Young Confederate goes to fight, sees mostly sickness

Rob Neufeld Visiting Our Past
October 7, 2009 09:22 AM

The land is still country where Newfound Creek flows into Hominy Creek in west Buncombe and east Haywood counties. A century and a half ago, William F. Hall, age 24, left his Newfound farm to join the second wave of enlistments in the Confederate Army.

He and his young wife, Margaret Cole, had two babies — Jo, age 1, and Henry, just 1 month — and Margaret was with child. “Dear Wife,” William wrote Margaret from his first camp below Warm Springs (now called Hot Springs), on July 2, 1862, “I am feeling well at this time. … We had to carry our packs all the way. … I am giting a little rested now. We hain’t drilled any yet but it is getting dark.”

A miserable, lonely month passes before William, with others of the 60th Regiment of the N.C. Infantry, is mustered into service at Camp Smith in north Georgia. William McDowell, his regimental captain, promises pay soon. Hall is beset by worries: his wife’s workload and welfare; an unpaid debt; not hearing his babies’ voices. “My beloved companion,” he writes, “I must close my badly written leter by saying I am your beloved husband until death.”

In October at Camp Martin in east Tennessee, a staging ground for the drawn-out, brutal battles there, William is afflicted by the flu, the measles and one of the biggest killers in the Civil War, diarrhea. He hears news of Confederate successes — like the Battle of Lexington — but the news of Confederate disasters does not filter through. Yet another kind of disaster is happening at hand: death through sickness.

“I had rather be any place else than here at the hospital,” William writes Margaret, as he’s left behind in an unsanitary trap. He hears that he has a new son, Thomas, and instructs his wife to use his bounty to buy “Elvina’s hog.” “If I see you nomore,” he closes, “I hope to meet you and the children in a better world where there is no war nor parting with wif and children.”

In mid-May, 1863, the word comes: Anyone who can walk has to fight. William goes to join his regiment, heading toward Vicksburg. Too sick, he’s put in a camp hospital in Lauderdale Springs, Miss. (where today there is a major Confederate cemetery).

William Hall’s letters to his wife, published in J.L. Mashburn’s new volume, “Hominy Valley Revisited,” end on Aug. 7, 1863. Volume XIV of “North Carolina Troops” reports that Hall was killed at Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863. Mashburn reports that Margaret lived 61 years beyond.

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