James Calvert's Civil War Letters

From The Cullman Tribune, 9/22/1983, "Letters From One Who Never Returned"
Submitted by Steve M. Wilson
Transcribed by Louise Birchfield

Two months ago a story appeared in the tribune about Johnny Sinyard, the 93 year old Cullman Countian who carves ax handles and weaves baskets by hand.

Mr. Sinyardís wife, Ida, died a few weeks ago. They would have been married 68 years this December. Mrs. Sinyard left behind two thick volumes of her familyís history and a large number of papers, documents and news clippings that tell the Calvert story.

Her collection contains two letters written by her grandfather, James Calvert, in late 1863 to his wife, Delilah Stewart Calvert. The letters were written on a Civil War battlefield at Missionary Ridge, Tennessee, near Chattanooga.

According to Mrs. Sinyard, James Calvert was not a willing participant in the Civil War. A confederate conscription team led by a Capt. Musgrove showed up at the Calvert house one day to inform James that his services were needed by the South. Mr. Sinyard said that James attempted to hide beneath the floor but was discovered by troops.

At that point, Mr. Sinyard said Delilah Calvert attacked the soldiers with a chair. Her husband calmed her and said his goodbyes. The soldiers then escorted James Calvert out of his home near the Cullman-Walker County line, away from his wife and six children, and into the War between the States.

I am not a historian. The Civil War isnít one of my hobbies. But I did find the two letters Mr. Sinyard showed me very interesting. They reveal a little bit of what the early settlers of Cullman and surrounding counties were like.

With Mr. Sinyardís permission, Iíd like to share those two old letters with you.

November the 1st 1863
Camps near Chattanooga, Tennessee

Dear wife, I seat myself to right you a few lines to inform you that I am well only bad cold. I doo hope this will find you all well. I wish (unclear) how you was doing and I want to no whether Sary and Lisabeh has got well or not. I want to know whether you have got your corn gathered and pees picked and potatoes dug and wood halled. I want you to do the best you can.

I may get home sometime and I may not. They are expecting a battle. The yankys is reinforcing and so is the southerns and I believe the will be a big fight. I got here the 29th. I here the cannon every day.

I see a good many boys here from Walker, John M. Stuard, Joseph Cole, James Cole, Manly Cornelus and several others from here. Well tho donít get nuf to eat. Wee got here day before yesterday and this morning wee draud some beef tho donít get nuf beef nor nuff bread. I hope none of my friends have to cum here.

Every day seems to me like a wek. If you had all been well I culd dun better but I have to do the best I can and bad is the best.

I want you to right me. Let me no how you are getting along. I would give all I have got if I could go home and stay there. I wood rather stay at home and work night and day on half a nuf to eat than to stay right here. As soon as you get this direct your letters as follows to

Mr. James Calvert
Col L 28 regt
Ala Vol
Chattanooga, Tennessee

I must cum to a close. Cant wright all I want to tell you. Nothing more only I remain your afectionate husband until deth.

November the 8th 1863

Dear wife I have the pleasure of righting you a few more lines. This will inform you I am tolerable well yet I hav a bad cold and cough. I hope this will find you all well. I want to here from you.

I cant tell much about what is going on here. I hav bin in the line of battle 10 days and have been out on picket 2 days and nights. I have seen yankeys a plenty. I her of right smart sickness in camps. Ther has bin several of the croud that cum with me has bin down sick.

It rained on us the day wee got here and a part of the night and then turned cold and wee never got dry til next day. It is frosty mornings now.

I have herd that the yankeys is in Walker. I want to here from thare whether it is so or not. I want you to right. Tell me whether you have whet sode or not, what you have dun and what you can get dun. Right what all the nabers is doing. Tell Thomas Wilson to sell that jack if he can sell him to any advantage.

Doo the best you can and if you cant get along with out mee let me know. I think more of my family than I doo of the confederacy. I hope you get more to eat and see more satisfaction than I doo for I donít get a nuf to eat now. I donít see no satisfaction a tall nor I never will til I git home if I ever doo. I doo hope and trust to god that I will return home sum time. It is just as it happens. It looks like I must cum to a close. Right as soon as you get this and tell me all the nuse and what the yankeys has dun and what nabers is doing.

The cannon ceeps roring but I donít know whether tha are doing mutch damage or not. May god bless you and them blessed little children.

Nothing more only remain you afectionate husband til deth,
James Calvert

James Calvert never made it home. He was captured by Union forces on November 25, 1863 and was taken to a prison camp near Rock Island Barracks in Illinois. He died shortly thereafter from pneumonia.