Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Confederate Love Letter

Since Valentine's Day is quickly approaching, I thought I'd share a love letter with you.

During the Civil War, soldiers had a pocket on their uniform called the "heart pocket" in which they kept letters and pictures from home. Isn't that incredibly romantic? The historical society in Tallassee recently produced a production by a local author called "Letters from the Heart Pocket" which featured letters, music and period costumes.

I don't have the original, but I have a copy of a letter that was sent from my 3rd greatgrandfather, Franklin Carter Hilyer (about 1821-1864) to his wife, Edith Colon Pettus Hilyer (1828-1879), while he was serving as a Confederate soldier.


Here's the first page. It reads - 

August the 5

Georgia Atlanta

Dear wife and children, I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at the time. I hope this letter may reach you and find you all well. I was out on picket and have just got in and had a right smart fight. There is men killed every day at the biggest works from the picket lines by the stray balls. They fight with the cannon every day. I will tell you we are getting almost nothing to eat. Collen I have not heard from you in a month. I want to hear from you mighty bad. I long to see you all so now more at _______ on only I remain yours on ____________  _____________.

F.C. Hilyer to E.C. Hilyer

The back page really got to me - as a descendant and genealogist, but especially as a mother.

A few words to my children. Children big and little. I long you to remember me and obey your mother.

Thomas Griffith

F.C. Hilyer to his beloved children

I (want?) the boys to wash that biggest _________ star in the barn.

Collen you may kiss the baby for me.


Here's what I found out about picket duty.

Picket - An advance outpost or guard for a large force was called a picket. Ordered to form a scattered line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance, a picket guard was made up of a lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 4 corporals, and 40 privates from each regiment. Picket duty constituted the most hazardous work of infantrymen in the field. Being the first to feel any major enemy movement, they were also the first liable to be killed, wounded, or captured. And the most likely targets of snipers. Picket duty, by regulation, was rotated regularly in a regiment. (

The term "works" refers to fortifications.

The fact that he names not only his wife, but his children individually is GENEALOGY GOLD!!!

More on Franklin Carter Hilyer

I'm sure he had very little schooling because his spelling and grammar were less than perfect, and I struggled with translating some of it. The original contains a lot of phonetic spelling. But the gist is clear - war is hell and he missed his family.

The baby he mentions on the second page was Thomas Griffith Hilyer. He was born on April 30, 1864. Frank probably never even saw him.

Frank was admitted to the St. Mary's Hospital in LaGrange, Georgia, on July 3, 1864. He was probably treated for an intestinal illness and not an injury because he was returned to duty on July 12th. (For every one soldier killed in battle, an average of two died of disease.)

I know O'Neal's 26th of Alabama was involved in the Battle of Atlanta on August 31, 1964. Since his letter was written on August 5, I assume he is still alive for this battle. However, I believe this is where he was killed. He never makes it home. I believe he is buried in an unmarked grave in or around Atlanta.

Here are the few records I do have on him.

He is listed (by age) with his father, James Hillyer/Hilliard, in the 1830 census in Meriwether, GA.

He is listed (by age) with his father in the 1840 census in Stewart, GA.

He marries Edith Colon Pettus in Coosa County in 1843.

He is listed as a farmer in the 1850 census for Hatchett Creek, Coosa Co., AL.

He is listed as a farmer in the 1860 census in Coosa Co. His real estate is valued at $1500 and his personal property is valued at $5000.

I also believe that I have found him on the 1860 slave census. He is listed as F. Hillier (born around 1825) and owns three slaves: a 35 year old woman and her two children - a 12 year old female and a 2 year old male.

In the Alabama census of 1866, Eady is listed as head of household, so I know he died sometime in the war.

So far, this is all I have on Frank. As I said, he was my 3rd greatgrandfather. I have names going back another six generations, but I don't have solid proof on them yet.

I have decided to focus my energy this year on proving my Hilyer line as far back as possible. I also intend to work on my Gafford line. These are the two main arteries of my genealogy. For years, I have gone where ever the genealogy winds took me, but I want to nail these down. Wish me luck!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
Please take a moment to sign up to receive new posts by email.

I wouldn't want you to miss one crazy thing...

No comments:

Post a Comment