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23rd Virginia Infantry

The William C. Shelton Letter


This letter appeared in the Cleveland Morning Leader, Aug. 6, 1861, page 3, column 3. Ohio newspapers occasionally printed captured letters. This letter was written by Private William C. Shelton of Co. E 23rd Virginia Infantry on July 11, 1861, during the fighting at Laurel Hill of the Western Virginia Campaign. The letter never reached its intended recipient.  Instead, it was recovered from the battlefield as war booty and sent to Ohio where it reappeared, as printed below. Our thanks to Richard Osburn who came across this letter when researching his great-grandfather, Daniel W. McCoy, who served in the 24th and 175th Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiments. 


Rebel Letter. — Among the "spoils" that fell into the hands of our soldiers in Western Virginia, were numerous daguerreotype portraits and quantities of letters written to secession fathers, mothers, wives, sweethearts and friends, which were unluckily prevented from reaching their destinations by the sudden departure of the writers.  We have seen several specimens of the picture kind, which are not calculated to give favorable impressions of the personal charms of the gentle rebels.


There is a sample of a conjugal epistle before us which contains some things, little calculated to adorn the pages of a newspaper, and others, from which we select the following:


Laurel Hill, Barbour Co.,
Va., July 11, 1861.

My dear and affectionate wife,


I seat myself this evening to write a few lines after 5 days hard fighting.  Darling I have never seen such times in my life.  I have not slept any since Saturday and this Friday the Yankees has advanced in 1 mile of us.  It is thought we have killed and wounded 400 of them but only 189 of them have been found and we have them to bury.  We threw them in Gulges and covered them.  We have about 16000 and they 3000.  They killed 18 of our men and wounded 13.  Darling the balls flew just so thick that I could rake them just like hail.  They threw Bomb shells at us so you see God is in our side.

Last night the hardest of the fighting commenced.  The Brooklyn Greys were in advance and when the word was given they all fired.  The word was given to retreat back and every man ran about 100 yards and only 5 of the Brooklyn Greys was left, that was myself Tom Barksdale W.R. Linton Florin Daniel and C. Rains.  I shot twice and killed 1 yankee.  Col. Toliver come up and commanded them to hault but it was no go.  He come up to us and says "Boys give them hell" and says "Boys you shall have credit for that". Clate Collie and Dick Oackes run like Turks.  Dick Oackes lost his gun and his hat.  Fallin lost his gun and blanket and everything and run a mile to camp and when he got there he was arrested and is now in prison and it is thought it will go very hard with him.  It was a scandulous affair.  The Yankee I killed had a very fine minter Rifle and I got it but the General will not let me keep it, all such belongs to the State.

Darling if they will just let me have my health it is all I ask of them, I can finally do the shooting I came here to shoot or to dye and defend my wife.  My business is such that I cannot fight but ½ the day and that is at night.  I am Compensary for the hole regiment.

There are about 33 in our company sick, and if the fighting continues I think there will be a few more of them scared to death.

Write soon Puss and let them know about Davis death. Give her and tip my best respects and Darling I eat some pies the other day the first I have eat since I left home and what sort do you think they was?  They was dried pumpkin pies, the first I ever saw.  Darling take care of the children and raise them as like gentlemen and ladies, for you know God has his eyes on you and I believe you will act like a lady.

I intend to act like a gentleman and do nothing but what is gentlemanly.  God be with you all.  Darling be on your guard about that old cow for you know what a fool she is when she has a calf.

Tell Tommy and Willie pap will bring them a Yankee 6 shooter when he comes home.


Wm. C. Shillow


The "5 days hard fighting" mentioned by the soldier refer to being several days of skirmishing near Laurel Hill that began on July 7th.

The author of the letter appears to have been a member of Company E, "Brooklyn Grays", 23rd Virginia Infantry. Company E was raised in Brooklyn, Halifax Co., Virginia. And although the letter is attributed to Wm. C. Shillow, it appears the editor misread the signature.  A search of on-line records shows that a more likely author would be William C. Shelton. The National Park Service's web site does not name a Shillow in the entire 23rd Virginia Infantry; however, there is a Private William C. Shelton in Company E of that regiment.   Seven of the 8 names of enlisted men mentioned by Private Shelton are of members of Co. E who enlisted prior to this campaign, with one name not appearing in the roster. These are “Tom Barksdale” (Thomas W. Barksdale, captured 2 days later), “W.R. Linton” (This name does not appear on roster, possibly misread by editor. It is probable that Linton was actually W.R. Tinder who married
Parmelia F. Fallen, the sister of John A. Fallen, mentioned later herein), “Florin Daniel” (Fleming W. Daniel), “C. Rains” (Charles Anderson Raine), “Clate Collie” (Claibourne W. Collie), “Dick Oackes” (Richard A. Oaks), “Fallin” (John A. Fallen), “Davis” (James K. Davis who died of disease at Laurel Hill 7/9/61, two days before this letter was written).


Pvt. Shelton writes of Pvt. Fallen that he “…lost his gun and blanket and everything and run a mile to camp..” As described in this article from the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine, this wasn’t the first time Pvt. Fallen and his weapon were separated.


Charles Anderson Raine was either a private or a corporal at the time this letter was written. He was elected an officer 4/26/62 and served with distinction through his capture at Spotsylvania 5/12/64. His story is relatively well documented.

As mentioned in the letter, the regiment was commanded by Colonel (William Booth) Taliaferro. The letter writer was in error when he spelled his name “Toliver”. However, it is known locally that this Gloucester, Virginia family pronounced their name in the way it was written.