This letter was written by Samuel William Pruitt (1822-1898) to his wife, Martha McGee (McFarland) Pruitt (1825-1892). Their children included Elizabeth (“Bettie”) Amelia Pruitt (1847-1926), Charles (“Charly”) Wesley Pruitt (1849-1893), Lucy Ann Pruitt (1853-1950) and James Doak Pruitt (1856-1944). Samuel was the son of Doak Pruitt (1775-1832) and Amelia Milley Hanks (1785-1870) of Henderson County, Kentucky. I have no proof of his mother’s connection to Abraham Lincoln, but with a name like Hanks from Henderson County, Kentucky, one has to wonder.
Samuel enlisted originally as a corporal in Co. G, 25th Kentucky (Union) Infantry but when the strength of that regiment dwindled, the 25th was consolidated with the 17th Kentucky after the Battle of Shiloh and he was transferred into that regiment where he rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant of Company K.
In his letter, Samuel tells his wife that he has heard that William John Littell (1827-1892), a carpenter by trade, and a first sergeant in Co. K, 17th Kentucky Infantry, was a prisoner-of-war rather than a battlefield casualty. He was married to Mary (Winters) Littell (1828-1918) and they resided in Owensboro, Daviess County, Kentucky.
December the 24th 1863
In the woods near Blain’s Cross Roads
18 miles from Knoxville [Tennessee]
I received your kind and long looked for letter day before yesterday. This is the first opportunity I have had to write to you since I left Chattanooga. I wrote to you after the fight at that place but I did not have time to give you a full detailed account of the battle.
We left Chattanooga to reinforce Burnsides at Knoxville on the 28th of November. We started out with two days rations. We marched to Harrison’s Landing on the Tennessee River where we got three days more rations that was carried up on a steamboat for us. I was mistaken — it was not at Harrison’s, it was a landing on the Hiwassee River. We there crossed the river on the steamboat. We heard that Burnsides had whipped Longstreet and he was falling back to join Bragg so we turned our course more southward so as to intercept him. After marching two days, we heard that Longstreet was still at Knoxville and Burnsides was hard pressed so we turned our course again for that place and after hard marching and starving, we arrived at Knoxville on the 7th of December. But Burnsides had whipped the rebels and they were gone.
We had to live six or eight days on fresh beef without salt or bread. We remained near Knoxville 3 days. While there I got a pass to go to town to see if I could find William but he was gone to the front after the Rebels. Our regiment was ordered back 11 miles to Rockford to run a mill. Our only chance for bread was to press all the mills and corn and wheat. We remained at the mill 3 or 4 days, then we were forward again to Blain’s Cross Roads. We passed through Knoxville on the 16th and arrived here on the 17th.
I met William on the road. I did not know him — he had whiskers on his face and he looked so different in military dress — and not expecting to meet him, I did not know him. He knew me and spoke to [me] but [I] had to ask who he was. He is looking very well. We were on the march and I could not stop with him but [a] few minutes. We camped near where he was and he came to see me the next day. And the next day he called to see me as he was going to the front to his regiment. He said they were going [to] be paid off that day. I have been looking for him back but have not heard from him since. I expect they have moved to the front. When I saw him the first time, he told me he was out of money and did not know when they would get paid. I gave him 10 dollars for I know it is bad to be without money in this country where it is impossible to get our rations regularly. Many times we would be suffering if we had no money to but from citizens.
I saw Robert Burch also. He is very well. Heard I was here and came to see me. He and young Marks spent the day with me. I was glad to see them, It is a great pleasure to meet with some of my old friends. They have had a hard time since they left Kentucky. They have been skirmishing with the rebs pretty much all the time.
We left our tents, clothing, and everything at Chattanooga and have been living out and on the ground. We can’t even get soap to wash our clothes. I washed my clothes a few days ago. I took off my shirt and drawers, washed and dried them, and put them on while I washed my pants. But it was badly done and our clothes are getting very thin. We have not drawn any winter clothes. We have no overcoats and our summer blouses are nearly worn out. We sent to Nashville for our overcoats that we left there. Many of the men have no blankets and many are barefooted here. We did get a few pairs of shoes the other day and I got some sole leather and half-soled my shoes and several pair for the men so on the whole, I have got our company tolerably well shod. They can go 3 or 4 weeks again. I hope by that time we will get a supply.
The weather has been tolerably cold but we have not had much rain since we left Chattanooga. We have generally had pleasant days with frosty nights. We have had the hardest times for the last 3 months that we have had since we have been in the service and there is no prospect of its being much better for some time. I expect we will be on the march all the winter. I don’t think Gen. Grant will give the rebs much rest. The men stand it better than I expected, notwithstanding they suffer for food and clothing. They seem to be in good spirits as long as we are advancing on the enemy. But when we stop a few days, they begin to grumble. They want to go ahead. They would rather fight them than run after them. Longstreet is said to be about a hundred miles from here with his main force but I don’t know how true it is. His rear guard is not so far in our front. We have a good many troops in advance of us. I think we keep back in reserve. We heard pretty smart cannonading this morning on our right on the other side of the Holston River but have not learned what it meant. ¹
General Hooker and a portion of the old Army of the Cumberland are after Bragg in Georgia. We have not heard anything reliable from them for a long time. The fact is, we don’t get any news from anywhere. We are entirely cut off from the world. However, I saw an Owensboro paper the other day that gave us the first intelligence that Mr. Littell was living and the next day Capt. [Robert C.] Sturgis ² got a letter from Mr. Mitchell stating that Mrs. Littell had got a letter from him. We were all very glad to hear that he was still living. It is hard enough to be in prison but it is better than to be killed and hope it not be long before he will be exchanged and return to his friends. I know Mrs. Littell was overjoyed when she heard from him. It is almost like one coming to life from the dead. He was a good man and had many friends and we regretted his loss and the more-so because we could not tell what had become of him.
Tell James, Lucy, and Charles that I am very glad they are going to school and I hope they will soon learn to write and Bettie has no excuse for she can write very well. It is a source of great pleasure to me to get letters from any of you and you need not have any fears of tiring my patience by writing long letters for every word you write is read and re-read. Every word is interesting to me. I can read them if they were four times as long. I can read your writing better than many others that write a much better hand because I am acquainted with your hand and style of writing, So hereafter, write everything you know and everything you can think of and inquire of others for news.
This is the first opportunity I have had to write since I left Chattanooga. I don’t know when I will have another for this [is] all the paper I have or can get, and I don’t know when this can go out. But you must not be uneasy about me for I am in the hands of the same God that has protected me through life and has brought me safely through two hard fought battles ³ where it looked like it almost impossible for anything to come out alive. I put my trust in the same God and feel thankful that he has brought me safe thus far. I must close. Give Mr. Mitchell my best wishes and Mrs. Littell my congratulations for happy news of the safety of her husband and my love to Mother, Sister Lucy, Nancy, John, Mary Jane, Phil and all the connection, and Bettie, Charly, Lucy and James.
Your devoted husband, — S. W. Pruitt
¹ Pruitt’s description of the condition of the men and their spirits corresponds to that of Sgt. William Taylor, 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, who also wrote from a camp near Blain’s Cross Roads on 24 December 1863 — “This morning a cannonade was going on apparently five or six miles off on our right as though the enemy was trying to get between us and Knoxville. We don’t care. Our men are perfectly reckless and confident. You can scarce credit it, that men less than half fed, in rags, some without shoes, their feet bleeding, but few with overcoats, some without blankets, will march or fight over the frozen ground all day and lie down and sleep on it soundly all night and never make a complaint. Even in the midst of all their hardships the government asks them to reenlist and over two thirds of them step forward and say we are ready – we will do it over again so that our side wins.”
² Capt. Robert C. Sturgis of Company K, 17th Kentucky Infantry, died at Chattanooga on 9 August 1864, of a gunshot wound in the right knee joint received in action. He is buried in the Cave Hill National Cemetery i nLouisville, Kentucky [Section B, Site 990].
³ Probably a reference to the Battle of Chickamauga and the Battle of Missionary Ridge.