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William Drayton Rutherford Papers, 1858-1862, 1864
A native of Newberry District, S.C., William Drayton Rutherford was born in 1837, the son of Thomas B. Rutherford and Laura Adams Rutherford. Educated at male academies in Greenville and Newberry Districts, Rutherford attended The Citadel and later entered the sophomore class at South Carolina College. He was quickly promoted to the junior class, but participation in a student uprising led to his expulsion from college. He studied law in Newberry and in 1860 received his commission as "Solicitor in Equity."
This collection of one hundred fifty-three manuscripts begins in 1858 when Rutherford was courting Sallie Fair, the daughter of Simeon Fair, of Newberry. Young friends of Sallie Fair are among the early correspondents. Lottie's election as May Queen in Columbia was reported in a letter from Hannah who invited Sallie to town for the festivities. They were already having much fun riding "the back streets & behind the campus in a donkey cart" (13 April 1859). Sallie's brother Billie, a student at Arsenal Academy, complained about the absence of letters from his family?"I am sorry to write such an insulting letter to my dear sister but you do me too mean" (5 January 1861).
The courtship of William ("Drate") Rutherford and Sallie Fair was interrupted in 1861 by secession and war. A friend of Sallie's in Cheraw inquired about reports of resistance to forming infantry companies in Newberry?"What, are your neighbors so cowardly that they are afraid to enlist in the service of our gallant little republic." Such was not the attitude in Cheraw where "the ladies...think the war is not [a] laughing matter" (12 January 1861). William Rutherford was in Columbia by April 1861. To Sallie, Newberry "look[ed] so lonely" although she could not resist mentioning having seen his "old sweetheart...Georgia Turnipseed" and commenting?"What an ugly name she has! Wonder if she ever thought of changing it" (25 April 1861). Rutherford replied, explaining the delay in sending her his "Type...the artist pleaded `overworked'" and noting his displeasure with the lack of "soldierly fraternity among some of our companies" (26 April 1861).
The Third South Carolina Regiment left the state for Virginia in June. Rutherford, who was serving as the regiment's adjutant, assured Sallie that he would look out for her brother Billie but advised that brother Robert should remain at home?"he is too young and delicate for the Campaign" (10 June 1861). Rutherford penned a lengthy letter upon their arrival at Camp Jackson in Virginia. They lost two men in railroad accidents along the way, but their arrival in Virginia produced an air of seriousness among the soldiers?"Our men are not so reckless as they have been and are beginning to consider...the grave duties ahead of them." For Rutherford, leaving "[t]he land of chivalry and virtue and manhood, the Athens and the Sparta of the modern world, the home of my childhood and all I love best...perhaps forever was a thought that I could not well put aside. But when the order was given to march I soon forgot this in my duties and went, on my way, if not `rejoicing' at least reconciled to my unpleasant situation" (20 June 1861).
The Third Regiment participated in First Manassas, and Rutherford was certain that Sallie was "rejoicing over the great victory we have gained over our cowardly enemies." The Third Regiment occupied the center of the line, "the most dangerous place," but the Union army "attacked our flanks and we were not engaged in either of the Battles." They were finally ordered to advance on the enemy "but before we could get to the cowards they had fled in all directions" (23 July 1861).
Following Manassas, the Third Regiment camped near Vienna, Va. Soldiers could now complain about the mail service, relate rumors about Lincoln's intentions, and object to the lack of amenities. Concerning the rumors, he observed?"Truth is a jewel here whose face is rarely seen, it's contrary to order almost to tell it" (30 November 1861). He considered Vienna "a horrible little place nothing comfortable here." Brother Billie, however, did have a way with the "old women...we have been living today upon delightful young chickens, fresh butter & milk and a few vegetables of the poorer kind?onions and Beets" (28 July 1861).
By the summer of 1861, the departure of troops for Virginia was a common occurrence in South Carolina. Sallie Fair often went to the depot in Newberry, but after bidding farewell to Capt. Hunt's company, she resolved "it should be the last time, I ever...[go] to say farewell to the Volunteers?it is dreadful." An announcement in the newspapers urged the "ladies" not to write sad letters to the soldiers. Women in the community were engaged in numerous activities to raise money for the troops (23 August 1861).
The Third Regiment remained in camp at Flint Hill through September and most of October. Rutherford's letters during this period informed Sallie of details of camp life and the expectations of military action. He was encouraged that her brother Billie "is improving very much in looks and morals" and that he even "promised me not to smoke again." The earlier concern that her brother Robert could not withstand the rigors of military life proved correct as he became ill in camp, received a medical discharge (10 September 1861), and died on the trip back to South Carolina. Billie was also sent home ill but improved under the care of Dr. O.B. Mayer (9 and 29 September 1861). Several nights of exposure to drenching rains in anticipation of engaging the enemy convinced Rutherford that "the Battlefield is the safest place to live....No soldier will hesitate to choose between the invigorating excitement of battle and a contest with the almost fatal and insidious enemy?camp sickness. I often think how misapplied is the sympathy of our good friends at home whose universal horror is the Field of Battle! It is not one iota of the soldiers suffering, it is in fact his only relief" (1 October 1861).
The regiment moved to Centreville late in October, and Rutherford responded enthusiastically to Sallie's offer of making a regimental flag "as the one we have is much the `worse for wear' and was never gotten up in `the best of style.'" He seemed to delight that their current flag was procured from a lady in Columbia by Maj. Thomas Farrow, "your old sweetheart" (28 October 1861). About a week later, he advised Sallie that they were leaving the next day to perform "the unpleasant duty of Picketing" which was a particular passion of General Bonham?"now that all the Confederate army is concentrated, he will insist that the mighty honor of keeping us in the wilderness belongs to him by some special prerogative."
The occupation of the South Carolina coast in the fall of 1861 entered their correspondence in November. Sallie's father brought the news back from Columbia and was requested to assume command of his "old Regiment." Billie was excited at the prospect of duty on the coast (10 November 1861). The news of the occupation had reached Virginia when Rutherford wrote on 12 November?"Doubtless the anxiety with which all attention was once upon Virginia will now be turned to our own homes. At this distance we can hardly realize the fact, and will not believe that the high indignation with which all souls should be inspired will allow them long to stay there." Sallie commented again on the Union occupation in her letter of 18 November and related criticism of the militia units?"they did not respond to the call."
By the end of 1861, the question seemingly uppermost in the minds of Confederate forces was re-enlistment. Rutherford addressed the controversy being caused by this issue in a letter of 19 January 1862?"I almost despair of the cause. Home haunts the men, and they seem determined to go, though the Republic be lost." Sallie responded a week later in reply to his statement that the women should pass resolutions prohibiting the soldiers from coming home?"I am sorry to say many of the ladies have as little Patriotism as the Soldiers (who will not re-enlist) and are as anxious for them to come home, as they are themselves." Two days before their enlistment expired, the regiment was marching in the rain and cold towards Yorktown "where we expect to have some furious fighting....Our men are confident and determined." In spite of the weather, "the men are in better spirits and more cheerful that I ever saw them" (7 and 11 April 1862). The issue of military service did not go away in the midst of battle. "In the hearing of booming cannons and the occasional firing of musketry," Rutherford advised that most of the regiment had agreed "to remain until the crisis is over on the Peninsula" but "that some one hundred & thirty have actually stacked arms and moved to the rear to the sound of the Enemy's Cannon! Alas! for South Carolina that she should nurture Sons to dishonor her. Will not our brave women scorn to smile upon them, and greet them with indignation instead of joy" (16 April 1862). Rutherford approved of the conscription bill passed by the Confederate Congress during the battle on the Peninsula while acknowledging that "[t]o those who are loyal and brave, it is somewhat mortifying that their services cannot be voluntarily offered to their Country." Rutherford wrote this letter while enjoying a meal of catfish and eel which they had caught that morning. He commented?"What an anomaly around me! An artillery duel is going on with the enemy, drums are beating in camp for dress parade, men are marching in all directions, while I am sitting on the ground with a chess board in my lap thinking only of my sweet wife" (19 April 1862).
Rutherford mentioned the possibility of his returning home during the controversy over re-enlistment (24 December 1861). In a letter of 9 January 1862 he regretted his absence from home at Christmas but assured Sallie "that come what will unless it be ruin to his country," he would come home in April. Sallie responded in a letter of 26 January that she received a letter from a recently married mutual friend who "says for my benefit...it is far worse to send a dear husband to fight those miserable Yankees, than it is to send a much loved, lover." The marriage of William Rutherford and Sallie Fair took place in March, for there is no correspondence between 17 Febuary and 7 April when William addressed a letter to Sallie Rutherford.
Much of the correspondence during this period is concerned with the routine of camp life, the prevalence of illness among the soldiers, and their quarters or "winter Cabin" as Rutherford described the quarters in a letter of 6 February 1862. In fact, their quarters "look[ed] more like a Confederate States Magazine, than the abode of man. A carpet of mud, very soft and yielding; the walls, hung with swords, cartouch Boxes, Bayonet Scabbards, Pistols &c ceiled above with muskets, and just over my head the two banners of the Regt are unfurled in aristocratic contrast with all else, which serve as curtains for my couch. Saddles, bridles, other horse equippage, Camp Baggage, books and papers of every description protruding from every crack and corner complete the list."
By late May the Confederates were anticipating a Union assault on Richmond, and Rutherford's Third Regiment was located near the city from where he advised?"Not that Richmond is prepared to yield her neck quietly to the yoke of the oppressor, but she has resolved with high courage and noble spirit to throw herself in the way of the tyrant, and if her doom be within the book of fate, she will seal it with her blood and be buried only beneath the ashes of her shrines. Heaven save the good old City." In the midst of this crisis, he could find some humor as he related to his wife a trip to a shop with a companion for the purpose of having shirts made. He explained that they were embarrassed to remove their shirts "in the presence of a room full of young girls" when the proprietor recognized "our hesitation, and had to explain that she meant it to be tried `over the shirts we were wearing'" (22 May 1862).
As the Union forces were preparing to assault Richmond, Confederate units were being reorganized and new officers elected. The reorganization involved politics and personalities. Commenting on James Nance's apparent loss of an election for regimental commander, Rutherford expressed sympathy for Nance but also noted that "a man who pursued his interests so selfishly deserves to some extent his retribution" (22 May 1862). Two days later he informed his wife that the reorganization was "getting on well." Nance won the election to lead the regiment and "is bringing everything to thorough discipline, and a few weeks, I hope, will enable him to command the confidence and respect so essential to the usefulness of officers." The Third Regiment remained in the vicinity of Richmond for the entire summer of 1862. Rutherford corrected his wife's opinion that he evidenced a fondness for military life in a letter of 22 June?"I would not wear all its shining honors if I could exchange them for the happiness of being alone with my darling wife." In fact, Rutherford, like his wife, argued that he was becoming "very tired of this war" which had delayed rather than hastened their marriage. War involved "the sound of vengeful, death dealing Cannon, the mad shouts of contending hosts, the death groans of agonized humanity," and it appeared to Rutherford "intensely stupid for man to be wasting time and strength in the wicked work employing us" except for the necessity of "repel[ling] our enemies at any sacrifice." But given a choice, "How pleasant it would be to transport myself from this land of frowns and passions and volcanoes, to the dear presence of one I know, when all to me is sunshine and happiness" (22 June 1862).
The battle around Richmond raged until mid-July. Rutherford's Third Regiment was involved in heavy fighting, and he received several minor wounds. In a letter of 10 July, Rutherford reported that the Union forces had at last withdrawn, but the fighting left him "heartsick of the wrecks I have seen of brutal human passion! I have passed over three Battle fields, red with the hearts warm blood, and crowded with the mangled bodies of the slain....Can decent humanity rejoice in such scenes as this! God forbid! But we are not men if we swerve one iota from the path of duty, though that path lead to sure destruction. Military glory is murderous vanity; military duty is the prerogative of patriots, and this alone divides me from my cherished wife, and keeps my body where my heart is not."
There is no correspondence between 8 August and 3 October when Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford informed his wife that he had been captured. His parole, dated 14 October, noted that he was captured at Brownsville, Md. He was ill when paroled, and he informed his wife that the circumstances of his imprisonment were "trivial compared to the sufferings I have undergone from sickness." In fact, although he was ill while a prisoner, he experienced the hospitality in Baltimore "of one of its most distinguished families making a circle of acquaintances so agreeable and pleasant and sympathizing that it was almost impossible to realize my imprisonment" (3 October 1862). Rutherford returned home to Newberry in October but was back with his regiment in December when he wrote his wife that they had just returned from picket duty in snow so deep "that they were nearly frozen" (7 December 1862). In subsequent letters he thanked his wife for cake and other provisions that he brought back from South Carolina and requested towels and a comb and brush as someone had stolen his valise during his absence. William Rutherford was severely wounded in December 1862 which may explain the absence of correspondence during 1863. The correspondence resumes in 1864 shortly after Rutherford rejoined his regiment at Bristol, Tenn. It had been a "long unpleasant ride" on the train where he was "jostled by a rude soldierly and tormented by delays, [only] to reach so undesirable a place as this Camp." Rations were scarce, and the soldiers endured other hardships as well?"They are all that can save the country, and they suffer so nobly" (10 April 1864). He repeated this theme in a letter to his father on the same day?"The people ought to love these brave suffering Soldiers! They stand as their only defense between their homes and a plundering enemy. They are unshod, unclad, unfed, yet not a murmur is heard."
By mid-April Rutherford expected the regiment to be sent back to Virginia "to participate in the great campaign which our enemies confidently expect to result in the capture of Richmond" (14 April 1864). Since his return to the regiment, he had been looking for a horse to replace one stolen in Greenville. Several days before he was promoted to command of the regiment, Rutherford wrote his wife of an impending battle and commented on a report that Burnside's army numbered six thousand African-American soldiers?"Is it not too bad, my love, that the incarnate fiends should arm even the once happy and obedient negro against his master. The determination in our army is to kill them all and spare not" (2 May 1864). Rutherford assumed command of the Third Regiment upon the death of Col. James Nance. Nance, Capt. Alfred E. Doby, and Gen. Micah Jenkins met their deaths in the same battle when all three were struck by friendly fire (7 May 1864). The Third Regiment earned high praise for its performance in the battle "by all the Genls from Lee down to Col. Henegan, who told me that my Regt saved the day" (9 May 1864).
In response to deployments by the Union army, the Third Regiment frequently changed locations during May and June until moving into the trenches at Petersburg later in the summer. It seemed to Rutherford that Grant was reinforcing his army with troops from the garrison in Washington. These troops were "men who have been drilled in the heavy artillery only and who do not know scarcely how to load a gun." Several who were captured were assigned to burying "their neglected dead" and "[t]he sight of their unburied comrades rotting in the woods & fields, revolted them" (21 May 1864).
By late June the Confederate army was preparing for trench warfare around Petersburg. Rutherford observed that they were "condemned" to this warfare. Most casualties occurred from Yankee sharpshooters, and Rutherford remarked?"The whole carnage of the Battle is much more endurable than this cold blooded murder" (23 June 1864). The Confederate army was clearly in a precarious situation at Peterburg. The Weldon Rail Road leading south was cut in June, and its restoration was cause for rejoicing?"the geese would squall if they could know how busily tortured their quills are to day." The morale of the Third Regiment was improved by time spent in reserve in the city?"They have all been paid off, are allowed to visit the city in squads of twenty or thirty at a time, live well at the market, get a smile occasionally from the pretty girls and altogether are doing well and in fine spirits" (5 July 1864).
Rutherford seemed to perceive that prospects for the Confederate army were becoming desperate?"Truly, we know not what we are doing, nor whither we are drifting. We can only do our duty and let consequences follow." Gen. Early's expedition around Washington caused excitement, "but I cannot hope for any substantial results" (14 July 1864). At home, citizens in Newberry were upset with the "appearance of the impressment officer." His wife was harsh in her criticism of the "old women...[who] give up their horses more reluctantly than they do their friends to the war" (30 July 1864).
Stationary duty in the trenches did allow Rutherford some leisure and time to deal with other problems that necessitated assistance from home. He was still trying to procure an acceptable horse and sent his servant Jim home with the expectation that he would return with two horses. Jim was often incapacitated by illness. Rutherford lamented that "Jim recovers so slowly and is such a coward that he can not get well this side of home. He lacks fortitude and is monstrously like his mother when sick though he has had a hard attack of measles" (4 August 1864). It turned out to be easier to get Jim home than to get him back.
By the eleventh of August the Third Regiment shifted its operations to western Virginia. From Cedar Mountain, 11 August, he expressed relief that the wagons caught up with them "as we have not had a change of clothing since we left on the train five days ago." A defeat by Early's cavalry was attributed to carelessness and was especially distressing because "we cannot afford to pay so dearly to learn such lessons." By the sixteenth they were in Front Royal, where Rutherford recalled the birth of their daughter one year earlier?"I am just beginning seriously to realize that I am a father. I expect you feel like you have been a mother almost all your life" (16 August 1864). When they arrived in Winchester, they viewed the destruction of crops and barns by the recently departed Yankees?"This war is becoming truly disgusting, and I especially hope the end is not far distant" (18 August 1864). While near Charlestown (Jefferson County, West Virginia), Colonel Rutherford visited the site of John Brown's execution and noted that the Yankees had removed the tree "as momentoes of this murderous fanatic." He described for his wife the area where the gallows stood and expressed sympathy for the citizens of Virginia "over whom the war has swept like a sirocco destroying the fairest land ever vouchsafed to a people" (23 August 1864).
Several letters from Sallie in August and September kept Rutherford informed of developments at home. Three of her father's slaves were impressed for duty on the coast, and "Yorick cried when he left?the idea is amusing but the poor creatures are capable of feeling as well as me" (30 August 1864). Yorick died within the month when a shell exploded in Ft. Sumter. Sallie observed that he faced death prayerfully?"that poor uneducated negro might teach his superiors a lesson, how many go into the army where they are in continual danger, without a serious thought of death would that they would look danger in the face, as that simple untaught negro did & prepare for the death angel" (25 September 1864). Two days later she was despondent after attending wounded soldiers at the depot in Newberry (27 September 1864).
The Third Regiment's excursion to the Shenandoah Valley was characterized as "a delightful summer visit" despite their lack of military success. Their brigade was now commanded ably by Gen. James Connor who replaced General Kershaw who "has not sustained our high expectations." He acknowledged in this letter "that this thing of living after the war begins to occupy my thoughts! always looking ahead for trouble! What am I to do, how to make my bread....Tomorrow, I am twenty-seven years old, and have not begun life! The past seems a blank, the present only hurrying me on into an unknown future big with fate and uncertainty" (20 September 1864). From near Harrisonburg, Va., 6 October, Rutherford happily reported Jim's safe return and remarked?"I envy these Creatures their Ebony skins. All the tyranny of the military system does not affect their liberties." He also thanked his wife for clothes and a copy of a sermon.
One week later, on 13 October 1864, Col. William Drayton Rutherford was killed in front of his regiment at the battle of Strasburg.
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