The following letters are quite moving. They are from Samuel McKittrick, a soldier in the 16th South Carolina, which was a part of Brigadier General States Rights Gist’s brigade of William Bate’s division in Hardee’s Corps at Kennesaw Mountain. McKittrick survived the fight at Kennesaw, but was mortally wounded at the Battle of Atlanta a few weeks later, dying on July 23, 1864. I used a quote from one of his letters at the close of the book, signifying the hope and sacrifice of the average Confederate solder in 1864, but I wanted to provide more of his letters for more context. Thus, parts of his letters are excerpted below, including the letter sent to McKittrick’s wife telling her of her husband’s death outside of Atlanta.
McKittrick’s letters are beautifully written, expressing love and affection for his family at home and an abiding faith in God’s ability to carry him through the war. In the event that he was killed, McKittrick repeatedly told his wife to pray to God for comfort and to raise their children as strong Christians. We can only hope that Samuel’s words of faith were of comfort to his widow after his death in July 1864.
I have at last obtained a moment’s leisure to let you know that I am by the great Mercy of God well and have been preserved through all the dangers and hardships of the past week.
My dear, the horrors of the battlefield are awful, but I have survived them with as much or more deliberation as I expected to. I tried to resign myself to the will of God and in answer to our Prayers he has safely brought me through for which as well as other blessings we should feel thankful. My dear, that amidst all the confusion and peril of the strife I did not forget my dear wife and children at home, although it looked very likely that I would never see you again. I do earnestly hope that the Lord has kept you all safely and that you are now doing well. I am very anxious to hear from you. I hope to get a letter from you tomorrow. I am fearful we will not get communications regularly until there is more quiet here.
Sunday June 5, letter to wife
“I will finish my letter today. I never know when I commence a letter that I will have time to finish it without being stopped, as we are frequently stopped in our writing and have to lay all things by to march. We have been ever since the 7th of May marching around and laying in line of battle all the time. We have marched, I suppose, about 150 miles by night and day. We seldom pull off our shoes at night as we have to start so suddenly. We moved a short distance yesterday and struck up camp in the rain, hearing the Yanks were getting to our right we left camp about 12 o’clock last night—and come since 5 or 6 miles in that direction. We are now going to move again this evening. We had a severe time this morning through the mud and rain in the dark. My dear, it is a hard struggle for Independence. I am well today. My bowels are troubling me some. I stood all the hard marching better than I expected to. The troops are very much fatigued. We are now getting more to eat than we did before we left winter quarters. We get enough of meat and bread. My dear wife I hope that your frightful dream will not be realized. Oh, if I could be with you in your confinement, but that you know is impossible. I hope that your neighbors will not let you suffer. I hope that you are getting on with our dear little ones. Be firm in government with them. Tell them all I am always thinking about them and want to see them badly. Tell Turner and Jeffy they must not say bad or ugly words. Tell Rose and Line I have not forgotten them. I want them to be faithful servants, both to you and their God. Tell my dear children I want them to be such good children that if I never see them in this world, we will meet in Heaven. My dear wife, I have had many serious thoughts since I left you about leaving the world. I sometimes fear that I am not prepared, but still I have a Hope that I would not give for any mansion. In the narrow escapes I passed through I felt resigned to the Lord’s will. My dear, I have no doubt of your preparation and if we both prove faithful we will soon meet where all the horrors of war will be over. I am sorry I have not got your likeness, but I have it engraved on my heart which nothing but death can erase. Write when you can.
Your loving husband
Line of Battle near Chattahoochee River, Georgia
July 8, 1864
Having a few moments leisure I send you a few lines which by the great Mercy of God leave me in good health. We still here where we were when I last wrote to you. The Yanks have been unusually slow to pursue us the last move we made…”
Line of Battle near Marietta, GA
June 27, 1864
I am by the great Mercy of God well this morning. I write to you under very unpleasant circumstances. We are now and have been lying behind our Breastworks, and the Enemy are about 900 yards in front of us behind their fortifications, their skirmishers occasionally killing one of our men and wounding several others. It is dangerous to step out from our works. Their sharpshooters are ready to pick us out. This is the only fighting we have had here, yet we are hourly expecting an attack. But they do not appear to come on us. Both parties bomb each other but to no great damage. They are both actively engaged this morning in Bombing. My dear, you will scarcely believe how indifferent soldiers become to Danger. This is the 9th day that we have been thus, waiting an attack. We have lost several men in killed and wounded. I suppose had had some 15 killed 65 wounded. Tell Mr. Berditt I have not heard from William. He left eh line Greenbury. Austin in severely wounded in the Head. Thomas and John Atkins brothers are both killed.
June 28, 1864
I am still well. I was disappointed in finishing my letter yesterday. The news came that the Enemy were advancing upon us. We all had to fly to arms for an attack but they did not come. But they attacked our line both on the right and left of our position. We hear that they were repulsed with a loss of 3500 killed and wounded. Our loss is said to be 150 killed and wounded. A great victory. Gen. Cleburne’s division had but one killed and eleven wounded. Gen. Mercer suffered more severely. Our Division namely (Walker’s) was not engaged. We may be attacked today. If so I trust God in his Providence will shield our Heads and give us the victory. Our troops are so worn down by Fatigue and Hardships that many of us care but little how soon they come as we have them to fight somewhere and perhaps as well here as any where else. My dear wife, I feel anxious about my dear infant. But I know that an all wise God will do all things right. I also know that your very soul years for its recovery and are doing all you can for its relief. The Lord’s will be done. If Providence call her away she will make an additional spirit to our department family formed in Heaven; clear from all the turmoils and troubles of Earth. Oh, if I could be allowed to visit you and spend a few days with my most interesting family. But this Privilege is denied me and I am trying to get along as well as I can by only enjoying sweet Meditation of you.
Let us live so that if we never meet on Earth we may make a happy reunion in Heaven. My dear try to train our Dear children for Heaven as there is nothing worth living for on Earth. I truly sympathize with you in all troubles and care and can only bear you to a Throne of Grace.
Your loving husband until death
Private Samuel McKittrick was elected a 2nd Lt. of his company (I) on June 28, 1864. Several weeks later, the following letter was sent home to his wife:
July 25, 1864
I hasten to drop you a few lines which bears the sad intelligence of the death of your husband. He was wounded in the evening of the 22nd in the fight below Atlanta and died next morning in the charge. A brigade on our right gave way and caused our brigade to have to fall back to keep from being captured and in falling back he with Captain Roberts and some others became separated from the Brigade and fell in with General Goven’s brigade and went on into the fight and they made a vow to take care of each other if they were shot down and Capt. Roberts being in the front rank did not know when he was hit but a man by the name of Tinsley of our Regiment saw him fall and went to him and took him back a piece but gave out and could not get him any further and got a friend to stay with him until he could come and find our regiment. So about midnight he came and told me where and how he was and as I was in charge of the Company and we were expecting the enemy to advance the Colonel would not let me go myself, but I sent 3 men of the Infirmary Corps to go with Tinsley after him and they brought him by where I was and I talked with him. Sometime, he said, he was going to die and he wanted me to write to you and let you know that he was perfectly willing to die, but he hated to leave his poor helpless family but he wanted you to reconcile it as best you could and prepare to meet him in Heaven. He was shot through the lungs and was carried to the brigade hospital where he died next morning and was buried by some of our Company who was there. So I must close. Write to me and I will give you any information I can.
Source: SC-1 file, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park