You never know what you will find in an archival collection.
Back in June, I spent a day at Emory University, digging through their vast Civil War holdings, much of which were collected by the late (and great) Bell I. Wiley. I was focused on Atlanta Campaign materials, which is my current collection project.
In the age of the internet, I can get a great deal of prep work done ahead of time – assuming the finding aids and collection descriptions are accurate. Some are, some aren’t. Emory’s are pretty complete, and I was able to identify pretty much all the collections likely to have 1864 Western Theater material worth exploring.
This is good, because it really maximizes the productivity of the hours an outside researcher like myself (with limited time and budget) spends in an archive reading room. But it is also a little bit of bad, because I experience fewer unexpected windfalls, documents that are eye-catching even if they are not really related to the current research topic.
The key word, however, is “fewer.”
Here is a fascinating letter I found among the letters of George M. Edmonds, who served with the 1st Arkansas Infantry, in Cleburne’s Division. Edmonds’s letters date from 1864. This letter is completely different.
The letter is written by someone named F. V. Fuller. The finding aid does not tell me who Fuller was, or explain his connection to Edmonds. Fuller’s letter is dated 14 October 1862, written while at Winchester Virginia.
Let me quote a bit of it:
“[I] was in all the fights that was in MD. We had some hard fighting the grape shots and shells came like a hail storm we stood to them there our number was small but our hearts were large[.] I fired forty 9 rounds in that battle Sisano [?] Hoover shot some 65 rounds[.] I do not know how many rounds Amous Howard shot though he died the death of a brave soldier[.]
After the flag bearer had been shot down three times when the 3 man fell Amous Howard threw down his gun and seized the flag and said come on boys and follow me[.] He went about 7 stepts and was shot dead[.] The last words ever Sisano Hoover said to me he asked me if I was not wounded[.] Soon afterward we had to fawl back and he hollowed out that he was shot and they toled him to ly down and he broke to run and run till he fell dead[.] So it was out of our power to help him[.]
Lizy I begun to think that my days was numbered I am very thank full that I have been spaired this long and can have the pleasure of writing to you and family[.] I never go into a battle but what I think of you and maw and my little children[.]”
The misspellings are fairly common, and fairly understandable; I did insert some punctuation. One of the cool things phonetic spelling and grammar reveal, however, is word usage – the way people spoke. There’s one such clue here: “hollowed out” is, I think, Fuller’s way of saying “allowed how.”
So far, I haven’t turned up who F. V. Fuller was, or what regiment he belonged to. He’s not listed on the rolls of the 3rd Arkansas, the only regiment from that state engaged at Antietam; and broader searches turn up dozens of possible candidates in other units.
Amos (or Amous) Howard and Sisano (if that really is his actual name and not just a nickname) Hoover also turn up nothing.
Who knows? Maybe somebody reading this will have a lead. I would like to know if F. V. survived the war to return to Lizy, maw, and the family.