Petersburg, Virginia to Brickland Plantation, Lunenburg County, Virginia: 1864. Envelope or Cover. This four-page folded letter measures 15½” x 10” unfolded. It is datelined “Petersburg Oct 17th 1864” and franked with a Confederate 20-cent green Washington Stamp (Scott # 13) tied to the cover by a faint red Petersburg postmark. The letter is signed, “C.M” and docketing indicates it was sent by “Mrs. C. MacFarland.” In nice shape; several folding splits mended with stamp hinges. Transcript included.
In this letter, Mrs. MacFarland, a fifty-four-year-old boarding house owner in Petersburg commiserates with her brother-in-law about a recent Union raid upon his Lunenburg plantation, Brickland, and provides him with the latest war news. Excerpts include:
The raid on Lunenburg –“ I am glad you have received such good news from the plantation hope that you may find an increase in all left thereI enclose you several letters received lately from James Edward, got 2 one day & 2 the next. He has not received my letter telling of the Yankee raid in Lunenburg or he would have mentioned it.. . .. . I am sorry to hear Williams health is not better. I think he is soured by the yankee visit he ought to see some of the refugees here that have been deprived of all, wealthy people, every thing taken, even the family Bibles & portraits are trophies of war. . ..”
War news – “Genl Lee is at the helm and he looks to God to crown his efforts . . . we ought to pray and do all that we can to hold up the hands and strengthen the hearts of our brave soldiers and pray to God to confound and bring to confusion the plans of our unnatural cruel enemies. Sherman, Hunter & Grant ought to be outlawed. . .. . I would rather live in a cave [with] the life of a hermit than live with the Yankees. . .. Genl Lee is near Richmond. He has moved his headquarters from here. I seen Capt Page of his staff yesterday he says he will be back before long. . .. Mr Hursh . . . was here Saturday he is with a government wagon that is hauling forage from Fort Hill. . .. Mr. H is allways in a hurry by the time you put your eyes on him he is going. I have seen him 4 times and could not keep him long enough to answer 6 questions. If I did not have a weakness for hazel eyes and white teeth I should not tolerate him. If the government have many like him, the horses willn ot suffer for forage. He does not stand on the order of going but goes. . ..Mr. Willson has gone in to the field. He served 18 months in the 12 Regiment [and now] . They are increasing the Infantry from the Artillery. 20 out of 100 are to be sharp shooters the Norfolk [Light Artillery] Blues had 150 well men and only 4 guns. . .. Nat left here last Thursday. . .. He is looking very well and hopefull says Early will whip the yankees yet but the destruction of grain and other things is unprecedented, utter desolation. The Union farmers that would not take confederate money have suffered as much as the loyal ones. No distinction in Grant’s in inhuman order. I hope it will strengthen our army.”
Seizing slaves for fortification work –“ The pickets are on the street taking up every servant to put on the fortifications. They took Elleck a few days ago and Jim too but Mr May interceded and got on off. It fell to Elleck to go. I would much it had been Jim for he is very lazy and self important. The pick and shovel would not hurt him and he is stronger of the two. . .. . A great many have gone to [Union forces] from here. The lines are so near that it is impossible to prevent it as they know all the bye paths. If you have to send any to the fortifications send those that are of the least value. . ..”
Why the Yankees fight – “[We have] a great many more wounded yankees white & black side by side in the hospital here. One of the prisoners was asked what he was fighting for he said for the Car’s [the Cause], another for the other part of the Union, another for the constitution. When asked what the constitution was, he did not know. An Indian from Iowa said he was fighting for the land they took from his great grandfather. The negroes say they were all drafted made to fight. . ..”
Northern politics – “I think . . . that Lincoln will be re-elected. . .. For my part I would rather him than McClennan or Fremont. . .. We have heard nothing of the peace party at the North since the fall of Alanta. We must whip them well. . .. Touch the nerves of their pockets, when they can steal nothing more from the South and the vibrations will be felt and when the great North West finds that she is sold to New England . . . and that they cant have the free navigation of the Mississippi they will then set up for themselves and fight (like Kilkenny cats.). ..”. Very good. Item #009620
Dr. Neblett was a prominent physician and wealthy planter, whose plantation, Brickland, was located in Lunenburg County about 70 miles southwest of Petersburg. There 145 slaves worked its1,600 acres of tobacco. On the eve of the Civil War, Neblett was one of the wealthiest men in Virginia; the combined value of his real and personal property totaling $700,000 (approximately $200 million in 2020 dollars). Following the war, his total worth had dropped to $22,000, and he was selling off lands to survive. The letter points out that his wife, Ann Smith MacFarland Neblett, was Mrs. C. MacFarland’s sister.
While there is little genealogical information about the McFarlands online, the 1870 census shows that C. MacFarland owned a Petersburg boarding house that accommodated sixteen guests. (For more information, see on-line genealogical files for Neblett and the MacFarland sisters at Ancestry.com and Find-A-Grave as well as the Virginia DHR paper, “An Architectural Survey of Lunenburg County, Virginia.”
The philatelic value ($1,200) of this letter equals the value of its historical content. Letters mailed using Confederate 20-cent stamps are truly rare. They were issued in 1863 primarily to be used as small change, since no Confederate coins were ever minted for the public. Although they were authorized as postage to pay the ”overweight double-letter 20-cent rate, relatively few were ever used to mail a letter.
An American Philatelic Expertizing Service certificate stating that this is a genuine postal usage will be provided. (For more information see the Confederate States of America Catalog and Handbook of Stamps and Postal History, “20-cent green George Washington, CSA 13” at Confederate Stamp Primer Online, and “A brief history of Confederate coins” online at the American Numismatic Association.).