Gemima Poteet Wadkins’ second oldest brother, Henry Poteet, enlisted as a private in Company D, 9th Regiment NC Troops (1st Cavalry), at Camp Vance, 1 October 1863, at the age of 44. Her brother Francis, a year older than her at 36, enlisted on 2 October 1863. Amazingly, he enlisted in Co A, 49th NC, the same company his brother-in-law, George Wadkins, had died in at Sharpsburg a year earlier. When I stop to think about this for a moment, it seems quite morbid and sad. It seems he is just replacing his dead brother-in-law for manpower. It had to be hard each time a family sent a husband, son, or brother off to war. I would think sending him off to the very company your husband or son-in-law died in might somehow be even more difficult. I read someone who is working to digitize the letters of the Civil War for North Carolina state that the Poteet letters are “by far the most depressing.” The knowledge of his brother-in-law’s death in this regiment-and his older brother’s death so shortly after returning home-may explain why Francis’s letters seem so hopeless. Perhaps he felt a dark shadow of foreboding cast over him even more so than some others.
Francis wrote at least five letters home to his wife Martha Hendley Poteet during his second month away, between November 3 and November 23, 1863.
In 3 Nov 1863 letter, Francis writes to his wife of his wish to desert and that he hopes to see her by Christmas. It sounds as if he has thought out a plan, discussed it with others and written home about it before but that the letter did not make it to his wife. It mentions the poor conditions, food, and lack of payment, yet the dress parade every night. The letter also mentions how he wishes he could see his sister (Gemima):
“Camp near Kingston NC November 3 1863
“My Dear Wife and Children was <????> the 29 of oct and was glad to hear from you and hear that you was better I am well but not satsfied I want you to tell Mr <M??d> to git up that paper and git evry body to sine it that he can and I will do all that I can for him I left Weldon Monday morning I <mit?> your letter thare I am at Kingston I dident git any thing to eat til Just now I Just thot that I could not git thare dinner Come to day about 4 clock you dont know what I have to stand you Rote Somthing Sis I would love to see her and all of the ballans of you but
“Lord knows whether I ever will are not Sumtimes I think that I Will Runaway I would like for you to Rite to me about that tha is Eight ar ten will Come With me any time that I will you Rote to me About the first letter that I Rote I give it to the Surgent And that is the last of hit Mooney sent one at the Same time and his wife dident git it you said for me to not Be oneasy about it I aint oneasy anything only that I dont now whether I ever will are not but I think that I will See you against Christmast I pray to the lord every day and night to Spare my life to Come home and see you all again I am about thirty five miles nigher that when I was at Weldon and I have crowst
“the big Bridg back on this side it is about forty feete high from the watter and about half mile long I dident now how to cross it if I Runaway Last night I Just lay out in the open Old field you Rote that if I could be at home to go with you to the shucking that you would be glad If I could I would give Ever thing that I am worth to be with you if I cant be with you I pray that the Lord may be with you and help you as mutch as if I was with
“tha could go noplace Els but it tis alie for I Cant Come You Rote that you wood Come hear to see me if you was abel I will Send you sum money as soon as I git it I think that we will draw in afew days and then you Can Come and see me if higgins Comes that will be A good Chance for you to Come with him and fetch me a box of cakes and peaches and sum good apels I dont Git more than half nuff to Eat I have Spent about ten dollars for sumthing to eat I giv one dollar for ten cents cake I must come to Aclose by saying that I Remain your loving husband until Death I could not git my letter it is now Sunday and I had to go on Dres parade we go on Dres parade about sundown every evening”
On 8 Nov 1863, Francis writes home to Martha again:
“Kingston NC November 8th 1863
“My Dear Wife and children I seat my self down this blessed Sabeth Morning to let you now that I am well at this time hoping these lines may Reach you and find you injoin the same blessings I want you to Rite offin and Rite me all the newse I want you to see Higgins and tell him that I want him to doo all that he can and doo it as quick as he can for it seems to me that I cant stay hear but it seems that I have to stay it seems to me that my heart will Breake when I think of you and my little Children May god Bless thim and save them is my prayer tell Mr that I want him to git that subscripton as quick as he can that I want to come home and see them it tis lonsom times hear when I think of my littel children and My loving Wife that I cant stay hear no longer but I have to stay but it tis hard for me to stay if this war was at an end I could come home if God is mine I am his the solders says that tha are coming home in
“March whether tha is peace are not I have spent five Dollars for tobaco sense I have come down hear it takes 150 to 200 [$1.50 to $2.00] Dollars a week I thought that Pery Walker would uv come home before now but he hant got his furlow yet and I dont now when he will I have got a littel money now but I Dont now how long I will have any if any body would come home I would send you sum I send you fivty cents worth of stamps in this letter the reason I dont pay my postedg tha come to you as quick again as if I had pade the postedg we are in good winter quarters nowe tha have Brick chimneys I want you to Rite to me whether you have sold Babe yet are not so nothing more at present only I Remain your loving husband until death F.M. Poteet to his loving Wife M.A.E. Poteet”
Letter images courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
It seems with the conditions Francis is living, his mind is often preoccupied with escape. Will he desert the army and see Martha and their children by Christmas? What would the consequences be if he does? Join me again next Monday as we continue to read of Francis’s experiences in his own words.