This letter was written by Robert Martin Rucker (1831-1908), the son of Samuel Reede Rucker (1794-1862) and Martha (“Mattie”) B. Martin (1808-1835) of rural Rutherford county, Tennessee. Robert wrote the letter to his 67 year-old father, a proud Jeffersonian Democrat who had previously served in the state senate and as the mayor of Murfreesboro while practicing law and managing a large plantation with at least 21 slaves (in 1850). His property was “on the waters of Liyttle Creek of the west fork of Stones river” southeast of Murfreesboro.
Robert was an original member of Co. A, 2nd Tennessee (Bates) Infantry that organized at Nashville on 6 May 1861 and mustered into Confederate service at Lynchburg, Virginia, on 12 May 1861. They had the honor of being the second regiment mustered into the Confederate service which is why they were sometimes called the “2nd Confederate Infantry Regiment.” Robert had an older brother named Joel Childress Rucker (1821-1874) who also served with him in the same company.
Robert’s service records indicate that he was wounded at Chickamauga but recovered to rejoin his regiment. He was made a prisoner at Goldsboro, North Carolina, and taken to Point Lookout where he was confined until he took the oath of allegiance on 16 June 1865. At the time of his release, he was described as standing 6 ft. 1½ in. tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. I’m not sure how Robert’s capture at Goldsboro squares with the family tradition that he “had the distinction of being the last picket of the Confederate Army captured, his capture taking place at Bentonville, North Carolina,” but I include it here for completeness. After the war, “he married the widow of Captain Cowan of the Confederate Army.” [Source: Tennessee The Volunteer State, 1769-1923 Volume IV: Chicago, IL: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923.]
The history of the 2nd Tennessee up until the time of this letter is as follows: “They were first under fire at Aquia Creek, Virginia, on June 1, 1861, where it supported Confederate batteries in an engagement with Federal warships. It was then placed in the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Theophilus H. Holmes, along with the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment, which brigade constituted the extreme right wing of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard’s Army. About the last of June, the regiment was ordered to Fredericksburg to embark on an expedition down the Rappahanock River which resulted in the capture of the Federal mail packet, the Saint Nicholas, the Halifax, laden with coffee, and the Mary of Virginia, laden with ice.
“On July 19, 1861, the brigade joined Beauregard’s forces at Manassas, preparatory to the battle of July 21. Holmes’ Brigade was placed in support of Brigadier General Richard S. Ewell’s Brigade, and was not actively engaged in the fighting, although it came under heavy fire while shifting position in the afternoon of the battle.
“On September 13, 1861, the regiment was transferred to Colonel J. G. Walker’s Brigade, stationed at Fredericksburg, along with the 1st Arkansas and the 12th North Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiments. It remained in this brigade until December 30, 1861, when it moved to Evansport, now Quantico, Virginia, and was placed in the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Samuel G. French, in company with the 2nd Arkansas Infantry Battalion, the 35th Georgia, 22nd North Carolina, and 47th Virginia Infantry Regiments. Here the regiment assisted in the erection of batteries and other defenses. In February, 1862 the regiment re-enlisted for three years, or the duration of the war.”
See also—1861: James Osborn Oslin to John W. Parker; Oslin also served in Co. A, 2nd Tennessee.
Bates Regiment, 2nd Tennessee Volunteers
December 20th 1861
Dear Father & Mother,
I wrote home Sunday before last and sent it the next day without paying the postage on it. Perhaps you have not received it. So today I have concluded to write you a few lines. My health still continues to be unexceptionally good—only I have a game tooth in my head (the same old tooth that has troubled me for three or four years) which growls and aches a good deal. But I put a piece of cotton in it which stops it from aching by excluding the cold air from it. If it troubles me much more, I shall get a furlough and go to Fredericksburg to a splendid dentist there and have it plugged or pulled out.
Our mess are all in fine health. In fact, there is no sickness in this regiment. Our camp is a beautiful one—fine free stove, water, and a fine field to drill in. The regiment have pretty well finished building their winter quarters. We—our mess—have erected a good, comfortable & snug cabin, 14 by 16½ with a good fire place, good hearth and floor, and three good beds in it, with a plenty of bed clothes. Besides, we have a dining table which sits in the middle of the floor which answers many purposes to wit; to read around, to play chip [poker], and draughts [checkers], and whist, all to while away the long winter nights, and exercise our minds. Then besides our room is furnished with nice racks for our guns & accoutrements of war to rest upon &c. ¹
The weather has been beautiful for the past three weeks and I hope it may continue throughout the winter.
I am on police guard today and tomorrow night our company goes down on picket on the [Potomac] river at the mouth of the Chappawamsic [creek]. Since I wrote you last, there were by some of our men who happened to be down on the river at the time, captured five live Yankees—two little boys & two grown Yankees. They were in a boat out on the Potomac and were foolish enough to be induced to come over to our shore. They were taken to Richmond.
There is no prospect of a fight here soon. Day before yesterday & the day before that, the heaviest cannonading I have heard yet was heard up in the direction of Centreville. I think there must have been a fight up there between our forces and the Federal, though there has been nothing heard to that effect yet except that rumor says there was another fight at Leesburg. Not much confidence in the report.
I think this blockade [of the Potomac] at Evansport does not amount to much and the forces on our side down here are only acting as guards to the right bank of the Potomac and to prevent McClellan from flanking our right. ²
Mother, I have not lost a single thing pertaining to my clothes since I have been out here. The top of my hat is nearly worn out and if you have not sent my pantaloons yet, when you send them, send also my felt hat that I left at home.
Some of the boys of our mess were talking about having some things sent by express to them. It will cost money to send anything this distance by express. If you have anything to send us that way, you can do it but I would not advise you to do it for the simple reason that it will cost money & then there is an uncertainty about its reaching us. And besides, the money is needed worse at home for family purposes than the articles are needed here. You can’t sell cotton to bring any money & there was a bad crop of corn &c. raised at home. So maybe you will have to buy both meat & corn, & taxes—high taxes—are to be paid to carry on this war &c.
We are out here doing first rate. It is true that a little lard and butter would be a great convenience in cooking & eating and when you send my pantaloons & hat and such things as Arthur needed, it you send the butter & lard, it will be thankfully received. But I would not advise you to for we can dispense with that.
Write soon Father—you or Mother [either] one—and give me the particulars of the farm, the health of the family &c. Tell the Black ones all howdy and that they must take good care of all the stock on the farm—hogs, cattle, & sheep should be well looked to this winter for they will help to feed & clothe them & carry on this war.
My respects to the family connection. Your affectionate son, — R. M. Rucker
Arthur got his letter from Peter & his wife. Peter’s letter was very affectionate. Tell Peter & Albert they must take good care of the horses—particularly the colts. My love to all the black ones. — R. M. Rucker
Send me word about my dog.
¹ Residents in this neighborhood of the Potomac—many with Southern loyalties—were not so happy to discover soldiers in the Rebel army confiscating building materials to erect their winter quarters. One resident, C.W.C. Dunnington even wrote Jefferson Davis to complain: “I rode down today, and found every plank taken from the stable, the office removed, the kitchen and servants’ house all gone but the brick chimneys…the fencing gone, and what I expected to be my future home a complete wreck. The enemy have not destroyed any man’s property on the Potomac so completely as the Georgia, Texas, and Captain Frobel’s company have destroyed mine.”
² After victory at First Manassas, the Confederate army established a defensive line from Centreville along the Occoquan River to the Potomac River. In October, the Confederates constructed batteries at Evansport, Freestone Point, Shipping Point, and Cockpit Point to close the Potomac River to shipping and isolate Washington. By mid-December, the Confederates had 37 heavy guns in position along the river.