Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    William Pearson, 1st Tennessee Infantry, Archive and Related Letters. A group of approximately 25 war-dated letters, from August 14, 1861 to May 8, 1865, written by Confederate Assistant Surgeon William E. Pearson to his wife, Cordelia who he nicknamed "Dee". Pearson practiced medicine in Gainesville, Alabama and Scooba, Mississippi before he enlisted in the Confederate Army in April 1861. He was commissioned as an Assistant Surgeon in the 1st Tennessee Infantry and participated in the Seven Days Battles around Richmond. At the end of the war, he was taken prisoner and later paroled. A few of the letters are partial letters or undated. Most are signed "W.E.P." Along with Pearson's war-dated letters, there are some pre- and post-war letters along with some other related letters.

    While still in Mississippi, Pearson wrote hope about the raising of more volunteers in the areas, and he voiced his belief that many men throughout the country would soon have to serve in the war. His letter dated November 10, 1861 in part: "I understand tonight that there is a company of volunteers as Scooba from Summerville to go down on tomorrow night. You will probably get the news sooner than by letter of the fight on the coast of South Carolina (Yank victorious) I am think more & more every day that every one of us will have to go that can possibly do so. Feed the boy twice as often & lets have him for the field! I think he would be certain for a dozen Yanks..."

    Despite being an experienced doctor, Pearson was unable to save all those he loved. In a heartbreaking letter dated June 11, 1862, he writes to his wife after receiving news of the death of his infant son: "I received a letter from Jim Hart about one hour ago, & must I acknowledge the death of my loved little Willie...We will never be greeted with that lovely smile again, but a place that he occupied is now made vacant by the arm of death. All, all, has been made to fade in early infancy. I wish we could be together I fear I am blotting this with tears dropping from my eyes but I must give vent to my feelings, since I was not prepared to hear such intelligence for I was not expecting it. Had I been with him then I could have known his condition & been better enabled to give him up, but alas. I am hundreds of miles absent laying in old fields on my gun half the time expecting to free you & him & myself & thus I must be made to reflect by the act of our u all wise maker /u ...Well my Dear, bear this trial as patiently as possible, & should you become afflicted with disease & sickness I do not want to be kept in the dark about it, but let me know it immediately & I will make every effort to come to assist you while life & strength hold out in my frame. I hope this unholy war may soon close & let me return although I have not been in any battles..."

    Although Pearson had not experienced any fighting, he wrote of becoming used to the sounds of war around him. He also wrote his wife about seeking out a surgeon's position. Dated his June 17, 1862, the letter reads in part: "We have made another march & been transferred from Fields Brigade to Archers Brigade. The latter General is a Texian [sic] & a fine officer I am told. I am glad I am from under Fields for I did not have an exacted opinion of him. Vandergraaff is now commanding the battalion...The cannon has now commenced firing & shells exploding but none are falling in half a mile of us. It was something new to me at first to hear the sound of cannon, but I have become used to it now & would seek and opportunity to look for them...I am going to get the recommendation of some surgeon of character and influence & get him to have me assigned to that post as surgeon while there may remain sick & wounded & thence to any place they may see proper & by that measure I can come before the board of physicians at Richmond & stand my examination. I hate to leave this company & be sent to some other, but I am going to make my burden lighter if I can & be like a free man. A private has no chance for anything only to be near his company ready to obey orders & I am glad that some restrictions have been made in order to stop certain loos [sic] habits some had running over the country generally..."

    While at camp near Gordonsville, the 1st Tennessee came under the leadership of General Jackson, and Pearson writes of the famous general on August 1, 1862: "We are now under the notorious 'Stonewall Jackson' & probably will be engaged in another battle. I do not think there will be but one more desperate battle in this state & that will be Pope. He (Pope) has drawn all McClellans forces away from Richmond & taken them up into ther valey. We are gathering our army up here to the amount of one hundred thousand men, & when we start Pope he will not have his gun boats to shelter him, but we will push him closely & my impression is that we will cross over into Maryland & continue to invade their land. The affair looks desperate but we have many fine looking soldiers & they are ready & willing to undertake the campaign. I think we have some of the healthiest men in the army I ever saw..."

    As 1864 drew to a close, it is clear that Pearson had grown weary of the army and of the war. Writing home to his wife on December 30, 1864, he discusses his hopes for them in the future: "I am in splendid health & doing well & hope to soon be at home if RE Lee will say so, but there is some doubt about that for a while. I hope this year may end this difficulty & let us begin to live a better life & you & I would soon be at our own little home & living happily..."

    On April 9, 1865, the 1st Tennessee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Pearson was arrested and sent to the U.S. Military Prison at Johnson's Island, Ohio. In his letter to his wife, dated May 18, 1865, he wrote: "My health continues fine & am doing as well as any one could expect under the circumstances. I hope you & little Edward are both well & that I may have the pleasure of meeting you before many months pass away. I am engaged a portion of the time attending my fellow man in their sufferings & afflictions while in prison...Do not give yourself any uneasiness about me for I am not despondence by being confined in prison, but will hail the day when I arrive at home..."

    A remarkable archive of letters from a Confederate surgeon, providing a lesser-known perspective on the war and its effect on those in a medical profession. A group of letters that would be a great addition to any historical collection.

    Condition: Usual mail folds, with some toning at the edges and at the folds. Some of the letters have separations or small tears at folds where paper was weakened. Varying degrees of soiling and wear. Overall good.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2019
    14th Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 355

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $300,000 (minimum $49), plus 20% of any amount between $300,000 and $3,000,000, plus 12.5% of any amount over $3,000,000 per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2020 July 12 Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments Musical Instruments Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    I don’t often do testimonials but in this case I felt truly obligated to thank Heritage Auctions for the extremely professional job your organization did for me.
    Charlie K.,
    Pittsburgh, PA
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 December 14 Historic Flags of World War II Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 December 14 Historic Flags of World War II Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED $1,016,674