DeSoto Parish Louisiana

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Thomas H. Phifer
Private, Company D, 2nd Louisiana Inf., CSA
CIVIL WAR LETTERS
submitted by prewarpro@aol.com

From Camp Magruder, July 31, 1861
From Camp Magruder August 10, 1861
Undated letter apparently written Sept, 1862,
Partial list of causalities at 2nd Manassas
From Harper's Ferry, September 16, 1862
About Thomas H. Phifer & family
Speech Given by Pvt. Phifer's Brother Dr. John N. Phifer, 1900
Additional details about the Phifer family

 
 
 
 
 
These letters, written in a fine Spencerian hand by Thomas H. Phifer, reflect with unique poignancy, the loneliness, courage, and love of family and home of this young man, who, my mother told me, left his Mansfield LA home at the age of 17, as a member of the Louisiana Pelican Rifles Regiment, lugging along his law books in order to continue his “reading for the law” under his teacher, who was in his company at the beginning.

I found this little bundle of letters in an old trunk in the basement of our home in Birmingham AL when I was about 12.  My mother gave them to me some 20 years later.  The little sister Thomas refers to in his letters was Julia PHIFER TRUITT CLARK, my grandmother.  In 1965 I allowed the Monroe Morning World in Louisiana to publish them during the commemoration of the Civil War Centennial.  They have been bound and placed in the Mansfield LA library.

I feel these letters should go on to all of Thomas H. Phifer’s nieces and nephews unto untold generations-that they should be kept alive not only as reflections of a very young man’s experiences in a hideous was, but because they express the agony of millions of soldiers who have endured wars throughout history.

Although always kept in closed containers the original letters have faded to such an extent that they could only be deciphered today with very sophisticated photographic equipment.

I notice a scattering of typographical errors in these copies.  Attribute them to the fallibility of my son, Banks Clark, and to me as we spent several Christmas holidays copying the original copy I had given him.

Janice Yenni Clark (now deceased)

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                                                                                                                                        Direct to Williamsburg, Va
                                                                                                                      Care Capt. J. M. WILLIAMS
                                                                                                                      Com. Comp. K. La Vol
                                                                                                                      Camp Magruder, July 31st , 1861
 

Dear Lizzie  (his sister Elizabeth b. 1840 Texas)

I fear I have destroyed all the good reputation I have acquired for punctuality in answering letters.  But however dilatory I may seen to be I trust it will only serve to increase the number of your letters in the same proportion in which it increases your anxiety for my welfare.  You are not yet as I would have you to be.  I would have you so that if you heard of our being in a battle, and that every man was lost except the Captain and one private, you would still never despair of seeing me.  You trouble yourselves I fear too much about me.  I have been for the last two weeks marching around the peninsula.  As soldiers we were in our elements, marching generally all day in the hot sun and sleep all night on the bare ground, with nothing but a thin blanket to protect us from the chilling dews.  I have received one letter from you since my last.  Also one from Sallie containing an account of the barbicue, which had been delayed at Richmond until father arrived, when he sent it on to me.  He was in good health and spirits, but was ordered off to Manassa the night after the Battle of Manassa.  I have not heard from him since.  I will try to get a transfer to his company.  We are in good health now, and are as happy and contented as possible under the circumstances.  We are sometimes marched very hard.  We are the best practical soldiers in the peninsula, according to Gen Mcgruders opinion. We took a trip (our Company) down to New Market bridge the day before yesterday.  About two miles from Hampton and three from Newport News we were detailed from our Regiment and served as vanguard on the march, and centre in the line of Battle drawn up at New Market Bridge, who came in sight.  We saw a few scampering Yankeys and from the tremendous rattling of the drums in their camp a short time afterwards our approach seemed to wake them to a sense of their danger and they made good their retreat within their breastworks, leaving ninety of their negroes in our charge.

After we had stayed there a reasonable length of time (We had promised to be back to Camp at nine o’clock P.M.) at least long enough for the enemy to meet us if he had been so disposed, we marched back to Bethel, advance Guard as before. We had a merry time of it.  We had acquired a recruit of negroes which would excuse us from nearly all our ditching duty, and were marching in front of about nineteen hundred soldiers who had been laying in the dry beds when we were in the mud and rain and lounging around the tents when we were in the ditch.  The consequence was that while we were as fresh and lively as when we started (They being compelled to keep up with us.) Were panting and groaning, and putting on hideous  countenances, and complaining of long forced marches. We did some of our prettiest marching that day and arrived at Bethel about dark.  We are all in camp now, with the Regiment on the James River. It is a delightfull place on the Bank about fifty feet high, rising almost perpendicular from the water’s edge.  The river is about three miles wide here and a fine Steam Boat plies between Grove Wharf about one mile below here and Richmond, about two hundred yards in our rear is a delightful spring which boils out of a bed of shells.  At the foot of the hill is a stream as large as my body.  It is about four miles from Williamsburg.  We received our pay about ten days ago, thirty nine dollars in clean cash. I was not quite out of money.  I had Twelve Dollars left. I went to Williamsburg yesterday shopping, I spent seven dollars and a half, most in dry goods.  I have enough to do me three months if I can keep them.  Give my love to all my friends both male and female, if any there be, and always Remember your brother that his constant care is his absent mother, sisters & Brother at the dear old spot which I was wont to call my home in former days with better hopes and brighter prospects before me.

I am as I ever was, devoted to the happiness of the family.

T. H. Phifer

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                                                                                                    Camp Mcgruder,
                                                                                                     August 10th, 1861

Mr S. Phifer

Dear Father,

I wrote about the same time I suppose that you wrote to me last, to which I have never yet received an answer.  I am very anxious to be with you, notwithstanding I leave many friends behind me and a company which occupies the highest position in the Regiment. I regret too that you are enlisted for the war on account of the family.  Although it is my greatest desire to be with you and stand by you in times of trouble and danger, and knowing as I do the mutual benefit and advantages which would arise from it, still I hesitate to place myself in a position where there is a probability of my being so long absent from an unprotected family. Although they may be, as you say, well cared for, still there is a possibility of their needing a true friend’s assistance before the war closes, and I do not expect that friend can be found except you or I. If I should remain enlisted for one year, I would return to the Family at the expiration of the term, and if they needed my assistance I would be at liberty. If not and the war was still going on, I could join you.  I cannot think that it was the best policy for us both to abandon the family.

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C. M. PEGUESE [PEGUES] is now in camp.  He left Mansfield on the 17th of July, the last letter I received from home was dated the 16th of July, they were all well.  I will write no more at present.  I hope to receive a letter from you in a few days, containing your advice as to the best course for me to pursue.  We are all well and in fine spirits.  Levy is very strict in his regulations, the guard is not allowed to sleep from the time they are mounted till they are dismissed.  Last night Tom SPAULDING and SAUNDERS were found asleep on their posts.  They are now in the guard house. I have been extremely fortunate, I have never been in the guard house yet.  But broad is the gate and wide is the way, and many there be that find it.  Report says that there is a great deal of sickness in Yorktown.

Your son

Thos. H. Phifer

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(On March 13th, ‘62 at Camp Kenner near Suffolk, VA Phifer writes of hearing the news that Walker MUNDY was dead and of the deaths of McCULLOCK & McINTOSH.)
Tell Julia my “Tabby” Cat was left with the surplus baggage. (unfit companions for such an accomplished personage) at Camp Pelican., where no doubt she sits and sings her old song, anxiously awaiting for the return of her former associates…..Tell John I have his pistol.  In place of the cat I have a Laurel wood ring which I will give to Julia.  Robert CARR desires you to tell his mother that he is well.  Give her and Miss Lucy my respects. Also Miss Lizzie PHILLIPS and Mrs. May & her family
**********************************************************
                                                     [undated, but obviously written early Sept. 1862]

Dear Sallie  (His sister Sarah b. 1836)

Days and weeks have passes almost unnoticed since we advanced upon the enemy near Richmond.  Although the past is by no means unpleasant, yet I have scarcely cast a look behind me for the last two months. This day two months ago beheld no less than six battle fields in front of Richmond, miry with Yankey Blood. They concluded they could not take Richmond for the side and so they removed to the Rapadan.  We have enriched the soil with Yankees from the Rapdan to Bull Run.  We have advanced into Frederick City, about twenty miles in the interior of Maryland.  Frederick City is about as large as Shreveport and said to contain more Union sentiment than any other town in the state.  But we were made to feel proud by our welcome here.  The People did all they could for us, some brought water, some food, some clothing.  They offered their selve... in every way they could benefit us. Some danced, some laughed, some cryed. Fairy groups of most beautiful girls skipped about the streets saying Welcome, Welcome brave southerners. Sweet is our welcome of the brave.  Some said they wished no better fate than to become the wife of a southerner.  They were shocked to see us so ragged and barefoot.   They made many presents and things they sold cost only a trifle.  Boots that would cost twenty five Dollars in Richmond were bought here for four or five.  We can not help but enjoy ourselves here, but it cost many precious lives to get here.  There is however one consolation, that for every noble Southern Son that bade farewell to home to friends to life, a half a score of inhuman wretches crossed the firy Portal and assist their companions who have gone from before Richmond in their devilish orgies.  The loss of our company was dreadful.  In twenty men who went into battle sixteen were either killed or wounded……a copy of the report of the list of casualties.

“List of casualties of Co. D 2d LA”

August 29.
Killed: Privates S. C. McCONNELL, John McGARAHAN.
Wounded:  2d Lt W. N. CUNNINGHAM leg broken, 5th Sergt, Hale SCOTT slight in the face, P.A. SAUNDERS slightly in the leg.

August 30.
Killed:  2d Jr Lt. S. H. QUARLES, Private Frank CASE;
Wounded:  Capt. J. S. ASHTON in left arm - amputated, 2d serge. W. A. MARSHALL severely in face and hand, 4th sergt Wm ASHTON slightly in leg, Private C. ALISON severely in shoulder, W. H. SHELLEY slightly in hand, J. R. ODOM severely in elbow, Boling WILLIAMS severely in both lags, St. Julian FRIERSON severely in arm, E. H. FORTSON slightly in face, Jesse FARMER slightly in lag, John HAMRICK slightly in side, Wm R. K. HAGAN slightly in hand, John DEWITT slightly in shoulder,…..Alison TAYLOR severely in side, W. Rad. WILLSON slightly in back

*********************************************************
Harpers Ferrey, Va. Sept. 16/62
Dear Father

I improve this the first opportunity of writing to you since our advance from Gordonsville.  We have been constantly on the march since that time and although we have seen some hard service we have had a very interesting time.  We penetrated into Maryland until within twenty miles of the Pennsylvania line-we then turned abruptly to the left and after some hard marching by a circuitous rout finally came up in the rear of Harpers Ferrey,  We have been shelling this place of such renouned strength for two days.  This morning bout nine o’clock They ran up a white flag about as large as a sheet, and made an unconditional surrender of all their force Infantry Cavalry and Artillery, Consisting of about thirteen thousand Infantry-Cavalry and about forty pieces of their best Artillery.  Also large quantities of Commissary and Quarter Masters Stores.  Our loss was very severe at Manassas.  Our company went in with twenty men and came out with four, but hundreds of Yankees fell before our Brigade. Their loss in from of us was about three times as large as our own.  We have only had ten men in our Company since the battle, but we have received four or five recruits today.

There is a great battle going on beyond the Potomic now, but I have not heard any of the particulars.  Before you receive this you will hear of one of the greatest victories over the Yankees ever yet gained.  Next you will hear of peace be declared sooner.  I have some hopes of wintering at home this year.  O, I would be the happiest mortal alive if I were permitted to do it.  I have enjoyed most excellent health all the time.  We get abundance of all kinds of fruits which is a great help to our army.  Sometimes we have to eat fruit in order to make our rations hold out.  I do not know when I will get an opportunity of sending this letter off. Please write to me often.

You know I will not have much time to write now but you shall hear from me every opportunity.  Our wounded are all getting along well. Nothing more at present from Your
Affectionate son
T. H. Phifer
 

*********
This was his last letter.  He was killed the next day in the Battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg.

The above letters were printed in "Kin Kollecting" the publication of Ashley County Arkansas Genealogical Society in Crossett, AR. Vol I, #3 Fall 1986.   The complete set of 27 letters is located in the Mansfield Louisiana Library.

Thomas is the grandson of Jacob and Rachel DeGrott Phifer, who in 1818 were among the first settlers in Knox County, Ohio.  They farmed and operated a Stage Coach Inn at Phifer's Corners.  Jacob had come to fight in the Revolutionary war. In 1795 he married Rachel DeGrott, who was from a Huguenot family who were descendants of the First Generation in New Amsterdam.  They had ten children: Michael, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, Anna, Cornelius, John Jacob, Freeman, Silas, James and Lucinda. Cornelius moved to Illinois and Silas to Texas, La, Il, and Texas again.  To our knowledge the others stayed in and near Knox Co.

Silas, their eighth child, married Harriet Barker in 1833.  They had one daughter, Sarah born in Ohio in 1836, then moved to Texas, where they had three more children: Elizabeth b 1840, Rachel b 1842 and Thomas 1843.  They moved to Mansfield LA, where Silas was a carpenter and mechanic.  John Newton was born in 1848 and Julia in 1852.  A third son, Leonidas, who was born in 1865, died at the age of two and is buried in Mansfield.

The Civil War records of Silas and Thomas follow.  Silas was wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines and discharged.  He re-enlisted after the death of Thomas and was forage master.
 
 

CONFEDERATE RESOURCE SOURCES
Vol 3, p 131

PHIFER, Silas, Sergt, Co. F. 9th La. Inf, En July 7, 1861.  Camp Moore, La. Present on Roll to Dec 1861. Re-mustered for the War, Camp Carondelet, Va, Feb 5, 1862. Roll to July 1, 1862. Discharged June 6, 1862 for disability.  Born New York, occupation carpenter, Res, Mansfield LA, age when enlisted 50, married.

PHIFER, Silas, Pvt. Co. D, 11th Battn, La Inf En. November 6, 1862. Camp Shelley. Roll to Dec 1862. Present forage master, substitute for W. J. Edwards on November 6, 1862. Roll Jan and Feb 1863.  Present forage master.  Roll March and April, 1863.  Detailed in Engr. Dept. April 10, 1863.

PHIFER, T. Pvt. Co F, 3rd Regt. 1st Brig. 1st Div La Mil On Roll not dated. Ordered into the service of the State of Louisiana.

PHIFER, T. H. Pvt. Co D, 2nd La Inf, En May 11, 1861 New Orleans LA Present on all rolls to August 1862.  Toll September and Oct 1862.  Killed in the Battle of Sharpsburg MD. September 17, 1862

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