Though the boys' relations with their parents remained strained due to the conflict, John seems to hold no ill will as two war-dated letters to his mother, also included in this lot, illustrate. In the earlier of the two, dated September 1, 1863, he writes to his mother about the burial of his daughter, Bessie, saying, "You have lost another child & it grieves me that you never saw her." The second letter dates from March 11, 1865. After thanking her for gifts for the children he says, "I wish I could write unreservedly & fully. I feel assured I could correct many of your views & change your impressions. My faith is unshaken in our final success in it. At the commencement, grievous reverses we have had . . . But they are useful in improving & disciplining the people, in rendering our situation more complete, our nationality more assured. The war may last years to come . . . but the result will be the same, our Independence. Not even slavery will be allowed to stand in the way . . . I pray earnestly that you may & certainly . . . as a family we may be again united."
Condition: The overall condition of the letters is remarkable despite the expected age toning and spots of scattered foxing. A few letters show some separation along the folds.
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.
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