By Coulter Fussell
About ten years ago I acquired a trunk of old letters from Water Valley. In this column, I will publish some of the letters that pre-date 1900. Here is a letter from Daniel Wagner, written in 1861. Daniel survived the Civil War and went on to become one of Water Valley’s leading citizens, owning Yocona Mills and Wagner’s General Store.
Sep. 20th ‘61
Lee Co, Va.
My Dear Brother,
I write you this at the foot of the highest peaks of the Cumberland Mountains, about 10 steps from the Tenn. Line, and about 100 yards from Ky line. We started from Kville [Knoxville] 7 days ago and got here 5 days afterward – and a rough time we had, walking over hills, stones and creeks &c. We made an average of 15 miles a day, crossed two rivers (Clinch, & Powells) and innumerable fields mountains creeks &c.
This is truly called the Switzerland of America, you know I have crossed the Alleghaneys, but this beats them “all hollow.” A more hilly country I have never seen. Nor more ignorant people, not one in 20 knew where “Massasip” was. And a great many of them never heard of it before.
The chief productions of this part, are Union men, whiskey, fat gals, corn bread and chinkapins. I was on top of the mountain yesterday and the scenery is the finest I ever seen. You can see as far as the eye will let you and mountains in every direction, the gap is about 100 yards from here, it is about 20 feet wider and the only place where a wagon can cross for many miles, they are throwing up an embankment and have 12 guns planted there.
Our troops have invaded Ky. They are as far as Cumberland Ford 12 miles from here. We expect to have a fight in a few days, our troops took Barboursville yesterday. Yesterday one of our wagoners was shot by the enemy, three or four miles from here – One of the Grenada Rifles shot one of the Winona Stars yesterday, he was justifiable in doing so – Our Co. and the Wigfall Rifles liked to get into a gen’l fight yesterday about a axe, we are having exciting times now. I do not know how soon we will leave here, I am confident we will not stay here long. I think we will go over into Ky. In a few days. A great many think there will be some land fighting to do over there, if there is I think the 15th will immortalize itself. It is one of the best Regiments and Col. Statham [?] is a splendid officer. I consider myself as good a soldier as any of our Co. and all of our slender made boys make the best soldiers. We can shoot just as well as the large men and can stand more fatigue. I stood it 10 times better than our strongest men. I was in the advance guard coming out from Kville.
The way a Regiment marches is this – 100 men are selected from the regiment to form an advance guard (which is considered the post of honor). They go ahead of the main body and do the skirmishing, commanded by the Lt. Col. About a mile or two behind some of the main body com. by the Col. Then comes the wagons and then the rear guard com’d by the Maj. Both the advance and rear guard are exempt from standing guard. We had an abundance of good water on the route and plenty of wood to cook with but very little to cook. I got most of my meals at the houses on the road. 10 cts is the usual price and beans and corn bread is the standard dish. My health is not as good as it was, I have a very bad cold, and I haven’t time to get cured. We slept on the ground on our way with but a single blanket and two nights it rained on us. And I’d take a fresh cold every night. I would like to hear from you all very much but hardly know when to tell you to write. I think if you would send your letters to this place to the care of Bankhead or Statham they would be sent on to our regiment If it moves on. Give my love to Calista and all the Youngs folks. I haven’t rec’d a letter from John Y for a long time. Give my respects to Mr. ______ and Leokey [?] and all my friends.
I’m writing this on a knapsack and have a poor place to write and no more paper. So you mustn’t think hard on my not writing to you: You must take the will for the deed. This is the poorest place to buy any thing I have ever been in, no paper, ink, soda or any thing at all, there are only about 4 houses and a store in the place, and if one could buy any thing the want of money would prevent it. Write as often as you can.
Your Bro Daniel
T, S, 4, r, M. We have must rec’d orders to cook one days provisions and leave at 5 o’clock tomorrow morning for the enemy’s country – We leave our tents behind us – good bye —