Thomas Sparrow Papers

Manuscript Collection #1
Sparrow, Thomas, 1819-1884
Physical description
0.5 Cubic Feet, 2 archival boxes, including correspondence; military orders, diary, reports, lists, and passes; accounts; articles; essays; sketches; speeches; clippings; genealogical notes; and invitations.
Preferred Citation
Thomas Sparrow Papers (#1), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
Access to audiovisual and digital media is restricted. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Papers (1819-1872) of Thomas Sparrow (1819-1884), a Washington, N.C., lawyer until the outbreak of the Civil War. He was commissioned a captain in the Confederate Army in 1861 and served at Fort Hatteras until he was taken prisoner by Union forces in August of that year. After the war he returned to Washington and represented Beaufort County in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1870 and 1881. Papers include correspondence, military papers, prisoner of war diary kept at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, articles, essays, speeches, accounts, clippings, genealogical notes, and Sparrow family Bible records. Also included are letters (1858-1881) written by Thomas Sparrow's son George Attmore Sparrow (1845-1922) to him describing life in Okaw/Arcola, Illinois, at Hillsborough Military Academy, in military service as a Confederate soldier, and in his post-war life as a farmer and lawyer and later as a Presbyterian minister.

Biographical/historical information

Thomas Sparrow (1819-1884) was a Washington, N.C., lawyer until the outbreak of the Civil War. He was commissioned a captain in the Confederate Army in 1861 and served at Fort Hatteras until he was taken prisoner by Union forces in August of that year. After the war he returned to Washington and represented Beaufort County in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1870 and 1881.

George Attmore Sparrow was born in Beaufort, N.C., on July 14, 1845, to Thomas Sparrow and Annie Mariah Blackwell and raised in Washington, N.C., and Okaw/Arcola, Illinois. George attended Hillsborough Military Academy before joining the Confederate armed forces in 1862. After the war ended, he farmed and studied law under his father, subsequently practicing law for sixteen years. In the late 1880s he felt called to be a minister and was licensed by the Albemarle Presbytery in 1890. In 1874 he married Susan Selby Brown and they had eleven children. After the death of his wife on April 19, 1908, he married Elizabeth Bryan Ewing in 1910. He died on July 24, 1922, at Montreat, N.C., and was buried at Union Presbyterian Church cemetery in Gastonia, N.C., where he had been a minister since 1893.

Source: "Sparrows' Nest of Letters" edited by Joy W. Sparrow and published 2011 by Scuppernong Press, Wake Forest, N.C.

Scope and arrangement

Although the bulk of the correspondence is for the Civil War period, there are several letters concerning antebellum North Carolina. An 1819 letter from Raleigh comments on the legality of court proceedings initiated on behalf of an enslaved person and advises as to the most prudent means of handling the case. Letters from Edward Stanly comment on business and banking, and include a personal attack on Kenneth Rayner (1855). Also of interest is the letter of an unidentified correspondent, who elaborates on the advantages of settling in Chicago and the bright prospects for residents of the Northwest in the years to come. He urges Sparrow to abandon North Carolina and seek a new life in or near Chicago (1856).

The Civil War correspondence relates the activities of Thomas Sparrow and his Washington Grays from their formation as a volunteer company in April of 1861, until their parole from a Union prison in February, 1862. Scattered letters for 1864 and 1865 give insight into the activities of Sparrow during the closing phase of the war. Topics of interest in this correspondence include plans of the Military Working Society (also Military Serving Society) formed by the ladies of Washington, N.C., to furnish clothes for the troops (April and May, 1861); plans of the governor for gathering forces and equipping them (April and May, 1861); plans for occupation of Beacon Island near Ocracoke Inlet (May, 1861); and the actual occupation of and military activities carried on at Fort Washington, Fort Ocracoke, and Fort Hatteras.

David M. Carter writes (June, 1861), commenting on Union strategy in Virginia and complaining of the greed and corruption in North Carolina government. Included in this attack are derogatory references to Governor Ellis and Adjutant General Hoke.

Correspondence during the summer of 1861 is concerned primarily with the operation of the military installations at Ocracoke Inlet and the efforts by various regimental officers of the N.C. State Troops to persuade the Washington Grays to enlist in the N.C.S.T. and proceed to Virginia where the war was actually being fought. The unit finally became a part of the 2nd Regt. N.C.S.T. in August, 1861; and they were awaiting orders for transfer to Virginia when Union forces captured the Ocracoke forts and Sparrow and his men were among those taken prisoner. Correspondence from September, 1861, through February, 1862, concerns their imprisonment at Castle William on Governor's Island, N.Y., and later at Fort Warren, Massachusetts. Practically all of these letters are from friends and sympathizers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Maryland who offer their services in procuring clothes, food, tobacco, books, and other necessities for the prisoners. Many letters give detailed accounts of types and quantities of goods sent to Sparrow and his men and what remuneration, if any, was required in return. This correspondence gives insight into treatment of Confederate prisoners at Castle William and Fort Warren; provisions by the state of North Carolina for making funds available for use of prisoners; and attitudes of some residents of the North, many of whom had relatives in the South.

Prisoners from the Ocracoke battle were exchanged between November of 1861, and February of 1862, and this procedure is reflected in the correspondence of that period. The trip from Fort Warren to Fort Monroe, Virginia, is described in some detail (December 22); and efforts by a Pennsylvania family to exchange Captain Sparrow for their son, who was a prisoner in Richmond, is of interest (January 1862), as is their gift to Sparrow of traveling money and their invitation for him to visit them on his trip south.

There is little correspondence after Captain Sparrow's return to North Carolina in February of 1862. The letters that do exist are primarily from Sparrow to his wife, who is still living in Union-held Washington. They reflect his concern for their children who are in school at Tarboro, and his opposition to sending them through enemy lines to Washington. Other letters recount Confederate success in the west, the bleak future for Beaufort County residents who have assisted Union forces in North Carolina, and Sparrow's own activities in Wilmington as Judge Advocate of the General Courts Martial (July, 1862). Also of interest are letters complaining of lack of war news in Nova Scotia, explaining regulations for officers' rations, and giving provisions for schedules of passes for private citizens to pass through the lines. A final letter is an undated non-military note from the poetess Mary Bayard Clark, telling of her friendship with Sparrow and including an original poem, "Oremus."

A diary (1861-1862) concerns Sparrow's imprisonment at Fort Warren. Orders and deliveries of knives, toothbrushes, slippers, and shoes are noted as is a charity gift (November 1861) of eight pairs of shoes for Baltimore prisoners. Washing lists are included. Entrees for January and February 1862 describe smallpox among the prisoners and deaths in the hospital, the departure of prisoners for the South, a proposal from James Markal of Philadelphia offering to have Sparrow exchanged for his son, news that all the prisoners were being sent home, preparations to leave, and the trip from Boston to Norfolk. News of the capture of men and gunboats at Roanoke Island and the burning of Elizabeth City, N.C., (February 11, 1862) are mentioned.

The military papers in the collection consist of Special Orders and Orders of the Day issued at Ocracoke; a report by Sparrow telling of his part in the defense of Fort Hatteras; lists of men who had been captured and others who had been absent at the time of capture; accounts of goods purchased while in prison; published proceedings of the N.C. State Convention (February 1862) regarding pay for Hatteras prisoners; and various miscellaneous passes and certificates.

An 1839 issue of the newspaper The Spy (New Bern, N.C.) contains a humorous article concerning the Old Bachelors' Club and responses to previous articles. Other articles, essays, sketches, and speeches were written during 1840 and 1841; and some of them apparently were published in magazine form. Subjects included are New York City from the harbor at night, camp meetings, U.S. "national character," and the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.

Miscellaneous material includes a pledge for a gift of clothes for a minister (1829) and newspaper clippings concerning the Washington Grays, the capture of the Hatteras forts, the political activities of Thomas Sparrow, part of a history of Little Cow Neck, Queens County, N.Y., and an article about Maryland's loyalty to the Union during the Civil War. Also included is a Civil War reminiscence of Elizabeth Sparrow McCord about her family travels from Beaufort County to Pitt County. A description of the house and grounds of Greenwreath (Pitt County) where the family stayed is given, as well as the feeding of enslaved people, evaporating ocean water to get salt, sweet potato coffee, and the lack of money. Yankee raids are mentioned as is Sparrow's trip down the Tar River in a canoe to avoid surrender.

Genealogical materials on the Sparrow family are also included.

An addition to this collection contains fifty-three letters written over a twenty year period from George A. Sparrow to his father Captain Thomas J. Sparrow. In the period of January to December 1860, George is prolific and attentive in writing to his father about the welfare of the family and the success of the farm. He speaks of chores, livestock health, garden improvements, and the behavior and accomplishments of his mother and siblings. In 1860, the family briefly moved to Okaw, Illinois, to be close to George's maternal grandparents, the Blackwell's. However, with the approaching war the family quickly returned to North Carolina. George's letters only mention these increasing tensions in passing. In a letter dated June 22, 1860, he mentions upcoming Fourth of July celebrations, the last before the war, in which he plans on partaking in the parade of "horribles." The Parade of Horribles being a parade on Independence Day where participants wear funny and grotesque costumes to mock politicians and other public figures, it was a popular tradition in the nineteenth century. He writes about the growth of Okaw especially the expansion of the railroad and the chaos of a derailed train. The letters are fewer before the family returned to North Carolina as George mentions his father telling them not to write anymore.

During George's 1861-1862 matriculation at Hillsboro Military Academy, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, he relays war news he has heard to his father, notably what he has heard of the First Battle of Bull Run. His letters during this period show concern for his father, a Captain in the Gray's, his family in Washington under Yankee control, and his strong desire to leave school and fight for the Confederacy. When George is finally allowed to enlist in 1863, with the Army of Pamlico, he writes of the need for extra supplies such as mess kits, nonperishable food, and paper. But he also voices his displeasure with his command, specifically that all the 'good' officers decline promotion to move to other regiments.

George's letters after the war are primarily concerned with assuring his father that he is working diligently to pay off his substantial debts. He turns to religion and the temperance movement to combat a lamentable drinking problem. In his last letter, dated 1881, he urges his father to use his influence to persuade others to vote in favor of a proposed bill to abolish a merchant tax.

Administrative information
Custodial History

September 13, 1967, 217 items; Papers of Civil War major Thomas Sparrow, consisting of correspondence (1819-1871, undated) military papers, articles, essays, speeches, accounts, clippings, genealogical notes, and miscellaneous. Gift January, 1965, by Dr. Herbert Paschal, Department of History, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.

April 2, 1984, 3 items; Civil War POW diary (1862) and copies of update to Annie Sparrow Lewis' reminiscence and clipping. Gift of Mrs. Mary McCord Taylor, Stuart, Florida, and Mr. Herbert W. McCord, Garden City, S.C.

May 21, 1985, 4 items; Sparrow family Bible records, genealogical material, and a copy of The Spy (New Bern, N.C., 1839). Gift of Mrs. Robert L. Taylor, Stuart, Florida.

January 14, 2013, 49 items, .25 cubic feet; Addition includes 49 letters (1858-1863, 1870-1871, 1881) chiefly written by George Attmore Sparrow (July 14, 1845-July 24, 1922) to his father Thomas Sparrow III. Pre-Civil War letters are written from Washington, N.C., and from Okaw/Arcola, Illinois, where the family moved in 1859 to join George's mother's family, the Blackwells, who had moved there earlier from New Bern, N.C. Thomas Sparrow stayed in Washington, N.C., to clear up some business but ended up moving his family back to North Carolina in 1861 because of the impending war. In the early part of the Civil War, George Sparrow writes from the Hillsborough (N.C.) Military Academy which he was attending; his letters from April 1862 through October 1863 are written from camps in North Carolina after he joined the Confederate States Army. After a gap of several years, there are letters (1870-1871) written from Green Wreath and Falkland, both in Pitt County, N.C., and Lake Landing, Hyde County, N.C. The final letter is written from Washington, N.C., in 1881. Gift of Mrs. Joy W. Sparrow, Gastonia, N.C.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Dr. Herbert Paschal

Gift of Mrs. Mary McCord Taylor

Gift of Mr. Herbert W. McCord

Gift of Mrs. Robert L. Taylor

Gift of Mrs. Joy W. Sparrow

Processing information

Processed by M. Boccaccio, February 1990

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Addition 3 processed by Samantha Sheffield, November 20, 2015

Descriptions updated by Jennifer Overstreet, July 2020

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Related material

Thomas Sparrow Papers (#1878) at the Southern Historical Collection, Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Key terms
Personal Names
Branch, Lawrence O'B. (Lawrence O'Bryan), 1820-1862
Carter, David Miller
Clarke, Mary Bayard, 1827-1886
Ellis, John Willis, 1820-1861
Grimes, Bryan, 1828-1880
Hoke, J. F. (John Franklin), 1820-1888
Martin, J. G. (James Green), 1819-1878
McRae, D. K. (Duncan Kirkland), 1820-1888
Rayner, Kenneth, 1808-1884
Rodman, Will. B. (William Blount), 1817-1893
Smith, William N. H. (William Nathan Harrell), 1812-1889
Sparrow, Thomas, 1819-1884
Stanly, Edward, 1810-1872
Stanly, John, 1774-1833
Wallis, S. Teackle (Severn Teackle), 1816-1894
Warren, Edward, 1828-1893
Family Names
Sparrow family
Corporate Names
Confederate States of America. Army--Recruiting, enlistment, etc.
Confederate States of America. Army. North Carolina Artillery Regiment, 1st. Company K (1861-1865)
United States. Army--Recruiting, enlistment, etc.--Civil War, 1861-1865
American poetry
Banks and banking--United States--History--19th century
Camp meetings
Plantations--North Carolina--Pitt County--History--19th century
Slavery--Law and legislation--United States
Fort Warren (Mass.)--History--19th century
New York (N.Y.)--History
North Carolina--Politics and government--19th century
Ocracoke Island (N.C.)--History--19th century
Pitt County (N.C.)--Buildings, structures, etc.
Roanoke Island (N.C.)--History--Capture, 1862
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons
Washington (N.C.)--History
Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence

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