1860-65: William Henry Wilson Letters

William Henry Harrison (“Tip”) Wilson

These letters were written by William Henry Harrison (“Tip”) Wilson (1840-1921) of Paris, Henry county, Tennessee. Born in September 1840 during the Log Cabin and Hard Cider Presidential Campaign of William Henry Harrison, William’s parents named him after the war hero and presidential candidate who was nicknamed “Tippicanoe” or “Tip” for short. As he grew into an adult, William’s family nicknamed him “Tip” as well and he often signed his letters that way. We know from census records that Tip’s father was from North Carolina and his mother was from Virginia. Digging further in census records, we learn that Tip’s mother was Ann Adeline Neblett (1804-1858) of Lunenburg county, Virginia, who was first married to Green Jackson (1800-1833). In 1839 at the age of 35, Ann married Tip’s father, Joseph Hannibal Bonaparte Wilson (Aft1800-Bef1849).

Tip’s half siblings included Sterling N. Jackson (1831-1880) and Mary M. Jackson (1833-1852); his full siblings included Elizabeth (b. 1841), Sarah (b. 1844), and Joseph (b. 1846).

Tip enlisted as a private in Co. C, 5th Tennessee Volunteers on 20 May 1861. He was promoted to lieutenant and later captain of Company A. The regiment was mustered into Confederate service in August 1861 and went through a couple of reorganizations and consolidations during the war before they were paroled at Greensboro, North Carolina on 1 May 1865.

Lizzie’s parents, Willis & Betsy (Moore) Cox

Tip was married to Naomi Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Cox (1842-1921) on 30 June 1864 at Macon, Alabama. She was the daughter of Willis Cox (1801-1872) and Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Moore (1804-1882) of Macon county, Alabama. These letters were written to her prior to and after their marriage.


Auburn, Alabama
May 12th 1864

Miss Lizzie C.,

This note is to inform you that I yet remember thee. I have just returned from Dalton. I have concluded to give you all the news from that place—at least all I know. I left there Sunday evening. Our entire army was then advancing. Very heavy skirmishing was then going on. Was then thought [a] general engagement would commence Monday morning but did not.

Aftre I left Dalton, I came down to Atlanta to await the result but no general engagement as yet but thought will be soon. WE have killed & captured a great many Yanks since the 1st of this week. Our loss but small compared with that of the enemy’s. Gen. Johnston is ready & feels confident of success. I have never seen soldiers in better spirits than the Army of Tennessee is at the present—all eager to go upon the enemy. confident of a great & glorious victory.

I expect to attend a wedding tomorrow near Westpoint. I expect quite a nice time. I will be out to see you soon—the first time I can get one conveyance. I wrote to you just before leaving camp. I also received one from you which have me much pleasure to read.

Well, I will now tell you the dream I had a few nights ago. I dreamed you & Gen. Mitchel was married. I thought I was at the wedding. I had quite a nice time. Is it true or not? Let me know in your reply. You stated in your last letter like you thought I was not in earnest. Doubt not for I am every thing I have ever said come from the heart & hope may reach the heart of the reacher say need I hope any longer. Hoping to hear from you…[portion of letter torn and missing].

May sorrow never reach thy heart. May friendship with us ever rest. For I can love thee as thou art. 23.8.23….

P. S. You will please excuse all mistakes, bad writing, & short epistle for I [have] not time to write this eve. Goodbye. I hope to see you soon. Answer immediately. — Tip W.


Opelika, Alabama
August 11th 1864

Dear Lizzie,

I arrived at this place about 8 o’clock safe but will not leave until 6 P.M. There is no 8 o’clock train from here in the morning. I feel quite sad but am in fine spirits. I hope you will be cheerful & not let my departure grieve you. Mr. Vaughn says you can keep his buggy as long as you wish. You will have quite a time getting your mule home for it is the laziest thing I ever drove in my life. I found the roads very muddy & bad.

I must close. Farewell. If we never meet on earth again, let’s try and meet in heaven. I am your affectionate husband until death, — W. H. Wilson

Co. A, 5th Tenn. Regt., Strahl’s Brigade, Cheatham’s Division, Army of Tennessee.


In the Ground near Atlanta, Ga.
August 17, 1864

Mrs. N. E. Wilson
My dearest Lizzie,

It is again with the greatest of pleasure to know that I am yet spared to converse with you by way of letter.

Heavy skirmishing still going on day & night. Last night & night before, we fought more or less all night. Atlanta was set on fire both nights from shells but little damage done to the city. Several citizens—both men, women & children has been killed in the city from Yankee shells. There is more gofer holes in town than ever I saw. Every person have got holes dug in the ground for protection. We have a large Army to face but we are all in the best of spirits & willing to fight at any day or hour. Atlanta never will fall while Gen. Hood has command of the Army. Gen. Wheeler is now in the rear of Sherman—burned Marietta with several days rations—also torn up several miles of railroad.

If I was a betting man, I would bet 50,000 dollars if I was worth it that Sherman is beyond Chattanooga in less than one month. We have three brigades coming to our help from Taylor’s Army.

I have [not] seen nor heard from Mr. Vaughn since the day I got here. I would like so much to see him but have no chance of visiting. All we have time to do is lie in the ditches, go on picket, & fight like thunder. We are losing a great many men but not so many as the Yanks. Our boys shoot much better than the enemy. My company was on picket & one of the boys & a Yank got to shooting at each other, then would holler & ask how close he came. This was kept up for some time. Then my man shot & asked how close he came. The Yanks standing by remarked, “Goddam it, you killed him,” which was true for all the boys saw the Yank fall. They make a bargain sometimes to quit shooting & trade some. They they will meet on half way grounds & trade. Our boys will swap tobacco for pocket knives, watches, or anything they have. The Yanks will give anything they have for tobacco.

I must close my badly written epistle with the promise to do better the next time. My sores has got worse & gone to running again as bad as ever. Give my love to Ma & Pa & all the family.

Tell Helen I have the needle book yet—that Howard has not got back from the hospital yet. Mr. Taylor & Olive send their respects to you & says your [ambro]type is the prettiest thing they ever saw. Farewell. May we both live to meet again is the prayer of your devoted husband. — W. H. Wilson


Montgomery, Alabama
November 10, 1864

My Dear Lizzie,

As the lieutenant will start back in the morning and myself to parts unknown, very likely not to see the one who is nearer & dearer to me than life itself again soon, I will write you a short note now & write again so soon as I get to my command.

I am very well tonight—in fine spirits—but wish I was with you. Then how much better I could enjoy myself. I have met several of my friends here. Lund. Simonds, Col. Poter & several others. There is no business carried on here today—fasting & prayer. I could not get Mr. Cox’s money exchanged on that account.

I must close. My love to all. Remember what you requested of me. I will do so believing you will so the same. Farewell. I am as ever your devoted husband. Tip

— W. H. Wilson

I will see you again soon.


Corinth, Mississippi
December 24th 1864

Mrs. N. E. Wilson
My dear wife,

I again try to interest you the best I can by letter but having nothing very interesting, I fear I shall fail to interest you. Well, tomorrow is Christmas day and where am I? Little did I think last Christmas that I would be in this hog pen this Christmas. No man knows what tomorrow will bring forth.

We are expecting a fight here everyday. There are reports that 25,000 Yankees are coming upon this place from Memphis. Let them come. We will give them the best we have in our shop. We have about one thousand men here able for duty. But small we are in number, we are very large in courage. It is also reported that Hood is falling back from Nashville to Tuscumbia where he will take up winter quarters.

Well Lizzie, when you are drinking eggnog tomorrow, think of Tip & drink him a health. Oh how I wish I could be with you. Then how much better I could enjoy myself than what I will for I assure there is no pleasure to be seen at this place for the weather is so very cold I can do nothing. The ground is frozen 6 or 7 inches deep.  When I wrote you a few days ago, it was night. The severe mud was from 3 to 6 inches.

I am in command of a company here. My company is I, 1st Regiment, Reserve Forces. Lieutenant Webb is with me. I am officer of the day today. I am getting along very well. Cover plenty. I have bought me a good blanket. I have two [of the lieutenants too & one very large quilt besides his shawl so you see we have plenty of bedding. But our grub is very rough. For breakfast we have bread & beef. For supper we have beef & bread. Sometimes we get nothing but bread & corn meal, coffee. So you see it is very rough. If a man wants to catch thunder, let him come to Corinth. If I was back with you, I would remain until I could get through to Hood.

Well, Lizzie, you would hardly know me if you was to see me for I am smoked and yellow as a pumpkin—at least my clothes are. I dreamed last night that Frank had come home—is it so or not? If he is at home, tell him & all the rest of my friends not to come to Corinth if they can help it. I expect to go deer hunting Monday if the great excitement dies down about the rain. Plenty of deer around here.

My feet is so very cold I must quit & warm them. Lizzie, I wish I was with you today. Then time would pass away so pleasant. But as it is, hours are like days & days like months. When I was with you, the time did pass so swiftly that my last 30 days did not appear longer than one week. But now it seems like I have been from you three long weeks. I hope the time is not far off when we may meet again not to be separated.

Well, Lizzie, I must bring my short and badly composed epistle to a close & write you again soon. Kiss Ma for me. My love to Pa & all the family. May the Lord of high heaven rest upon us through life, prepare us for death so that when we have to leave this world that we may go in peace & be saved home high up in heaven is the prayer of your devoted husband, — W. H. Wilson

P. S. When you answer this, direct to Co. I, 1st Regt., Reserve Forces, Corinth, Miss.

For fear I may be gone, write upon one corner, if gone, please be forwarded to Capt. W. H. Wilson, Co. A, 5th Tenn. Regt., Strahl’s Brigade, Brown’s Div., Cheatham’s Corps, Army of Tennessee.


On the cars
February 20th 1865

Dear Lizzie,

I left Columbus this morning well & in fine spirits. I learn that all communication is cut off between here & the army so if you do not hear from me soon you must rest easy. I will write every chance.

I told Frank when I left to inform you of the fact that all communication was cut. I must close. I will write every chance. Lizzie, be careful and & take good care of yourself. I hope to see you again soon but my prospects are gloomy now for I see no chance yet to get back. May the Lord bless us, protect & save us in heaven is the prayer of yours devotedly, — W. H. Wilson

P. S.  My love to Pa, Ma & all the family & reserve the greater portion to your own self. I hope to hear from you soon. –Tip


Jackson, Tennessee
September 15, 1865

Dear Lizzie,

I got to this place about one hour ago safe & hearty and will leave in a few minutes for McLemoresville. I don’t think I will be gone more than 4 weeks for I learn that my neighborhood is in a dreadful fix [and] dangerous for a soldier to pass through from here to Paris on foot. So I shall hire conveyance to McLemoresville. There I will get Dr. Brannock to send me on home. I have no news to write so I will close. I only write to let you know how I am getting along. I want to see you & Minnie very bad. Kiss her sweet little lips for me.

My respects to all & remember me. You can look for me about the 21st of October & maybe will get back sooner than that. — Tip Wilson

[Note: The following photograph was reported to have been taken in 1921 at the funeral of Tip Wilson. It shows the family members attending the funeral and provides a list of the names of those shown on the reverse side. Tip’s wife, Lizzie, is the older lady in the very center of the family.]



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