A Great Deal of Suffering: Letters to Governor John J. Pettus

For quite some time now, I have been working with the Governor John J. Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Much of it is just the ordinary bureaucratic paperwork necessary to keep the government running. Pettus was a wartime governor, however, and many of his letters were from Mississippians who were seeking help, or offering advice, or just pouring out their troubles to a burdened chief executive. These letters open a window into the experiences of ordinary people who were living in extraordinary times.

A good example of this correspondence is the following letter, written by Dr. J. W. Martin. The good doctor was on his way to Richmond with a load of medical supplies to aid the Mississippians serving in the Army of Northern Virginia. Martin only made it as far as Meridian when he found a need for his supplies and medical expertise much closer to home. The Battle of Shiloh had occurred just a week earlier, and communities throughout Mississippi were struggling to care for thousands of casualties from the Battle of Shiloh:

Engraving of the Battle of Shiloh from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 17, 1862
Engraving of the Battle of Shiloh from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 17, 1862

Brookhaven, Miss., April 14th 1862

Hon. J. J. Pettus:

Dear Sir,

Failing to get through to Richmond after I left Jackson on last Monday I returned to Meridian on Friday night, when I found a large number of our wounded, and fortunately for them when I started for Richmond I carried bandages, lint and other necessary articles to treat the wounded. I divided out my material with two other physicians who I found without anything.

We went to work and dressed a large number of wounds. It was deeply impressed on my mind from what I witnessed that we must lose a large number from the want of proper attention at the time and after being wounded than is killed in battle. A number of them informed us that it was from twenty-five to sixty hours after being wounded before they received any attention and their wounds had received no attention after first dressing, a large majority of those I dressed, the bandages were made of new coarse osnaburg, a new unbleached domestic which was very irritating to the wound, causing a great deal of suffering, and would finally lead to death in some cases.

Impressed with that belief and for the feeling I have for our wounded soldiers on my arrival home yesterday I had it announced in our church that we needed lint and bandages for our wounded of the proper kind and urged upon our patriotic ladies to go work in preparing them that another battle was eminent at Corinth and they would be needed, and if permitted I would go with them and give my whole attention. And as the ladies has ever come up to the help of our beloved country, they all went to work this morning in scraping lint and rolling bandages, and I have no doubt by tomorrow I will have over five hundred bandages ready rolled for use with several pounds of lint.

Another subject I wish to lay before your excellency is in regard to a hospital at this place. We could I think in one week make arrangements to take care of fifty patients, and let me assure you, that they would receive that attention that men should who are battling for our rights and liberties. If you think I can accomplish anything, and would like to confer with me in this subject, please let me hear from you at an early date, and any assistance you can lend me will be thankfully received and highly appreciated.

With high esteem, I remain your excellency’s obedient servant,

J. W. Martin


Just two days after Martin wrote his letter, Mary A. Jones poured out her heart in this letter to Pettus:

Natchez, Miss., April 16, 1862

Governor J.J. Pettus

In reply to your letter March 12, I went up to Yazoo City to see if I could draw any thing up there as you directed me.

"Women in Mourning, cemetery in New Orleans," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1863
“Women in Mourning, cemetery in New Orleans,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1863

I saw Mr. Mangum the sheriff of Yazoo he said I could not draw any thing yet as the law has not allowed any thing for soldiers widows. As for my husbands position I can’t get that only from Virginia Law Department so you see the sad condition I am placed in with three small children to take care of. Half of the time we have not bread to eat every body say I must be taken care of by the Confederate States they did not tell my deare husband that I should beg from door to door when he went to fight for his country; no he sacrificed every thing he had deare to him on Earth for our sake thinking that he left us in a Land of Humanity with out thought or feare give up his life in defense of his country. Kind sir if you can assist me in any thing I will [be] veary thankfull to you. I am your obedient svt., Mary A. Jones. 

This is a moving letter, and I wish I knew more about Mary Jones; the problem is that her name is so common that it makes tracking her down very difficult. If I find out any additional information about her, I will be sure to add it to this post. These are just a couple of the thousands of letters in the John J. Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I sure there are many great stories waiting to be discovered and told in those letters, and I know that some of them will make their way into this blog.





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