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Introduction to the Peed Family Letters
By Jeremy A. Kiene
Of the sixteen letters in this group, fourteen were written by John Nathaniel Peed (1843-1935) and two by James Oscar Peed (1845-1863), brothers from King George County, Virginia who served together in the Confederate army. Their parents, Robert Alexander Peed (1814-1858) and Nancy (or Anna) Powell Owens (1823-1886), owned a farm near Hampstead in King George County, valued at $1300 in the 1850 Federal census. Following her husband's death in 1858, Nancy Peed and her sons shared a household with her mother, Rebecca Massey Owens, and her grandmother, Mary Massey. Rebecca Owens's personal estate is valued at $8,180 in the 1860 census; the 1860 Slave Schedule indicates that the family held ten slaves. Seventeen-year-old John (sometimes called Nathaniel or Tanny) and fifteen-year-old James were working on the Owens family farm in 1860; the enumerator identifies both as farmers.
On 12 October 1861 John Peed was mustered in to the Potomac Cavalry, 25th Virginia Militia, a company that ultimately was absorbed into the new 9th Virginia Cavalry, as Company I. Peed, a private, was made a company bugler. Two of his uncles also served in the 9th Virginia Cavalry: Sgt. Philip M. Peed, who rose to lieutenant in Co. I; and Sgt. John E. Owens, who was reduced to private in January 1862 but who still frequently acted as company commissary. James Peed followed his older brother into the Confederate service a year later, enlisting as a private in the same company on 1 October 1862. James was severely wounded in the thigh and captured on 13 September 1863, in a cavalry action at Culpeper Court House, Virginia. He was subsequently interned in the prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. In his letter of 29-30 December 1863 John writes that he has received no word from Jim recently, though he entertains hope that his brother is among the 300-odd Confederate prisoners who had reportedly escaped from Point Lookout earlier in the month. James had in fact died of his wounds in the camp on 22 December. John Peed appears on the 9th Virginia Cavalry's muster rolls through 10 October 1864, the date of the latest surviving regimental roll. His letters indicate that he was still with the army in February 1865. There is no record of his parole, though most of the men still with the regiment during the Appomattox campaign slipped away before the official surrender. Following the war, Peed returned to farming in King George County, where he prospered. In 1870 he married Virginia Coakley (1850-1913), and the couple raised four children. He died in Fredericksburg, Virginia on 20 February 1935.
The 9th Virginia Cavalry was organized on 18 January 1862 with the addition of two companies (known unofficially as "Lee's Squadron") to Col. John E. Johnson's 1st Virginia Cavalry Battalion. William H. F. Lee, son of Robert E. Lee, was elected colonel when the regiment was reorganized in April 1862. The 9th Virginia took part in all the major campaigns fought by the Army of Northern Virginia's Cavalry Division (later Corps), including the Seven Days battles, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the 1864 Overland Campaign, the siege of Petersburg, and the retreat to Appomattox. From May 1864 to the end of the war, the regiment was attached to Brig. Gen. John R. Chambliss's brigade (led after Chambliss's death by Brig. Gen. Richard L. T. Beale), of W. H. F. Lee's division.
The earliest letters in the group are those of James Peed, written from camps along the Rappahannock in the late fall and winter of 1862-63. The second of these, dated 18 January 1863, describes a late December 1862 skirmish with Federal cavalry near Dumfries, Virginia. The action was part of a raid into Dumfries and Occoquan led by Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. Though Peed confuses the relevant dates (Dyer's Compendium reports skirmishing in or near Dumfries on 27-28 December, while the letter purports to describe events that took place on the 26th), he provides a reasonably accurate overview of the action. The raiding party's "advance guard reported yankees close at hand," he writes, "So old Stuart Sent the Gallant Ninth ahead to arous the Vandals." The enemy was ultimately scattered by well-placed artillery fire; according to Peed, eighty-six Union prisoners were taken. There is general agreement between the letter and Stuart's battle report for 27 December, though Stuart writes that the "whole number of prisoners captured by W. H. F. Lee's brigade was 50" (Official Records, Series I, Vol. 21, pp. 731-35).
All but four of John Peed's letters date from the late summer, fall and winter of 1864-65. Most were written to his mother; the exceptions are the letters of 18 September and 19 November 1864, addressed to an unidentified aunt and to his uncle, John Owens, respectively. Much of their content relates to the progress of Confederate arms during this period. From August 1864 to March 1865, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia were stalemated in the trenches ringing Petersburg. The 9th Virginia was operating south of the city in Dinwiddie County, on the extreme right of the Confederate lines. Grant's strategy during the fall of 1864 was to gradually extend Union lines to the west in an effort to cut Petersburg's communications and further stretch the already overextended Confederate defenses. There were major clashes south of the city at Globe Tavern (18-21 August 1864), Ream's Station (25 August 1864), Poplar Springs Church (30 September-2 October 1864), and the Boydton Plank Road (27-28 October 1864), as Union forces sought to cut across and destroy the city's remaining rail links. Peed describes the fighting at Ream's Station and Poplar Springs Church, in which the regiment played conspicuous roles. Though he was absent during the former engagement, his 30 August letter indicates that he was back in camp in time to hear a "complimentary order read out to our Regt this morning complimenting them very highly for their gallantry." The 9th Virginia spent much of the winter of 1864-65 on picket duty in the vicinity of Belfield Station. The last letter in the group is dated 18 February 1865, and was written from camp ten miles southwest of Petersburg along the White Oak Road. This letter mentions the death of Confederate Brig. Gen. John Pegram at Hatcher's Run (5-7 February 1865), an engagement in which the regiment "suffered considerably" (Beale, p. 147). A still later wartime letter of Peed's, now in the possession of Janet and Charles Neimeyer of Alexandria, Virginia, indicates that on 13 March the regiment moved to Stony Creek Station, and on 18 March to the vicinity of Dinwiddie Court House. Here, on 31 March, they clashed with Union troops under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan, temporarily halting Sheridan's advance on the key crossroads of Five Forks.
The letters reveal that Peed, like most soldiers, was a devoted consumer of the news. Though he often writes of rumors circulating in camp, he seems disinclined to credit second-hand information until it has appeared in print. "Camp rumor says that Atlanta has been recaptured with a goodly number of Prisoners," he writes on 13 October 1864; "Rumor says that it is in todays paper. I have not seen one In consequence of the mail not having arrived I hope that we will hear glorious news soon." Peed's understanding of the conflict, at least as he chooses to convey it to his mother, is informed as much by newspaper accounts as by first-hand experience, and he often chooses to emphasize matters of strategy and command even while describing actions in which he took part personally. In a letter written after Union troops had extended their lines across the Weldon Railroad (18 September 1864), Peed cites a "yankee account" indicating that Federal commanders were "looking for Gen Lee to attack them every day I should not be surprised myself for I am sure Gen Lee hates their holding that weldon Railroad very bad." In mid-September, the 9th was posted along the Vaughan and Squirrel Level roads running southwest from Petersburg. Attacks did come in this sector late in the month, but they were made by elements of the Union V and IX Corps. Peed writes that "our cavalry and Infantry together checked & drove them back a little where they are now strongly fortified They have advanced about two miles out from the Weldon Railroad." In another letter of 5 October 1864, Peed anticipates that the Federals "are going to make a desperate struggle for the Danville Railroad," but notes that reports of enemy troop movements may indicate "nothing more than a feint." Word of the Confederate reverses at Chaffin's Bluff, along the James River south of Richmond (29-30 September 1864), prompts him to complain that though "I have not seen any news paper accounts of the affair I think myself that our Generals are letting the Yankes get too much of hold around Richmond." This continued pressure on the Confederate defenses around Richmond and Petersburg prevented Lee from strengthening his lines at either place, eventually rendering both untenable.
Peed's last letters keep up a show of resolve despite the fading prospects for Confederate military success. Though discouraged by news of Sherman's unhindered advance through Georgia, he writes on 27 December 1864 of his belief "that there is a better Gen. than Sherman or Grant or any of the yankee tribe one that Rules & turns the tide of war Just as he thinks proper. If our Cause is Just why If we never gain another Victory we will come of well in the end." Aside from this reference to providence as the bulwark of the "Cause," there is little in the letters that sheds light on Peed's religious leanings. But on three occasions he mentions his fondness for attending daily worship services, and reports with satisfaction on 7 December 1864 that the "Regt has a chaplin at last." On 18 February 1865 Peed expresses confidence that he can withstand the strain of continued service: "[T]oday is a rainy day & looks like we are going to have more isn't it hard to have to stay out here without any shelter. But I can stand as long as any other man I am sure." But his fortitude, he assures his mother, is unaided by the ration of whiskey lately issued to the regiment by sympathetic commanders. He concludes by reporting that there appears "no chance of disbanding." Indeed, in a letter written only a week later, on 26 February 1865 (Janet and Charles Neimeyer Collection), Peed attempts to allay his mother's fear that the Army of Northern Virginia will leave the state. Though he speaks of ongoing preparations to evacuate Petersburg, he assures her that the city would only be abandoned, if at all, in an effort to straighten the Confederate lines. However, he is certain that other Southern cities, including Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, will soon fall.
Both regimental histories emphasize the 9th's consistently high morale and uncommon success in recruiting. As late as 25 October 1864, Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton was able to report that the regiment was "full, though many desire to join it" (Official Records, Series I, Vol. 42, Part 3, p. 1162). Indeed, Hampton complains that "many of the recruits now reporting for duty desire to join the cavalry, many of them having been in that service and now owning good horses. But these men have been assigned to the infantry. If the cavalry is not allowed to receive recruits now I fear there will be no other hope for its increase." Peed's letter of 7 December 1864 suggests that game recruits could dodge these restrictions. Co. I, he writes, had "recruited a good deal lately," and "any man that will come here well mounted can get in our co. There is an order forbidding it but it is done underhanded." Although the regiment did not lack for volunteers, the number of men absent from its ranks at any given time was quite substantial. According to an inspection report for 27 September 1864, the 9th Virginia's numbers were high, with 522 officers and men present for duty, and 91 present but unfit for duty. Another 432 are listed as absent, 103 of them without leave (Krick, p. 41). The Confederate cavalry was constantly short of serviceable horses, and doubtless many of these absentees had been detailed to secure new mounts. Peed clearly savored the prospect of returning home on horse detail, and often mentions comrades who are on furlough for this purpose. But, as he complains in a letter of 17 February 1865 (Janet and Charles Neimeyer Collection), his horse always managed to recover its health just in time to pass inspection, repeatedly dashing his hopes of getting leave to find a replacement.
Absenteeism was a constant problem for Civil War field armies, and overstayed leaves of absence increasingly fell under the expanding rubric of desertion. A 1 December 1864 Bureau of Conscription circular states that "Every case of furlough or leave of absence overstaid is a prima facie case of desertion" (Official Records, Series IV, Vol. 3, p. 890). In his 19 November 1864 letter to John Owens, Peed writes that "they are very strict here at this time about such things. If a man stays Just two days over his time he is court marshaled." In the earliest of his letters (29-30 December 1863), he mentions three men from Co. I who are "under guard at charlottesville held as conscripts." On 18 February 1865 he remarks on the return of several absentees: "lucky fellows Just in time for Daviss Proclamation to clear them." The reference is doubtless to Lee's General Order No. 2 of 11 February, issued "by authority of the President," whereby a pardon was extended to "such deserters and men improperly absent as shall return to the commands to which they belong within the shortest possible time, not exceeding twenty days from the publication of this order" (Official Records, Series I, Vol. 46, Part 2, p. 1230). Judging from Peed's letters, Lee's order did little to bolster his army's deteriorating will to fight on. In the 26 February letter in the Neimeyer Collection, Peed confirms that two of the men mentioned on 18 February as having returned to camp had deserted once again. He also reports a rumor that part of Company I had crossed the James River, probably with the intention of going home.
As new enlistments failed to offset the steady attrition among field units, the Confederate government established additional administrative hurdles for veterans seeking permanent disability discharges. Following his capture and parole in June 1863, John Owens was home on sick leave until he was finally discharged on 3 November 1863. By late 1864, however, he was under pressure to rejoin the regiment. On 19 November, Peed advises his uncle that if illness prevents his return, he should
get a certifercate from that Board (medical) and send it immediately to the company If no Board in the co. at this time why get certifercates from three surgeons which constitute a Board. . . . if you will Just do as I tell you and you get them you can stay Just as long as you want at home.
The requirement Peed describes is included in the Confederate Congressional act providing for an invalid corps, passed in 17 February 1864. There is no official record of his presence in the army after 1863, but Owens's appeal evidently failed. Peed's 7 December 1864 letter indicates that his uncle was in the 9th Virginia Cavalry's camp at Chappell's Farm and had resumed his previous duties. He accompanied the regiment to Belfield Station at the end of the month, and was apparently in good health. "Uncle John is well," Peed writes on 27 December, "& says he has a better appetite than he ever had in his life. He runs on as usual about wars end." Peed's 18 February 1865 letter indicates that when the brigade marched to their camp on the White Oak Road, Owens remained in Belfield with the rest of the division. And a Neimeyer Collection letter of 14-18 March 1865 indicates that by that date Owens had again returned home, possibly on horse detail.
Bibliographic note: There are two regimental histories for the 9th Virginia Cavalry. The earliest is Richard L. T. Beale's History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry in the War Between the States, Richmond, 1899. Beale was the regiment's colonel from October 1862 to October 1864. More recent is Robert K. Krick's 9th Virginia Cavalry, Lynchburg, VA, 1982. The narrative content of both is disappointing, but Krick's volume is valuable for its detailed regimental roster. For the movements of the 9th Virginia and of Co. I up to October 1864, see also Janet B. Hewett, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part II, vol. 69, pp. 819-846. The text of the Confederate Congressional act establishing guidelines for retiring disabled soldiers, along with materials detailing the composition of medical boards established for this purpose, was reprinted in General Order No. 34 from the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, 16 March 1864. See Official Records, Series IV, Vol. 3, pp. 214-217. Six additional wartime letters of John Nathaniel Peed are in the possession of Janet and Charles Neimeyer of Alexandria, Virginia. The letters are dated 2 April 1863; 21 September 1864; 29 January 1865; 17 February 1865; 26 February 1865; and 14-18 March 1865. All are addressed to Peed's mother. The Neimeyers have generously provided scans of these items; copies are on file in the Department of Special Collections. Additional letters by John N., James O., and Philip M. Peed, all dating from 1862-63, are held in the Pearce Civil War Collection at the Navarro College Archives, Corsicana, TX.
Index of Letters
|MSN/CW 5037-01||Letter||November 22, 1862||Hicks Hill, Virginia||James Oscar Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-02||Letter||January 18, 1863||Near Lloyds, Essex County, Virginia||James Oscar Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-03||Letter||October 29, 1863||Near Brandy Station, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-04||Letter||December 29-30, 1863||Near Charlottesville, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-05||Letter||March 24, 1864||Near Lebanon Church, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-06||Letter||April 4, 1864||Essex County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-07||Letter||August 30, 1864||Prince George County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-08||Letter||September 18, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-09||Letter||September 18, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-10||Letter||October 5, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-11||Letter||October 13, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-12||Letter||October 30, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-13||Letter||November 19, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-14||Letter||December 7, 1864||Dinwiddie County, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-15||Letter||December 27, 1864||Belfield Station, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|
|MSN/CW 5037-16||Letter||February 18, 1865||Near Petersburg, Virginia||John Nathaniel Peed|