Three Thomas Lancaster Johnson Letters
An Alabama Solider Writes Home
from “Near” Norfolk Virginia
~ 1861 ~

Letters to Alabama
Copyright © 1997, Elnora Frances Cook-Wyrick. All Rights Reserved.

    Original letters from Thomas Lancaster Johnson to his parents while he was serving in Army of the Confederate States of America, Rodes’ Brigade, Co. D, 3rd Alabama Infantry Regiment. The place of residence of Thomas L. Lancaster has not been determined.

Letter I
The envelope is not available.

Headquarters 3rd Regiment of Alabama
Near Norfolk, Virginia Sunday May 19 1861,
My Dear Parents,

This day belongs to God alone,
He chooses Sunday for His own.
And we should neither work nor play.
Because it is the Sabbath Day.
So says the Poet.
But in the war dispensation there is no Sunday to keep, if there is anything to do in the way of work. We are here about 1 ½ miles from Norfolk City, out in an old field where we came yesterday. We are about 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. We are in hearing of the great and far-famed fortress Monroe, Va, and we can hear the big guns up there. I am told that we are going to be joined by 3 other Regiments at this place and that we are going to throw up embankment 1 ½ miles long in order to prevent the enemy from approaching Norfolk from the ocean. We are going to mount cannon on this embankment. And when we get fixed up in that way we will defy any reasonable army . There was a fight about -10 miles above here yesterday evening, we heard the guns and all our boys were anxious to go to it and help. It is thought by some that we will have a fight here pretty soon. But I do not believe that we ever will have a fight, unless we make the attack. I have been well ever since I left home, until now. I am suffering now with bad cold together with fever blisters on my mouth, also I have been sunburnt until I am sore. But I hope my complaints are nothing serious. There has been and is now a good deal of sickness in our company. But none dead as yet, I believe. I received a letter from Mr Threadgill not long since, and a very friendly letter it was too. He says he never knew my real value until I left, and expresses great desire to see me. I am getting along very well indeed. I am living pretty well. We get plenty of good substantial food, but we have to cook it ourselves. I am getting to be a very good cook. I have written a good many letters since I have been here and have received but one yet. I have been washing in a prong of the Atlantic since I got here. We get plenty of fresh fish for little or nothing. It is thought that we will be out until the 4th of July after which time we will go home. I do not have any idea how true it is nor when we will get off. I reckon I must close for the present. I think of you all very often and long to see you. Write to me often to Norfolk, Va. in care of Capt. R. H. Powell.
Give my love to all the family I am as ever your Affectionate Son.
Thos L. Johnson

Letter II
The envelope is not available.

Norfolk Va. June 8th 1861
Dear Parents,
Your letter of the 30th came to hand yesterday evening late and I broke it open and read it while I walked my guard line. I was indeed glad to hear from you all and always am glad. And especially where you seem to be getting along well. I am enjoying as good health as I have for five years and considering all things am getting along about as well as could be expected. I feel a little bad this morning for I was up all night nearly. Standing guard, the Responsibility of which will not allow a man to sleep much. But for all this, a sentinel sees a great many sights, however not so many if it be as dark as last night was. It gives a man such a good chance to think seriously on any subject for he is all alone. It is also enlivening and amazing to hear fellows slipping around the line and to hear the Sentinel bawl out “Who Comes There”, at the top of his voice. You spoke of having heard of a fight near Fort Monroe, there is nothing of the fight that was reported. But there has been several little fights near here no lives or but a few, these fights from batteries firing into ships. We have had a week of very rainy weather and the men of the Regiment have suffered from colds, with that exception we all keep pretty well. And I believe all keep in fine spirits generally, except myself. You know I am subject to get low spirited and find myself very often in that fix. But I always have reasons for feeling bad. But I try my best to overcome this disposition. I am getting better satisfied with my lot in life. I believe that the most of our men are anxious for a little fight. They say they came to fight, and they want to do it. Our breastworks that I wrote about are going up rapidly. But this wet weather has hindered the hands very much there are 300 hands at work on it. When they get it done which will be next week it will be a complete trump for the enemy. I do not doubt but that we are quartered here for the year. We may be ordered off 8 or 10 miles but will hardly go far. We are pleasantly located and our Lieutenant Colonel is trying every way to render it as healthy as possible. I received 3 letters yesterday, two from the Ridge, all is moving on quietly and smoothly there. I also got a letter from a young lady on the Ridge not long since and it encourage me so that I whirled in and wrote to Somebody Else. I do not know how she will take it; that is yet to be tried. I do not know that there is anything else to write. I have described this country in other letters, and as to the fighting I cannot believe that we will have any fighting to do. Although sometime the signs look good for it. There are 15,000 or 20,000 soldiers near Norfolk for It’s protection and they come in every day, from all parts of the Southern States. You must all write to me as often as you can conveniently, for I do love to hear from you. And if I do not answer every letter you all write don't think hard for I have a great deal to do and postage is very high and money scarce. There are a great many little expenses come in upon me that I had no idea of. We have not heard a word about any monthly pay yet, only that we will not get any until August. It was thought that the folks at the Ridge and Union Springs were going to ever so much money to send to us. Well just let me tell you what they collected, they made up $112.00 and Dr Powell paid $100 of that. I do wish somebody would publish it, and at Tuskeegee, Alabama, the Citizens raised $11,000 for two companies. I must close, Give my love to all the family and write soon and write all the news. I got letter from “Jo” dated May 1st it was sent to the Ridge and forwarded here by some of my friends. I answered it immediately. I remain Your Very Affectionate Son. As Ever.

Thos L. Johnson Norfolk, Virginia June 8 th 1861.

Letter III
The envelope is not available.

Norfolk Va. July 26th1861.
Dear Parents, Yours of the 17th came duly to hand this evening and found me well and getting on very well indeed. I was very glad to hear from you and always am for I do not hear from oftener than once in two weeks. The health of our company and in fact of the whole Regiment is better just now than it has been in some time. My health is unquestionably good, so far as I can judge by my feelings. We are here yet, but how long we will stay here is another question, if it was left with us to decide that question we would not stay 48 hours but, would be with Gen Beauregard at Arlington Heights. Just as soon as we could get there. I suspect that you will have heard of the great-fight and glorious victory of our troops under Gens. Johnston, President Davis and Beauregard at Manassas, long before this reaches you. O! what a time among the Confederates, every thing here is all excitement and from all signs we are left- to believe that this war is just beginning. We get the very latest-news here and we learned this evening that Gen. Beauregard in his pursuit of the retreating hessians has never stopped, but-has taken Alexandria and is now marching against Arlington Heights with 30,000 men. From which place with Burnbs, he can tear Washington City all to pieces. Victory go with him. I do not know what is to become of the Lincoln Government. Certainly utter destruction awaits it. I see that New-York Tribune is asking Old Abes’ Cabinet-to resign because of incompetency to fill their offices. I believe the boys of this regiment are all ready to fight. Last night I was on guard and about 12 oclock there came a Messenger on horse-back-went to the Col’s tent-deliver his message and in a few minutes three kettle drums were out on the parade ground, and roll after roll from the drums told us in plain terms that all must be up and ready, in ten minutes. (I do not exaggerate.) the whole Regiment was awake had their clothes and accoutrements on and was out and had formed a line of battle. All was quiet-there-every heart beat with anxiety to hear the command “March.” What a beautiful sight to see 1,000 Solders; with guns glittering in the moonshine. All was quiet when Col Lomax came out - and told them that he hoped if ever they were called on in earnest that they would be as punctual as then. So it proved to be a false alarm done on purpose to try the pluck of the boys. So from all you may see that there is no certainty about our going or staying, you need never be surprised to hear that we are moved. The crops through this country all fine and reports from Alabama say that fine crops are being made there. We received pay for two months service not long since and I am getting on very well now in the money line. And you may say what you please about tarts and dumplings but my mess had a fine mess of apple dumplings yesterday with Sugar Sauce. Our battery is now about ready for action, we have several canon on it. We have good preaching here every Sunday and for the future will have it in the future twice on Sunday. And last Sunday we heard a sermon from Rev. Dr. Smith President of the Randolph Macon College of this State. O!, what a sermon he did preach. He is a little short old man and carries his walking stick in the pulpit with him. His text was the 25th verse of the 1st chapter of the General Epistle of James. Continue to get letters from the young ladies all right. Why is it that Willie and Laura do not write to me? I must think from your letters that you do not get all my letters. Write to me often. I thank the Ladies for the high compliment they paid to my Ambrotype. Be sure to present with my compliments on all occasions, I have my ambrotype now that I had taken not long ago. I would like to see you all very much. I know that I am remembered by all. I feel assured that I am followed with the love and prayers of affectionate Parents, Brothers, Sisters and friends. I have not heard from Jo, in some time. Give my love to all the children and accept a Same portion to yourselves, remember me kindly to the Negroes. I remain your Affectionate Son.

Thos L. Johnson

Information received from Albert Sydney Johnson reports; There are two histories of Talbot County Georgia: “There was a Land” by Jordan and “A Rockaway in Talbot,” by Davidson. Jordan lists Thomas L. Johnson among teachers examined by the School Board of Talbot County for the first year of public schools (1871). Davidson reports that he became Principle of Providence High School in 1875. Service records in the National Archives show that Thomas Lancaster Johnson, enlisted as a Private, in Co.D, Third Alabama Infantry (see America’s Civil War Article, from page 12, “Commands,” by Thomas G. Rodgers, at Union Springs, Alabama, on 26 April 1861. In December 1862, he was commissioned Second Lieutenant, later promoted to First Lieutenant, and Commanding Co. D. He remained with this unit until he was wounded in September 1864. Additional information regarding the 3rd Alabama found in “Commands,” [The “bandbox” soldiers of the 3rd Alabama Infantry became combat-hardened veterans in Virginia], by Thomas G. Rogers. On the 1900 Census Thomas Lancaster Johnson reported his father was born in North Carolina. Notes by Elnora Frances Cook-Wyrick.

From the Collection of Elnora Frances Cook-Wyrick

Provenance: A family heirloom.

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