This fascinating letter was written from Richmond, Virginia, on 30 June 1863, long considered the high water mark of the Confederacy. It was signed “E. A. Tyler” and was probably written by Emma A. Tyler (1844-19xx), the 19 year-old daughter of Richmond Commission Merchant John Tyler (1807-1869) and Emily Susan Grove (1816-1883). John and Emily Tyler were married in April 1833 in Albermarle County, Virginia. Emma’s older brother, William Henry Tyler (1837-1905) was married (in 1860) to Marietta Jane Dennis (1839-1905), the daughter of Dr. Benjamin F. Dennis (1816-1883) and Charlotte Caroline Woodruff Bessom (1820-1897).
Emily wrote the letter to “Mr. Gregg” who was probably Wesley Washington Gregg (1820-1865), of Marion District, South Carolina. Unfortunately no envelope accompanies the letter to confirm the identity of the recipient. Wesley W. Gregg — the son of Robert James Gregg (1800-1874) and Zilpha Ann Evans (1801-1849) — was married to Eleanor Laurens Wayne (1824-1903) and by 1863 they had at least 8 children: William Wayne Gregg (1844-1862)¹ who died on 27 June 1862; Wesley Laurens Gregg (1845-1921) — a private in Co. D, 12th Battalion, South Carolina Cavalry; Robert James Gregg (1847-1929); Nannette Waties Gregg (1846-1911); Anna Jane Gregg (1851-1917); Lizzie Theus Gregg (1856-1939); Benjamin Gause Gregg (1860-1933); and William Tyler Gregg (1862-1885).
Like his two older sons, Wesley Washington Gregg served in the Confederate army. He was a member of Co. I, 21st South Carolina Infantry, and was captured in January 1865 at the fall of Fort Fisher in North Carolina, and sent as a prisoner to Elmira, New York. He survived until his exchange but died on 4 March 1865 during the trip from Elmira to Richmond, Virginia. His widow retrieved his remains and returned them to Marion, South Carolina for burial. After the war, she opened a hat shop in her home to earn the means by which she could raise her children.
At the time this letter was written, Wesley Gregg and the other members of the 21st South Carolina were probably in the coastal defenses around Charleston, South Carolina. It seems likely that Emma Tyler had spent some time with the Gregg’s in South Carolina and was probably a good friend with Nannette Gregg who was only slightly younger.
June 30th 1863
My Dear Friend,
Perhaps you have been expecting a letter from me for some time as I sent you word I would write soon. Well you should have heard sooner but for two long weeks I have enquired daily for letters from Marion and have been disappointed. It will be three weeks tomorrow since I have received a letter from any of you. I am not complaining of you, understand me, but simply saying how long it has been and how much longer it seems to me since I heard. I sincerely hope none of you are sick. Well, I expect I will get a letter tomorrow certainly and with that lively hope, I dismiss the subject.
It would afford me much pleasure to be with you all today. Ever since I wrote my last letter to Mrs. Gregg on Thursday, 25th inst., we have had rain every day almost constantly. Our anticipated visit to Hollywood Cemetery that day had to be postponed and we have not yet taken it. Yesterday we expected again to go but it rained. I wish you could be here now. I want you to see our city when the trees are full — luxuriant and green, and when the weather is pleasant. When do you think you can come?
I was anxious to attend the union prayer meeting this evening but it looks too unlikely to venture out. Maj. has just started; he is a regular attendant.
Etta [Marietta Dennis] looks for her mother on the [James River] packet boat tomorrow morning. She [Etta’s mother] is coming down with the expectation of meeting her two daughters [Virginia & Charlotte Dennis] here from the North. I reckon you have seen a notice of the vessel which will leave Annapolis, Maryland, I believe, with any ladies and children who may desire to come South. † Mrs. Dennis has sent the children word to come on that boat, but I hardly think they will come as they could not have got word in time to make all necessary preparations before the boat leaves. They will doubtless come sometime this summer. They have not seen their parents for two years and are very anxious to get home. Their oldest son [Samuel Cloon Dennis, b. 1844] speaks of going to Liverpool as a clerk for a Capt. of a vessel. His parents are much in favor of it as he can not get home, and if he could he would have to enter the army here immediately.
Tell Mrs. Gregg I want to see her dreadfully. I wish I could have been with her the past week. Tell her she must write as soon as she finds it convenient. I suppose Nannette has holiday now. I hope she will write often in future.
Our city is a vast drill ground. Everybody who ought to be in the service has joined companies for the purpose of meeting the foe if he should come. There is not the least excitement, nor has there been at anytime within the past week. There have been rumors of several “On to Richmonds” and he (the enemy) boasts of having been within ten miles of the Rebel Capitol. ² I only wish he would come a little nearer. I am glad Gen. Lee’s army is faring so well. ³ They get flour at $5.00 a barrel and bacon at 8 & 10 cts. per lb. paid for in Confederate currency.
Dear, brave old Vicksburg still holdout. I hope she may ultimately tire her patience of the Yankees. I wish some deadly pestilence would come and sweep Grant’s army from the earth in one single night!
Everything looks bright and joyous. It seems like everybody ought to be happy, but happiness is not happiness to me if those I love are not enjoying it with me and there are some — alas! — who will never rejoice with me when I rejoice, nor weep with me when I weep. Excuse me. I feel sad this evening. I have melancholy spells very often, but I try very hard to overcome them.
All send much love to your family. Kiss Benny for Lottie and dear little Will Tyler and Benny for me. Please write soon. I am looking for a letter from Wesley [Gregg]. My love to him and all my friends in Marion.
I am your friend, — E. A. Tyler
P. S. Excuse this letter. It was written in my lap and in great haste. Consequently it looks very badly. — Em
If Nannette should have gone to Columbia, please read my letter to her and then forward it to her. When I write to one, I write to all. I will expect a letter very soon from you.
¹ William Wayne Gregg (1844-1862) was attending The Citadel — a military college in Charleston, S.C. — when the Civil War erupted. He joined the 1st South Carolina Infantry as a sergeant and served as their color bearer until he was killed at the Battle of Gaine’s Mill on 27 June 1862.
² The Richmond Daily Enquirer of 27 June 1863 reported that “eight hundred or a thousand Yankee cavalry passed by Tunstall’s Station…and proceeded northward” where they were seen “about four miles beyond Mechanicsville, nine miles” from Richmond.
³ At this date, the latest intelligence in Richmond from Lee’s advance northward was that he had crossed the Potomac into Maryland and was advancing on Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
† The vessel was the steamer John A. Warner. Northern and Southern newspapers accounts of the passage experienced by these women and children varied:
The New York Herald of 8 July 1863 reported that “the steamer John A. Warner, Captain Cone, arrived here [Fortress Monroe] from Annapolis, having on board two hundred and sight-eight ladies, and above one hundred children, en route for Richmond, in charge of Major Turner, Judge Advocate General. The ’emigrants’ all spoke in the highest possible terms of Captain Blodgett, Post Quartermaster at Annapolis, and acting quartermaster of truce boat, for his courteous and gentlemanly bearing and obliging manner to the occupants of the boat.”
The Augusta Chronicle of 10 July 1863 reported that, “The flag of Truce Boat which arrived at City Point on Saturday afternoon, brought up about three hundred and sixty ladies and children who are refugees from the North. A portion of them were brought up to Petersburg on Saturday night, a portion on yesterday afternoon, and a number sent up the river to Richmond. We understand that several ladies were turned back at Annapolis and refused permission to some South merely because they had one or two little extra articles in their trunks, such as shoes for themselves and children. A number of the ladies and children are from Norfolk, but before they could get permission to come within the Confederate lines they were required to report for examination at Annapolis. Their treatment, we understand, during their examination was rude and indelicate in many instances, such as barbarians alone would think of inflicting upon them.”