hidden history

This letter — addressed to the wife of Confederate General William B. Taliaferro in October of 1863 — was found hidden away in a bit of architecture during the demolishment, some 20 years ago, of an old stagecoach inn on the Kanawha River in West Virginia. My grandfather, Vic Stallard, a history buff, recognized it for its interest and offered the finder a pretty good trade. He swapped an old outboard motor for this record of family life and friendship at the height of the Civil War, and of the reaction of Tidewater Virginia to Lincoln’s first Emancipation Proclamation, issued only a few weeks before.

What follows is a quick-and-dirty transcript and (for me) a few fun questions. Did Sallie Lyons Taliaferro ever receive this message from Mary C. Jackson Mann (wife of Rev. Charles Mann of Ware Church)? Why was it hidden on a mail route hundreds of miles away from sender and recipient? Now that we’ve re-discovered it in Gran’s dresser drawer and he has asked me to look into its preservation, to which of a couple of logical Special Collections libraries might we offer it? And is Mary Mann really calling the Yankees “pumpkin-heads” in her botantical meditation, below?

Taliaferro, seated.

Gloucester Co.House Va
Octbr 18th

Miss Lizzi J. Mann

Mrs William B Taliaferro
Care of Honble James Lyons

October 18th 1862

I return your sheet thus promptly my dear friend, in order to thank you for your last, which was received by Wednesday’s Mail; & also to allay any apprehensions you may have with regard to the safety & quiet of our County.

We have neither seen, or heard of a Yankee since you left; every one is bright, & cheerful, & I may say hopeful for the future. The Servants all quiet, indeed I am inclined to believe the Stampede over.

Lincoln’s Proclamation was certainly vile in the extreme, but it seems to have made no impression here, excepting that of increased disgust & hatred for the writer, his Anathemas are powerless, & will return with vengeance upon himself. I assure you I have not heard of an individual who thought of leaving their home, to escape the evil to come.

Dr Wm has been obliged to postpone his visit to Richmond for the present, he has been quite an invalid, has had several Chills; day before yesterday I walked over to enquire after him, & found him, looking interesting in Gown, & Slippers; he missed the Chill yesterday, & I hope the attack is over. Our sympathies have been excited for several of our friends; Mr George Tabb has lost his youngest Daughter from Diptheria, she died at Aubrun.

Mrs Dr Coleman, formerly Miss Tucker, also lost a Child, indeed her only Child from the same awful, & apparently unmanageable disease; she had been in Richmond for some Months, & had left her Child with Martha Page, she reached here however ten days before its death; Mr Mann buried it at Eagle Point; & Georgia Tabb at Auburn, I have heard of no other cases, so must regard these as not indigenous, but rather isolated.

Mr Mann met with Mrs Bryan at the Court House on Wednesday, she reports George recovering, & says “he is a splendid fellow, so patient, & cheerful”, & many other encomiums, all of which I knew, but could not refrain from repeating, that you too might appreciate my Boy.

We hear almost every week from William, his last near Charlestown, contained quite an exciting account of a brush he had with the Yankee Picket in which two of our Men were killed, & a Lieutenant taken Prisoner, he does not give their names.

We have been quite busy for the last day or two, securing our Apples, — a Month since the Trees were loaded, & if they had matured, we should certainly have had twenty Barrels, they have decayed, & fallen however — in such quantities, that we have given Cartloads to the Hogs, & now have only three or four Barrels for the Winter, but these are splendid, the finest green Pippins. I hope many a cold Winter’s day may find us enjoying a pleasant chat over a good fire, & with a plate of the same fine Apples between us my dear friend.

The Elmington household sat the morning with me yesterday, they are unusually bright, & all look well.

I am glad to report your little ones well, it was my purpose to ride down to see them this week, but Mr Mann has had such frequent calls upon his Horse, that I have not had an opportunity of going out for more than two weeks.

Mrs Lloyd with Jane, & Minnie are to spend the Winter in Richmond, they informed me they would occupy the House opposite Mrs Hubards; Miss Sally Lee, & Cornelia intend making an effort to return to Alexandria, which I suppose they can accomplish by attaining a leave from our Yankee Masters at the Point.

It begins to look quite like Winter, the leaves are falling, and each night a frost threatens us, it is quite cold enough, but I am glad it is deferred, for our garden is so gay with Flowers that it would be a pity to have them nipped, the Dahlias, Verbenas, &c are in full blosson: we still have an abundance of Vegetables & are now enjoying Sweet Potatoes — and every thing around us is as quiet, & peaceful as if there were neither sin, sorrow, or Yankees in the World, we have one thing to remind us of the latter, & that is a Fine Pumpkin patch.

It was particularly kind in you my dear Mrs T- to give me the means of holding another talk with you, ’tis true, as you perceive, I have nothing worth saying, but I do not yet assume to have the wisdom to keep silent, except when important things are to be uttered.

Please give my love to the Genl & tell him we most highly appreciate his kind efforts in George’s behalf. Kiss the Children for me.

I hear Mr Warner T- is at home, but we have not seen him — the Dr is greatly amused at his Brothers report of their drinking Coffee at Sue’s, costing $2.50 per lb — we Country folks have learned to do without such luxuries.

Good bye my friend, with much love from us all
Ever yours truly.
Mary C Mann