James and John Booker were born to John Booker (1797-1859) and Nancy Blair Reynolds Booker (1796-1859) on October 10, 1840. Nancy and John had been married since November 15, 1824 and had four other children besides the twins: Mary Ann Booker Sparks (1825-1872), Armistead M. Booker (1827-1838), Caroline Booker (1833-1859) and William Booker (1836-1859). Nancy also had another child -- Margaret Benson Reynolds (1815-1867) -- from a previous marriage to William Reynolds (March 29, 1814) (Austin).
In the first three months of 1859, typhoid fever struck the Booker family, killing Nancy, John Sr., Caroline and William. James and John were 19 years old. For the next two years, the twins stayed with relatives, including Aunt Kitty and Uncle John Blair, who later moved to Texas in 1860 (James Booker, September 6, 1861).
On May 24, 1861, when the Booker brothers were 21, they enlisted in Company D of the 38th Virginia Infantry in Whitmell. By August of 1861, James was promoted to corporal, and both brothers became sergeants sometime before April, 1864 (Gregory, 82). In March of 1862, James was hospitalized in Richmond with chronic diarrhea, but returned to his company soon after. Both brothers were severely wounded at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 16, 1864: John received a chest wound and James was wounded in the right thigh. Only James, however, would survive. John died of his wound on August 26, 1864.
After the war, James returned to Pittsylvania County. On October 31, 1867, he married Martha Ann Fulton (?-1923), nicknamed "Pat," one of the "sweethearts" mentioned in his letters. James and Pat Booker had seven children. They died within two months of each other in 1923.
Chloe Unity Blair (1833-1875) was born to Chloe Coleman Blair (1801-1854) and Drury Blair (1801-1864). Her father was Nancy Booker's younger brother, making James and John her first cousins. Chloe Unity had several brothers and sisters, some of whom James and John mention in their letters: Polly Ann, William, and Drury Addison "Addie" Blair, who briefly served in the 38th Regiment with the Bookers.
Unfortunately, all of Chloe Unity's letters to her Booker cousins were either destroyed or are as yet undiscovered. From their responses, however, we can see that both John and James greatly appreciated her letters. They depended upon her for news of the family and they often asked her to "remember" them to different family members. The Bookers also periodically asked their cousin to have their sister Mary forward certain items such as clothing or James' "soldier likeness" (October 4, 1863). Chloe Unity would send them gifts and provisions as well, prompting James to write,
"I am under many obligations to you all for send ing us such a fine box it was a great treat to us," (October 4, 1863).James and John are always polite and solicitous in tone to their cousin, and yet the letters also convey warmth and friendship: having lost their parents and two siblings just before the war, John and James may have been especially close to "cousin Unity," who along with their sister Mary may have served as a kind of surrogate mother. Indeed, when John married Martha Ann Fulton in October of 1867, he became Chloe's step-son-in-law, since Chloe had married Martha's father William Fulton (1821-18?) just a few months before. It is easy to imagine that the two cousins were pleased by this relationship, as their respective marriages unified and tightened the Booker and Blair families, which had suffered so many losses during the war years.
On May 3, 1861, Governor John Letcher called for the men of Virginia to leave their families and occupations and join the Confederate Army. Soon after, the 38th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed, led by Colonel Edward Edmonds, Lieutenant Colonel Powhatan Whittle and Major Isaac Carrington. During the course of the war, the 38th was assigned to several different brigades, including Smith's, Early's and Armistead's Brigades. There was also considerable turnover of officers, as some were wounded, killed, or not re-elected.
The 38th consisted of 10 companies, most of which were organized in Pittsylvania County, VA. Company D, which the Bookers joined, was organized at Whitmell. Its initial leader was Captain Ralph Herndon.
The members of the 38th Virginia spent much of their time drilling, marching, serving picket duty, and speculating about when and where the next battle would be. Indeed, the Bookers seem to devote more energy to anticipating battles than to describing them (perhaps because they did not want to upset their cousin).
They acquired much of the information that fueled their speculations from gossiping with citizens and other soldiers. In a letter from 1861, for instance, James Booker predicts that a "hard battle" will break out soon, basing his prediction on a conversation he had with a soldier whose company is located closer to the front (October 8).
Sometimes more immediate experiences led the Bookers to forecast a battle, especially when they could see Union troops or hear cannonades and gunfire nearby. Writing from a rain-soaked outpost near Yorktown, Virginia in 1862, for instance, James reports that the Union forces have been
"shooting at our men constantly tho it is very cildom thay hit eny of them" (April 19).He predicts that soon a battle will occur that will decide the war, since he has heard that Yankee prisoners
"say that thay have got to whip or die here" (April 19, 1862).But in this prediction, as in others, James was disappointed. As the war dragged on, the Bookers stopped assuming that it would reach a speedy conclusion; indeed, by 1864 John came to the conclusion that the "leaden men" were not really interested in achieving peace (March 1, 1864).
Although the Bookers participated in several battles and skirmishes, the most devastating battle for their regiment was Gettysburg (see the section on Regimental History for a complete list of the engagements that the 38th took part in). While participating in Pickett's Charge, the 38th Virginia lost Colonel Edmonds, whom James Booker describes as "one of the best men in service," and many other officers and soldiers (July 11, 1863). The Booker brothers themselves had to scramble to avoid being captured by Union troops; several of their companions, however, "let the Yankees take them" (July 11, 1863).
Not only were the Bookers shocked by their experiences in battle, but by chilling events that upset camp routines. In the first weeks of the war, James Booker reports, a young man accidentally shot another soldier from his hometown and now is "about to grieve himself to death about it" (July 14, 1861). But James passes on an even more shocking story in a later letter: two soldiers were caught conspiring to kill their commanding officer and were executed. In an attempt to "save their souls," the condemned soldiers "gave the Roman Catholic Priest 25 dollars apiece" (December 15, 1861).
More explainable than violence in the camps, but ultimately more destructive, was disease. Illness and disease killed two-thirds of the Southern soldiers who died during the Civil War, so not surprisingly the Bookers often detail the health problems that they and their fellow soldiers were suffering (Robertson 88-89). These ailments include jaundice, typhoid, stomach disorders, fever, and mumps. The Bookers imply that much of the illness is due to the conditions the soldiers must face; sometimes the soldiers would not have adequate shelter, at times they would have to wade rivers and then march miles wearing wet clothing, and often they lacked sufficient provisions (John Booker, April 29, 1862). Although sick soldiers were typically sent to the hospital, the men also took care of each other. In the fall of 1861, James and John Booker, apparently just recovering from sickness themselves, were responsible for nursing three members of their company (James Booker, September 6). Several months later, James Booker fell sick with chronic diarrhea and was sent to Greaner's Hospital in Richmond to recuperate. While in the hospital, Booker was stuck in a Catch-22: he wanted to get a furlough so that he could recover his health at home, but he did not know where his company was, so he could not get the permission of his commanding officer to return to Pittsylvania.
Eventually James re-joined his company, but he did not receive the furlough that he wished for.
Although in his first letter James Booker claims that the soldiers get "plenty of good pervision," the Bookers later complained that they often didn't get enough to eat (July 14, 1861). As James writes in 1862,
"the rations has bin very scanty a large portion of the time sence we have bin marching" (September 30).But sometimes the 38th Virginia did enjoy plentiful supplies, particularly when they camped in locations where food was abundant. When the 38th Virginia arrived near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, for instance, James Booker reported that
"we can get plenty of milk & butter and apple butter that is verry good" (June 30, 1863).Often civilians would supply soldiers with food, whether because they feared or supported the troops.
Throughout the letters, the Bookers demonstrate their consciousness of the effect the war is having on the civilians. At the beginning of the war, James Booker describes the friendly exchanges between Southern soldiers and civilians, reporting gleefully from a camp near Winchester that the men have
"a fine chance of beautiful young Ladies, and the kindest that I ever saw" (July 14, 1861).
Besides providing moral support, Southern civilians would exchange information about the war with the Confederate troops (James Booker, November 24, 1862). Both Southern and Northern civilians would sell or give supplies to Confederate troops. Writing from Winchester, Virginia in 1862, James Booker even claims that he prefers Yankees to Quakers, since
"the Yankees will sell us eny thing cheap for the specia" while "the quakers will sell any thing thay have got when the spirit moves them, tho we cant catch them rite half our time" (James Booker, October 17, 1862).Likewise, in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, the Yankee citizens treated the Confederate soldiers "verry kind," providing them food without charging them for it, though James suggests that "it is don through fear" (June 30, 1863). While in Fredericksburg, James enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship with a local civilian, guarding his home in exchange for lodging.
Although civilians and soldiers often cooperated with each other, the Bookers realized that the war was damaging the lives of those not directly involved in the fighting. In particular, James argues, citizens who live near the "line of the enemy" "have great deal to see trouble about" (June 14, 1863). Even those areas not yet scarred by the war would soon be, James predicts. As he says of Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania,
"this is a verry flourishing looking Country the crops all look fine. it has never felt the affect of the war, though I guess if we stay here long it will feel the affect of it" (June 30, 1863).
James especially blames Northern soldiers for looting the homes of Southern citizens, claiming that "the yankees is geting too mean to live" (June 14, 1863). But he admits that some Confederate soldiers likewise have stolen from citizens, disobeying General Lee's orders. Indeed, one woman stormed into the Confederate camp near Kinston, North Carolina, hoping to recover a skillet of soup that had been stolen (June 30, 1863; January 1, 1864). Members of the Booker's brigade also stole over 18,000 dollars from the Quarter Master (January 1, 1864). Despite these incidents, James Booker was offended when Confederate General Seth Maxwell Barton called his soldiers "rags and thieves," since
"it is not healthy for him to gave honist people such a bad name because some men does wrong" (January 1, 1864).
Early in the war, James and John Booker seemed to believe that the South would defeat the North swiftly. They contended that the South had a stronger army, and they noted that Northerners "dont unite like our people do," since the Democrats and the Republicans were at odds (James Booker, June 30, 1863).
Soon their hope had begun to fade. Though James Booker longed to return home, by 1863 he no longer believed that the North and South would achieve a quick peace:
"I am a fread it will be a long time first if ever, I think the prosspect for peece is very gloomy now it dont look like eather side is make in any prepperration for Piece, thare are greater preperation for fighten than ever" (September 23, 1863).John Booker was even more pessimistic, and certainly much more cynical, as he accused the Southern leadership of needlessly prolonging the war:
"I beleave that we mout have hud piece be fore this time if our head leaden men would would have tride" (March 1, 1864).
The Bookers, particularly John, felt that while Southern elites were making decisions that extended the war, the poor were actually suffering the consequences of those decisions and fighting most of the battles. Because the First Conscription Act allowed a drafted man to hire a "substitute" to serve his term in the army, wealthy men could evade service (Current, vol. I, 396-99). This provision enraged many of the Confederate soldiers, who contended that it placed the burden of the war on those who could not afford to pay for a substitute. Not only did substitution fan class tensions, but it also failed to bring competent soldiers into the army. James Booker mentions that that the substitute for John Millner deserted, and many other substitutes did likewise (August 3, 1862). Some men even made a business of agreeing to substitute for one person, deserting, and then collecting money to substitute for someone else. Although James Booker did not get angry about the practice of substitution, he understood that it weakened the Confederate Army:
"I dont blame no man to put in a substitute if he can, tho I think if it is kept up much long er it will ruin our army" (August 3, 1862).His brother John, however, was less tentative in condemning substution:
"I say put every one on equal foottin for this is a rich mans war an a por mans fight, I be leave thare are some of the men that have but in substitute are dooen a great [d]eal of good but the most of them are doo en more harm than good they are just speculaten on the poor people, an soldiers" (December 22, 1863).
Further feeding John Booker's indignation was the distribution of furloughs. According to the First Conscription Act, a "twelvemonth man" was entitled to a sixty-day furlough each year, but neither Booker received a furlough during his time in the army (Current, vol. I, 396-99). John Booker noted that while officers freely took furloughs themselves, the captain in charge of his company, John Herndon, was "too lazy" to give his exhausted soldiers a break (December 22, 1863).
As a result of the inequalities and inefficiencies of miltary administration, John Booker believed that soldiers should refuse to re-enlist. In his March 1, 1864 letter, he derides the military pagaent staged by Virginia Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith and Colonel Cabell in an attempt to persuade the men to re-enlist. After commanding the soldiers to line up, the Colonel ordered that the Colors (the flags of the regiment) be borne to the front and asked
"all who wer determen to be freemen to step out on the line with the cullars and all who wer willen to be slaves for thare enemyes to stand fast" (March 1, 1864).Angry that he hadn't yet received a furlough, and convinced that re-enlisting would only encourage the Southern leadership to continue the war, John Booker rejected the Colonel's challenge that he re-enlist, and two-thirds of the soldiers stood back with him. As he explains,
"I dideant inten to reinlist nor I wes not willen to be a Slave for my enemyes and I dident go on line with the reinlisted, and I dideant wish to bee in eather line" (March 1, 1864).
Whereas John Booker responded to terrible conditions by getting angry, his brother James turned to religion as a way of making sense of his suffering and connecting with home. As he writes of his homesickness, James Booker occasionally expresses his desire to join his relatives at the religious revivals held at Mount Hermon Baptist Church near Danville, Virginia (August 3, 1862). But he reassures his cousin that revivals often take place in the camp and that many soldiers have been converted. According to James, a sense of gratitude in war-time motivates many of the men to convert:
"I think it is time for them to turn after being blesed so plainley as they have bin in the past battles" (October 17, 1862).Likewise, James' faith seems to have strengthened him and given him hope of returning home, whether to Pittsylvania County or to Heaven. In a letter written on New Years Day of 1864, James includes two quotations about coming home to and through God. Quoting from the third stanza of "Amazing Grace," James writes,
In March of 1864, however, James believed that he might not arrive home safely, at least not home to Pittsylvania, since the spring campaign would soon open and "then we poor soldiers will see a hard time" (March 16, 1864). But James embraced a spirit of Christian fatalism, contending that his life was in God's hands:
"If it is the will of [my] maker for me to be cut down in this war I dont ask to be spared for I beleave that he will do what is the best for me, thare is but few things that I would ask to stay in this trouble some world for" (March 16, 1864).After writing this letter, James Booker lived for almost sixty more years, but his twin John died five months later of wounds he received at Drewry's Bluff.
John and James mention several family members, friends and acquaintances in their letters to Chloe Unity. The following is a guide to the proper names we have identified thus far:
America Blair (1835-1873): A cousin of the Booker brothers. See James Booker's letter of August 3, 1862 and September 30, 1862.
Drury Blair (1801-1864): The uncle of the Booker brothers and the father of Chloe Unity Blair. See James Booker's letters of September 30, 1862 and April 29, 1864.
Drury Addison Blair (1839-1864): Chloe Unity's brother, who had also joined Company D of the 38th Virginia. He was discharged due to chronic bronchitis on August 12, 1861 (Gregory, 81). See James Booker's letters of July 14, 1861 and October 8, 1861, in which he mentions receiving a letter from "Addie."
Polly Ann Blair (1831-?): "Cousin Pollie Ann" may have been Chloe Unity's sister. See James Booker's letters of September 27, 1863 and October 4, 1863.
William T. Blair (1828-?): Brother to Chloe Unity and Drury Addison. He was a member of the 38th, Company A. He was promoted to 1st Corporal before April 1864 and Sergeant Major before February 1865. He was paroled at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 (Gregory, 81).
Margaret Benson Reynolds (1815-1867): Half-sister of James and John Booker. See James Booker's letter of October 4, 1863.
Mary Ann Booker Sparks (1825-1872): The older sister of James and John Booker. See Booker letters of August 3, 1862, November 24, 1862 and April 29, 1864.
William H. Badgett: Enlisted in Company D in Whitmell. He was appointed Second Lieutenant on June 3, 1861. He was promoted to Captain on May 1, 1862. In July of that year, he resigned due to lung and kidney disease (Gregory, 79). See Booker letter of April 29, 1862.
General Seth Maxwell Barton: Brigadier General as of March of 1862. He commanded the 1st Brigade, Stevenson's Division at Chickasaw Bluffs and surrendered at Vicksburg. He was released in a prisoner's exchange and went on to command Armistead's Brigade, Ransom's Division in the Wilderness campaign (http://funnelweb.utcc.utk.edu/~hoemann/generals.html). See Booker letter of January 1, 1864.
Josiah Burnett (?-1862): Enlisted in Company D with the Booker brothers. In October of 1861 he was admitted into Chimborazo Hospital with typhoid fever. He returned to duty on December 16, 1861, and died of meningitis on February 12, 1862 (Gregory, 84). See James Booker's letter of September 6, 1861.
Colonel Joseph Robert Cabell (1840-1864): Enlisted in Company A, 18th Virginia Infantry. In May of 1861, he was commissioned Captain of Company E of the 38th. After several promotions, he was appointed Colonel on November 13, 1863. He was killed in action at Chester Station on May 10, 1864 (Gregory, 85). See Booker letters of March 1, 1864.
General Montgomery Dent Corse (1816-1895): Colonel of the 17th Virginia Infantry in 1861. In November of 1862 he became Brigadier General and commanded Corse's Brigade and Pickett's Division at Fredericksburg, Chickamauga, Knoxville, Drewry's Bluff, New Bern, Petersburg, Five Forks and Sayler's Creek (funnelweb.utcc.utk.edu/~hoemann/general.htm). See Booker letter of October 4, 1863.
Ransel W. Cridlin: Commissioned Chaplain for the 38th Regiment on June 9, 1863. He remained with the 38th until Lee's surrender at Appomattox. In February of 1908, he was the pastor of Stockton Street Baptist Church in Manchester, Virginia (Gregory, 89). See Booker letter of October 4, 1863.
Colonel Edward Claxton Edmonds (1835-1863): Appointed Colonel of the 38th Regiment on June 12, 1861. He was killed in action while leading the regiment in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg (Gregory, 92). See James Booker's letters of July 14, 1861 and July 11, 1863.
James F. "Flem" Gregory: Enlisted in Company D in Whitmell on May 24, 1861. He was admitted to Richmond Hospital in July 1863. and was on sick furlough from July 20-August 29, 1863. He was wounded in action at Drury's Bluff on May 16, 1864. In September of that year, he deserted from the hospital in Danville; however, he returned to the regiment a few months later. He was taken prisoner at White Oak Road in April of 1865, and was released in June of 1865 (Gregory, 98). See Booker letters of February 19, 1862 and December 22, 1863.
Robert H. Hastings: Private, Company D, as of March 11, 1862. He was wounded in action near Chester Station, Virginia on May 10, 1864, and had his left arm amputated as a result of his wounds. He retired from the Confederate Army on September 12, 1864 (Gregory, 101). See Booker letter of June 14, 1863.
Captain John A. Herndon (1838-18?): Appointed Second Lieutenant of Company D in April of 1862. He was promoted to Captain in July of that year. He was wounded in action at the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1862. Herndon returned to the Company in June and was present until April 1, 1865 when he was captured at Dinwiddie Court House (Gregory, 102). See Booker letters of April 29, 1862, June 14, 1863, December 22, 1863 and March 1, 1864.
John M. Hundley: Conscripted into the 38th Regiment, Company D on July 31, 1862. He was paroled at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 (Gregory, 103). See Booker letter of October 17, 1862.
Memory A. Inman: Private, Company D. He received a medical discharge on November 11, 1861, but was conscripted in Danville on August 28, 1862 and was reassigned to the 38th, Company D. Like the Bookers, he was wounded in action at Drewry's Bluff on May 16, 1864. He returned to duty on October 11, 1864 (Gregory, 104). See Booker letters of September 30, 1862 and December 22, 1863.
Pleasant Inman (?-1863): Member of the 53rd Virginia Infantry, Company E. In his letter of August 3, 1863, James Booker reports that Pleasant Inman suddenly fell ill and died.
James May (?-1862): Private, Company D. He was sent to the hospital on July 15, 1862 and died shortly thereafter on July 22, 1862 (Gregory, 109). See James Booker's letter of September 6, 1861.
John Millner: John Millner originally enlisted in the 38th Regiment, Company K (the "Cascade Rifles")in 1861. On July 28, 1862, he was transferred to Company D, but he was discharged on July 29, 1862 for having found a substitute (Gregory, 111). See James Booker's letter of August 3, 1862.
Hugh Norton: Private, Company D. He went AWOL from the camp on July 5, 1862. He returned later, but went AWOL again on January 1, 1864 (Gregory, 114). See James Booker's letter of September 6, 1861.
Charles Clifton Penick: Quarter Master Sergeant of Companies D, F and S. He was paroled at Appomatox in 1865. Penick later became a missionary in West Africa and the Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church Richmond at Shenandoah Flats (Gregory 117). See Booker letters of February 19, 1862 and November 24, 1862.
Edwin A. Penick (?-1862): A farmer, born in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1820. Penick served with Company D until May of 1862, when he was admitted to the hospital with the measles. He died near Winchester on October 2, 1862, probably of wounds he received during the Maryland campaign (Gregory, 117). See Booker letter of October 17, 1862.
Brigadier General George Edward Pickett (1825-1875): A graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican War, Pickett commanded Pickett's Division of Longstreet's Corps at Gettysburg. Following Gettysburg, he assumed command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina (funnelweb.utcc.utk.edu/~hoemann/general.htm).
William C. Prewett (?-1864): Joined Company D at its founding in May of 1861. Reported sick at the end of August, Billy Prewett died of colic on September 4, 1861 (Gregory, 118). See James Booker's letter of September 6, 1861.
William E. Prewett: Conscripted into Company D on September 20, 1862. See James Booker's letter of September 30, 1862.
Dorsey Price: a private in the 38th Regiment, Company D; mentioned in James Booker's letter of September 30, 1862.
Governor William "Extra Billy" Smith (1797-1887): During the Mexican-American War, Smith served his first term as governor of Virginia, recruiting soldiers to fight in the US Army. After failing as a Confederate officer during the Civil War, Smith became the Virginia's governor on Januay 1, 1864. Among the issues that Smith faced were shortages in soldiers and in resources. See John Booker's letter of March 1, 1864 as well as F. N. Boney's article in Encyclopedia of the Confederacy (vol. 4, pp. 1479-81).
Samuel A. Swanson (?-1862): Enlisted in Company D in Whitmell. He was elected Second Lieutenant on May 1, 1862 and killed in action on the Chickahominy River on May 31, 1862 (Gregory, 126). See Booker letter of April 29, 1862.
Campbell H. Thomas (?-1864): Private, Company D. He was wounded in action at the Battle at Seven Pines on May 31, 1862, but he returned to duty on August 13, 1862. Thomas remained with the company until he was wounded in action at Chester Station on May 10, 1864. Five days later, he died at Richmond General Hospital #9 (Gregory, 126). See Booker letter of June 14, 1863.