These letters were written by Peyton A. Cox (1821-1895), the son of William Cox (1788-1854) and Nancy Leedy (1797-1887) of Flat Branches, Forsyth county, North Carolina. Prior to the war, Peyton worked as a teacher but when North Carolina seceded from the Union, Peyton signed up to serve in Co. K, 52nd North Carolina. He was assigned duty as a nurse and by mid-September 1863, he was detailed to the Military Hospital at Wilson where he was made a Ward Master of the surgical ward.
The military hospital at Wilson, North Carolina, was sited in the former Wilson Female Seminary. The location of this hospital was ideal due to its location on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad—the main artery between North Carolina and Virginia. As many as 35 to 40 soldier nurses and orderlies, as well as local women were employed there under the overall supervision of Dr. Solomon Sampson Satchwell, Surgeon-in-Charge. Satchwell was a graduate of Wake Forest College and had studied medicine at New York University before the war. During the war he was named the surgeon of the 25th North Carolina but he was permanently assigned to the Wilson Hospital throughout the war. [Source: Michael Brantley]
Peyton was married in September 1864 to Mary Evelyn Wheeler (1841-1936). He wrote these letters to one or the other of his younger brothers, John Henderson Cox (1831-1909), or Romulus Leedy Cox (1834-1924).
April 24, 1862
Dear Brother [Romulus L. Cox],
Your letter by Capt. Blackburn reached me in quick time & found us all well and very glad to hear from you and learn that you were also well but sorry to hear that so many of your men are sick. I hope they are cared for & by this time are improving. I am glad you seem so well satisfied with camp life. May it so continue with you, yet I know it must be a hard life at best. I was pleased to hear that you had got into a western regiment & had elected Z[ebulon] B[aird] Vance for your Colonel, but I am sorry to learn quite lately that he will not accept. You all would have been pleased with him. I trust you may make another judicious selection if any another such can be found. Elect an experienced man if possible. They know how to take care of their men.
We have not our late paper & consequently have no late news from the war of special interest. Beauregard give them fits in the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, & took many thousand prisoners. We learn fighting is going on at many points now but hear no particulars yet. The big effort is now making to whip us. Two months more will tell a tale. The Conscription Act has passed Congress, not altogether acceptable with many. I do not dread it—yet.
We planted our first corn today, I have been running off rows all day and it is the first plowing I have done in 8 years & you know I feel tired. But I am some gristle yet—if I am old, but not old enough to miss the conscription bill. Louisa dropped for us and says she is very tired. The pigs are fixed off for hogs. I am very nearly done splitting rails & wood. All is going pretty well. The girls are all well & saucy & wants shines very badly. I reckon I shall have to spree some of them to keep them easy till you all get back.
Tell us something of your affairs, your tents & beds, & how you all live & what you eat. How long you drill & rest. Who washes & cooks & what of your water & also where do you all go to shit & what do you all do for striking coals & paper. We were sorry for you all on last Monday—it was so wet. How did you all fare? I hope I may see Blackburn before he returns. Jno. Styres [?] & others speak of visiting you all soon. If he does I will send you some whiskey or brandy or by the first passing I hear of. I think Martin will see you soon. He is now at home. Walker’s people are well. S. A. O. can’t come yet. He wishes to be Captain in old town district. The election is Saturday next. All send their love. Be a prayerful boy & write soon as you can. Farewell, — P. A. C.
Mrs. Davy White wishes to know if Lee Gibson is in your regiment.
November 8, 1862
A line in haste to inform you that we are not all frozen but fear you all have suffered greatly for want of your bed clothing. Dr. Coke came to Petersburg Wednesday or Thursday & came out here last night Friday at nearly sundown & ordered half the tents to Petersburg in double quick time to send on to the regiment. We fixed them up and sent them off at dark as he ordered. He was drunk & did not seem to know what else was wanting. Consequently we did not know what to do. We sent most of the things we found in the tents. Sent Capt. B’s tent, bedstead, shawl & two pillows. We forgot the quilt & send it by teamster Red today who goes with a wagon with the Col. goods &c. There was so much confusion I was afraid to send anything else or any of your things though I know you need them. I would send them by Red but fear you will be ordered to leave there soon & lose them. But if you want them, let me know & I will send them the first chance.
I hope that the Captain & Goslin & you can join your bedding and make out till you can get your things & I want to send them by safe hands if I do not go myself.
We had a cold time here but we made out pretty well. Snow was 4 inches deep, ground white now, but warm. Forty conscripts came to 52nd last night. Most of them good looking men. Walker will electioneer for some of them. I believe many will join Company K.
I send you two letters by Red. No news from [?] yet; nor from William. We are very lonely. write home soon. Fighting in North Carolina considerably. I had a letter from you dated the 3rd (Monday last). No more
— P. A. C.
P. S. If we stay here, write to us soon and often. We are glad to hear from you all. I fear you will get into a fight. Then if you do, give them fits.
Drury Wall is in the hospital & Sam will go today. Several have gone from the regiment sick. Old Butler & Sore leg ranaway night before last & I hope they may go clean, if they will not report to the Yankees.
The mail was sent in to you today. A letter from my gal this morning. All sick with Diphtheria. Some bad off and I fear dead by this. She is up yet. Make you as good a bed as you can without clothes. Capt. Gilliam just arrived & gave us some news from you all. Sorry you are badly situated. He is ordered to Weldon to act as Provost Marshal. He is glad, I know. Write soon. — P. A. C.
Wilson, North Carolina
September 17th, 1863
In conformity with promise, I write you my whereabouts &c. I left Mr. Wheeler’s on Tuesday at noon & arrived in Raleigh the next morning at 4 o’clock & had to lie over there till noon but my delay there was fortunate if my mission here will ever benefit me any for while there I accidentally met with Dr. Satchwell & Col. Joe Masten & they accompanied me to Col. Mallet 1 to get my transfer, but could not get it till I was subjected to another examination before the conscript board. I went before Drs. Baker and Coffey & by Baker’s kind feeling & sound judgment, I got through & was forthwith assigned to duty and to report to Dr. Satchwell & we both came on here. Arrived at 3 o’clock A. M. today, half sick, sleepy and tired. The Dr. let me rest today & recruit & look around, & learn the rules &c. He assigned me to duty this evening which will be principally with the pen as assistant clerk & also to write for the board of surgeons & the druggist &c. The business is so new to me & such an entire change. I do not know whether I shall like it or not & how I shall succeed in giving satisfaction. I will do all I can & the best I can & if I succeed & please the old coon, he may give me a more congenial berth in future as a druggist or in connection therewith.
I have a nice room & fair bed—if the big chinches were dead, and I guess I’ll fix them soon. I sleep by myself. The clerk and myself occupy the rooms during the day and have the druggist at night. The fare is as good or better than I expected so far but would be much better if cooked better. I eat with the officers & apart from the private soldiers though I hear of no complaint with any class in that score. Everything seems to be well managed, but the old Dr. is a snappish old cock & blisters a great deal though. They say he is not a bad man after all which I hope to find true, for I never fancied his looks from my first sight. I expected to be almost as closely confined as if in the penitentiary. Have between 2 & 300 sick and wounded here now and almost full. I extracted one old tooth today for a soldier & did it before the old Dr. made a “happy list” & it seemed to please him. I am fearful all that sort of work will fall on me & will I ever get thanks or pay for it?
Have three young physicians here in attendance who do most of the practice. They are Drs. [Alexander] McDowell, Duggan, and [John Emory] Douthit of Clemmonsville. He was is 21st Regiment awhile. 2
I have not seen John [E.] Grubbs 3 yet as he has been moved out to a new ward apart from this & have not had a chance to see him yet, but learn he will never be able for duty again and cannot walk yet. The old Dr. made great enquiry for you. I will see him about my instruments & if he wishes them, I hope you will not be incommoded in coming by and staying a day or two. So soon as I can, I will see what can be done for William here, if anything.
Tell Mother I cannot say how I shall be satisfied but if I can merit a situation, I intend to make myself satisfied. Saw lots of troops passing from Lee to Bragg & Beauregard & they all called on [Gov. William Woods] Holden to show his head at the Depot & excitement & hatred for him is ten times worse than I expected. 4 I do not consider it safe no where & at no time. Have lots of mosquitoes here—bad at night. I will close this and add a few words tomorrow as it is bed tome now.
This is my address. P. A. C., Hospital, Wilson, N. C. I would write more but my paper is quite wet here now. Crops sorry. Old Alfred’s girls gave me peck of [ illegible]. Lots of troops expected by here tomorrow, going South. If you wish your letter brought for the camp, bring my cap. It will do as well as anything here. Bring it if you can, Tell William to try hard to stop his diarrhea soon as possible.
1 Major Peter Mallett was placed in charge of organizing, training, and deploying the men conscripted in North Carolina soon after Jefferson Davis signed the conscription act in April 1862.
2 John Emory Douthit was a doctor and surgeon with the 21st North Carolina Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. He was born in Clemmonsville, N.C., and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1858. In 1860, while stationed at Wilson, N.C., Douthit met Medora (“Dora”) Crenshaw, and the two wed in 1863. After the war, Douthit opened a general goods store in Statesville, N.C. Douthit later moved to Kingsville, Mo.
3 John Ensley Grubbs was 26 when he enlisted in Co. K, 52nd North Carolina Infantry. He was wounded on 17 December 1862 at Goldsboro, North Carolina.
4 William Woods Holden (1818-1892) was a politician in North Carolina but was opposed to secession. As the war progressed, he became more and more critical of the Confederate government and became the leader of the North Carolina peace movement. When he ran for office in 1864 but was roundly defeated. When the war ended, Holden was appointed Governor by President Andrew Johnson.
Wilson, North Carolina
October 7, 1863
A letter from Martin of recent date is at hand informing me that you are all well and also that you had your furlough extended & would not return in ten or fifteen days. I am glad to hear you are yet at home & improving. I hope you will soon be entirely well but I hate to see you leave home again—or rather, hear it.
I am well but very tired, but my day’s work is only half done. I have only a moment’s time to write you. Contrary to Dr. Satchwell‘s promise to me which you heard in Salem, I have been made a nurse & a Ward Master & have charge of Ward Tayloe & five wounded men—the worst cases in the hospital—and have but one assistant and fear I shall not keep him long as changes go on everyday.
My patients are as follows. One wounded through the shoulder, one badly through the calf of the leg with a bomb [shell]—both done at Gettysburg; one with his arm lately amputated near the shoulder who was wounded at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, last December; one with his back torn off six inches square down to the bone by a rail car near here lately & is the worst sore I ever saw. The last one is a negro boy with his hand off half way to the elbow, done lately in a sugar mill. I have to dress them all three times daily & three of them are helpless. All of them are doing well now.
I found my ward in a bad fix & will take a great deal of labor to straighten up. From 5 A. M. till 10 P. M. I do not rest one ten minutes & then I am frequently up after I got to bed with my men & lose much sleep. Though my work is hard and many times disagreeable, I believe I had rather do it than write & I am allowed more exercise & see more peace of mind.
When you return to camp, if you come by here, bring my shoes but leave my instruments and I will not use them if I had them. Though I have calls half dozen times daily for some operation on teeth, but I never could have time to work. You need not come by here on my account unless you choose. I am glad to hear you had a good time during your trip to Madison. Tell Mother not to send me any more fine shirts. I need no more of any kind now. My cap and a good pair of shoes is all I want now. In fact, do not need them just now but will soon. I prefer my business to mastering a fever ward. It’s more healthy and I can learn a great deal about surgical cases & how to treat wounds and sores generally. We have some very clever old women who superintend affairs in the hospital & I think they are interested in my behalf & I trust I shall get on well when once under way.
If I know I should always have surgical cases in my ward, I would like to have William with me but otherwise I know he could not stand it. Many of the old nurses are leaving and going to their regiments. Tell William to try and get some position as a detail & stay at or near home. Perhaps Capts. Chrisman, [John] Sloan or [John Austin] Lindsay at Greensboro can find him a place. Had better try them. Can you help him any? Do if you can. I am behind in news & no time to write more. If you come here, let me know. My love to all.
Brother, pray God that we may meet at home again & accept the love of your absent brother, — P. A. C.
Only ten minutes to write this scroll. Do not return to camp till able. Never mind what outsiders say. Care for yourself & let them sit. Has Dock sewn any wheat yet? Better sew all he can soon. All write soon. Tell Martin much obliged for his letter. Will answer soon.
Wilson, North Carolina
November 13th, 1863
Your letter of the 11th inst. came to hand this evening. Glad to hear from you. Heard from you through Martin this week. I am sorry you have to go to Virginia just at this juncture. I trust the good Lord will protect you in all your trials. As you expect to come here soon, I will not write you much. I am well & quite tired which is the case with me everyday. I have been removed to the most responsible ward in the main hospital. Have nine rooms to see & 17 patients to attend to now & to satisfy all their wants and sweep, pipe, and scour & keep the house neat and clean. Keeps me trotting from 5 A. M. till 9 P. M. and sometimes up all night long & yet I like my business very well so far.
As regards William, I can do nothing for unless he was here. I saw Dr. Satchwell relative to his case and immediately wrote him on the subject ten days ago which I presume he got. The Dr. said he could not tell me what could be done for him unless he could see him. Thought he had better come here before the board for if not able for field service, he ought not to be kept there. I want you to tell him to come here & try for a detail. I think if he can find the old Dr. in a good humor & hit him right, he will do all he can for him, & if he sets his head in his favor, he will be apt to succeed. The duty he would have to do here would be pretty hard & confining but indoors and would live very well—better than in the camp. If he could come in as an assistant for me, I could relieve him much & attend to him if sick. The Dr. Said if he was here as a patient, he could manage his case much better. If he comes for extension of furlough & it is granted, he could enter the hospital then & be the better able to procure a detail. You come and state the case to the Dr. & do all you can for him & perhaps we both can assist him some way to avoid ranks.
His regiment is all captured & will not stand a better chance to enter the service. Perhaps it would be well to get a certificate from Dr. [Theodore Felix] Keehln stating his case in full & his judgement on his disease & other papers & certificates that he can get. Better bring all his old papers with him. Would be best to come with you if ready to leave. If not, better let me know when he will be here if at all. I want him to come and try it. Will cost him but little & may profit him much. I will also electioneer with Dr. Douthit—is a member of the board & is from our county.
Ben a great revival of religion in this place lately & two of Drs. have professed. Maybe they will be more feeling now. Satchwell wants me to have my instruments brought & will surely enquire of you why you did not bring them. You need not tell him I forbade you bringing them but answer him as you can for I first agreed to send for them but afterward found I should wear to no profit. Bring me a couple bunches of neat envelopes, if not too dear. Worth $3 here. I prefer brown ones. Tell William and Mother I congratulate them more particularly on the appearance [of] Romulus Lee. May he live & be a man. I will write Henderson soon. Thank him for his letter. Pray for me. Farewell brother, — P A. C.
Jeff Davis passed here lately on his way to Richmond, however, did not see him. A citizen 50 years old was taken with dypyheria yesterday near this and died this evening.
Wilson, North Carolina
October 3rd 1864
Your letter of the 30th reached me last night and truly I was glad to hear your furlough had been extended 30 days. I was fearful you would have to return to camp soon and knew you were unfit for the field yet & I haed the thought of your going just now. You know I would like to stay at home now but if I knew you & William could stay, it seems I should not mind it half so badly. When you are home, I feel perfectly easy. But when in camp, I am always in dread. I hope your health may improve & you may get entirely well before your time expires.
I reached here the 30th & found all things right as far as I know. No complaint with the Old Dr. I wrote Mary yesterday & gave her the news, or at least all I have. There is a letter in Salem for me. Please get it when passing & give Mary to read it. I would like to see it though it is of no use now. What can be done for William? Help him get some place if you can. I hope he may do better than to come back here but better to come here if he cannot. I would prefer his getting in in Salem if possible, if his berth should be a little harder. Will be near home.
My time was so short I had to leave much unsettled that I wanted to do. I would be glad if you would let some safe man have my old horse for his feed, if possible. Horses are so scarce, I hate to sell him now if I can help. If the war should close soon, I would have need of him. He is not worth much but better than no horse. Does pretty well when worked regularly & very well in staves. Henderson can find use for him awhile. Do not let Oliver holler at & whip him. If he does, no one will take him & safely keep. Then you may sell him for all you can get. Any blind horse is worth $25 & one in specie is worth 27 in Confederate paper.
I hope you will assist Mary in getting her things home & put away. Let Albert help her. I left money with her to pay him. Pay him what is right for what he does for me. I would like to get him to sow some wheat for if any land can be had that will justify trouble & expenses. If you see any chances for two or three bushels, let me know immediately & I will get him to plough it in. If I can, I want to try to be on the safe side for bread next year. Had rather rent good land & then save poor land at house. How much will Dock sow? and what ground will he leave?