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A Confederate Colonel

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

The letters of James Griffin of South Carolina appear in A Gentleman and an Officer, by Judith McArthur and Orville Vernon Burton published by Oxford University Press in 1996.

When he joined the Confederate Army, James B. Griffin was 36 years old, had 1500 acres of South Carolina plantation land in Edgefield District of South Carolina a few miles north of Augusta, Georgia and owned 61 slaves. After the death of his first wife, he married Eliza Burt. They had eight children.


He wrote to his wife frequently and always with great affection. Typical is his letter on June 14, 1861. “My darling wife, I have a few minutes to spare and I propose to devote them to my Darling wife. ..My best love to all the Children Kiss them every day for me. Tell them to be good children.”


The next day, he wrote, “Abram has just arrived here bringing me a letter from Mrs Lanham requesting me to inform her when we will likely move to Virginia.”

Two slaves, Abram and Ned, were with Griffin in the Confederate Army. Ned’s role was care of Griffin’s horses and Abram had a variety of tasks, culminating in providing for the officer mess of their regiment.


On July 24, 1861, Griffin wrote, “I doubt not My Darling you have heard of the terrible battle fought last Sunday at Manassas and that we won a most Splendid Victory but we lost many gallant men. …I, of course, was in no danger, for I was not there. …I would have been there with my command if they could have transported us on the cars. But having so many infantry forces to transport we were ordered to March. Which is very tedious.”

This battle, known in the North as the Battle of Bull Run, was fought on July 21, 1861.

He continued, “The opinions about the war are numerous and various. Some think we will have a long war, some, a short one, and some, none at all.”


Three day later, he wrote, “I went yesterday to the battle ground, which is about six miles from here. And o my Darling—I have often heard of the horrors of war And have had pictured in my mind the horrible appearance of a battle field after a battle. But never before could I have the least conception of the scene. In the first place, I stopped at a hospital here—Gen Beauregard had the wounded enemy carried. Some of them are pitiable looking objects—many of them are badly wounded. Gen Beauregard has them well cared for. Their Army ran off and left their dead and wounded on the field, never pretended to bury their dead nor take care of their wounded.”


The Union army had retreated in disorder after the inexperienced soldiers panicked.


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