Friday, March 18, 2011

A Fine Place

Elbridge Gerry Littlejohn was a typical Confederate soldier. He was born near Gaffney, South Carolina, on January 3, 1841. The young Elbridge received the proper education for an antebellum Southern gentleman, attending an academy at Limestone Springs, South Carolina, where he learned to read both Latin and Greek classics “with a considerable degree of accuracy.” The headmaster of his school, J. Banks Lyle, commented that “few young men leave our Academies with morals so correct” and “with minds so well trained” as E.G. Littlejohn. In late November 1860, while all across Dixie stunned Southerners were considering how to respond to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President, “with much pleasure” Lyle commended the young man “to the consideration of any Southern community.” Just eight days after South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860, several prominent citizens of Spartanburg also recommended Littlejohn as a “young man of good morals and in good standing in our District.”

E. G. Littlejohn was soliciting these recommendations at the end of 1860 for he was about to move to Texas. Apparently, as soon as school let out for the Christmas holiday, Littlejohn jumped on his horse and headed for the Lone Star state. His fiancĂ©e and her family had moved to Texas earlier in the fall, and the attraction of love persuaded the young man to leave home and family behind and seek his fortune out west. By his wedding date, January 19, 1861, Littlejohn was already living in Smith County, Texas. For a little over a year, Littlejohn enjoyed his new married life, but the crisis of the times soon caught up with him, and in March 1862 he enlisted in the Confederate Army. Littlejohn joined Company G of the 10th Texas Cavalry, a regiment that just a month after his enlistment was dismounted and fought the remainder of the war as an infantry unit. From the spring of 1862 until May 1865 Littlejohn faithfully wrote his young wife, Sarah—or, “Sallie,” as he called her—telling her of his life as a Confederate soldier. Among those letters are two written from Kentucky, for the 10th Texas was among those Confederate forces that invaded the Bluegrass State in the fall of 1862.

Before the Kentucky invasion, Littlejohn’s regiment had not seen much action. After spending some time in central Arkansas, Littlejohn had joined thousands of other Confederates from the trans-Mississippi who were transferred across the river to help defend the vital rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. After the battle of Shiloh, Corinth had become the headquarters for Confederate forces seeking to blunt the Union move through Tennessee and down the Mississippi River. However, General Beauregard soon decided the position was indefensible, and in late May he evacuated the city. While the boastful Confederate commander regarded the retreat as “equivalent to a great victory,” Private Littlejohn had another perspective. He wrote to his wife that while he expected the newspapers to describe the evacuation as “magnificent” and a “Glorious Retreat,” he assured her “it [was] anything else.” The inexperienced soldier confessed that he had never witnessed “any suffering” until his experiences in Corinth. The treatment of the sick and dying caused him special consternation.

Like many soldiers, Littlejohn encountered much sickness in the army camps. On June 3 he wrote that “our regiment has not more than 200 men able for duty,” for “everybody has the Diarrhea.” The young Texan admitted that even he had had “a mild form.” The rigors of camp life, he said, had produced “great dissatisfaction among the Texan boys;” they were sure it was the “water and the climate working upon them” to produce such sickness. Littlejohn advised his wife to tell her brother, Benton, “never to go to the army…as long as he can keep from it.” After what he had seen, the distressed young man assured his wife that her brother had no idea “about the hardships of military service.” Benton Jefferies, however, disregarded his brother-in-law’s words of caution and joined the Confederate Army; in November 1862 he succumbed to the sicknesses that Littlejohn warned of and died in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Invariably, when Littlejohn wrote to his wife he implored her to “earnestly pray” for him. The homesick soldier assured his wife that he kept her in his prayers, and he wanted her to so remember him. Like so many Southerners who served in the defense of their country, Littlejohn realized that both the fate of the nation and its cause as well as his own personal destiny was in the hands of a God who “directs all things for the better.” Thus, he comforted his worried wife with the promise that if they “should not meet [again] on earth,” they should “meet each other in heaven, where we will not have to shake parting hands any more.” On a more practical note, Littlejohn counseled his wife that he was committed to seeing the war through to its conclusion and that in this resolution he was determined “to keep good spirits and then go ahead,” for he said, “what good would it do to become despondent and low spirited?” Later in the War, when many Confederate soldiers were giving up and deserting the ranks, Littlejohn refused the temptation telling his wife that to leave the ranks would dishonor his name forever.

By July 1862, Elbridge Littlejohn was in Chattanooga. For the moment, Confederate forces there were immobilized, as was the Army of Mississippi now commanded by Braxton Bragg, while Union forces slowly worked their way down the Tennessee River and across northern Mississippi towards the strategic city. On the twentieth of the month, Littlejohn exulted to his wife over the “signal victory of Gen. Forrest at Murfreesboro and around Nashville, and those of Morgan in Kentucky.” Indeed, all the Confederacy took hope at the daring cavalry raids of the intrepid Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan. These raids not only slowed the Federal advance but they also planted an idea in the strategic thinking of the Confederate high command. General Bragg decided to move the Confederate armies northward into Kentucky, duplicating on a larger scale the cavalry operations, and hoping that this move would not only relieve Tennessee but also gain Kentucky recruits for the Southern cause and perhaps even bring the Bluegrass State into the Confederacy.

Elbridge Littlejohn entered Kentucky as a part of Ector's Brigade, McCown's Division, Confederate Army of Kentucky. While marching from the Cumberland Gap towards Richmond, the Texas soldier reported that the Confederates “did not meet with many friends.” However, he said, as they “advanced farther into the state, the friends of secession became more numerous.” News of a “federal force ahead of us” must have made the young man anxious, for he had never been in battle yet. “Early in the morning” of August 30, 1862, Littlejohn and his messmates caught the sound of “heavy artillery firing;” then, as they hurried forward, “soon we heard the small arms open.” At this point, he confessed “I knew that the long expected moment was near at hand.” Littlejohn’s account of the Battle of Richmond follows closely the later official reports. While the 10th Texas was involved in “trying to flank them on the right,” the men of General Patrick Cleburne’s brigade “were pouring it to them on the left. They could not stand the fire and broke to run. Our brigade outflanked them and commenced firing on them as they run. They could not stand this and soon surrendered. Another part ran on farther and formed a line of battle behind a little hill. Our men advanced on them slowly until we came in sight of them….The Feds fought bravely,” he conceded, “but could not stand the charge of our boys, in which we took one battery. They ran then in every direction.”

Like so many soldiers in the War Between the States, Littlejohn became a casualty in this battle. After the first charge, he could not continue and had to “sit it out.” His inability to continue the fight was not the result of a wound, however, but the result of diarrhea. This scourge of both armies took more lives over the course of the War than did battlefield wounds, and it temporarily incapacitated many more, both during battle and at other times. Littlejohn frequently reported to his wife of his bouts with the illness. He seemed to feel no shame in confessing to his wife that the attack on his bowels was so severe “that I could not keep up. We had to run so much and being unwell I gave out just before the second fight commenced.” However, he was close enough to the fighting that “the balls fell around me where I was sitting as thick as hail.” At some point he was able to regain his feet and catch up with his company. All in all, he admitted that the “day’s labor was the hardest ever I went through with.” Certainly the Texans did their part, for Littlejohn reported that the 10th Texas Dismounted Cavalry suffered fifty-two of the seventy-five killed and wounded in Ector’s Brigade.

After leaving Richmond the Confederates marched northward and “passed through several towns of importance…among which was Lexington.” The young man from Texas was much impressed with the city, declaring it a “fine place” that provided “the grandest display of secession feeling” he had ever seen. “The streets were thronged with men and women.” In addition, he related that the hoped for recruits from the Bluegrass State were “volunteering rapidly.” The 10th Texas ultimately reached the approaches to Covington before having to retreat “owing to the superior numbers of the enemy.” In spite of this setback, Littlejohn was sure the Confederates would once again “attack them in a few days,” and he promised his wife that he would write her all the details, “if I live.”

Like so many soldiers who wore the gray, Littlejohn seemed to take the horrors of war and difficulties of army life in stride. In his letters he commented matter-of-factly on the deaths of his comrades (including one killed at Richmond), and then he would turn his attention to more mundane matters. From Covington he informed her of his diet—“eight days without tasting bread, eating nothing but roasting ears, poor beef, and apples, and not half enough of that;” the condition of his clothing—“tolerable…with the exception of shirts,” but wearing “Yankee socks…which I took out of one of their knapsacks;” his health—“not been sick at all, only with the diarrhea, which is very common in camps;” and, his thoughts of home—“Sallie, I would like to hear from you very much.” Although his enlistment period would soon be completed, he expected he would have to “stay on a while longer.” He reassured his worried wife, however, that he would “come out safe and sound” and that she should not be “uneasy” about him.
Littlejohn’s Division did not participate in the Battle of Perryville, “a fortunate thing for us,” he admitted. Before he departed Kentucky, he had a chance to write one more letter detailing his experiences in our fair state. This letter is dated October 27, 1862, and was written from the Cumberland Gap. Although he said he could not give a “full account of our perambulations through the State of Kentucky,” he did give his wife some more highlights. He was disappointed that he had missed seeing Frankfort, but he went to some lengths to describe the hospitality and enthusiastic support of Kentuckians for the Confederacy. Littlejohn worried about these “zealous lovers of the Southern cause,” for he feared they would “suffer the malice and fiendish propensities of the infuriated clan that will follow us.” He was convinced that the depth of feeling he witnessed among Kentuckians—“I saw some men and women so rejoiced that they even burst into tears and shouts”—was the result of their having been “bowed down by oppression so long.” These people “were the kindest in the world to soldiers,” he said. “No matter what they had was not too good for the poor private.” He related how one Sunday morning he and another soldier had approached a house where they found “a very old woman sitting alone reading her Bible.” To their relief, they found her to be “true secession.” She invited them in, served them a meal, and then filled their canteens with milk and gave them “as much butter as we could carry.” They offered to pay her, but she would not take “one cent.” The homesick young husband told his “dear Sallie” that he had not “met with a better dinner since I left home.” The meal and the “kindnesses” of this unnamed Kentucky grandmother and the many others who made the soldiers feel welcome in the bluegrass made Littlejohn “think more of home than I had done for a long time.”

So, Elbridge Gerry Littlejohn took with him from Kentucky cherished memories of a kind and generous people. The young Texan would be wounded twice at the Battle of Murfreesboro, but would recover from his wounds and return to the ranks to serve to the end of the War. Although his name does not appear in the histories of the Confederate Kentucky campaign, he and many other largely anonymous soldiers in gray did what they could to bring the Bluegrass State into the Confederacy. Although their efforts were not successful, they could take pride in having done their duty and given their best in the cause of liberty.

Glen Spann, associate professor of history at Asbury College, is a descendant of Private E. G. Littlejohn.

Originally published in the Winter, 2007 issue of "The Lost Cause"

1 comment:

Frank said...

A very good article. It was easy to imagine being there, and feeling what that soldier was feeling. I cannot imagine the hardships that soldiers back then had to endure, particularly in the wintertime. Thank you - I will pass this along.