A few years ago I purchased something called The Civil War Collection. Rather than being a book on the war, it's a box that aptly calls itself a "museum in a box." This is because it contains reproductions of period materials such as a recruitment flyer, a life insurance policy for a slave, Lee's Richamond telegram announcing Jackson's death, etc. Material for the box came from places like the National Archives and the Museum of the Confederacy. Bob Zeller, who was involved in putting the whole thing together, wrote a little booklet for the box so you know what you're looking at. Basically so that everything has a little more meaning as you don't have to wonder about what all of it was and why it was put in.
Among the reproduction "relics" in the box is Private James Robert Montgomery's last letter to his father. Montgomery served in the 11th Mississippi Infantry, Company A, and on May 10, 1864 he was serving as a courier for General Heth. During the fighting he was struck by a shell fragment, recieving a mortal wound. As he lay dying he wrote the following letter:
Spotsylvania County, Va. May 10 Dear Father
This is my last letter to you. I went into battle this evening as courier for Genl. Heth. I have been struck by a piece of shell and my right shoulder is horribly mangled & I knowdeath is inevitable. I am very weak but I write to you because I know you would be delighted to read a word from your dying son. I know death is near, that I will die far from home and friends of my early youth but I have friends here too who are kind to me. My friend Fairfax will write you at my request and give you the particulars of my death. My grave will be marked so that you may visit it if you desire to do so, but it is optionary with you whether you let my remains rest here or in Miss. I would like to rest in the grave yard with my dear mother and brothers but it's a matter of minor importance. Let us all try to reunite in heaven. I pray my God to forgive my sins and I feel that his promises are true that he will forgive me and save me. Give my love to all my friends. My strength fails me. My horse and my equipments will be left for you. Again, a long farewell to you. May we meet in heaven.
Your dying son,
Montgomery didn't die until the morning of the 14th.
What an intriguing collection. The young Montgomery's letter is so touching.
By coincidence, last night I read about the movements of Heth's division on May 9, the day on which your young man was wounded. Lee had devised a plan to crush Hancock's 2nd Corps, and sent Heth to move against Hancock's rear as part of a pincer.
It's in Gordon Rhea's The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7-12, 1864, the second in his quadrilogy about Grant's Overland Campaign.
I'm going to re-read those pages, thinking about this letter as representative of all the dying men on both sides.
Sheeze. You're not suppose to get people crying at 10 in the morning! That was a very sad and touching letter. One that was hard for the father to receive I know. It makes you wonder what his remaining life was like for those last four days.