SUBMITTED BY: Judy E. Stainback
I grew up on a 300-plus acre tobacco farm in Drewry, Warren County, North Carolina. Part of the farm had belonged to the Hilliards but was later bought by my great-grandfather, George W. Ellington (sometimes I refer to the farm as Hilliard Ellington Farm). George’s father, James Ellington, had already owned the other part of the land and a few slaves. James also had two other sons, James D. and Byrd Ellington, who both fought for the Confederacy. James and Byrd wrote to their family members, and I’ve included those letters in these stories. Also, one letter that is included in Byrd’s story is from a neighbor, Micajah T Buchanan, which was written to Byrd and James’s sister, Fannie Ellington.
My parents William B. and Ella Ellington, and my four sisters, brother, and I grew up on the Ellington farm where Byrd, James, their parents, and their grandparents lived. At the homeplace there was an old black safe in the front hall that held the precious Civil War letters sent home from Byrd and James Ellington. From time to time, my father would carefully unfold these letters and read them to us. Even as a child, I was enthralled by these old letters and the history behind them. My father, his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had preserved these precious letters to give us a glance into the heart and soul of these two brave soldiers. When I look at the images of Byrd and James Ellington, I am saddened by all the atrocities of war they experienced and by the death of James. But I am so proud to share the same blood and DNA of Byrd and James Ellington!! I could and would never turn my back on them.
Twenty or so years ago, I had copies made from the original images of Byrd and James, and we placed them on the family mantle at the homeplace. Everyone (even the grandchildren) knew they were Byrd and James Ellington. In my home today I also have pictures of Byrd and James Ellington. I am sharing their stories with the N.C. Civil War and Reconstruction Center so their stories will live on, they can be preserved, and the stories can be shared with others.
Byrd Ellington was born in Warren County, N.C. but resided in Virginia prior to joining the Confederate Army at Camp Carolina, VA on July 1, 1861. He was twenty-four years old when he enlisted as a private in Company B of the 12th Infantry (North Carolina). He was present and accounted for until captured at Spotsylvania Court House, VA, on May 19th or 20th, 1864. Byrd was confined at Point Lookout, Maryland until transferred to the prison at Elmira, N.Y. on July 3, 1864. He was released from there on June 30, 1865, after taking the Oath of Allegiance.
Here are Byrd’s letters:
Near Norfolk, VA August 8, 1861 Camp C___
I pen you these few lines this evening to inform you that I am well except a bad cole [cold] and feel mutch [much] better today than I have sometime[.] I received a kind and affectionate letter which afforded me great pleasure Taken that you all was well when this few lines reached you all I hope thy [they] will find you enjoying the same blessings and should like to see you all at this time very mutch but so many wanting to go home I do not think that there is any chance for me to come yet a while[.] I should liked very mutch to have this to went to _____ [subtracted?] meeting so I could have seen all of my old acquaintance[.] I am very mutch pleased to hear that you are getting along so well with your crop and presing [pressing] and sendding off our tobaco fled [field] write me word how our wheat crops turned out & whether you had got it out or not[.] I will now write you some thing about our living[.] We lived vary good when I first reached the camp but it is nothing but beef and peas beef five days in a weak [week] and bacon two days and some bug eaten peas to boil with it vegitables is geting vary scarce about the camp at this time nothing but beef is the cry a bout now I am inhops [in hopes] after this weak [week] I will never see another piece[.] We have a plenty of good coffee an[d] shugar and buiscuit twice a day[.] I received a box from you all which come to hand safle [safely] Which I was vary glad to receive nothing had spoilt but the light bread[.] you all must write to me soon not wait for me to write to you all for I have but little time to dictat [dictate] a letter only of Sundays an nights tell [N]ed I shall think very hard of him for not writing to me be fore now[.] Tell Ellick he must write to me soon Davy Do–din & Micajah Buchannan is both at the hospital[.] I sent their letters to them by S [or L].H. Newman for their [there] was so many deseased [deceased] their I was a fread [afraid] to go a near S.[or L] H. Newman [and] W. Hilliard a sends their best respects to you all.
Sept 11, 1861 Camp Fisher
Dear sister Maria, I write you these few lines to let you all know that I have had the mumps in one jaw vary bad but is improving evry [every] day. I have not drilled any since I have had them I hope when this reaches you it will find you all well[.] mother stated in the last letter whether I wanted any more clothes or not[:] tell her I have clothes a plenty two suits that is as many as I can march with[.] I have not got any blankets as yet but they have as many blankets as we all can march with in the line I stay in with my assistance and sayst it is no use for me to send home after any for thy [they] have a plenty for themselves and me two[.] I was vary glad that you sent my over coat for I will need it when I stand guard[.] it was sent from old camp to me by [N]ed Ellington but I did not see him and thinks vary hard of him to come in ten miles of me and did not come to see me[.] he did not see any thing at the other camp but if he had come down to our camp he would have seen more than he ever expected to see he coald [could] have seen the yankees and their ships frtess [fortress?] mo—– [S]ewels [P]oint and many other things[.] I am going to try to come home in a few weaks but it is many uncertain about getting a furlou[gh][.] we have had plenty to eat and that is vary good[.] we give our cook a furlou[gh] to go home and we have to do our own cooking [A]mos [W]illiams was I mains cook he was the only one in our mids [midst] could make good biscuits and he has the mumps so we have to do our own cooking[.] that is very badly we don’t make any biscuits[.] we take the dough and spread it over the bottom of the oven and some times it takes five or six to get it out and some times we turn the oven over and stomp the bottom to get the bread out[.] we have a dispute about washing up the dishes evry billy paschall took that for his part but do not wash them evry time[.] he niver [never] wash them until we get ready to eat[.] nothing more at present[.] you all must write to me soon
brother Byrd Ellington
You all need not to send me any thing more until I write to you all for them[.] I expect to come home before I shall need any more clothing
Dec. 31th 1861 Camp Arrington, Norfolk, VA
I received a letter from you all not long since which affords me great pleasure to hear that you all was well[.] This leaves me and all the boys well except some few an hope this will find you all the same[.] We have received our flank an has completed our hours an has built our mun [men] a kitchen an has bought us a full set of crockery an has a splendid cook and is going to try an live like white folks[.] We have all kind of eatings oun [on] hand at present Monticello [L]ynch a small gun boat attactted the yankeys express from Old Point[.] The charge was so great oun [on] the Yanky steamer that she had to let loose her small schooner an flee for old[.] The yankeys saw the Sea bird & sent nine gun boat in persuit after her though they was not fast enough to over take her[.] The Sea Bird fired at the yanky boats while she was going to Crany Island with surprise The yankeys followed until thy [they] was near the range of our guns[.] No damage was done oun [on] our side only killed one old rooster and the boys at Sewel’s point had a fine roast out of him[.] The firing continued for several [h]ours an both sides a great many fell in and around Sewel’s Point though we soon compelled them to leave[.] Our nest was then ordered out an was formed in a line of battle redy [ready] to engage them if thy [they] attempt to land[.] The shells fell a roond [around] us as thick nearly as hail[.] Some of the shells hit the trees where our pickets was standing two fell in fifty yards where I was standing[.] We expect an engagement here evry day[.] their [there] is a great many vessels at [O]ld [P]oint tonight. Write to me soon.
Yoor truly son
PS S H Newman sends his best respect to you all
One letter being included in Byrd’s story is from a neighbor, Micajah T Buchanan, that was written to Byrd and James’s sister, Fannie Ellington. [Micajah resided in Warren County when he enlisted on April 26, 1861. He was nineteen years old at that time. He served in Company B of the 12th Infantry (North Carolina) with Byrd. Also, like Byrd, Micajah was captured at Spotsylvania Court House, VA in May 1864, and was imprisoned at Elmira in New York until he took the Oath of Allegiance and was released in June 1865.]
Here is the letter Micajah wrote to Fannie:
Camp near Taylersville, VA
March the 13 ‘64
De[a]r cusen [cousin] cusen fany [Fanny] I Take the Privalige this evening to write you A Few lin[e]s to let you [k]no[w] that I got to camp Safle [safely] an Soforth [so forth][.] this leaves me well as useal [usual] with the exception of the cramp in my hand like the[y] wer[e] when I was at home[.] I can now hardely holde [hold] my pen so I donte [don’t] Recken [reckon] you can read this Byrd an[d] all the reste of the boys is well the[y] are down on pickeck [picket] at the south ___ bridg[e] A bout [about] 3 Miles From here on the Sentral Rail Road I have Binn [been] down thar [there] this Morning to Cary[.] ther [they’re] rassing [harassing?] that gentle that we wer[e] talking A bout [about] Says he has not Received A le[t]ter sence he has bin [been] here[.] I wer[e] talking with him A bout [about] le[t]ters an[d] so on an[d] he said he dident bel[e]ive he ever wo[u]ld write to a nother [another] lady, but I recken he wer[e] jeste [just] talking[.] Well I can say to you that John [H]illiard wer[e] round to see me last night an[d] he wer[e] inquiring for you the firste thing all morst [almost][.] he said that you ar[e] the lovelyeste [loveliest] looking Lady he ever Saw in his life[.] he ask me if you did look as well as ever an[d] I tolde him that you looked Bet[t]er than I ever Saw you[.] Well I Must Bring my short un inter resteing [uninteresting] let[t]er to A close for my hand is crampt [cramped] so that I cant write fit for eny thing [anything][.] I don’t recken you will ever read what I hav[e] [w]rote[.] Pleas[e] excuse bad spelling an[d] all mistakes[.] I aske you to write Soon an[d] write me all the news I Remain yours truly as ever M T Buchanan to F R Ellington