Poteet Family Letters

Late yesterday we finished adding the Civil War era materials from the Poteet-Dickson Letters to the North Carolina Digital Collection (see the finding aid for more information about the whole collection). Although it is probably an understatement to say that no one would read letters written by husbands and wives separated by a devastating civil war expecting the contents to be cheerful,  I think I can safely say that of the Civil War letters that we have digitized so far the Poteet letters are by far the most depressing.

Want proof? Let’s start with the early letters written by Francis Poteet not long after he was conscripted into the 49th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, where he is simultaneously planning to desert and to send money to his wife Martha (Nov. 3, 1863) because he is lonely and homesick (Nov. 8, 1863) and wants her to join him in camp. Then there is the letter where Francis reacts to the news that Martha and the children are being forced from their home (Nov. 23, 1863) by a man named Bill Cowen and the letters from Martha as she struggles to stay in her home (Jan. 7, 1864), pay her mounting debts (Feb. 4, 1864), deal with frequent thefts of food and supplies (Jan. 21, 1864), locate new places to live (Aug. 30, 1864), and fend off neighbors trying to claim her property as their own (Feb. 18, 1864).

Sometime between November and January, one of the Poteet children (a boy) becomes sick and eventually dies. Francis goes home in order to be with his family during the end of his son’s life and upon returning to the army is tried for desertion and spends several months in jail (Jan. 12, 1864). During that time, Martha continues to plead with Francis to come home (April 7, 1864) to help her, even as he writes to her about having to sell his possessions (March 17, 1864) in order to buy enough food to keep from starving.

Not long after getting out of jail and returning to his regiment (May 31, 1864), Francis begins having problems walking (Oct. 4, 1864) and finds himself in and out of the hospital, where he answers his wife’s threats to stop writing him if he doesn’t write her back by saying he has no paper to write letters on (Aug. 30, 1864). From mid 1864 – early 1865, Francis is stationed in Petersburg, Va. and writes often (July 5, 1864) about life in the trenches (July 11, 1864),  the difficulty of getting food from home without it spoiling (Jan. 18, 1865), and his constant desire to desert (Aug. 21, 1864) in order to come home.

In October 1864, Martha loses another child (Oct. 6, 1864), perhaps the same one whose hand-tracing she had earlier sent to her husband (June 16, 1864), and gives an excruciatingly detailed description (Nov. 2, 1864) of the girl’s death. When Francis writes his mother asking for her to help his children and his wife, Martha writes him an angry letter (Nov. 24, 1864) saying, in part: “…I think it makes me look very small for you to write the like to her when you know that she wont help them just for her to tell about all the country what you wrote her like you had moor confidens in her raising your children than me…”  Francis soon responds by apologizing to his wife (Dec. 3, 1864).

The Poteet letters are full of information about family life during the Civil War, in particular the hardships that women faced after their husbands left home to fight. The topic of desertion comes up frequently also. Sickness and lack of food are mentioned in almost all the letters, including those written by Francis Poteet’s brother Peter Poteet (Aug. 7, 1861).

The Futch Letters are the next group of materials that we plan to add to the North Carolina Digital Collections and hopefully I will be able to begin working on them next week.

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15 Responses to Poteet Family Letters

  1. Sally Bloom says:

    Wondering if transcriptions are planned to be part of the project too?

    Love the collection!

    • Linda Brcic says:

      June 15, 2011
      Thank you Ashley for posting these civil war letters. They are very interesting and I enjoyed them. I have Poteet’s on my mothers maternal side. Charles Wickley Poteet & Jane Turner Poteet are my great-grandparents. I don’t know if there is any connection but I enjoy anything I can find. It gives you a real feel for how life was during this time. On the paternal side, I had a 3G-grandfather that was killed July 11, 1863, by bushwackers. He was Henry Schell of Schell Knob MO. Excellent job in posting these letters! They are real Treasures! I will try that feature, Thanks again.

  2. Ashley says:

    Hi Sally,

    Actually when we loaded the letters into the NCDC we also loaded transcripts for them. If you’ll click on one of the links to a letter and then look at the left-hand side of the page, you’ll see a box labeled “View.” The third option down is “page & text” and if you click on that a new window will open with the letter on one side and the transcript on the other. It’s a very cool feature that I’m not sure everyone is aware of yet – I probably need to do a blog post that runs through all the things you can do in the NCDC. I’ll try to work on that in the next couple of weeks.

    But I’m glad you like the collection – we’re all pretty excited about it here too and I hope that comes through the blog posts. Thanks for reading and for commenting!


    • Sally Bloom says:

      I feel silly that I didn’t find this feature. Makes sense. Thanks again, this is amazing.


  3. Ashley says:

    Please don’t feel silly – I had wondered how many people knew about it. I suspect not many have found it, which your comment confirms, so thank you for reminding me that I need to write up something about that.

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  5. Lynn Poteet Holland says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the “Poteet Family Letters”. My great-grandfather was Joseph A. Poteet, PVT CO B 54 NC Infantry, Confederate States Army from McDowell County, NC. Do you have any information on him in your NC Civil War documents?

  6. Mark says:

    Lynn, this was his entry in “North Carolina Troops”: Seemed like the poor guy was ill his entire enlistment.

    POTEET, JOSEPH A., Private, Company B, 54th Regiment, NC Troops – Born in McDowell County* and was by occupation a farmer prior to enlisting in McDowell County at age 22, April 1, 1862. Reported absent sick in June, 1862. Reported absent without leave in July-October, 1862. Reported absent sick in November-December, 1862. Returned to duty in January-February, 1863. Discharged on April 30, 1863, by reason of “gen[era]l debility & phthisis pulmonalis.” Hospitalized at Richmond, Virginia, May 2, 1863, with typhoid pneumonia. Died in hospital at Richmond on June 1, 1863, of “pneumonia.” [NCT 13:267]

  7. Ashley says:

    Hi Lynn – I did a keyword search in the finding aid (see the link in the original blog post) for Joseph and found no mention of him. A search in the NC Digital Collections turned up references to a “Joseph Landis” and “Joseph A. Williams” in the Poteet letters, but I didn’t see any mention of Joseph A. Poteet.

    Of course he could be mentioned in other collections or in state or county records. You may want to search for his name in our online catalog: http://mars.archives.ncdcr.gov/. Just keep in mind that not every single item in our collection is searchable through our online catalog (we have way too many materials to index down to that level); but even given that, it is a good place to start.

  8. Lynn Poteet Holland says:

    Mark, All the information concedes with my great-grandfather, Joseph A. Poteet, entry into service from McDowell County. Don’t know about heath issues, but actually he went on to father 10 children and d. 1934 so either it is not the same J.A. Poteet or the death information is incorrect.

  9. Mary Holcomb Brock says:

    Peter Poteet who wrote 2 of these letters is my G G grandfather. Thank you for posting these letters so I can read them.

  10. debra edge says:

    I was wondering how do I find out my family history of the poteets.I have family with that last name.if u could help I would truley appreciate it very much.

  11. Ashley, I had read a few of these letters elsewhere but wanted to thank you for sharing the rest here. Gemima Poteet, the only sister of these brothers that I am aware of, is mentioned in these letters along with her husband George a couple times. Gemima and George were my third great grandparents. He served in 49th NC Regiment, Co A, dying 17 September 1862 at the Battle of Antietam. It is heartbreaking to read these letters and realize what the family was going through so many generations ago. I have not searched around your site a lot for documents but was wondering if you have also seen the letter many of the women of the area sent Governor Vance in 1863 pleading with him not to take anymore men for the war. Also quite heartbreaking. Thank you again for sharing these.

  12. Ashley says:

    Hi NotForgetting,

    I’m glad people are still finding these materials and finding them useful. While I don’t recall seeing a letter to Vance such as the one you describe, we do have various materials to, from, and about Gov. Vance in the NC Digital Collections. I know there’s a letter to Vance from the women of Madison County after Shelton Laurel in the collection, although I suspect that is not the letter you’re referring to. You may want to try this link: http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/search/collection/p15012coll8/searchterm/Vance%2C%20Zebulon%20Baird%2C%201830-1894/field/all/mode/exact/conn/and/order/nosort/ad/asc – it should take you to a search I did of Vance’s name as a subject heading within the Civil War Collection.

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