June 20, 2013 08:00 PM EDT Cincinnati


471

Private Junius Spratley, 13th Virginia Cavalry, Civil War Correspondence

5 letters.

During the summer 1861, citizens in the eastern part of Virginia sought to raise a new regiment for Confederate service, slated to become the 39th Virginia Infantry. With some difficulties, eight regiments of infantry were raised along with two of cavalry and one artillery, and although the regiment served in the vicinity of Norfolk and on the eastern shore, it was stranded on the Peninsula when it was unable to cross Chesapeake Bay and effectively disbanded.

Junius N. Spratley, a Surry County soldier slated for that ill-fated regiment, found himself undaunted by the failure. Writing to his sister Peggie, Spratley left a trail of letters that reveal the optimism, resolve, and burning desire to fight for the Confederacy that fueled the Army of Northern Virginia for four years. While waiting at Petersburg for the fate of the 39th to be decided, March 11, 1862, Spratley was already looking for another chance to serve: The governor has issued a proclamation ordering out all the militia in Virginia and I expect we will start now in a few days for our place of rendezvous. We are ordered to report to Gen. Hager at Norfolk. You may look out now for the war to come to a close for when the bloody 39th gets after the Yanks they will be sure to squander...I think I shall send my name to the Surry Cavalry but I expect I have left it off too long and heard yesterday that was filled up...

The Surry Cavalry was, a company that became Co. G of the 13th Virginia Cavalry and served as the eyes of the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the rest of the war, witnessing a seemingly endless string of engagements. From Brandy Station, Nov. 1, 1862, Spratley brought his family up to date on his martial exploits: We have been put in the brigade of cavalry commanded by Gen. Fitzhugh Lee and it is thought we will be sent to Stewarts Division. If so we are away for the war certain. We have had two brushes with the enemy since we have been at this place...We captured 18 of the enemy that was at Manassas rite on the old Battle Grounds. We then started back for camp some 15 miles distant and when within four mile of camp were surprised by a scouting party who had ambushed us and poured a perfect storm of bullets before we knew anything of their being any where near us. It threw our men perfectly off their guard at first but a command form our gallant Major who was in command soon had them all drawn up in a line and a charge (on the bushes ordered which was all that could be seen) which was one in fine style and routed the Yankees in less than no time capturing three and killing a Captain.. The Captain was killed by Major Belcher. The Captain took three deliberate shots at the Major before he fired on him, but the second shot from the Major brought him to the ground... He goes on to describe an ambush of a federal train in which his comrades tore up the tracks, waited for the accident, and captured 78 of 90 men in the process.

In the winter lull after Fredericksburg, Spratley wrote two letters, in which the confidence gained by Confederate forces after their victory seems tinged with a sense of foreboding. We can hear from them [the enemy] every day through our spys, he wrote in the first: They started week before last to cross but old Burnside has concluded he was not exactly ready and countermarched to order. He is now passing off his time in sending out partys to liberate the slaves and taking the farmers horses. A great many of the farmers have moved their negroes and horses across the river but they say they don’t expect to have a house to put their heads in when the enemy leaves, as they are sure they will burn everything they can when they find out they have left... The second letter, written four days later, discusses the tough conditions You said that Lieut. Clements said we were getting plenty to eat and so we are but have to buy it ourselves. The Government does not furnish us with but a quarter of a pound of pork a day now and you may know how we would get along with that if we were so we could not buy anything. I have thought all along until now that we could not be starved out but since they have reduced our rashions so lately, I am beginning to think very differently though I am in hopes I am mistaken...

The final letter in the collection is an excellent letter from a relative of Spratley’s, a Confederate prisoner of war held at Johnsons Island, OH. Weighed down by the monotony of prison life, Maj. James Walter Spratley (Confederate Quartermaster) kept his spirits up in any way he could: Many months have passed since my imprisonment, he wrote, yea, Eight, and many times have I written to you & grandmamma but I have not up to the present since received a line from you... Letters are the only alleviation of the monotony of our prison life... I have no news or anything to write of except myself, so be content with an uninteresting prison letter. Our little Isle is once more separated from land & surrounded by water...The little streamer runs from Sandusky & the prison is in just the same state it was last week. The monotony is not varied... The envelope is marked (in manuscript) For flag of Truce, and identifies Spratley as a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island. Written on very thin paper with small centimeter-long piece of letter lacking at fold, partly affecting two words without loss of meaning.

A highly literate correspondence, indicative of a strong education, and filled with humor, passion, and ardency for the cause.

Condition:Condition unusually good for Confederate correspondence on high quality paper with limited signs of wear and age.

Estimate: $800 - $1,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium
$1,880
06/21/2013

 

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