“It Seems We are To Live To See All Our Children Buried:” A Tale of Two Civil War Letters

Working at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History affords me the opportunity to search through many obscure collections for interesting material. I found the following letter in a grouping that was simply labeled, “Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection:”

A Letter to Mrs. Chester Rockwell from her Nephew:

E.V.M. Lee

Comp. A, 12th Miss. Regt.

Camp Near Orange Court House, Va.

Jan. 6th/64

My Dear Aunt Carrie,

I have written to you twice or three times since I was at your house and enjoyed myself

civil_war_map_of_orange
Civil War Map of the town of Orange Court House, Virginia (www.censusfinder.com/mapvirginia.htm)

so well with you and Uncle Rockwell but have never received a letter from you up to this time and I now write you again and hope to hear from you soon.

Aunt, it was a great shock to me when I heard of poor Aunt Hellen and Cousin Sue Lee’s death, for I loved Aunt Hellen like a mother, and Cousin Sue like a sister, but the great giver of all things giveth and taketh away and believing that they were both Christians I willingly give them up believing that they have been transferred from this wicked and troublesome world to that better world on high where peace and happiness reign forever. Aunt, it is a great consolation for us to know we are ready and prepared to go when called upon to depart this life. We all ought to try and be prepared for that great day though I fear there are a great many who are not prepared and I fear never will be and awfull will be the consequences.

Well Aunt, I heard from home some time ago and they were all well and doing very well. They said they had not been visited by the Yankees in some time and I hope and pray that they may never be visited again by the unprincipled wretches for I know it is any thing else than pleasant to have the ruthless invaders around them. Father, mother,

Richmond_Dispatch_Thu__Sep_19__1861_
Emory Lee asked his aunt to send him food via the “Miss. Depot.” The depot was established in 1861 to aid Mississippians in the Army of Northern Virginia (Richmond Dispatch, September 19, 1861)

sisters, and brothers requested me when I wrote to you to remember them to you and Uncle Rockwell. Aunt and Uncle, we are only getting a quarter of a pound of meat now and I nearly starve and if you can send me a couple of sides of bacon and some beans you will oblige me very much indeed and if you do direct to me in care of J.J. Hood, agent of the Miss. Depot and send it by express.

Well, I must close, so give my love to Uncle and the children, also to all my relatives and except a large portion for yourself so good bye untill next time and I remain your affectionate Nephew, Emory V.M. Lee.

Postscript.

Aunt write soon and let me hear from you and you must select me a nice young lady for a sweetheart and write me who she is and oblige your nephew,

Emory Vincent Murphy Lee.

Emory Lee was the son of  James C. and Maria W. Lee, natives of North Carolina that moved to Mississippi in the 1830’s. The Lee family prospered in their new home, and on the 1860 U.S. Census for Utica, Hinds County, James valued his real estate holdings at $5,870, and his personal estate at $16,570. In addition to Emory, James and Maria had sons Henderson, Bailey, and Daniel, and daughters Susan and Mary. (1850 U.S. Census, Hinds County, Mississippi)

It took a good bit of research, but I believe that I have identified the recipient of Emory Lee’s letter – “Dear Aunt Carrie.” I looked for a Chester Rockwell in Mississippi, but didn’t find any likely candidates living in the state before the Civil War. Then I decided to try looking in North Carolina, the birth state of both James and Maria Lee. I very quickly found a match for the limited information that I had: Chester Rockwell, age 59, and his

James C. Lee Grave
Grave of James C. Lee, Emory Lee’s Father (Findagrave.com)

wife Caroline, age 42, living in Columbus, North Carolina, in the 1860 U.S. Census. I also found that Caroline’s maiden name was Yates, and Emory’s father, James C. Lee, is buried in the Daniel Yates Family Cemetery in Utica, Mississippi. (U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560 to 1900, Ancestry.com, and the listing for James C. Lee on Findagrave.com)

Emory Lee enlisted in the “Raymond Fencibles,” Company A, 12th Mississippi Infantry, in April 1861. He showed up as “Present” on all of his company’s muster rolls, except for one 30 day furlough he received on April 12, 1863, and the last muster roll card, which simply reads, “Killed May 24, 1864.” This was the end of Lee’s service record, but fortunately in our “Miscellaneous Manuscripts,” there was a transcript of a second letter, written to Emory’s Aunt by his mother, which gives much more detail about his death:

A Letter to Mrs. Chester Rockwell from her Sister:

Utica (Mississippi) July 22, 1864

Dear Sister,

It becomes my painfull duty to inform you of the death of my son Emory. He was killed on

Fold3_Page_15_Compiled_Service_Records_of_Confederate_Soldiers_Who_Served_in_Organizations_from_the_State_of_Mississippi
Muster Roll Card of Emory Lee Stating he was killed on May 24, 1864 (Fold3.com)

the twenty-fourth of May in Virginia. He was standing picket at night. The ball passed through the main artery of the thigh, and he bled to death. No one saw him fall, no one was near to sooth his dying hours. He crawled over a hundred yards after he was wounded, when found life was extinct. I sometimes think it is impossible for me to bear it. Then again, I think I have not long to live, and I will soon meet him in a brighter and happier world.

He was a good and affectionate boy to me. He was a favorite with all. He thought so much of you all, often spoke of you in his letters. He professed religion before his death. He died a Christian, Oh blessed consolation. We will never meet him here on earth again, but let us live so my Sister that when we are called to die we may meet him in that Spirit Land where death is unknown. I have only two sons left, one is in the army, the other is too small yet. I heard from Betsy Lee a few weeks since, she has but one son in the army. He was captured a short time after he joined and she has never heard from him since. Daniel Yates has three sons in the service, one in Georgia, one in Mississippi, and one in Virginia. He had one killed at Vicksburg – Alex Yates. It seems that we are to live to see all our children buried. Friend after friend departs, star by star declines untill all have passed away. Poor Em wrote me that his Aunt Helen was dead, poor thing, she lost all of her sons but one, and then was called to meet them.

The Yankees made a raid out here last week, they did not get to our house. We have very good crops, but I am afraid they will take them from us as soon as we gather them. I pray that this cruel war may end though my poor child is gone, I feel for the rest. All send love to you and all the relatives. I feel that we will never meet on this earth again, but may we meet in heaven is my prayer. Pray for me, that I may bear the loss of my dear child with fortitude.

Farewell,

Your Sister,

Winnie M. Lee

Reading Mary Lee’s letter touched me, as I could feel her anguish at losing a son in the war. She didn’t even have the consolation that he had died in a major battle defending his home and kinfolk – Emory Lee had died in a minor skirmish, nothing more. Military History of Mississippi only gives one line to the fight saying that the 12th Mississippi “fought on the North Anna May 24.” (Military History of Mississippi 1803 – 1898, page 64).

North Anna River
View of Quarles Mill on the North Anna River, taken by Timothy Sullivan, May 23, 1864 (Library of Congress)

 

I wish I had more information about Emory Lee and his family, but all I had to work with were the two letters listed above; they weren’t even the original letters, just transcripts. There is no telling where the original letters are, or if they even exist; I’m just glad someone went to the trouble to send those copies to the archive; otherwise Emory Lee would be just another statistic of the war, and not the beloved son of Mary Lee, who grieved for her lost son.

The Emory Lee letters are located in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, Z/1600.000/S, Box 3, Folder 31, MDAH.

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