This letter was written by a Confederate soldier named “Dwight” (otherwise unidentified) who was part of Major General Braxton Bragg’s forces assembled at or near Pensacola late in 1861. They were called the “Army of Pensacola” and consisted of over 8,000 men from regiments in five different states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
The key to narrowing down this soldier’s identity was the mention of “White & Chalmers” — two officers in the regiment with whom the author apparently despised and under whom he swore he would never serve again if he re-enlisted. These two officers were undoubtedly Col. James Ronald Chalmers, and Thomas W. White (who eventually took over the command of the regiment when Chalmers was promoted to Brigadier General) of the 9th Mississippi Regiment. Both Chalmers and White were from Hernando, Desoto county, Mississippi.
Reviewing the roster of the 9th Mississippi, I found a Lt. Moses Dwight McNeely of Co. K. Searching in Ancestry.com, I found that Moses Dwight McNeely (1837-1928) was the son of James F. McNeely (1808-1889) and Mary S. Johnston (1810-18xx) of Hernando, Desoto county, Mississippi. Believing this officer may be the author, I verified that he had a sister named Victoria (“Vic”) J. McNeely (1845-1866) — the recipient of this letter. Dwight’s brother Amos H. McNeely (1840-1863) — a private in Co. K — is also mentioned in the letter. Amos died on 3 March 1863 at Shelbyville, Tennessee. [Note: the author’s surname is spelled variously as McNeeley or McNeely in census and military records.]
Apparently McNeely did re-enlist in the 9th Mississippi but it was most likely after the Battle of Shiloh. Family records indicate that he fought in September 1862 at Munfordsville, Kentucky; in March 1863 at Thompson’s Station, Tennessee; in November 1863 at Missionary Ridge, Tennessee; in May 1864 at Resaca, Georgia; in September 1864 at Jonesboro, Georgia; and in November 1864 at Franklin, Tennessee.
After the war (1873), McNeely married Ida J. Mask and moved to Texas where he died in 1918.
Camp Bragg, Florida
January 1, 1862
Dear Sister Vic,
I received your’s and mother’s letter a few days since and now hasten to reply. It seems that I have not written for several weeks. I informed you all some time ago that I would curtail my correspondence unless you all wrote oftener. Perhaps you know now how one feels when denied the privilege of hearing from his dearest friends. I will write once a week regular as long as I receive a letter from home that often.
We all had another game of ball yesterday. It commenced about three o’clock in the evening and lasted until this morning three o’clock — or at least our side kept up the fire until that time. The guns at [Fort] Pickens ceased about 9 o’clock, only firing occasionally. We only fired some ten or twelve guns out of about 150 we have mounted. I never witnessed a more grand or beautiful scene that the ball and bomb flying through the air, from the ground to half a mile high, with the fuse lighted, it looks exactly like a shooting star. Some fell within a hundred yards of our quarters. Our men do not mind it anymore than a game with an India rubber ball. Several were engaged playing euchre and other games which they never ceased until called into lines for dress parade. The long roll was not beat at all. None killed or wounded on this side. Our damage is pretty heavy in consequence of the burning of naval stores.
It is now about twelve hours since the firing ceased. I presume it will not be resumed until some other event takes place. They fired into one of our small boats what caused the engagement this time. If we ever do turn loose all our guns on Pickens, I think we will knock it into a cocked hat in 48 hours. It will be the grandest and at the same time the most terrible scene ever chronicled in American history. [Just] think of two or three hundred bombs whistling through the air in one minute all in view.
I received Pah’s letter by [Pvt. Harper] Spann. He wished to know whether I thought we would be home before 27th March or not. I have not the least idea we will be disbanded before our time expires. The longer we stay, the tighter they are drawing the reigns on us. How would you like to stand on the beach, the bleak winds howling and hissing through the trees, all just because you did not take your haversack out to roll call some night. Such is our doom. Pah seemed to be surprised that I did not come home. I suppose he thinks I ought to re-enlist for that is the only way I could get a furlough. If I know myself well — as I think I do — I will breathe the breath of freedom once more e’re I sign away my last liberty. Even were I to enlist again, which I expect to do, I would see White & Chalmers sunk before I would join them. White will be a field officer in the new regiment. There is no chance for a man to rise here even if he merits it. You may look for me the last of March and not before.
My health is very good. I have gained 13 lb. in weight in the last month. About Amos’ clothing, I never took any receipt. He may have taken one (that is, Nesbit). He took the box to Pensacola and said he would see that it went through. About its contents, I can not say exactly what was in it. Amos ought to know. I sent everything he had except a checked shirt and rubber coat. I don’t know when I will be able to get his money as it is a scarce article here though I will as soon as possible. Write immediately.
Your brother, — Dwight