Rebel sharpshooter talks of killing Union scouts and negroes “so they won’t tell on us”

L.W. Griffin, Great CSA Sharpshooters Letter with Cover

L.W. Griffin, Great CSA Sharpshooters Letter with Cover

[S]he (Mary) ask me if they kill our men when they takem tiem they tell our men so the officers to keep them from going to them the negros kills some of our men they say for we kill all of them. I donte intend to take a negro. we sharpe shooters ar a going to kill all of them and if thar white men with them we agoing to kill them so they wont tell on ous.

– Lorraine Walker Griffin enlisted in the North Carolina 16th Infantry

Partially excerpted above from Cowan’s Auction, Great CSA Sharpshooters Letter with Cover

Full item description:

2pp, In line ner petersburg / June 20th 1864, from L. W. Griffin to his father and other family, cover addressed to M. L. Griffin in Rutherford County, NC. The siege of Petersburg was part of Grant’s plan to strangle Richmond by taking the north side of the river, then moving the army to the south of the city. There had been skirmishing around the city, which is located on the Appomattox River just over 20 miles south of Richmond, throughout the war. Eventually Lee’s defenses ran from Petersburg to Richmond, in a 40 mile line defended by the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lorraine Walker Griffin enlisted in the North Carolina 16th Infantry on May 1, 1861 and remained until paroled at Appomattox Court House 9 April 1865. He was wounded at least once in Autumn of 1862, but was able to return to duty in December. A barely literate farmer from Rutherford County, this letter relates the early stages of the final push to end the conflict. L.W. tells his family that they arrived on Saturday (the 18th) and had been on the line ever since. …[T]he yanks is in 2 miles of our brigade we go out on the scout and slip on them and shoot in to them then run for life for they are all on horses. He then relates information about family: …I tell Mary that the Rediment Jim was in is up at Lynchburg. L.W. then relates that the officers are telling the enlistees that any captives are killed by the Federal troops, especially the USCT, to discourage the war-wearing troops from deserting. [S]he (Mary) ask me if they kill our men when they takem tiem they tell our men so the officers to keep them from going to them the negros kills some of our men they say for we kill all of them. I donte intend to take a negro. we sharpe shooters ar a going to kill all of them and if thar white men with them we agoing to kill them so they wont tell on ous. Rumors had been circulating that Confederates did not bother to house African American POWs, a factor that may have led to inflated reports of the massacre of USCT captives after Saltville (see Lot 133). He describes one escape from the Federals in which they had been following the Union troops that were guarding POWs, presumably with the intent to free the prisoners before they were moved out of reach. A group of Union scouts spotted the skirmishers and attempted to stop them. [T]hey have shot so much at me it looks like they cant hit me.

One of the most touching comments in the letter, however, concerns his brother, apparently the only brother. I cam thro the Battle ground whar Brother was capturd I saw lots of grave along the road but could not find his. I dont think he is ded unless he dide after they got him. Oh how sad I felt hunting for my Brothers grave. I wont have no brother to hunt mine. The Civil War database lists 3 Griffins from Rutherford County besides L. W., two Jameses and George – likely all related. One James is recorded as dying in 1862, the other was captured 24 May 1864 at North Anna (VA). George died of wounds 20 May 1864 at Ware Bottom Church, VA. Certainly worthy of further research.

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