James Wall Scully’s Unpublished Letters: Corinth, Commissions and Commanding Officers, May 1862

The latest batch of James Wall Scully letters (kindly provided by Anthony McCan) sees Henry Halleck’s forces continuing their slow movement towards Corinth, Mississippi in May 1862. The Kilkenny man remains preoccupied with his quest for a commission, and signs are appearing that the relationship between he and his friend and mentor Alvan Gillem are becoming strained. An encounter with General Thomas cheers the Irish native, as hopes for good news re his future advancement in the army grow.

Alvan Gillem, James Wall Scully's friend and mentor. Gillem rose to become a General before war's end and continued in the regular army after 1865. (Library of Congress)

Alvan Gillem, James Wall Scully’s friend and mentor. Gillem rose to become a General before war’s end and continued in the regular army after 1865. (Library of Congress)

Camp near Corinth, Miss.

May 14th, 1862

My Dear Wife,

We are yet in front of the enemy and no battle- nothing more than some slight skirmishing. I have received no letter from you since I wrote you last but hope you are all well. Remember that if anything should occur requiring my immediate  notification that the telegraph is always with our headquarters. I wrote to you a few days ago, enclosing ten dollars to buy a carriage for Sissy- I hope you ave received it safe. I know that its “nice” to receive a little sum once in a while in a letter even if it is only a V.  You know it would be dangerous to trust more in a letter on account of the state of mail facilities here- I was worried almost to death the time I sent you the $150.00.

There is going to be a change in my career pretty soon. We are making up our papers to transfer everything in the Q.M.D. to Captain Nigh, A.Q.M. who is here- G. [Gillem] is going as Colonel of Volunteers. I got a peep of a telegram that he received yesterday from Governor Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. It stated that he was “this day appointed Colonel of the regiment raised at Nashville, known as the “Governor’s Guard” and to report to him without delay- he has not told me about it yet and of course does not suspect that I know- he will either accept that or the one in the Kentucky Cavalry. He takes it as a matter of course that I’ll go with him, and he don’t ask me whether I want to go or not.

He was for about a week (this month) very cross to me- in fact he treated me as you saw him treat Maggie- every thing I done was wrong, and everything I said he’d snap at me, but finally I got tired of it and told him that “as long as I could not please him, and as he could get much better clerks than I am, that I would go home”- Gracious! if you saw how quick he changed.

It is very hot here and as I have no hat I am getting very much sunburned. I’ll try and get a felt hat from Libby the first time I see him.

I suppose Sissy will be walking by the time I get home. You will soon be [weaning?] her now — can she eat yet? Talking about eating, I am half starved, nothing but hard crackers and pork. Capt. Gilbert 1st Infy. Major Gillem and myself mess together. Gilbert is caterer and is so stingy that we would have NOTHING only the cook gets things on his own hook. Of course, I can’t say anything.

How do you like living alone for so long- I have not seen a “female” for over a month- One Sunday I went down to Hamburg Landing, and there was a boatload of ladies from Louisville there and I had the greatest mind to “press some of them into service” and fetch them up to Camp. I believe I would have done so, but for the merciful mission the “Dear Angels” came on: to take care of the wounded.

I have a great many friends now amongst the high officers  of our Old Army, anyone of whom could procure me a Commission if they were at Washington. It is very hard to get the officials there to notice letters. Colonel Oakes comes over nearly every day to have a talk with me, whenever he has a late paper he brings it to me and I the same with him- G. [Gillem] remarked to me of the staff  “that if they wanted the news, to go to Col. Oakes or Scully”. He is very influential at Washington and he told me that if he had known me while he was at Washington, that he would have got me a Commission. You remember Spangler belonged to his company, and the time I went to Fort Inge, he was in command there- I know we’ll get along well anyhow and perhaps it is all  for the better that  it happened as it did- perhaps if I did stay in “K” Company, that I might be there now under Jock, as there was no dependence to be placed on French. When I see you, I’ll tell you all that Mrs G. told me.

Genl. Thomas was here yesterday, I only saw him for about a minute as he did not dismount and was talking with Genl. Buell. He remarked that I was “getting very stout.” I love old Genl. Thomas. Brecknridge is ordered to Fort Pickens. Who knows but  mine is on the way also and that I will go down south too, perhaps Key West- “It is better to live in hope than die in despair”,

P.S.

Dear Mary Anne,

I was in an awful stew for the last three weeks up to yesterday. The reason was as follows; 

I wrote a letter to the “Louisville Journal” from the battlefield (the reason I done so was I saw an article in that paper, saying that the new system of promotion was working well in the Army, and that no volunteer officers should be transferred to the regular army- I just thought that I might get command of a company from Gillem in his vol. regiment and that it would be a poor thing if that was going to keep me forever out of the regular army). After I sent it, I did not know whether I had put my name to it or “Old Soldier”. I knew that I meant to put “Old Soldier” in it, but in my haste I might just as soon have put “Yours etc. Scully” in it as anything else. Yesterday when I got the paper I can tell you that I felt exceedingly relieved when I saw that I was incognito, as it would subject me to a great deal of remarks if it was known that I wrote it. I enclose you the slip together with the Editor’s Comment  on it. I wish you would keep it safe as it took me four days to write it, and it is my first attempt at newspaper correspondence.

I must now conclude by sending you all my kindest love, and kisses for you and the little folks, and with the most sanguine hopes of seeing you soon.

I am your own,

Scully.

Camp near Corinth, Miss.

May 24th, 1862

My Own Dear Wife,

Capt. Gillem is very sick for the last four days but not dangerously. I think he will be sent to Nashville in a day or two until he gets well. They want him to go now, but he won’t go as we are hourly expecting the battle. Genl. Halleck is laying here in front of their works (but out of sight of them) trying to coax them out to attack us- they will soon have to come as their provisions are near out, and their men are coming over to us (deserting) by the hundred. It will save a great loss of life by us remaining as we are for at least another week.

I told you in my last letter about SOMETHING going to happen which will benefit us- I tell you again that it is progressing very favourably, and I think in another week I can tell you all about it. You may think it singular of me not telling you, but I have an idea that it was on account of us being so sanguine of the Commission that I did not get it.

I sent you a letter with ten dollars in it; did you get it? It was to buy a carriage for Sissy- if you have not bought it, don’t mind to for the present, as you may be moving. When I start for Baltimore I will let you know by telegraph. I hope Ally and the children are well, also Maria and husband . Is he Q.M. Sergt. yet?

I don’t feel like writing much, so I will conclude by sending yourself and the little ones my love and a dozen kisses, and I remain,

Your loving Husband,

Scully,

I‘ll write often to make up for the shortness.

In the next instalment of Scully letters he returns to Tennessee and receives further news about his commission, as well as moving closer to a potential reunion with his wife.

Further Reading

McCan, Anthony 2002. ‘James Wall Scully- A Kilkenny Soldier in the American Civil War’ in Ferguson, Kenneth (ed.)The Irish Sword: The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland, Vol. 23, No.91, Summer 2002, pp. 141- 154

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Categories: Guest Post, Kilkenny

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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