In Search of Lawtons & Basingers: A Letter To Home, February 21, 1865

This next letter was written by William Starr Basinger to his mother.  I do not have a copy of the original letter, at least not that I can find, but I do have a typewritten copy that is a transcript of the letter.  When reading the letter, remember that the people of Savannah had already surrendered their city to Sherman rather than watch it burn.

Images first, then my transcription of the transcription.






(Small, white envelop, addressed by W S Basinger)

Mrs J S Basinger, Savannah, Ga.

(Written by him across the left end of envelop)

Whoever undertakes the delivery of this will please destroy rather than

let it be intercepted, as it relates solely to private affairs.

(Written across the top of the envelop)

Will call and pay my compliments to Mrs Basinger as soon as possible.

May 25, ….                                          John Screven.

                                                                Trenches near Chafin’s Bluff

                                                                                Feb 21, 1865

My dear Mother

                John Screven having been in Richmond a few days, I have

availed myself of the opportunity to have my photograph taken for you,

which he will seek an opportunity to send you surreptitiously.  And I

may as well try, by the same means, to get a letter to you.  I wrote

numerous letters just before the evacuation, of which I fear none reach-

ed you.  I wrote also a few days ago by flag of truce, sending some stamps.

Yours of Dec 6, and my sister’s of Jany 6, both reached me.  I have heard

of you by other means, as late as the 16th of January.  Do take advantage

of every opportunity, open or secret, to let me hear of you.

                I was sorry to hear of the misbehavior of the negroes;

though it did not surprise me.  If Wm Grant had given the letter to Tupper,

which the letter told you of, it might have saved John and Frank.  However,

that can’t be helped now.  In so great a struggle as this there are other

considerations than those of property involved, of so much higher import,

that the latter sink into comparative insignificance.  I had not many fears

that you would be able to take care of yourselves.  My fear was, and is,

that the triumphant and insolent enemy would, by a species of refined

barbarity, or by undisguised wantonness, subject you to indignities which

would be intolerable; or that the oath would ultimately be required of

even women, and that thus you would be compelled to choose between flat

perjury and the abandonment of all your means of living to wander home-

less and penniless through the land.  I am rejoiced to learn that, however

some (of) our people who are called men have behaved, our women do their

duty, and treat the enemy as becomes them.  I hope you will not, any of you,

abate a jot of that conduct.  It is not only proper in you, but of service

to the cause.  After what has passed, undying hostility to the Yankee is

the only sentiment regarding them that our men or women ought to enter-

tain.  Undying hostility, in peace as well as War, in defeat as well as

in success.  My sister asked me, in her last letter before the evacuation,

whether I had ever thought of finding a home in some other country in

the event of our failure to preserve this.  Say to her that I have; often.

And that I have long since made up my mind, in such an event, to seek it.

But I think we need not anticipate such a result.  We shall, doubtless,

have many trials and much suffering to endure, but I do not, and cannot

believe that we must at last be overcome.  So do not let your heart fail

you.  “Only be strong and of a good courage”, and all will yet be well.

                In one of my letters, in several, indeed, I asked you to de-

stroy some of my papers.  There are some, I think, in the large bureau in

my room.  Throw them all in the fire.  There is also a blank book, partly

written, in the left hand drawer of my office table.  Burn that, too.  I

suppose you will feel no great curiosity about either letters or books.

If you do, I prefer you should not gratify it.  Burn everything without

examination.  I suppose you know where the office table is.  If you don’t

remember, Dr. Martin, of Richardson and Martin, can tell you.  I heard (?)

had left town.  The best thing you can do with my professional papers is

to pack them together in the most compact form, and take measures for keep-

ing them as securely as possible.  Should your wants require it, sell my

clothes and books, the former first.  But I would be glad to have the good

shirts and my new cap, if any opportunity offers for smuggling them out

to me, even one at a time.  I don’t know but it would be well to convert

everything I have into gold.  As to that, I give you carte blanche.  Though

I should be sorry to think of clothes, books, or arms in the hands of the

Yankee.  As to all, however, disencumber yourself of as much as you can.

I shall have no use for them while the war lasts, and that will be for

some time yet.  The money they are worth will be of service to you, perhaps.

On reflection, that award of mine, with my name on it, I think I would

prefer to have destroyed, if necessary.

                There is a proposition on foot, indeed, the arrangement is

fully agreed on by both parties, to unite my Battalion with the 60th Ga.

Regiment.  We are now waiting only for Gen. Lee’s order to perfect it.  When

you next hear of me, it may be as Lt. Col. of that regiment.  The Battln

is to go in entire, without disturbing anyone.  Pearson will be Adjt.  It

is possible we may have to consolidate also, under the new Act of Congress.

If so, the arrangement will be modified to that extent, but not more, I

presume.  This is a thing I desire very much.  The Regiment is in Lawton’s

old Brigade, the present Commander of which is a very estimable man.  I

have taken a great liking to him, and am sure all my relations would be

agreeable to me.  Nevertheless, continue to direct your letters to Lawton’s

care at Richmond.  Wherever I may be, he will know; and I would be more

certain of getting letters so addressed.  And you can always find out what

becomes of me, if anything untoward occurs, by inquiring of him, or of

R. (?) Saulsbury, Agt. Geo. Relief Asstn, also at Richmond, or of Miss Eliza

R. Jones, at Mattoax.

                Notwithstanding the residency (?) of the union referred to, I

may offer my services to command a regiment of negro troops.  You may take

it as settled that a large body of such troops will be (?).  And for

many reasons, both of preference and duty, I not only would not hesitate,

but be glad, to get such a command.  If it be done, it will shorten the

war by half.  No doubt some foolish people would clamor against it.  But I

have considered the subject fully, and being much in favor of it.  I am

quite ready to show my faith by my words, regardless of the clamors of

the discontented.  But of the result of all these contemplated projects,

I hope to be able to advise you.

                Of course you inferred from what I said in some of my letters

that I have it in mind to make it a profession of religion.  I should have

deemed it my duty to do this at home, as the place where my example, which

is the chief end of the act, would do most good.  Since that is impossible,

I shall probably do so in the next best place, near Mattoax, and that fail-

ing, perhaps, at Richmond.  You know I incline to the Episcopal Church.  I

do not care a straw about forms etc, and am led entirely by personal asso-

citation.  My sister, I know, prefers that denomination, as your and her

account, between that Church and yours.  Unfortunately, I don’t yet know

what the difference of doctrine is, if any.  And you may be assured I am

not going to announce myself as believing anything I don’t believe.  I

have those inquiries yet to make.  All questions of preference must give

way to the result of those inquiries.  I have some hesitation too, on the

score of fitness.  Could I believe, as some do, that the exper-

ience of all is precisely the same, I should conclude at once that I ought

not to take this step just yet.  For I fear I am very weak.  But I can’t be-

lieve that.  It seems to me contrary to the nature of man and the inten-

tions of God, that it should be so.  I can’t but think it an absolute neces-

sity that men should differ in this, as well as in other intellectual

and spiritual operations.  Nevertheless, and indeed because Doctors (Doctrines?) differ,

I must consider the matter more deeply.  I can’t afford to make a mistake.

                We have had a very severe winter.  I’ve seen more ice and snow

than in all my life before.  Yet I’ve felt the cold less than for several

winters past, at least those just previous to the war.  My clothing is as

usual, too.  The thing that troubles me most is the mud.  It is perfectly

appalling.  That is the only word I can find, sufficiently expressive.  It

absolutely alarms me to look from the door of my shanty.  The worst of it

is, no amount of sunshine or wind dries it, as with us.  Five or six clear

days leave it as bad as ever.  The soil being all clay, you perceive, holds

an immense deal of moisture.  As it is freezing cold nearly every night,

the water, in crystallizing, forces itself out of the earth, sometimes a

very beautiful phenomenon.  When it melts again, it remains on the surface

until evaporated.  But I shall be glad of the return of spring.  Already I

perceive its breath.  My hereditary love of mild weather is very strong;

and I’m free to confess I don’t care to live where ice is made thick enough

to keep.

                Lest you should think I am withholding confidence from you,

I allude to certain reports about myself which grew into circulation last

summer, only for the purpose of saying they were not true.  How that busi-

ness will result, I cannot tell.  I don’t know exactly what to make of its

present aspect.  It will work itself out, at last, I suppose;  like every-

thing else.

                George is quite well, and lazy as possible.  Pearson ditto.

All the officers are very well.  Tell their friends.  Stiles has been at

Hospital some days, but is getting well, and will probably resume duty

soon.  Tell his mother he received a letter from her last week.  Bob Stiles

(son of the person) is in this command.  The men are generally quite well,

and hearty as bucks.  Symone has been sick, but is convalescing.  Young

Snider, son of Mrs. Peter Laurens (?), died on the 12th.  His grave is mark-

ed.  His disease was typhoid dysentery, I think.  Tell the Minis, Elliott,

Garrard, Postell, Duncan, Woodbridge, every one that asks, their boys are

well; hungry as wolves, and hardy as Indians.  Find Joe’s wife, and tell

he has suffered a good deal; this climate is too cold for him.  Mrs. Jno.

Sheridan lives in that range of little houses near the Albany and Gulf

Depot, the second from the Yard, facing Liberty Street.  Let her know he

is as well as can be.  When you write, tell me about her and Joe’s wife,

too.  You can find the latter by inquiring at Screven’s.  She belongs to him.

                Uncle C is either at Macon or Columbus.  We don’t know which.

The mails are now interrupted, and we hear nothing from any body.  I hope

Aunt A. recovered from the effects of her fall.

                Send word to Mrs. Jno. Hopkins that her boy George is very

well, and waiting on me at present.  It may please her to know that with

proper government, he is an excellent boy.  By the way, Joe is of the es-

tate Tom Clark.  Perhaps you had better tell Geo. W. Davis, or his wife,

if he has gone that I will take care of Joe.  And ask those owners what

shall be done with their pay.

                Thinking of money, I remember you have some notes and bonds.

Had you not better send them to me?  That is, if you cannot use them.  I

had to borrow the other day to pay for a coat.  And that reminds me, I owe

W. R. Norriss, tailor, a bill.  If you can, use that Confed. money, perhaps

it would be best to pay him, if he will take it, as I’ve no doubt he will.

And tell him about drummer Louis what you say about George to Mrs. Hopkins.

                What have the enemy done with the Armory?  Screven tells me

he sent you several things belongs to the Corps, before  left.  Take

good care of them.  If we unite with the 60th, I shall send our colors and

the books to Miss Jones, to be kept till the war is over.  Remember this.

                I do not think just now, of anything else.  The spring cam-

paign is about to open, and will probably be a desperate and sanguinary

one.  Notwithstanding my conviction and yours, that I will survive this

war, I may be mistaken.  This may be the last letter I shall ever write you.

Should I be, indeed, cut off, I will fall with a firm hope and belief that

we shall meet hereafter, where no wars disturb.  My greatest regret would

be to leave you and my sister, is a world torn upside down, to labor, pos-

sibly, for bread.  But the same God in whom you have so constantly trusted,

would then only the more carefully provide for you,  and do not forget, un-

der any circumstances, that all things are preferable to the dishonor of a

willing submission to our unprincipled enemy, whom God will yet surely pun-

ish for his most wicked injustice.  If I should be wounded, do not come to

me unless sent for.  By the time you could hear of it, the matter would be

settled one way or the other.  If able to move, I will be either at Miss

Jones’ or Lawton’s; more probably the former.  In view of late events and

these possibilities, I cannot but regard it as Providential that I had the

opportunity last summer to make those friends.  I regard them so securely

so, that I would not hesitate to cast myself upon their hospitality in case

of any such mishap.  Therefore, do not be unusually anxious about me.  I will

promise faithfully, in case of any serious danger to be apprehended from

sickness or wounds, wherever I may be, if there is an opportunity, to let

you know.

                                With my love to my sister and Aunt A, I remain

                                                                Affly Yours –

                                                                Wm. S. Basinger.

I forgot to tell you that we are now in the Division of Maj. Gen. Custis

Lee.  I have renewed my acquaintance with him, and he is very kind and

considerate.  You see I am fortunate in finding friends wherever I go.


(Aunt A is his Aunt Adeline Starr, the sister of his mother.)

(The previous summer, he met, at the house of the Jones Family in Mattoax, the Jones sisters, along with a Miss Emily Read, and Miss Margaret Roane Garnett.  He later returned and proposed to Miss Margaret, they married and moved to Savannah, then moved yet again to Athens, Georgia, which is where they were living when they died.)


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5 Responses to “In Search of Lawtons & Basingers: A Letter To Home, February 21, 1865”

  1. Sharon Says:

    When I read of all the struggles they had just to remain alive during these times, I can understand how a suicide a few years later would be such an awful loss, very difficult to understand.

    Reading these letters you post is a glimpse into the realities of the time and we are lucky the writers were literate and descriptive. I especially like his reference to the ice crystals being pushed up from the ground, I had never heard of that before.


    • ruthrawls Says:

      When Basinger referred to Lawton, he’s referring to Alexander Robert Lawton, and they don’t really know each other although they are from the same city. They later became neighbors and law partners.
      We went to Bonaventure yesterday, and made a huge find. The tombstone on the Starr plot that has been fallen on its face for years had been turned over and cleaned, and O MY GOODNESS, what a find lay under it. My head is about to explode.
      I took about 200 photos yesterday, and there’s more letters from the war, andandand there’s not enough time in the day and night combined to get it all done in a timely fashion.


  2. Sharon Says:

    I love these letters, Ruth. Thank you for the trip down history lane, first hand accounts, I almost feel intrusive. Just wonderfully interesting, all of it.


    • ruthrawls Says:

      I can’t even begin to imagine how many wonderful letters there are in all the archives around the world. There are several letters that I can’t read at all because the ink is so deteriorated. Should I post them anyway?


  3. Lrs.Pl Says:

    It is appropriate time to make some plans for the
    future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you some interesting things or tips. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!


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