I just finished transcribing the last of the letters by Captain John Christopher Winsmith of the 1st South Carolina Infantry, Hagood’s Regiment. The collection consists of roughly 250 letters written between 1859 and September 1864. I first came across the collection while doing research at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. John Coski suggested that I think about editing the collection and I am glad that I eventually came around to it. The next step will be the editing of the letters and the writing of an introduction. While I’ve read numerous published and unpublished collections I have to say that Winsmith’s letters are a real gold mine. He is an excellent writer and he has a keen sense of how events on the battlefield connected to both the home front and politics.
He remained optimistic of Confederate victory as late as his wounding outside Petersburg at the end of September 1864. His descriptions of the battlefield are quite vivid; a seven-page letter written during the height of the battles around Spotsylvania will be worth the price of the book alone. We still need more research on mid-grade officers and their responsibilities both in maintaining unit cohesion and as a liaison with their families back home. Winsmith worked hard to balance his role as disciplinarian and commander with his responsibility to comfort and look out for his men.
A planned trip this summer to Spartanburg, South Carolina for research and a tour of the Winsmith home, including the still-standing slave quarters, will hopefully result in enough background information for a history of the family. This collection should prove very attractive for historians. From what I can tell this collection has not been used in any published accounts in recent years. My only explanation is that historians have bypassed the Museum of the Confederacy on their research rounds through Richmond. If true, it is unfortunate as the museum’s collection is incredibly rich. Historians of both the Western and Eastern theaters will find Winsmith’s letters to be of great value.