DescriptionConfederate POW Archive of Letters to Wesley Wall, Co. "G", Louisiana 19th Infantry. The group includes 20 letters from his family written to him while he is imprisoned in Camp Douglas, Illinois. Most of the letters are from his mother, and these letters are filled with news of home as well as the deaths of other family members in the war. Wesley writes one letter home during his imprisonment, and the group also include a poem he composed (written in November 1865). There is also one letter to Wesley from a fellow soldier that is war-dated.
Present with the archive is large number of pre and post war family correspondence, and we call attention to one letter in particular from his brother Benjamin Wall written just two days after Abraham Lincoln is elected president. He writes: "New Orleans, Nov. 8th 1860... From your letter I would judge you to be an abolitionist. One of those who are willing to wait for some overt act from Mr. Lincoln and go along as best we can for four years when he will have a strong hold. The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, as a man of the North is nothing but it is the success of a party which has for its object the uprooting of slavery and the complete extermination of it. Leading men of that party who have said that by sudden attack in Virginia & other of the border states take possession of them and hold in subjection the other slave states. No matter how cooperative Mr. Lincoln himself may be the principle of his party have to be carried out or he will have them at his heels growling like so many blood hounds, for his cooperation with those in their avowed designs. Now is the time that this slavery agitation should be settled and unless we obtain from Mr. Lincoln & his party some sufficient guarantee that the laws of the Constitution shall be maintained inviolate and the fugitive slave law (the principle bone of contention between the North & South for the territories let you settle that as you will. They can vote down the South anytime.) enforced. We have better try some better government. If the South should secede and revolutianise against the Federal government then all the slave states should stand up in a unit." The rest of Wall's letter discusses the potential use of embargoes as a political tool, but dismisses them as ineffective. This letter has significant wear and paper loss occurring at the folds. We include it because the content powerfully captures the reaction of the civilian population in the South to the election of Abraham Lincoln as president.
Brother Benjamin enlists as soon as war is declared, and writes a letter to Wes from New Orleans dated May 2, 1861 asking him to stay at home with their mother, "do all that I tell you and not run over Ma's already filled cup of sorrow."
A telegraph dated May 9, 1862 informs Mary Walls (their mother) that Ben is "slightly wounded / Major Winans not heard from / Bowman not in fight." Although he recovers from these wounds, he does not survive the war.
Mary's letters to her son are heartfelt, and many include news of fallen family members and hardships suffered at home. In a letter dated October 23, 1863, she writes,"We heard last night that you are 'missing'. That word brings sorrow to my heart... get them to parol you to New York, to your uncle Jacob's..." Wesley was captured during the Battle of Chickamauga the previous month.
In a January 29, 1864 letter she writes: "I am happy today, for I, this morning, read the letter you wrote Mrs. Johnson. This is the first tidings from you since 'Chickamauga'. I mourned you as dead. I have had a great deal of trouble. Your Uncle Wesley was shot at 'Missionary Ridge'. The surgeon pronounced his wound mortal, left a young man with him, while the Reg. 'fell back'. The young man left him, not quite dead. Oh! To think my Brother died alone! No one to hold his dying head..."
A few months later on May 15,  she writes: "There has been a terrible battle in North La. I hear too that there has been heavy fighting in Va. and near Dalton; Bowman & Little Nole may be killed. Your Brother Bennie [Benjamin] was killed at Mansfield, we hear. But have no particulars... was killed at Mansfield, we hear. But have no particulars..."
Mary Wall almost immediately begins petitioning for the release of Wesley, and this group includes retained copies of one such letter. A letter dated February 14, 1864 she sends a letter to the Commander at Camp Douglass requesting that Wesley be released "to stay in the federal lines. He is very young, I want him to go to school... I have lost two sons in this war, and this boy has been in prison a long time for one so young..." A retained copy of a letter to General Cooke is undated, but is likely from this same period as she is asking for information about her brother who died at Missionary Ridge.
Condition: Overall condition is good except as noted above, with the usual mail folds and wear. The group includes several partial letters, but these are not counted in the quantity stated above.
Full text of Benjamin Wall's letter to his brother Wesley:
New Orleans, Nov. 8th 1860
Master Wesley W. Wall,
Yours of the 10th [ult.] has been received and I have been waiting in order to find sufficient time and [?] to answer. I am sorry the "Democrat" did [not] come to hand but I suppose it is taking a trip over the Union at the expense of Uncle Sam and will after time find its way to my hands or fall into capac [?] of the general office or alas! to to tell be used as waste paper by some of [the] Administration clerks. I have a room over the office and am eating temporarily at a restaurant. Today there sat a fellow near me considerably elevated in spirits from his last nights "winding up spree". He was quite witty & enlightened us somewhat on the maneuvers of his honor chief of this Grand & Glorious nation. Says he "that grand old rascal James Buck has swindled this government out of 250 millions of Dolls. He has run it up on the old fellow and I doubt whether John Slidell and other congenial spirits of the same stripe have allowed that much to stand in the Treasury long enough for old James [to] get his claws on.
From your letter I would judge you to be an abolitionist. One of those who are willing to wait for some overt act from Mr. Lincoln and go along as best we can for four years when he will have a strong hold. The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, as a man of the North is nothing but it is the success of a party which has for its object the uprooting of slavery and the complete extermination of it. Leading men of that party who have said that by sudden attack in Virginia & other of the border states take possession of them and hold in subjection the other slave states. No matter how cooperative Mr. Lincoln himself may be the principle of his party have to be carried out or he will have them at his heels growling like so many blood hounds, for his cooperation with those in their avowed designs. Now is the time that this slavery agitation should be settled and unless we obtain from Mr. Lincoln & his party some sufficient guarantee that the laws of the Constitution shall be maintained inviolate and the fugitive slave law (the principle bone of contention between the North & South for the territories let you settle that as you will. They can vote down the South anytime.) enforced. We have better try some better government. If the South should secede and revolutianise against the Federal government then all the slave states should stand up in a unit. Your idea of the South not selling the North any cotton can never be carried out. Trade has its own laws and regulates these things and no power can stop a merchant from selling cotton to the North so long as they pay the full value but if the South should resolve itself into an independent confederacy. We could by admitting goods free of duty from Europe and taxing Northern goods very heavily bring them to terms, but they on their turn could tax us heavily on our sugar and admit Cuba sugars free which would play the wild worth our sugar planters. Cotton is king and as you say a failure of the supply would throw thousands.out of employment in the North & England.the want of employment by these people & hunger (for without cotton these laborers can not get work. Without work & without money they cant get bread) never fails to bring about riots & mobs. The manufacturers of France are small and the rural districts not large enough to support the laboring classes therefore the policy of Louis Napoleon is to keep on building and enlarging the palaces to keep the laboring mind diverted from mobs & riots. A [?] on prices kept them fighting most of the time. England keeps [them] busy at London, Liverpool & Manches[ter.]
Did you take into consideration the weight of the cotton [when] they buy it planters get their living. County merchants, steam boat owners, levee contractors, draymen, pressmen, weighers, samplers, commission merchants and they manage to get a pretty good one too. Clerks, ship owners & agents then sailors. Liverpool & other dock owners & to the manufacturers then back to here again. Some man writing to the Picayne advocates a retaliatory movement of the states such as passing some [?] laws to their [?] which [would] fine and imprison in many if not most all of the Northerner States for any attempts on the part of any of its citizens at coercion with the master to rescue his fugitive slaves and let the same law.that exists in their native state. They let negroe.against those where it is [admis]sible in the states which he may be a citizen of and in the case of fugitives from justice let a commission from the governor be sent back [and] close the doors of our courts against them etc.
Cocades and very plentiful people here seem very much stirred up on the subject. You enjoyed an advantage. I did not in reading Harpers of the 10th. They sent them all back from here because they had the President elect on the face of it. If this [?] the feeling of the people. They can not cover the face of the ruler. How can they en[?] the man.
Miss. Lizzie is a very nice.but as I do not expect to get married.she will have to wait for you. I am.Your affectionate Bro Ben, B. D. Wall.
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