1864: Judith Watts Grimes to John Collins Grimes

This letter was written by Judith Watts Grimes (1843-1933), the daughter of William Bryan Grimes (1811-1901) and Sarah Marina Ellis (1806-1887) of Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. She wrote the letter from her father’s plantation 25 miles below Alexandria on the Red River. Judith was married in 1870 to Dr. Samuel Gilbert Compton (1831-1892) of Rapides, Louisiana.

John Collins Grimes

Judith wrote the letter to her brother, John Collins Grimes (1842-1906), who had served initially as a private in Co. B, 1st (Nelligan’s) Louisiana Infantry. He enlisted in August 1861 and served until June 1862 when he supplied a substitute. Later—and at the time this letter was written—John was a 2nd Lt. in the 8th Louisiana Cavalry, Co. A. He was paroled at Natchitoches, Louisiana on 6 June 1865.

We are informed that Judith’s father, William Grimes, “always provided a minister for his slaves and required that they marry,” says Pauline Grimes McNeal, his great-granddaughter, who still owns part of the old plantation in northwest Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. William Grimes was a native of Plymouth, North Carolina. His wife, Sarah M. Ellis (1806-1887), was a native of Pitt Co., N. C. Their graves lie in the old Rapides Cemetery in Pineville. The family home was built just before Civil War. It was fired upon during the Red River Campaign and repaired. The house reportedly slipped into the Red River about 1900.

Mary “Laulette” Lanier is mentioned in the letter. She was Judith’s step-sister—the daughter of Lazarus Tilman Lanier (1795-1838) and Sarah Marina Ellis. After Tilman died, Sarah married William Graves. Laulette married William Paschal Hickman (1838-1863) and had two sons named, Preston Paschal Hickman (1859-1911) and Grimes Hickman (1862-1868)—the latter being mentioned as a small, curly-headed boy with a new suit of clothes in this letter. The Hickman’s lived in Terrebonne Parish, La.

Judith’s Letter with an image of her taken about 1859


Holmes Bluff ¹
January 18th 1864

Dear Brother,

You are a naughty boy not to write to me. I have written you two letters since you left and not a line have I received from you. Now you must do better than that or this will be my last letter. Laulette too think hard of your not writing to her. It was certainly your place to have written first. She told me she intended writing to you soon anyway. She was down to see us on the 9th and remained until the 12th. Preston had been staying with us three weeks but he went home with his Ma. Grimes is the sweetest sort of a little fellow. He can say almost anything—often speaks of Uncle John. Laulette has cut his curly hair and made him a pair of pants and jacket. He looks so cunning in the. He is delighted with them and feels his importance when he gets them on. Pa is sending Henry to Lauletts’s today after a sack of flour—price $100.00. She bought one for herself at the same time. We had been out some time.

Laulette sold Ned to an officer the other day for three hundred dollars. The cloth for your suit will soon be woven. It is jeans. Ma gloved [?] it I am weaving it. Ask Cousin Ann if she does not think I am right smart to be weaving jeans? Ma says that she does not say it is very pretty but that it is very good. It is all a fancy of my own weaving it for Ma acknowledges that she never would have undertaken it had it not been for me.

Our Red River defenses are progressing finely. They have several rows of spiling driven and are filling in with timber laid all sorts of ways. As well as I recollect, the spiles are ten feet apart. They intend cutting timber in above and below in all about five miles. Gen. De Russey at first superintended the work but now they have sent your favorite Maj. Boyd down there—you recollect, the one that was at the Seminary.

Albert Bringhurst ² has been killed in a skirmish in Virginia. Dr. Waters told us about it last Wednesday. I suppose you have heard that Mr. Peter Hickman ³ died in Natchitoches on his way home from Texas and here lately little Peter Hickman was at home and got thrown from his horse and died shortly afterwards.

Have you ever made your shoes? I know you must be barefooted if you have not. Do get a good pair and fix up and keep clean and nice. I know you have to do all this though for you see so many young ladies.

I received a letter from Lauriston dated at Natchitoches. He is with you all before now. We are all well and send much love to you. Ma says she wants to see you very much. Write soon.

Your fond sister, — Judith

Artist’s rendering of “Grimes Bluff”

¹ Descendants of the Grimes family refer to the plantation home as “Grimes Bluff” but the property on which the Grimes built their home was originally owned by Joseph Holmes who raised corn, cotton and tobacco. William Graves bought his property in 1853 and court records indicate that the Holmes plantation became part of the Grimes plantation. Graves built his two-story brick colonial home just prior to the Civil War which proved to be a tempting target for Union gunboats who “split it from top to bottom” during the war. The house was repaired after the war and used by the family for many years. Perhaps the Grimes family had moved into the older Holmes plantation house which they called “Holmes Bluff” to live in at this late stage of the war if their house was uninhabitable. [History of Ayoyelles Parish, Louisiana, by Corinne L. Saucier,  page 268]

² Albert Clement Bringhurst (1839-1863) was the son of Augustus L. Bringhurst (1803-1852) and Maria Louise Waters (1817-1879). Albert was killed in action on the Rapidan in Virginia on 29 November 1863 while serving as captain of the Stafford Guards (Co. B), 9th Louisiana Infantry.

³ Peter Terry Hickman (1810-1863) died on 13 December 1863 in Natchitoches Parish. Louisiana. He was the son of William Paschal Hickman (1778-1834) and Mary M. Webser (1780-1860). Peter was married to Louis Desiree Giaennie (1817-1888) in 1837 and had at least ten children at the time of his death. He had a son named Peter Taylor Hickman born in 1847 but it does not appear he died from falling off a horse.


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