John Bowie Magruder’s Civil War or What’s on a Man’s Mind?

Today I presented a talk on Colonel John Bowie Magruder for the Albemarle County Historical Society and the local Senior Center.  I had a great time.  It was a small audience, but they were enthusiastic and they asked insightful questions.  Magruder was a graduate of the University of Virginia in 1860 and served as Colonel of the 57th Virginia Infantry before his mortal wounding at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.  His letters are housed in Special Collections at UVA.  There are around 25 letters and they cover most of his time in the army.  They are well written and touch on a number of important themes of historical interest.  Back in 2002 I published a lengthy article on Magruder in the Magazine of Albemarle History which won its Rawlings Prize for best essay.  I am currently revising the article for publication in one of the popular Civil War magazines.  Here are a few selections from the letters.

March 9, 1862
Fort Dillard, N.C. along the Blackwater River

"The country is very thinly inhabited and save and except the troops now with us we rarely see a face – until to-day I had not seen a ladies face in all this region of country – to-day however being Sunday several dilapidated looking females with their several escorts walked [into] our camp on the way to the river." 

May 18, 1862
On the march through Jerusalem to rejoin the rest of the Confederate army around Richmond

[Describing the mayor’s daughter] "She was about 5 feet 5 inches high, black hair and eyes brunette, beautiful teeth and mouth – very agreeable, quite fast, and draped in a beautiful gown – She gave me a beautiful bouquet, which I was so ungallant as to throw into the ditch about a mile and a half from Jerusalem – [It was a] reminder that I had ever been in the least degree sentimental in my life."

December 4, 1862
Fredericksburg – describes the home of a Dr. Smith where he spent some time recovering from "bilious attack"

"He had quite a pretty daughter of about 18 summers, who had never been much into society, with whom I amused myself a good deal."

May 22, 1863
Outside of Richmond – Describes his visit to Richmond and the praise he received from friends owing to his first stint at independent command during the Suffolk campaign

"I visited Richmond very often, spent every cent of money I could lay my hands on, visited many of my old Richmd. friends, most of whom I found had married, formed many new acquaintances and enjoyed myself in every way – Nearly every lady had heard of my fight with the yankees on the White Marsh Road near Suffolk, and all had some nicely turned compliment to pay me with regard to it, which was of course very gratifying."

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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1 comment… add one
  • Jim Sloan Jul 17, 2012 @ 4:58

    Trying to get information. My great grandfather’s civil war records indicate he mustered in to the confederate army in 1862 at Fort Dillard, part of a militia from Franklin County, VA. He became part of Co K, 57th VA. He told my father he was wounded at Malvern Hill. He never fully recovered and never saw action again. Seeking info on Fort Dillard (location). And any other information. Thank you.

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