1861-2: Clayton Letters

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Flag of the Palmetto Sharpshooters, South Carolina Volunteers

These letters were written by William C. Clayton (1840-1862), the son of Carter Clayton (1806-1879) and Sara Ann Hunter (1810-1884) of Pickens County, South Carolina. William served in Co. I, 4th South Carolina. He enlisted 2 June 1861 for one year’s service. He was initially enrolled on 14 April 1861 at Pickensville, South Carolina by Capt. Hollingsworth.

As a part of the general reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia in April 1862, Col. Micah Jenkins was authorized by congress to organize a new regiment which he called “Jenkins’ Palmetto Sharpshooters.” This regiment was intended to be a detached specialty unit, the companies of which could be separately attached to various infantry regiments for sharp shooting support. Unfortunately this never occurred and the regiment was more or less permanently assigned to Gen. R. H. Anderson’s 2nd Brigade of Gen. Longstreet’s Division. The Palmetto Sharpshooters Regiment was formed of twelve companies, which had formerly been assigned to other regiments. Five companies came from the 5th Regiment, four from the 4th Regiment, and three from the 9th Regiment.

After his service with the 4th South Carolina, William re-enlisted with the Palmetto Sharpshooters, Company I, Pickens Guards, South Carolina Volunteers, in April 1862.
He was wounded at Frayser’s Farm on 30 June 1862 and died of his wounds on 15 July 1862.


This letter was written by William C. Clayton near the close of his Junior year at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. The college was founded by Presbyterian leaders and was chartered by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1819. It is located about 35 miles south of Lexington, Kentucky.

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE

Centre College
[Danville, Kentucky]
March 22nd 1861

Dear Sister,

a473a5114fd02f27a2b16d2c3403252bIt has been some days since I received your last letter. But think not that it has been through negligence that I have not answered it ere this time. I have been so busy, both a studying and writing other letters. I have quite a number of business letters to write for the Society which occupies the most of my spare time.

My health continues to be very good. I am still boarding at Mr. Lee’s. I like him better that I used to since he lately turned to a secessionist. Somehow or other I feel more like I was staying with a friend than I did when he was so much opposed to the politics of my native state.

There are eight of us boarding here now and a very fine collection of fellows too, I can assure you. It seems today as if spring was setting in now for good. We have had a very mild winter here this season. There has been no opportunity here yet for putting up ice which is something very unusual and for which I am very sorry. But if we can’t have in water to drink, the prospects are somewhat brighter for having fruit to eat. It now getting on towards April and the peach trees have not yet put forth their blooms.

I was very glad to learn you were getting along all right with your school at Liberty. Our summer vacation is rapidly approaching and I have not yet made up my mind what I shall do during that time. I have had several invitations to spend the summer, but don’t know where I will do it. I hardly think it proper to go home although I could spend the time perhaps more pleasantly there than anywhere else. Sometimes I think I will take a trip up among the Abolitionists. Then again I think I will go to the Mammoth Cave and explore that great wonder of the world.

There seems to be considerable excitement here upon politics. It is the universal theme for conversation, speaking, and nearly everything else. The strong Unionists about town seem to be the low working mechanics — the very scum of society. Two of their drunken Union servers lately got into a fight and one of them killed the other. I expect we will have some great speeches on the trial. I think I shall go over and see how they make it out.

We have a mighty fine set of boys here at college — as good as I ever saw I believe. I would be indeed glad if you would take to writing two letters to my one. It would afford me a great pleasure and my correspondence would be as fast as it is now. I have no time to continue my letter at any greater length.

Your brother, — W. C. Clayton


This letter was written by Carter Clayton to his son, William C. Clayton, while he was a student at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO

Pendleton, South Carolina
March 28, 1861

We are all well as usual & your mother and & came down this morning. Your Aunt Mary & Susan Ann has moved to that house that your Uncle John bought.

I have just now taken Gaillard’s receipt for fifty dollars that I now gave him in gold & silver & he says he will send to Charleston & have a check sent to you as he did before on New York &c. He seemed to think that would be the best way to do instead of sending by Express &c.

You spoke of troubling me which you regretted to do &c., and that you had a way of adapting yourself to circumstances & which I am glad to learn that you can do so as I always try to make myself as easy under any circumstances as I well can. And as to the trouble that I am put to in borrowing is not worth counting when I can meet with success, but it is got to be a difficult thing to raise money nowadays. And from what you say about your expenses that in 2 months more you will need about one hundred & fifty more or at least 125. And I do not see how I am to get it but still I do not wish to discourage you at the least. Perhaps Tom may help some, I don’t know.

And as to you coming home, I was talking with your Uncle Billy & he said that you must not come until you get through. That he would rather advance the money for the last year himself & wait until you could pay for it, &c. And upon the whole matter, you perhaps had best stay. And we do hope that you will still act in such a manner that you will make friends at all times & places so that you can pass in any country &c.

When you get this & the Draft, let me know all about it &c. & now in haste the mail will be off soon.

Yours &c. — Carter Clayton

W. C. Clayton, Danville, Ky.

We are glad to think that you have made some friends there, or you could not have got along so well. I still feel under some obligations to the professor (Dr. [Lewis Warner] Green) for the encouragement he gave &c. — C. C.


Though undated, events mentioned in this letter allow us to place it in September 1861 while Clayton was serving with Co. I, 4th South Carolina Infantry, under Capt. W. W. Hollingsworth.

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE

Camp near Germantown [Fairfax County, Virginia]
[September 29, 1861]

Dear Sister,

It was after a long interval during which I received no letter at all that I at last was favored with the reception of your short letter. I was very glad to get it — especially as it brought the welcome news that you were all well. As for my health, I can say it has recruited until I am enjoying as good health as usual. I am surprised at Joe Smith’s vague way of writing about my illness. I think it was cold; that was the matter with me — together with the diet we have in camp. It had been tolerably good considering but it was too much the same thing every time. I think we have too much wheat flour here. If we had more corn meal, I have no doubt our health would be better. As it is, the health of this regiment is bad in the extreme.

We have lost another member of our company [I]. Frank Prince died a few days ago of the fever. Abe [Benson] Sargent of Capt. [James] Long’s Company [D] died on yesterday ¹ from the effects of the measles and diarrhea &c. I am sorry to say I fear the loss of this regiment from the ravages of disease will be heavy before the campaign is out. I intend to take every possible care of myself. I can take pretty good care in all but one respect and that is taking rain and enduring other inclemencies of the weather because when they bring the report of the enemy’s advance, I am bound to go if I can, rain or shine. I marched the other day when I was not able to do so, which made me rather unwell for a day or two, and it turned out at last to be nothing but a false alarm which if I had known before I started I never would have gone.

I don’t hardly believe we will be in a fight soon but there is little telling how things will go. I wrote to Elizabeth this morning. I would write to Susan Ann now but I have been all day busy drawing up some resolutions as a tribute of respect to the memory of our company that fell in the battle [of Bull Run] since I remember I don’t know Susan Ann’s Post Office. You must remember me to all the kinfolks as well as my friends round about. You spoke of going to G. W. B. B.’s. I saw at Stone Bridge [near Bull Run] a day or two after the battle having come to see the battle ground and his friends. There were so many around I did not get to hold any conversation with him. Write soon.

Your brother, — W. C. Clayton

¹ This letter is not dated but if we can assume the death date [28 September 1861] attributed to Abraham Benson Sargent (1817-1861) of Co. D, 4th South Carolina Infantry, is correct, then this letter was written the following day — 29 September 1861. Abe was born in 1817 and was married to Rachel Louisa Boroughs (1826-1890) in 1842. The couple had at least four children when Abe enlisted.


This letter was written by Clayton while serving in Co. I, Jenkins’ Palmetto Sharpshooters. After arriving at the outskirts of Richmond on about the 17th of May, Jenkins regiment was only allowed a couple of days rest before they were sent to protect against a possible attack at Chaffin’s Bluff, about 5 miles south of Richmond. The regiment stayed on post at Chaffin’s Bluff for several days, and when the expected attack never materialized were returned to their camp several miles northeast of Richmond.

TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR

Camp in the woods
May 17, 1862

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 17th ult. was received on yesterday. It was the first letter I have seen with my name on it since I left home, the last day of March. I have written just two to you at home, both of which you said you had received. I wrote a long letter to Narse a few days ago. I hope she may receive it in due time.

I was at Richmond when I wrote last. We had been on the stir ever since then — been in the very face of the enemy the most of the time — witnessed the Battle of Williamsburg — marched day and night frequently — had but little to eat and still less to eat with it and almost nothing to cook it in. However,in spite of all the hardships and privations I have endured, I am happy to say I have enjoyed the best health that I have for some months. And I have stood the marches the best of any times before. We have gone through more and seen more of the soldier’s life in the last six weeks than I did during the whole term I had served before.

We do not stay in one place long at a time — not more than a day or two at a time. Neither do we stop for rain, mud or darkness — sometimes marching through the mud all night long. We came here yesterday evening and I expect we will move before tomorrow morning at daylight. Perhaps though we won’t have far to go as we are now within nine or ten miles of the City of Richmond. The great battle for Richmond is not yet fought. It is uncertain when it will come on. It certainly can’t be at a very distant day when the great contest will begin that will decide the fate of Richmond and a great portion of our Confederacy.

Since witnessing the Battle of Williamsburg and observing the brave conduct of our troops at that place, I have renewed confidence in the ability of this army to successfully cope with the legions of McClellan. The way father backed that letter was very good. You might make some improvement thus:

Richmond, Va.
[Micah] Jenkin’s Palmetto Sharp Shooters
Care of Capt. [Frederick L.] Garvin

I suppose, backed thus, it would be very apt to come safely.

I am very sorry to hear of cousin Scythia’s trouble. Van’s letter said that Butler was dead and Susan still very poorly. Ted Garvin, Joe Smith, Joe Brook, Van and Silas [W. Clayton] are all well. Jack Lawson is in the hospital. I don’t know how he is getting [along]. He was not very bad off when he left the regiment. You must send word to Elizabeth and Susan Ann as I cannot possibly find time to write to them yet. I will do so as soon as I can. I want you to write as often as convenient. Remember me to all.

Your brother as ever, — W. C. Clayton

P.S. I found a very good supply of clothing on the retreat from Williamsburg. You need not send me any clothes until I write for them. You might tell father to get old man White to make me a pair of shoes like them he made me last fall. I will need them by the time he will make them and they will get to me. — W. C. C.


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3 thoughts on “1861-2: Clayton Letters

  1. Carter Clayton was my third great grandfather. My second great grandfather James Henry Clayton was William’s brother. May I ask where you purchased the letters? It is such a nice surprise to find your blog.

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    1. These letters were purchased and sold on e-bay by an acquaintance of mine but before he sold them, in exchange for transcriptions and research on the letters, he authorized me to post them on this blog for the benefit of historians and/or family researchers. — Griff

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