Flournoy’s Civil War letters at ADAH

Published 2:16 am Saturday, December 31, 2016

In September 1910, a package arrived at the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) addressed to Director Thomas M. Owen. Inside the box were letters from Covington County Confederate Soldier Elisha Kindred Flournoy written to his wife, Martha Charlotte (Haygood) Flournoy. Widowed for more than 20 years, Mrs. Flournoy had decided to present her husband’s writings to her to the ADAH instead of leaving them to her six surviving children. There the letters would remain for more than 90 years before their number and details would become known to her descendants.

In the 1960s, Mrs. Idalyn (McGill) Stinson, a great granddaughter to the Flournoys, wrote to the ADAH asking to have typed copies of the letters. She eventually received three. Not knowing the exact number, Mrs. Stinson assumed there were only three letters in the collection. She shared the copies with other interested Flournoy relatives.

In 2003 a great, great grandson, Marcel Bane, went to the ADAH to see the actual letters. After filling out the request form and after waiting more than half an hour, an ADAH worker brought out not a folder with three letters, but a box containing 45 letters. They were all amazingly intact and very readable. However, the faded ink would not copy well. Mr. Bane decided to copy the letters by hand exactly as his great, great grandfather Flournoy had written them about 145 years earlier. For longer than 18 months, Mr. Bane traveled on a monthly basis to Montgomery to the ADAH to complete this project. The letters were long, often five and six pages, front and back. Elisha’s handwriting was so good that only six words in the 45 letters were not legible.

The first letter is dated June 22, 1862, in Petersburg, Va. The last letter is from Florence, Ala., and dated November 20, 1864. In the two and a half years between the first and last letters, Elisha wrote from Vicksburg, Miss.; Demopolis, Ala; Chickamauga, Ga.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Newnan, Ga; Dalton, Ga.; Marietta, Ga; Atlanta, Ga.; Lovejoy, Ga.; Palmetta, Ga.; and Gadsden Ala. Obviously the 45th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Company H., of which Elisha Flournoy was a member, saw action in various War Between the States battles, especially those at Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and Atlanta as the majority of the letters were written from these three areas.

From a Confederate hospital in Petersburg, Va., Elisha wrote to his wife, Martha, of his capture by Union forces near Port Gibson, Miss. He became a part of a prisoner exchange on the James River in Virginia. He was first taken by Union forces to Grand Gulf, Miss., then across the Mississippi River to Richmond, La. From there he was transferred up river to Memphis, St. Louis, and finally to a Union prison camp in Alton, Ill. After approximately a month, Elisha was sent by train to Camp Martin, Ind. From there the prisoners were shipped to Pittsburg, Pa., and on to Baltimore, Md.

Elisha was then placed on a boat, which crossed the Chesapeake Bay, and after a prisoner exchange on the James River, he ended up in a Confederate hospital. Elisha wrote of the crowded train car conditions, the lack of enough food, and the harsh treatment by his Union captors. He concluded by saying he didn’t want to dwell on the experience any longer.

Poor living conditions among the Confederate soldiers is evidenced by Elisha’s letters from Vicksburg, Miss. He wrote of rations of “weevil-eaten” rice, and commented that at home he ate more in a day than in a week at Vicksburg. And while hungry himself, he advised Martha to work her crop at home so that she would have enough to eat, even to the point of telling her who to hire to help her and how much to pay them. As in most of his letters, Elisha wrote of not knowing whether he would ever see Martha again and of realizing how happy they were before the war.

The yeoman farmer of the plain folk class of Southerners had never traveled anywhere but his birth state of Georgia in 1838 and Alabama where he was living by 1850. Therefore, the customs and practices he encountered in other places were foreign to him. He was shocked at the price of bought food in Vicksburg; cakes and pies costing one dollar each drew his wrath. He commented, “I never et a town cake or pie, nor do I ever expect to.” And while not at all happy with his own situation, he ended the letter advising Martha as to how to make her life on the home front easier. And as always, he ended his letter with “I remain your husband. E.K. Flournoy.”

The Vicksburg military campaign must have had an extreme impact on Elisha. His letters from there are full of gloom and feelings of hopelessness. “There is so much wickedness here that I have become disgusted and turned for the better.” The poor diet and living conditions of the Confederate army did not bypass Elisha; he frequently mentioned “dysentery, diarrhea and fevers.” Perhaps this led to his being so happy later when he wrote of good drinking water in Demopolis, Ala. Yet despite his own sufferings and homesickness, he always advised and consoled his wife, Martha, at home.

The war also brought out a practical side of Elisha Flournoy. From Dalton, Ga., on April 15, 1864, he wrote to Martha about doing his own washing of clothes. He commented, “All the boys tell me they do not know how I keep myself and clothes so clean.” So, Elisha washed for his fellow soldiers for money and extra rations; one piece of laundry was 50 cents.

By 1864, the war had turned for the worse for the Confederates. Elisha wrote from Georgia on June 13, 1864: “I never have experienced such a destruction of crops, fences, houses and everything else in life.” Later he added, “We will be the worst whipped people that has ever been in existence.” Weeks later on September 9, 1864, from Lovejoy Station, Ga., Elisha wrote: “The Yanks are in heavy force against us,” and that “the Yanks outnumber us about 10 to one.” The conditions were so bad that on September 13, 1864, he again wrote from Lovejoy: “I have suffered more both in body and mind during this campaign than I ever shall be able to express.”

The depth of the South’s misery and defeat is brought into the open in an April 15, 1864, letter from Dalton, Ga. As desertion rates increased the Confederate military had to make examples of deserters. Elisha wrote, “There is five men to be shot to death this day from desertion; oh, my dear, what a dreadful thought.” He added that they were fellow Alabamians from the 28th Alabama Regiment. Elisha ended by saying, “I expect to try to live so as to keep from being shot by my own fellow soldiers. I trust in my god for protection.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis drew Elisha’s wrath for the deserters’ executions. He referred to Davis as “Ole Jeff.”

With the surrender of the South at the end of the war, Elisha returned home to Pike County, Ala. He soon took the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Government in Troy. Near the end of 1865, he and Martha moved to the Rose Hill-Burnout area of Northeastern Covington County. There in 1868 their first child, Katie, was born. She was followed by Mattie, Ida Belle, Atticus, Charles, James, John, and Lillie.

Elisha Flournoy died suddenly in January 1889 while working in his fields with his son, Atticus. He was buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery. The sons all left the Rose Hill area and are buried in other places; however all four daughters are buried in the Flournoy-Wyatt plot in the Rose Hill Cemetery.

After 1900, Martha Flournoy left Rose Hill and moved to Opp to live with her daughter, Mattie Blocker, and to be near her daughter, Lillie Radford. At her death in 1914 she was interred next to Elisha in the Rose Hill Cemetery.

The only known descendants of Elisha and Martha Flournoy now residing in Covington County are descendants of their daughter, Katie Wyatt. Martin Wyatt, Rena Wyatt Eiland and Laura Wyatt Hammett were Katie’s oldest children and the Flournoy’s oldest three grandchildren. Their descendants are many in Covington County.

Anyone who might have a question regard this writing is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL; 334-804-1442; or Email: cthomasson@centurytel.net. He is happy to share this history, which was made available to him.