This letter was written by 34 year-old William Duncan Cole (1829-1864) of Co. F, 38th Alabama Infantry. “Duncan” was the son of Isaac C. Cole (1808-1875) and Sally Duncan (1810-1878). He married Cornelia Ann Darden (1838-1920) in 1856 and had three living children when this letter was written in December 1863. At the time, the 38th Alabama was wintering at Crow Valley, just north of Dalton, Georgia.
Duncan enlisted in the 38th Alabama Regiment as a sergeant in May 1862. They were organized in Mobile, May 1862, and remained in the defenses of Mobile until February 1863, when they joined Clayton’s Brigade and participated in heavy fighting at Hoover’s Gap, Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. We know that sometime prior to March 1864, Duncan had been promoted 2d Lieutenant of his company. On 11 March 1864, papers were signed recommending the transfer of Duncan to a 1st Lieutenant position in Co. K [or Co. I] of Hatch’s 8th Alabama Cavalry, then headquartered near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was killed, however, at the Battle of New Hope Church, (wounded 27th, died 29 May 1864) when Bragg and Sherman met outside of Atlanta.
Addressed to Mrs. C. A. Cole, Sheffield, P. O., Fayette County, Alabama
Postmarked Chattanooga, Tennessee
Camp 38th Alabama Regiment near Dalton, Ga.
December 15, 1863
My dear wife,
I take the present opportunity to write you a few lines in answer to your kind letter of the 28th ult. I was glad to learn that you & the children were well at that time and hope that you are still enjoying good health. I am enjoying tolerable health except cold. I have the worst cold and cough that I ever had before. We are having wet weather and badly fitted up for it. The troops are suffering very much on that account at present.
I have nothing of interest to write. I am only writing that you may hear from me. You wrote that I had not said any word about the clothing you had sent me — that you did not know whether I liked them or not. I can say to you that I am very well pleased with them except the jacket. It does not fit atall and I have never worn it yet, waiting to get a chance to get off home so that you can change it, but there is no chance that I see to get off on furlough for I am of the impression that the enemy will follow us up through our winter. If they do, there is no chance for furlough. I hope that the campaign may be kept up this winter and next summer and all the time until this thing is ended for I am worn out and want the ball to keep rolling until the end shall come.
We are not more than 3 miles from Dalton. I do not think we will remain long at this place. It is reported here that the enemy have fallen back to Chattanooga but I do not believe that they have fallen back or if they have, it is for the purpose of passing down on the west side of Lookout Mountain to make their way to Rome, Georgia. If they attempt that, we are compelled to fall back. Longstreet is said to have fallen back to Virginia which I imagine is correct. Times are very hard here — not much to eat and what we have is not good by any means. The bread is very sorry, the beef quite poor, and you may be sure that one becomes worn out on such diet. There is no chance to get anything else. I am proud that you have such fine potatoes for it is quite consoling me to know that you and the children have plenty to eat. I hope that it may continue so for I do not know what would render me more miserable that to hear that you were all suffering for the necessities of life.
You can say to Mrs. Evans that Mr. [Joshua W.] Evans was killed, wounded, or taken prisoner ¹ on Wednesday the 25th November. The last that I heard of him he was lying behind a tree. He was not hurt at that time and I hope he is not hurt atall. Tell her that he is in a better condition — if he is not wounded — than he was while in the fight for it was a squally time. I do not want to experience such a thing anymore. The man that passed out unhurt should be thankful to his Almighty Father for if it was not that he was protected by such a one, he would be bound to sink. It is a miraculous thing that any man should pass through. Cornelia, teach my little children that they have a Pa living and that loves them and wants to see them. I am not surprised to hear you say that the babe is very gentle [?] — the handsomest of the three. The third is said to be the charm. I think they all are tolerable fair children — at least I would be willing to sacrifice considerable to be with them this evening.
Send my boots the first opportunity for if I had to march, I would need them very much and there is no chance to get shoes at this place. There are a great many men here that are near barefooted. Rufus & Henley [Hamner] are both tolerable well. Brad Berry and Bill [Berry] are not here. I don’t know whether they are at home or not. They left us since we have been here.
You may send me a pair or two of socks when you send my boots. This is a hard portion of the world to live in. You need not be surprised at any time to hear of another fight though this army will never fight as it did at Chickamauga. They are too low-spirited.
Cornelia, I do sincerely hope that there is a better day not far distant. Write and let me hear from you and the children. As ever, your affectionate husband until death, — Wm. Duncan Cole
I will write in a few days.
¹ Pvt. Joshua W. Evans died on 19 January 1864 at the Rock Island Prison. He was taken prisoner in the fighting at Missionary Ridge on 25 November 1863. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery at Rock Island, Illinois, Grave #228.