1857: Julia Elizabeth Ruckles to Jefferson Davis

This incredible letter was written by Julia Elizabeth (Bowis) Ruckles (1836-1906) who became the wife of Lawrence Lottier Ruckles (1833-1894) in 1854. Julia was the daughter of bricklayer, George Benskin Poindexter Bowis (1800-1881) and Julia A. Bailey (1802-1850) of New Kent, Virginia.

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Julia’s father, George Benskin Poindexter Bowis

In her letter to Jefferson Davis—then the Secretary of War in the Pierce Administration—Julia pleads for her husband to be discharged from the military service, alleging that he enlisted under a false name and in so doing, had abandoned his wife and young child with no means to support themselves.

A review of the Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army in 1856 reveals that Julia spoke the truth. On 26 December 1856, a 23 year-old Virginian by the name of Lawrence Conway enlisted and was assigned to Co. G, 1st Cavalry. Curiously, someone later amended the entry by writing above his name, “proper name Ruckles.” There is no record of a discharge, but in the 1860 US Census, Julia and her 5 year-old son were residing with her father’s family in New Kent, and Lawrence was alleged to be residing out of state and being sued by the Bowis family to recover property (slaves) that had been given to Julia and Lawrence at the time of their wedding.

When the Civil War broke out a few years later, Lawrence enlisted in Co. C, Virginia Pamunkey Light Artillery Battery (Confederate) in June 1861. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. According to his enlistment papers (in contrast to the description offered by his wife), Lawrence stood 6 feet 1 inches, had light hair and light eyes. His occupation was recorded as “manufacturer” at enlistment.

After the war, there must have been some reconciliation between Lawrence and Julia for they were enumerated together at Black Creek, New Kent county, Virginia in the 1870 US Census. Lawrence was then a farmer though he apparently continued as a tobacconist in Richmond, keeping a residence at 28th Street near Clay.

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TRANSCRIPTION

New Kent County, Virginia
February 17th 1857

Dear Sir,

My husband has enlisted in the United States Mounted service. He enlisted by the name of Lawrence Conway his right name is Lawrence Ruckles. He is 23 years old. His height is 5 feet 10 inches 3¼. He is a tobacconist. He had when he left my name on his arm JER done with ink. He is my lawful husband and he has one child and we have no support on earth without him. You will do me a great favor by giving him his discharge as soon as possible. If you fail to do this, I know not what I shall do. It can be proven that he is my lawful husband—that we were lawfully married. If you wish any farther proof, you may get it at any moment. If you please, discharge him as soon as you can as I am in great distress. Do not fail to do this if you please.

Respectfully. — Mrs. Julia E. Ruckles

Write me word if you discharge him or not. I will be anxious to hear.


 

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