AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND CIVIL WAR LETTERS OF
JOEL MURPHREE OF TROY, ALABAMA
H. E. STERKX
(Dr. Sterkx was a member of the history faculty, Troy State Teachers College)
JOEL DYER MURPHREE to WIFE, Atlanta, Ga., July 19, 1864
I received yours of the 14th Inst. yesterday. I would have answered it immediately but I was very busy at the time and have been since until now making out Quartermasters returns. I will finish tomorrow and will then be at leasure until there is some clothing to issue to the Regiment unless I am put on some other duty than that belonging legitimately to my position. I am truly glad to learn the children are all well again and also glad I can say that I am well in fine health and can eat everything that is put before me. I think Atlanta is about gave up. I am of the opinion it will be evacuated in a few days. Yet I have some hope that we may be able to hold it. The enemy are now within four miles of the fortifications around the city and advancing slowly. They have cut the West Point and Augusta Rail roads by raiding parties which cuts off our supplies to some extent. Everything has been moved out of Atlanta so we are in a bad condition for a seige. Gen Sherman has a tremendous army and he is a very skillful General. Succeeds altogether by flank movements sometimes on our right and sometimes on our left. He is now flanking our right and will succeed in reaching the Augusta Road in two days with a large force.
Ursula you need not be surprised if you hear of Yankee raiding parties reaching Columbus and Montgomery before a month. I believe all the principal Cities of the South will be visited by the enemy before this war closes. All our Manufacturing establishments will be destroyed but when all that is done we are not whiped or subjugated. Gen Johnston has been relieved of his command and Gen Hood promoted and placed in command of the army. The change is not well received by the soldiers. They had the utmost confidence in Johnstons skill and were satisfied with anything he did. I am fearful such will not be the case with Hood although he is admitted to be a good General yet if the soldiers had not the utmost Confidence in him a retreat will demoralize the army. I saw Daily yesterday. He is complaining a little. He heard from Shep and John the day before and they were well. Shep has command of the 38th Ala. Regiment. I also heard from Bro Tom. He is in fine health and Demps likewise. You wrote me that Alex has runaway again. Certainly the old man will sell him if he ever gets him in possession. He ought to sell him by all means. Baily told me he has lost two of his mules and one of his horses. Isnt he the most unfortunate man with horses that ever lived. I am so sorry for his misfortunes. Tell your Pa I am nearly barefooted and besides I am very much in need of my new Pants and I would like to have my Calico shirts in place of those I have. Ursula make me a pair of suspenders and send them with the other things when you have safe opportunity. Make the person that brings them agree to deliver them to me in person for if they fall into the hands of any other person I may never get them for I assure you the soldiers steal everything they can lay their hands on. I have not idea when I will come home not until this campaign is over I know and may be not then. If I were at home discharged from the Confederate service I would be subject to Militia duty in the state and they are certain to be called out. So I think it best to hold on where I am until next winter any how. Has Sam abandoned his salt works was Urban reelected Railroad director, if so does it exempt him from the army. I must close as it is so dark I cannot see the lines.
(on back of letter)
I forgot to mention that I have shaved off my whiskers. My face feels naked. I think I shall turn them out again soon and not shave only my upper lip. What do you think of it. Ursula I have read the new testament through recently but not as attentively as I would like to have done. I intend reading it over again when I have an opportunity. There are a great many passages that sustain the doctrine of election but there are other passages that Conflict and appear to make a man a free agent and at the same time upholds the doctrine of falling from grace. The scriptures admit of many constructions hence the different sects or denominations. I think we will move South of the city today. Waggons were leaving the town all last night though we have not received orders to move yet. I am of the opinion three more days will decide the fate of the gate city.
JOEL DYER MURPHREE TO WIFE, Atlanta, Ga., July 21, 1864.
Bad news, Bailey is dead or captured and the prevailing opinion of the members of the Regiment is that he was killed. Yesterday evening about 5 o’clock Lorings Division was ordered to charge the enemy in their breastworks, which was done. Our men acted bravely, drove the enemy out of their first line of fortifications but were unable to hold their position, and were driven back by force of numbers which gave the enemy the advantage. The last seen of Baily he was retreating from the enemy in the rear of his Company (Supposed to be wounded) exposed to the fire of the enemies shot and shell for some distance, having charged through an open field and retreated over the same ground. He may have laid down behind something to protect him and was captured. I hope so however. Our Regiment lost in killed and wounded not less than 200. Maj Arnold was killed and the Lt. Gol wounded. Col. Cunningham was at the Hospital sick hence was not in the fight. Lt. Walter Wiley was slightly wounded and will reach home, I expect before this arrives and from him you can learn more than I can tell you. I have not learned the names of but few persons that have been killed or wounded. Yet, will write again soo and send you a list of them, if we are not all captured. The Yankees are on three sides of Atlanta and their men (prisoners) say they will have us surrounded in a few days. They are near enough now to throw shells into the City, three exploded in the place today. I have no idea we can hold the place many days without risking being captured. I am expecting an order to leave the City every moment with our waggons. I am now on the South side of the City. Ursula I got a pair of shoes yesterday so do not send anything to me until I write for them. I will make out some how. I am very well off except for Pants. Lt. Wiley or some body else that you are acquainted with will be returning before a great while and you can send them this.
Fighting pretty heavy this evening, and I am expecting a general engagement every day. I have been informed Genl. Hood has been ordered to hold the City at all hazards. If so a great many lives will be lost on both sides.
Give yourself no uneasiness about me. I will take care of myself the best I can.
JOEL DYER MURPHREE TO WIFE, Near Fayettsville, Ga., July 23, 1864.
I wrote to you last Thursday from Atlanta in which I had to chronicle the sad news of the death of Baily. Letters misscarry sometimes, and for fear you have not received that letter I write again. I dislike to communicate such heartrendering news but I feel that it is my duty as a relative to do so. Brother James returned from the Hospital yesterday, and he took down the names of 80 persons of the 57th Regiment that were killed wounded and missing, and a good many had been sent to other Hospitals whose names he never got. There is a faint hope that Baily has only been captured, perhaps wounded. No one knows positively that he was killed. James questioned the wounded of his company and he could learn nothing more than I wrote in my last concerning him, only that he acted imprudently, in the charge.
He was in advance of all the troops, in the face of the fire of the enemy from a battery and small arms, and in retreating was the last to leave the battery they had captured, hence he was in the rear returning
when they were ordered to fall back. The charge was made through an open field & of course had to retreat over the same ground. The last that was seen of him he was coming through the field, had nearly reached the draw bars. The Soldier that saw him last, says after walking a few steps he looked back again but could see nothing of him. He thinks he was wounded which caused him to be so far in the rear. If Baily acted prudently he laid down, perhaps behind something that would protect him, and may yet be alive in the hands of the enemy. I am truly sorry for poor Mollie. I have thought of nothing else hardly since the sad affair, but, Baily Mollie & his other relatives. Maj. Arnold was killed in trying to save Lt. Cool Bethune. Col Bethune was wounded severely and Maj Arnold went to him, and pulled him into a gully and when he steped out of the gully was shot dead. I learned that Henry Darby is missing. Jo. Whaley was slightly wounded, also Wm Motes, Lt. Colbert St. John, M. Hammel, Capt. Woodward and Capt Lane, Lt. Walter Wiley wound is worse than I first learned. He is wounded in the leg severely. Those are the only persons of your acquaintance that I have heard of though I expect there are others. I have heard nothing of Tom, Shep or John since I wrote last. We whiped the enemy yesterday, drove back their left ring, captured 22 pieces of artillery and 2500 prisoners, loss heavy on both sides.
The Yanks lost four Generals, and we lost one, Genl Walter. I am well & more hopeful for the fate of Atlanta. Genl Hood will hold the place if he possibly can. A great many lives will be lost on both sides, before it is surrendered to the enemy. Cannonading very heavy this evening (Sunday) The waggon train was ordered to fall back in two hours after I wrote you last from Atlanta which was last Thursday evening. We are now about 25 miles from Atlanta. The object for coming so far I learned was to get out of reach of the enemys Cavalry. We may be ordered from here at any moment. All depends upon the movement of the two armies. There is no telling when I will receive any more letters, from you being so far from the army to which the letters are all sent..
Kiss the children for me. My love to Mother & yourself.
JOEL DYER MURPHREE TO WIFE, In the Woods, July 29, 1864
Good news and bad news. The good news with you I know will out weigh the bad. I will give you the bad first. Yesterday morning about light a raiding party of Yankee cavalry captured our waggon train also a great many prisoners considering the number of persons with the waggons which were comparatively few. A good many having been the day before sent to Griffin Ga with baggage and some to the front for forage. Those captured were Quartermasters, Quarter Master Sergt Waggoners and baggage of all kinds was committed to the flames and mules and horses carried off. They finished their work about 8 o’clock A. M. and then made their way for Jonesboro a railroad station on the Macon Road and I learned that they tore up the track seven miles. If so all the railroads intersecting at Atlanta are cut. They then after having a fight with our Cavalry (at or near Jonesboro) returned via Newnan this morning. I suppose they have about reached Newnan now. I am fearful the cutting of the Roads and destroying our Waggons will so cripple our transportation that Hood will not be able to feed his army at Atlanta and will be forced to fall back to Jonesboro at least. Bro. James lost a very fine Horse worth at least $2500 besides most of his clothing. I lost my valise and everything I brought from home but two shirts 2 pr drawers and one pair sock and two Hdkfs. Also one paiar pants and they nearly worn out in clothing. James fared about as well as I did. Henry lost all except what he had on. We of course, lost all our bedding. Now for the good news. All that were at the camp of the 57th Ala Regiment made their escape and the entire train of the Brigade was camped on two acres of ground. All the other Regiments lost in prisoners more or less except the 12th La Regt. They fortunately were absent at the time. The Yankees were in the camp riding over it calling on our men to come out of their tents and surrender before we left our camp fire. We had gotten up earlier than common and had breakfast cooked and would have been eating in ten minutes had we not been disturbed. We had been notified of the expected raid the day before and we had packed up all of the Quarter masters papers in a part of large Saddlebags. So when informed I had to leave I picked up the Saddlebags and some clothing and put out. Jim and Henry each got on a horse and followed. When they overtook me I got up and we kept the road about half mile and then turned out into the woods and remained there until 12 oclock noon. I then ventured up to our old Camp of Smoking ruins and rescued three of your letters and W. B. Corleys linen collar. The little paper box that contained my neddles, buttons etc. was torn open but contents gone. I regret loosing those little articles. I found them very useful and my Razor etc. I dont known how I am to do without it. Yesterday evening James with to Atlanta and gave me his Quarter Master papers with instructions to go where I could take care of them. the country is full of Yankee Cavalry and they travel by night and day hence it is unsafe to remain on any public road. So I got with a sutler that was sick and we put out about 6 oclock P.M. and the Yankee Cavalry was in our rear coming the same road but we did not know it. We left the road about 150 yards and struck camp about dark ate supper & retired. We slep about an hour and was wake up by a negro who informed up that the Yanks were about a mile off. We got up and left for a more secure place. We went off the road about a half mile unharnessed our horses and lay down again.
About 3 ½ A.M. we were aroused again by the sound of small arms in a half mile of us we had gone toward the Yankee Camp. They having taken a right hand road that run nearly parallel with ours. The firing was by their pickets. We then left. All for now.
JOEL D. MURPHREE TO WIFE, At the old Camp (near Atlanta),
Aug 4, 1864
I wrote you about four days since from Fayettsville in which I give you an account of the Yanks raid and capture of our waggon train &c. I presume you have received the letter before this. I am in a distitue condition for some things that 1 am very much in need of. We have no beding, but until now have fared very well, in fact better than before. I made my escape with the Quartermasters papers and Jim had me to take them to some place that I deemed secure from the invading force. A history of my travels the evening after the Yankees were with us I gives you in my last in this I only rehearse that I came very near being captured the second time. I was in Company with a Mr. Burgess a kind clever gentleman he being sutler and having full control of his property. Upon the first news of the raiders made his way for the woods. We were making our way for some secluded spot and the Yanks just behind us on the same road, traveling the same direction. We escaped however and made a halt five miles south of Fayettsville near the residence of a Mrs. Persons. Next morning Mr. Burgess went to the house to get some fire and the old lady invited him to stay and take breakfast. He told her he had a friend at the Camp that would also like to have him breakfast. I was sent for, and to my surprise we were taken by her and daughter for Yankee spies. It was really diverting to see their actions and hear them talking very careful to shape their conversation so as not to cut against either side, not being certain to which army we belonged. After being convinced that we were all right they were delighted and invited us to make their house our home during our stay in the neighborhood. It was a fortunate thing for me, for I had the tooth ache and Pnuralga for four days, in fact am not clear of it yet. I suffered more than I ever did before for the length of time. I never slep any for three days and nights. Mrs. Persons and daughter were as kind to me as they could have been to a member of their own family. The youngest daughter (16 years old) devoted her entire time to preparing poltices for my face until this morning, when my face got easy and I slep a little. I am in no pain now, but my face is considerably swolen. I am now at Mr. Elroys where we were camped when the Unks burnt us out. How long we will remain here I am not able to say. James got his horse back yesterday. I presume you have heard about this raid and that we had succeeding in capturing about two thirds of their command (say 1000) and about 2000 horses and mules, besides a good many guns and pistols. There is great stir now among the Citizens and quartermasters getting up their stock. Jim accidently found his horse in the possession of a cavalry man. Our forces also succeeded in capturing another raiding party, near Macon. I hope they will not make the venture again soon. They did not treat the Citizens as bad as I expected, but took care to take all the good horses and mules they could find. Sometimes leaving them broke down stock in their places. I would like very much to visit home now to recruit my wardrobe, for I am in need of a good many things that I cannot get here, but I know I cannot get permission to go. I have heard nothing more from Daily John or Shep, since I wrote last. The probability is that Baly is a prisoner and not killed. In my last letter I stated my reasons for thinking so. I will close having nothing more worth writing. I have not seen a letter from home in a long time. When you write again an let that be immediately, direct your letter thus Joel D. Murphree. Fayettsville, Ga. Care of Peter E. McElroy, My love to all. Kiss the children for me, good bye, your devoted husband Joe D. Murphree
The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 01, Spring Issue 1957.
ALABAMA REVOLUTIONARY WAR SOLDIERS VOLUME I – Many of these soldiers received grants in Georgia, Tennessee and the Mississipi Territory, parts of which later became the state of Alabama.
This book includes genealogical and biographical information on 26 Revolutionary Soldiers who were in early Alabama and/or collected military pensions for their service.