Most soldiers who fought during the Civil War traveled hundreds and even thousands of miles with their regiments during the four years of the conflict. Enlistees from Texas fought in Virginia. Men from Maine marched to Georgia. Units from Portsmouth traveled to eastern Virginia as well as Vicksburg, Atlanta, and New Orleans.
It was rare that a company of soldiers would stay within walking distance to their home. But this was the case for John E.W. Morgan, who enlisted in Chapman’s battery of Virginia artillery in April 1862. John was the great-great-grandfather of the McNeer family of Portsmouth. Harry (Mick) McNeer compiled many of the letters written between him and his wife Susan and are presented in a book “The Letters of John and Susan Morgan.” I thank his sister Mamie (McNeer) Snook for allowing me to read the book and relate some of their letters to you.
The Morgan family, including two daughters and one on the way, lived in Union, WVa. (near Lewisburg).. After John left for the war, his wife and children moved to Susan’s grandparent’s home southeast of Roanoke, Va. Usually the wife would write her soldier husband how the farm was doing, how each member of the family were, asking questions about business matters that needed to be handled back home, and of course, the gossip of the day. But with the Morgan family, it was the other way around. When John enlisted in Chapman’s battery, he was stationed near Narrows, Va., on the New River, less than 40 miles from his home. He requested and was granted several furloughs to return to his farm to check the crops, barn and house.
“I was at home last week a few days. Mr. Cloney was getting along tolerably well. The corn is as good as I see anywhere. The wheat is not good as we generally have. The meadow is good. Pasture tolerable. Mr. Nickell’s sheep hurt it some as a general thing. The wheat crop is very good in the country and I believe that it is the intention of the war department at this time to defend it…The news from Richmond here is very cheering but it is not necessary for me to give it in detail as you will hear it more correct before this reaches you, if you have not already.
“I seen your Pa yesterday. He preached (he was a Methodist minister) for the 22nd Regiment. Your sister, Malvina, was over with him. Col Barbee was waiting on her very attentively, for what I can’t say not knowing much about his general character. Living is getting pretty ruff here now. Our stock of coffee is entirely exhausted. Bacon scarce. We get mutton, but our means of cooking it is bad. We have to use crackers about half of our time. But we can get plenty of butter. If I could get some vegetables I could get on fine.
“Give my love to children and tell them that I will come and see them as soon as I can. Give my love to Grandpa and Grandma and all inquiring friends.”