logo of university of south carolina

Joseph W. Turner papers

Two manuscripts, 10 and 17 December 1861, of Joseph W. Turner, letters to his father, form a memoir of the Confederate soldier's journey from Virginia to South Carolina and describe the countryside through the eyes of discovery.

During the first week of December 1861, Virginia dispatched two artillery companies from Camp Magruder to reinforce Gen. Robert E. Lee's troops at Coosawhatchie. The units were the Carolina Flying Artillery, raised in Caroline County and commanded by Capt. Thomas Rowe Thornton, and the Turner Artillery Battery, raised in Goochland County and commanded by Capt. Walter Daniel Leake. Their passage roused considerable patriotic feelings in Petersburg and was reported in the local papers, as reprinted in the Charleston Daily Courier, 7 December 1861:

"The passage of two Virginia artillery companies through this city to South Carolina within the past two days, has attracted considerable notice. Their field pieces, caissons, baggage wagons and horses—not to say the men themselves, have drawn many persons to the depot to see them off. All day yesterday and the day before, a large number of persons was collected at the Southern depot, examining the artillery, ammunition, &c. The public seem deeply gratified that Virginia troops should now be sent to South Carolina, in partial return for what that gallant state has done for us. We have no nobler or braver troops on Virginia soil than the South Carolinians, and we hope that all Virginians are proud to acknowledge their services—Petersburg Express."

For some of the young recruits, this was their first trip away from home. Seventeen-year-old Goochland native Joseph Wilmer Turner said it was the first time he had even been south of the James River.

"I am now encamped near Coosawhatchie (pro: koo-say-hat-chee) river," he wrote, "in the District of Beaufort...60 miles distant from Charleston, near the Charleston and Savannah railroad and within 45 of Savannah, a low, marshy and level country within a few miles of the seacoast and the yankees are within 5 or 6 miles distance of us....The country is quite healthy in the winter season but very sickly in summer, none but negroes remaining here in that season and occasionally their overseers come down in the day but dare not remain at night, it being almost certain death for white persons to do so....So you see I am away down South in Dixie and how I got there remains to be told."

He then launched into an account of the trip by rail from Virginia. "The train made very slow time and on one occasion about half-way between Richmond and Petersburg while running backwards ran two of the coaches off of the track and if it had not been stopped quickly some lives might have been lost....The citizens of Petersburg were very kind and hospitable to us and although they had no warning that we were come yet they gave supper, breakfast and supper again the next day."

They left Petersburg after supper and crossed the North Carolina line about midnight. "North Carolina certainly has its right name `old tar, pitch and turpentine'; every depot is literally crowded with barrels of resin; but the old North State is not the only state that raises turpentine, I think that the northern part of South Carolina exceeds her, I have seen every tree in the woods there with the bark taken off nearly all around for six feet up to obtain turpentine and in one place I recollect seeing a gully nearly filled with turpentine....How did the `old north state' manage to secede—certainly she had enough turpentine to stick her in the union. If you want to see tar, pitch and turpentine and pine woods come through the `old north state.'"

"As you approach Charleston the scenery is beautiful," the narrative continues. "At Wilmington we had observed a slight change in the climate but here it was oppressive. After a late breakfast we walked over town to see what was to be seen. After passing through [the] market and noticing the various vegetables and the tame buzzards that were kept around the market to keep the streets clean, we passed on down Market Street to the wharf....At the wharf we had a fine view of the harbor; directly in front of us some two or three miles was Castle Pinckney situated on a small island; some three or four miles farther on and almost in the same line was Fort Sumter also on a small island, while away to the left on Sullivan's island we could see the confederate flag floating over the walls of Fort Moultrie; while still more to the left and across Cooper river was Mount Pleasant, a small village; looking to the right and beyond Morris' island, we could, with difficulty see Fort Johnson, which looked like a solid block in the distance; on Morris' island, which was near the mouth of Ashley river, we could see a masked battery and this side of it a floating battery of iron; to the left and front of it was what appeared to be a sand bar and extending across from Sullivan's island were a number of rafts which the Carolinians had placed there to prevent the blockading fleet from entering the harbor."

"The streets of Charleston," Turner noted, "are not so well paved as those of Richmond and it has many larger and older buildings than Richmond or at least had them before the recent fire." The manuscript here begins a further description of the Coosawhatchie and Port Royal area but then it breaks off.

| 1997 Manuscripts Collections | 1997 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright © 1996-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1997/turner97.html