In my grandparents’ home on Lipscomb Street in Fort Worth a large glass-fronted bookcase stood in the living room. As a youth I spent hours among the books, especially a book with many color plates of great European paintings.
Shelves below the bookcase housed papers and photographs. A small wooden box held together with wood pegs intrigued me. A lid wrapped in black electrical tape sat on a stack of old letters in envelopes. I never opened them.
After the deaths of Judge William Pannill and Mattie Cherry Pannill, first William Cherry Pannill and then Carrie Pannill Wooten owned the house on Lipscomb. . In 1973, the house went up for sale. One by one, their children and grandchildren went through the house to take what treasures they wanted.
I was the last to go through, looking for letters and photographs. In the old bookcase, I came across that box. I took as my portion the box, the letters, and several books of family photographs.
It has taken me nearly half a century to go through that box. It turned out to be a letter box created – according to family oral history – by Lt. William C. Cherry, Mattie’s father.
I was told he assembled the box as a Union prisoner. I assumed he built the box at Fort Delaware, but maybe not: the Union army had transported him to prisons in South Carolina and Georgia for “retaliation.” I understood Lt. Cherry used wooden pegs to join the sides together because the prison forbade the prisoners to have nails.
With the box was a pocket New Testament, which Lt. Cherry carried, apparently, in the pocket of his uniform blouse. He wrote his name and unit in the front of the Bible. On the front cover was a roundish depression. I was told a minie-ball had left that mark during a battle, and the Bible had perhaps saved his life.
All these are oral history. Lt. Cherry wrote nothing of box or Bible in his memoir, whose original another grandson received from our uncle William Cherry Pannill, his namesake. I transcribed the memoir – which appears in this blog — from a copy.
But I have transcribed most of the original letters in my possession and hope to publish the most interesting ones here. The letters begin in the late 1850s and run to the end of the 19th Century. Perhaps a dozen date from the Civil War.
The letter below is unusual. It was dated in 1864 from a civilian in Norfolk, Virginia. Lt. Cherry had apparently written from prison to ask for clothing. The reply promises to help him and then tells of the hardships of the civilians in Norfolk.
On the back side is a letter written by Lt. Cherry himself but apparently not sent. This is the only letter by him in the collection. There is no salutation. I hope to connect the Cherry letter with some other correspondence and identify the intended recipient.
Here are the letters. The friend in Norfolk writes:
My mother came from Norfolk a few days ago much surprised and delighted to hear from you and bothers [brothers?]. We have made inquiries for you all, from all sources but have heard nothing reliable since you left us. Ma went to work immediately to collect the clothing you are needing and you shall have them as soon as possible. Don’t feel under any obligation to us for anything we can do to relieve your wants. We endeavour to supply the wants of all friends who call upon us and only regret that our means are now so limited that we cannot do more for you. We have felt the bitter irony [?] of having an imprisoned brother, Frank. Poor boy, was taken at Gettysburg July 3rd/63 the same battle in which my dear brother John was killed and Pat wounded. We can’t tell you to what extent we have been afflicted since we saw you, but it is only in common with every other heart and home in the South. We pray that our God will soon deliver us from this cruel war and all of you released to join your home circles again. Frank is at Point Lookout [another Union prison] if not removed recently, he would be dilighted [sic] to hear from you. With the clothing we will send paper, pen, and ink, thinking it difficult for you to get them there. Write us as often as allowed. Ina would write in answer to your letter but having dim sight she prefers our writing. She will be glad to hear from you often and will do anything for your comfort. She says when you write again give her the names of your company who have been killed, wounded, or imprisoned. Remember us to your brothers if with you. Ma is still keeping house and trying to keep a home for the boys if they should be so fortunate as to survive the war but like all others finds it difficult to do so. Our servants have all left us long since, labor is high so we have to do the best we can. I will close for fear the lenght [sic] may prevent its reaching you. We are allowed to send only one page to Point Lookout. This leaves us all well. We hope it may find you all in health.
Very respectfully your friend E F Hargrove July 20th/64
And now the mysterious draft on the back side:
[in ink:] Fort
I have just Recd, this morning your very kind, cheering & interesting letter of 3d inst[ant]. I[t?] really vexes me to think how careless they are here about our mails. I had concluded that [ilegible] you had gone to St. Louis; and was expecting to hear from you there. Well, I am only too glad to have received it at all to worry much about its late date. We are all pretty sure of being exchanged before a great while. There is quit[e?] a number already paroled, including the sick & wounded, who will be the first to leave here, I suppose. This batch will start in a few days. Notwithstanding we are so shure [sic] of being exchanged very soon, we are quite restless, and the time seems to drag very slowly by. Imagine yourself after a long absence from home, about to return, and knowing that your presence & assistance were very much needed by the loved ones there, and you were only waiting for some conveyance to carry you to their assistance,– you will realize pretty much our feelings at this time. I am very sorry would have liked very much to have sean [sic] & read that letter you sent me, written by a lady in Texas, but I suppose they thought I[t?] woud [sic] be too much pleasure for a Rebel prisoner. The Stamp you sent me at the same time I recd all right. I have been a prisoner since the 10th of May last; was captured in Wilderness near Spotsylvania C.H., Va. We have had here this winter some of the coldest weather I ever felt, but we have been furnished with plenty of coal – and then, I have been well clad
Lt. Cherry seems to have written after his winter with The Immortal 600 in Charleston Harbor and other Southern prisons.
We’ll never know who the lady in Texas was.