Fantasy & Reality: A South Carolinian Marches North, Part 3

Part of a Series

Read Part 1 and Part 2

The Pennsylvania Campaign took Taliaferro Simpson (Tally) away from camp life, and he had less time to write letters. However, from the late July and early August letters when he told family members details about the campaign, it is fairly easy to piece together experiences he wanted to share and also to conclude that Miss Fannie Smith—the girl he had never met—was still on his mind. He really wanted his young cousin, Carrie, to cut a piece of Fannie’s hair and send it to him.[i]

“Tally” Simpson in 1861

The 3rd South Carolina Infantry formed part of Kershaw’s Brigade in McLaws’s Division of the First Corps under General James Longstreet. In a letter dated June 26, 1863, Tally told his sister Mary about marching northward and over the mountains in the rain. He believed the army was confident in General Lee’s ability to gain a victory.[ii] Like many Confederate soldiers, Tally enjoyed the beauty of the Pennsylvania countryside but offered negative comments about the local citizens. He griped that the locals did not know how to make biscuits and that all the women were ugly.

It is possible that the women were frowning from the treatment they received from Confederates. While many soldiers would later highlight the orders Lee had given to not steal civilian property, not every brigade and division enforced the high-standards. Tally explained that while he did not threaten farmers and didn’t take more than some cherries, other soldiers in his regiment and brigade did much more while the officers watched. Tally claimed he saw General Lee himself watching soldiers steal chickens and when the civilian woman appealed to the general, he seemed to not hear and rode away.[iii]

Tally wrote to Aunt Caroline from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on June 28, explaining, “We are still on the march northward, and there is no telling where we will stop – nor am I able to say to what we are destined.”[iv] In Chambersburg, Tally noted that many of the northern women had pinned Union flags to their dresses and many of them actively tried to persuade the enslaved men to hide and escape from their enslavers in the Confederate army.[v] Neither of the two enslaved men with Tally at that time escaped, much to his satisfaction.

Ultimately, he concluded about the land and northern people: “It is certainly a delightful country to live in, to those who are firmly impressed with the abolition principle. But give me the land of Dixie with a pretty and good little southern wife.”[vi]

Tally continued to consider Miss Fannie Smith as a likely candidate for his “good little southern wife.” As he marched through Maryland and Pennsylvania, he carried a clipped image in his pocket or haversack and was starting to dream about her by day and night. Later, he explained to his Cousin Carrie:

“I had a dream last night, and I thought I saw her dressed magnificently. I was much pleased with her, but so scared I couldn’t say a word to her. I had several very pleasant dreams about her, and my day dreams are continually of the “Fair Unknown.” …I picked up a pamphlet some time ago and found a portrait of a most magnificent looking lady. I showed it to Harry, and he declared that it looked exactly like Miss F. I looked at it hard and studied it well. Then I cut it out and put it carefully away to look at it every now and then for my own gratification. It is before me now, and I imagine I see Miss F in all her glory. This may make you laugh, but you must excuse me as this is one of my weak points.”[vii]

Tally may have been daydreaming of the “Fair Unknown” while the Confederate army began concentrating and the roads funneled the soldiers toward the seat of Adams County: Gettysburg. Perhaps the thought of this idealized young woman continued to inspire him on July 2, 1863, when Kershaw’s Brigade went into battle, attacking Union troops in the infamous Peach Orchard along Emmitsburg Road. Like many soldiers, Tally did not write much about his battle experience. Weeks later he got around to telling one of his sisters that he had had a narrow escape, though. Two artillery shell fragments hit him. The first fell on his back but did not have enough force to wound him. The second —“It struck the ground in front and to the left of my left shoulder (I was lying down), made a hole in my canteen, and went through my haversack, leaving a hole as large as my hand almost. If it had struck me before it ricocheted, it would have killed me.”[viii]

Kershaw attacking the Peach Orchard (Alfred Waud, Library of Congress)

By mid-July after the Confederate army had retreated back to Virginia, Tally had time to start his regular correspondence again and on the 18th, he offered his views on the Confederacy’s situation and the battle of Gettysburg:

“Ere this reaches its destination you will have heard of the terrible battle of Gettysburg and the fate of a portion of our noble Army. I am a good deal of Pa’s nature—extremely hopeful. But I must confess that this is a gloomy period for the Confederacy. One month ago our prospects were as bright as could well be conceived. Gallant Vicksburg, the Gibraltar of the West and the pride of the South, has fallen the victim of merciless foe. Port Hudson has surrendered unconditionally and it is now reduced to a fact that cannot be disputed that the Mississippi is already or must very soon be in the possession of the Yankees from its source to its mouth. And what good will the Trans Mississippi be to the Confederacy thus cut off?

“A few weeks ago Genl Lee had the finest Army that ever was raised in ancient or modern times—and command by as patriotic and heroic officers as ever drew a sword in the defense of liberty. But in an unfortunate hour and under disadvantageous circumstances he attacked the enemy, and tho he gained the advantage and held possession of the battlefield and even destroyed more of the foe than he lost himself, still the Army of the Potomac lost heavily and is now in a poor condition for offensive operations.”[ix]

In the same letter, Tally wrote in a desponding tone, fearing that Miss Smith did not like the present he had sent (maybe the flowers from Marye’s Heights?) and that young men in the home community would secure her attention and affections before he could meet her in person.[x]

A couple weeks later, his perspective on the military situation had improved, and he had achieved a pinnacle of 19th Century secret relationships when his cousin finally sent him a piece of Miss Fannie’s hair! His imaginations were dramatic and “scandalously” vivid as he thought about her hair flowing over her figure. Somewhat disturbing was the later revelation that Cousin Carrie had sent the lock of hair without Miss Smith’s permission or knowledge.

“Your sweet little letter came to hand yesterday afternoon and occasioned me the most exquisite pleasure imaginable. That precious lock of —– I will keep with me all the time and will prize it more highly than any thing in my possession. I shall endeavor to make it a source of benefit to me by allowing it to prompt me to perform more fully my duties to myself and country. I must here thank you kindly once more for your unceasing labors in my behalf, and more especially for the little present contained in the blue envelope. It is beautiful, and I can almost see her before meat this moment with those rich, flowing locks decorating her magnificent form.”[xi]

Tally’s impatience grew, and he tasked Cousin Carrie with another mission:

“…borrow, if possible, one of her daguerreotypes, and the first opportunity, have one taken from it and send it to me, for I am anxious to see what kind of a looking “cretur” she is. I would prefer a simple photograph, as it can be sent in a letter and be carried on my person much more conveniently. You may open your eyes at this request, but is it not a natural one? After you get one from her, you can get Buddie or some safe person going to Anderson to take it with them and have a nice photograph taken from it, and it can be easily sent to me. This would afford me much pleasure, but if you and Aunt C decide it impracticable and improper, it will make no difference, as such an amount of trouble and difficulty is borne upon the face of it that I have not set my heart upon getting it.”[xii]

By August, Tally had started asking his sister Mary what she thought of the idea of having Fannie Smith as a sister-in-law.[xiii] Around the same time, his sister Anna began writing some probing questions and mentioned that Cousin James Simpson might be already present and interested in Miss Smith’s attentions. Tally made light of Anna’s concerns, justified himself, claimed to be guided by Aunt Caroline’s wisdom, and asked his sister to not be prejudiced.[xiv] He wrote to his supportive aunt that he wanted a furlough now that they were allowed again, but he did not think he would be allowed to have one. Tally continued to ask for a photograph of Miss Smith, and worried over more local gossip that he had been or was engaged to Miss Sue Lee.[xv]

Tally’s sister Anna wrote a letter which he received around the beginning of September and “winced under its severity.” Anna was like “the Spanish Inquisition” or “Nero” or “an old shot gun” as she peppered him with concerns about his romantic fantasies. Tally reverted to downplaying and justifying:

“You strongly intimate that I am nothing better than a weak and blind lad led headlong into a love affair, without the sense to see for myself, without the judgment to judge for myself, and without decision of character enough to decide for myself. This is entirely a mistake unless I am actually as you say.

“The matter, so far as I know, commenced and stands thus. Aunt C made her acquaintance and was pleased. As soon as she wrote to me, she told me about her and mentioned the fact that she wanted her for my sweetheart. Upon reading a description of the lady and listening to H’s eulogies upon the same, I saw no objection in saying to Aunt C that she might speak a good word to Miss F in my behalf and that on my return home, if she pleased me, I perhaps would address her if I thought I stood a good chance…. As the affair has been carried on [neither] she nor any one else can suppose for a moment that by such a course I will eventually become so entangled as not to be able to extricate myself honorably. Aunt Caroline has said all along that she had my interest at heart….

“Thus you see that I am not led along against my will, neither am I rushing “down the hill” blindly and recklessly, but of my own free choice, with my eyes open to all dangers that may threaten me along my pathway. I agree with you entirely as regards your opinion of matchmaking. There is nothing I abhor so literally as a match made for a young man and he is to marry a girl only from what he had heard of her without knowing anything of himself. Do you suppose that, feeling thus on that subject, I would go straightway and commit the blunder that I abhor so in others….”[xvi]

Whether Tally was as “unattached” as he protested to his sister is doubtful and unclear. He had spent the better part of a year thinking about Miss Fannie Smith and gathering information about her. Was it honorable? Was it fair to Miss Smith? Was it long-distance stalking? Or was it merely an imaginative escape for his mind—something to fixate on beyond the war and loss?

Tragically, Tally never saw Miss Smith, and the love story he wanted never had a chance to grow in reality. The 3rd South Carolina went with Longstreet’s First Corps into the Western Theater, arriving in time to fight at the battle of Chickamauga. On September 20, 1863, Taliaferro Simpson died on the battlefield. When his comrades found his body, there was a bullet through his heart, his left arm had been broken, and a piece of artillery cannister had gone through his head. They wrote to his family, trying to assure them that Tally had been killed instantly and the other injuries must have happened as he fell.[xvii] The regimental chaplain and several enslaved men buried Tally on the battlefield, and a few weeks later, Harry Miller (Tally’s cousin and Aunt Caroline’s son) oversaw the exhumation of Tally’s body so it could be transported back to South Carolina and buried in the family plot. “He was a most gallant young man, and by his many good qualities had won the esteem of the whole regiment,” wrote Colonel J. D. Nance of the 3rd South Carolina.[xviii]

With Tally’s death, Miss Fannie Smith—a refugee whose life and character filled the pages of Aunt Caroline, Cousin Carrie, and Tally’s letters—slipped back into obscurity. Researchers have found one additional clue to her identity and life beyond Tally’s infatuations which she may have never known about. A female friend penned a diary entry in March 1865 stating that Fannie Smith was in still in mourning for Harry Miller—Tally’s cousin—after his death at the battle of Cedar Creek in October 1864. Five months of mourning hints at some sort of a relationship, leading to contextual speculation that perhaps Cousin Harry succeeded in the winning the heart of the girl that Tally had spent so many hours dreaming about.

Tally’s romantic rumor troubles, his aunt’s matchmaking, and his own imaginations of the “Fair Unknown” played out in the foreground of the winter, spring, and summer of 1863 until they ended suddenly with his death…leaving the story unfinished. His hopes unfulfilled, and her heart and true interests never clarified. His wish had been complicated and yet simple for his future beyond the war: to marry: “a woman of a pure mind and heart, of an amiable disposition, and possessed of domestic qualities, and if I can ever succeed in winning her heart wholly and entirely, I will be perfectly satisfied.”[xix]


[i] Richard Simpson and Taliaferro Simpson, edited by Guy R. Everson and Edward W. Simpson, Jr., Far, far from home: The wartime letters of Dick and Tally Simpson, Third South Carolina Volunteers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), page 247-248.

[ii] Ibid., page 248-249.

[iii] Ibid., page 262.

[iv] Ibid., page 250.

[v] Ibid., page 264.

[vi] Ibid., page 263.

[vii] Ibid., page 259.

[viii] Ibid., page 267.

[ix] Ibid., page 257.

[x] Ibid., page 257.

[xi] Ibid., page 265-266.

[xii] Ibid., page 266.

[xiii] Ibid., page 267.

[xiv] Ibid., page 272.

[xv] Ibid., page 275-276.

[xvi] Ibid., page 277-282.

[xvii] Ibid., page 284.

[xviii] Ibid., page 288.

[xix] Ibid., page 238.

2 Responses to Fantasy & Reality: A South Carolinian Marches North, Part 3

  1. Having spent some time in a war zone, I can add that while the war is ever present, you also know that life back home is passing you by. I expect Tally was more aware of this reality than most.

    1. Thanks for adding this insightful and helpful comment, Tom.
      I think there is a sense of that in Tally’s writings, especially by the end of 1862 and into 1863.

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