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Robert C. Caldwell Collection

This exhibit includes 57 letters and other documents from the Robert C. Caldwell Papers (Collection #845) held in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection of the Special Collections Department of J. Y. Joyner Library at East Carolina University. The letters are mainly from Robert to Mag, his wife, at Harris Depot, in Cabarrus County, North Carolina written from various military posts near New Bern, Wilmington, and Kinston, NC and Savannah, GA. The letters primarily concern Caldwell’s personal and family interests but they also include discussions of his military service including living conditions and daily life, the movements of his unit, its leadership, and its military engagements. The collection also contains letters, to Caldwell and his wife, from family members and friends serving in Mississippi and North Carolina units that are of particular interest. The Caldwells received two letters from Private Amzi Harris serving in Company C, 9th Mississippi Volunteer Regiment, at Camp Esau, FL near Pensacola. Harris’ letters describe Confederate attempts to seize the naval base and capture the remaining Union positions in an around Pensacola, Florida in September and October 1861. He addressed one of the letters to “dear brother and sister” and the other to ‘dear friend R. C. C.” The Caldwells also received several letters from Dinson [or Denson] A. Caldwell, probably a close relative. Dinson sent his first letter on 10 April 1862 when he was a 3d Lieutenant serving with the 35th Regiment North Carolina Troops. He wrote two subsequent letters to Robert, dated 16 November 1862 and 29 January 1863, respectively, when he was a private in Company F, 63rd Regiment North Carolina Troops (5th Regiment North Carolina Cavalry) serving under Captain John Randolph Erwin. The letters describe the troop movements and fighting in and around Kinston, New Bern, and Goldsboro, NC as Union troops attempted to effectively blockade the South and the Confederate forces attempted to keep the ports, especially Wilmington, open. The letters were addressed to “dear brother and sister.” In addition, one letter from Mary W. Driskill of Paulding County, GA was addressed to Mag I. Caldwell and Martha W. Caldwell and was addressed to them as "dear sisters." Mrs. Driskill's letter is one of the most informative and revealing about life in the South during the Civil War. She describes the many hardships she faced while her husband was serving in the garrison of Vicksburg, MS, including taking care of the farm work alone, the absence of the men at the front, having to do heavy work, taking care of her baby alone and while recuperating from an injury. She also records taking a job at a “factory”. The collection also includes 38 original envelopes and 5 other documents, including an account written (28 April 1865) in Caldwell’s own hand of the last months of the war from September 1864 to April 1865. It also includes his signed Oath of Allegiance to the Union (16 September 1865) and a bill of sale for a slave named Jack dated 14 January 1854. The letters (but not the envelopes) have been encapsulated for preservation purposes.

Arrangement of the Caldwell Papers

The collection is divided into two main series: correspondence and miscellaneous documents. The correspondence is subdivided alphabetically, according to the name of the correspondent, and then chronologically, according to the latest date on the letter. Undated items are filed at the end of the series. The miscellaneous documents are arranged numerically in their original order. Among the miscellaneous documents are 38 original Civil War era envelopes. It seems likely that these are the envelopes that once enclosed the letters in the collection. However, they do not have any postage markings or return addresses on them and they were separated from the letters when this repository acquired the collection. Therefore it has not yet been possible to associate the individual envelopes with the letters in the collection. For security reasons access to the original documents in the collection is restricted (BOX 1). Researchers who need access to the original documents must obtain permission from the Manuscript Curator or Department Head. In order to provide better access to the collection, the repository has prepared a user copy of the collection (BOX 2). The user copies include digital reproductions and transcriptions of all the documents in the collection. These are available online through this digital exhibit. The collection was acquired at Woodside Antiques auction on 15 September 2001 through the assistance of Friends of Joyner Library.


The transcriptions attempt to preserve as much as possible the content and sense of the original letters. They have made no attempt to correct the spelling or punctuation in the text. However, the transcribers have provided some punctuation marks to assist readers of the texts. Wherever they have done so, they have enclosed the supplied information in brackets. The editor has provided a short introduction to each letter that places in its historical context. The editor has also provided footnotes to explain references in text that may not be familiar to modern readers. The Caldwells followed few rules of spelling, grammar, capitalization or punctuation. They frequently used slang, nicknames and abbreviations in their letters that are not in common use today. They mentioned places, persons, and events that may be unfamiliar to modern readers. The editor has attempted to make such references easier to understand.

Robert C. Caldwell's Letters

Robert C. Caldwell, a private soldier from Cabarrus County, NC, enlisted in Company C., 10th Battalion North Carolina Heavy Artillery on 17 August 1863 and served until the end of the conflict. He seems to have been rather typical of the tens of thousands of North Carolinians who served honorably and faithfully during the Civil War. His papers do not show that he performed any great heroic deeds. There is no evidence that he was wounded or captured or that won any great recognition. They show, rather, that he was a good soldier who would much rather have been at home attending to his farm and family, but who felt a loyalty to his comrades and fellow citizens to continue to serve despite the risks and privations of military service. The fact that several other Caldwells, including Robert A. and Samuel S., and many relatives, friends and neighbors also served in Company C, probably strengthened this commitment considerably. The papers also show that Caldwell had a rather complicated view of the war and the Confederacy. As a farmer and a slave owner, with views that can only be called racist, he might have been expected to support the Confederacy and the war. However, this was far from true. He enlisted late in the war, in August 1863, and according to his correspondence, had opposed secession and the war and was serving only reluctantly. His letters show him frequently criticizing the war even as he served at the front, including drunken officers who had caused friendly fire incidents. He left his farm and family out of a sense of duty and loyalty. He resisted efforts of Confederate officials to seize his stock and produce for the war efforts and did his best to avoid paying taxes to the Confederacy. The letters and other documents also provide a lively view of Caldwell’s daily life in the military including routine guard and picket duty, cook duty, carpentry detail, and of how conditions fluctuated according to his health and the arrival of cherished parcels of food and clothing. It also provides a glimpse into the relationship between Robert and Mag and his other relatives, their cares and needs. Robert saw little combat until late in the war. From September 1863 until December 1864, his company moved from camp to camp in the defensive positions around Wilmington, NC. There were occasional alarms and periodic contacts with the U. S. Navy attempting to blockade Wilmington, but Robert does not seem to have participated in any of these actions. Indeed, for a man serving in a “heavy artillery” unit, Robert seems remarkably uninterested in his weapons. He scarcely mentions them. He mentions getting trained to use the “big guns” on only one occasion. Indeed he seems to have been engaged primarily in guard duty, picket duty, carpentry work, cooking, and other miscellaneous duties. On one occasion, he built a fish trap for the officers. It was so large that it took 10 men to carry it. Then, on 24 November 1864, as Sherman’s Army approached Savannah, GA in its famous “March to the Sea,” the 10th Battalion was ordered to help defend the city. It was immediately moved to the front west of Savannah near Augusta and thrown into the vain attempt to prevent the loss of the city. From then until the end of the war, Robert’s life was a series of northward retreats, punctuated by several sharp skirmishes, during which Sherman’s forces either defeated or outmaneuvered the weaker Confederate defenders. Robert had no faith at all that the Confederates could win the war but he continued to fight alongside his friends and neighbors until the bitter end. The letters continue until 8 February 1865 ease when he exhausted his letter writing materials. One aspect of Robert’s personality deserves additional comment: his strong religious faith. The papers show that he placed tremendous faith in God. It appears in almost every letter. He frequently reports attending church services and revivals and comments on the “wickedness” around him. Robert genuinely seems to have felt that his life was in God’s hand and was confident that what God did with it would be best. He does not seem to have felt any fear for his own safety at any time during the war.

10th Battalion NC Heavy Artillery

The 10th Battalion North Carolina Heavy Artillery was organized and mustered in at Wilmington, NC on 19 May 1862. The 10th was commanded by Major Wilton L. Young and was generally referred to as “Young’s Battalion.” Young had been elected Major on 13 May 1862. He was later officially appointed Major on 29 August 1862, although his seniority in rank dated from the date of his election. Young served through June of 1864. He was hospitalized on 22 February 1865 in Raleigh for “debility” and was paroled at Bush Hill, in Randolph County, on 29 April 1865. He does not seem to have been replaced and when the 10th Battalion went into action late in the war, it was under the command of the junior officers. Initially, the battalion consisted of three companies: A, B, and C. on 13 July 1863 Capt. Woodbury Wheeler’s previously unattached company was assigned to the battalion as Company D. After being mustered in, the battalion remained at Wilmington until December 1863. During this time the unit was engaged in garrison duty around Wilmington or in provost duty in the city. As garrison troops, the 10th occupied the forts and trenches around the city; as provosts they detained and guarded soldiers accused of military crimes.

General Chronology of the Letters

Robert arrived in Wilmington in September 1863 and thereafter wrote frequently to his wife in Cabarrus County. In the early letters, Robert discussed the ceaseless military routine, the weather, and his state of health. He asked for information about conditions at home. He discussed the difficulty of paying his taxes. He complains of the poor food, the spread of disease, and the number of desertions. He requests that she send him packages of food (but not of meat). He asks her to write more often. On 13 October 1863 Isaac J. Price, also a private in the 10th, wrote on Caldwell’s behalf, to let his wife know that he would be willing to deliver a package of supplies to her husband. Caldwell also wrote advising his wife on hiring farm labor and planting crops, fencing fields, and preventing Confederate press masters from seizing his farm animals and crops. On the 29th of October, Election Day, he reported voting for James Graham Ramsay for Congress. In 10 December 1863, the 10th was ordered to move to Fort Caswell, in Brunswick County. It remained there only a few weeks. On 5 January Caldwell wrote to his wife that he had heard a Baptist preacher in camp and that he had heard of a large revival in Concord, NC. On the 10th he recounted the grounding of a Yankee blockade ship and the Confederate attempts to seize it and the Yankee’s success in destroying it. On the 21st he reported on the outbreak of a lice infestation. On 25-27 January 1864 the Battalion was ordered to move to nearby Fort Campbell, also in Brunswick County. The following week Caldwell complained to his wife that he had received no new from her about the family and neighbors. On 9 March the 10th was ordered to Smithville, NC and on 11 March, was ordered back to Wilmington. Until March 1864, the various companies of the 10th Battalion served together but in the five following months they were scattered. Companies C and D went to Fort Caswell on 24 March where they remained until July 1864. On 10 July Companies C & D were moved to Charleston, SC where they assumed positions in Battery No 2, on James Island. On 23 July, they were ordered to return to Wilmington. Between July and November Company C resumed garrison service and as picket guards between Wilmington and Masonboro Sound. Meanwhile, Company A remained at Wilmington until early June when they were ordered to move to Kenansville. They remained there only until 26 June when they returned to Wilmington. During a yellow fever outbreak in Bermuda, Company A was sent to Fort Anderson, in Brunswick County, to serve on quarantine duty. Their role was to check all blockade running vessels for signs of the disease. Company B was positioned at Masonboro Sound in March 1864. Between March and November all their batteries were either in position at Masonboro Sound or serving as picket guards between Masonboro Sound and Wilmington. Late in August companies A & B were ordered to Kenansville; but returned to Wilmington after about 10 days of separation. On 24 November 1864 the whole 10th Battalion was ordered to Georgia to reinforce Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s command, then trying to prevent General William T. Sherman from completing his famous march from Atlanta to the Sea. Young’s Battalion arrived in Augusta, GA on 27 November and immediately assumed a position in the defensive works protecting the western approaches to the city. On the 29th these orders were countermanded and the 10th was ordered to move to Savannah by way of Charleston, SC. On 2 December the 10th reached Savannah where it joined General Hardee’s force located about forty-five miles from the city. Sherman’s advance forced Hardee to retreat closer to Savannah where on 8 December the 10th found itself in the defensive perimeter of the city. At this time, Young’s Battalion became part of a temporary brigade commanded by Colonel Washington M. Hardy, of the 60th Regiment of NC Troops. They remained in these lines until 20 December when they were evacuated, withdrawing through Savannah to Hardeeville, SC and continuing to serve as part of Hardy’s regiment. The 10th continued to retreat along with the 60th Regiment through South Carolina into North Carolina.

Battle of Averasboro, NC

On 16 March 1865, the 10th participated in the final campaign of the Civil War in the East. At Averasboro, NC Hardy’s Brigade made an attempt to prevent the northward advance of General Slocum’s Corps of Sherman’s Army. Hardy’s force was in a strong defensive position on a ridge, between a river and a swamp. Sherman, who was present, ordered Case’s infantry brigade to attack the Confederate right wing rather than a frontal multi-division attack that Slocum seems to have preferred. Case’s men made some headway, driving back General Taliaferro’s division of Confederates from its front line positions into General McLaw’s division reserve position. However, Case was forced to call a halt when darkness fell leaving the Confederates yet undefeated. The Battle of Averasboro cost the Union forces 678 casualties; the Confederates lost 865 men. Caldwell does not mention this battle.

Battle of Bentonville, NC

During the night, Hardy withdrew his forces and retreated again toward Bentonville where his regiment joined Johnston’s main force. On the morning of the 17th, Sherman resumed his march to the North. On the left Sherman positioned Slocum’s Corps which was pursuing Hardy towards Bentonville. Kilpatrick’s cavalry were on Slocum’s left flank assisting in the pursuit of Hardy. Sherman had Howard’s two corps moving parallel to Slocum on the right. Johnston had only one chance and that a slim one. He had to prevent Sherman’s Army from combining with two other Union armies under Generals Schofield and Terry and then defeat each Union army separately. Schofield and Terry were even then converging on Goldsboro from their bases on North Carolina seaports. He had, however, only about 21,000 men left with which to do battle. The Union forces were nearly four times larger. This set the stage for the final major battle of the war: the Battle of Bentonville. On the morning of 19 March, Carlin’s Division, the leading element of Slocum’s XIV Corps encountered and pushed back Hampton’s Confederate cavalry to positions just to the South of Bentonville. Johnston then counterattacked and forced Carlin to retreat. Slocum then massed his forces and repelled several desperate Confederate attacks. Johnston then retreated to a new position in front of Mill Creek with his left protected by a swamp. Rather than attack immediately, Sherman methodically assembled his forces. Little fighting was done on the 20th as Sherman realigned his main forces for a combined attack. On the morning of 21 March he was ready to attack. Sherman sent Mowrer’s Division through the swamp in an attempt to outflank Johnston’s main force and cut off his retreat. Meanwhile, Sherman attacked Johnston frontally with the bulk of his forces. Johnston spotted Sherman’s outflanking maneuver and managed to block it with his reserves while he held his main position in front of the Mill Creek. However, during the night that followed, Johnston retreated again toward Smithfield. Of the 16,127 Union and 16,895 Confederate troops that actually participated in the battle, the Union lost 1,646 casualties, while the Confederates lost 2,606. Caldwell does not mention this battle.


In Smithfield Johnston attempted to reorganize for further resistance but he had already failed in his strategic goal because his retreat from Bentonville allowed Sherman to link up with forces under Generals Schofield and Terry who were moving up from the coast. The three Union armies united on 23 March. At this point Sherman had 80,000 men under his command more than four times the forces available to Johnston. As part of Johnston’s reorganization of his Army, the 10th was reportedly attached to Major Basil C. Manly’s Battalion of Artillery in Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Division on 31 March. However, Johnston recognized the impossibility of continued resistance especially after Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant on 9 April 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, VA. Despite orders from Confederate President Jefferson Davis to attempt to continue the war, Johnston agreed to an armistice on 16 April and surrendered his Army to Sherman on 26 April. Young’s Battalion remained with Johnston’s Army until it surrendered on 26 April 1865. Part of the 10th Battalion was camped at Bush Hill, NC and was paroled on 29 April 1865 after Johnston’s Army surrendered. This parole list was validated at Greensboro on 1 May 1865. Men of the 10th who were not present at Bush Hill received individual paroles when they applied for them. A group of men, including Caldwell, who were part of Company C, were paroled as a company at Charlotte on 3 May.

Company C

Company C of Young’s Battalion consisted primarily of men from Union County, NC were also known as the “Monroe Heavy Artillery.” It was first mustered into service at Salisbury, NC on 9 April 1862 as “Captain Charles M. T. McCauley’s Company.” It was mustered in again at Wilmington on 19 May 1862 and officially designated Company C, 10th Battalion NC Heavy Artillery. Muster rolls for Company C are incomplete and are entirely missing for the period November 1864 through February 1865. McCauley seems to have remained in command of the company until 5 December 1864 when he resigned due to “extreme ill health.” By that time only three officers, one of whom was the company doctor, remained in the unit. The Roster of North Carolina Troops in the Civil War indicates that Caldwell was “present or accounted for through October 1864” but his papers clearly show that he was present to the bitter end in Greensboro in April 1865.


North Carolina Troops 1861-1865: A Roster, Volume 1: Artillery, Compiled by Louis H. Manarin. (Raleigh, NC: State Division of Archives and History, Second printing (with addenda) 1988), pp. 512, 531—533.

The Civil War Dictionary, by Mark Mayo Boatner, III, Revised edition. (New York, NY: Vintage Books, © 1959, 1988), pp. 35, 61