From the Phoebe Pember and Phillips-Myers Collections, UNC. Reprinted and annotated in A Southern Woman’s Story (1959), Bell I. Wiley, ed.

Mrs. Gilmer
Care Major Gen. Gilmer
Charleston, S.C.

Chimborazo Hospital
20 October, 1863

I am divided, dear Lou, between the double duty and pleasure of writing to you and toasting coffee, as Candis is sick and Kate Ball gone to Charlotte in search of another brother who is reported slightly wounded.[1] Whatever I say or however stu­pid and complicated my epistle is, you will at least give me credit for my intentions. I was really desolée, as that term ex­presses, after you left, and besides mental affliction I had all sorts of misfortunes happen to me verily, my malignant star became in the ascendant.

I received a note from Lucy who I did not see till a few days ago telling me of your safe arrival and the adventurous visit you and Sallie made to Fort Sumter[2] wishing to hear more of your warlike doings I paid a visit to sixth street. My first misfortune occurred there, as the ambulance as usual did not come for me in time, and I walked long after dark to my lonely room on Church Hill.

Mrs. Stephens seemed delighted with having a home, and perfectly satisfied with everything around her. I passed the promised Saturday evening with her, and did not find the com­pany as agreeable as it “was,” I was careful to address all my pleasant commonplaces to the lady, and when “Walter” took me home was in a paroxysm of distress that we could not open the gate & some little detention was the result. However, I am simply malicious in saying these things, for her whole manner and conduct shows that she never thinks of that silly affair, and they are very kind, obliging people.[3]

Lucy wrote me that she had received a note from Mrs. “Ac­commodation” Long,[4] as she called her, in which she declines parting with any of those three petticoats upon any considera­tion whatever, so that financial scheme falls to the ground. She still thinks she will pay a visit to her husband.

I am preparing to go to my new room. Dr. McCaw sent me word to make use of the ambulance as it had to go to Market every morning, and a few squares farther would make no dif­ference. This makes me more comfortable as from the prices charged me monthly I could not have afforded to engage the little carriage of the next division. On paying a visit to Mrs. Skinner I found that I was to have the third story, front room, no gas above the second story and no carpet in this bitter cli­mate, and without light, fuel, or carpet I was to pay sixty dol­lars a month. She had told me that she did not want to make anything from her lodgers, that she had twelve rooms and paid eighteen hundred dollars a year, and I pledged myself under the circumstances, to take one of the rooms. She asked me if I thought it was too much, and I said she was the best judge, and there the matter ended. I cannot say that I made much of a bargain.

I met Gen. Lawton[5] on the street, looking much stronger and better; he was on horseback; so I only had a word with him. How did you find your “lord and master” and did you give him the big apple? Mind that you go to Market Saturday evening in Charleston and buy some ground nut cake, and go and take a look at that elegant commencement of the new cus­toms house.

I have but little news to tell you. Dr. H.[6] has forsworn the flesh pots of Egypt, and abjured the fascinations of the fair sex. He comes early to his Hospital and returns late. His avowed [?] purpose is to devote himself to the future happiness of his children and by way of insuring it he toots away at his flute all the leisure time he has, as when they attain the years of maturity he thinks they will stay at home to hear him play. He has secured the remains of my room at Mrs. McMinn, and asked permission to practice there. I could not refuse, but in going home found, then and since, a chair always put just in front of the looking glass so that he could Practice the graces with the flute, and my soap and towels rung very wet. Since that time I have left one particular towel out for practicing purposes, and locked up my tooth brush, as a man with such saving propensities might take a “cheap brush” now and then, as it would cost him nothing.

I have all your Gospels safe and sound, presented to me by the Rev. Mr. Madison, a successor of Mr. Crooks. I will send them down to Major Reeves as soon as I can hear whether I can get you any straw for a hat. Peter offered me some money he said you left for milk, but as Dolan did not let me pay for that last month, or week, I declined to receive.

I have no news to tell you. Mrs. Randolph[7] has gone into the country with her husband to recruit his health, he looks most miserably, pale and of the consistency of white paper ­unless she takes great care of him I do not think he will five long. I have never seen anyone so attentuated. Tell Ridgely I received an invitation from Miss Mary Gibson to spend the evening and sleep with her, both declined, and also a visit from Mr. David Forbes of two hours. Ask him if he is a fool, or only appears one. He tells me that the Yankees have caught Cary.

I really don't know what I am writing – it is one of my nervous days and a man in the next room has been bawling some information about a chicken that he got from Georgia that fought when “he cut off his wings and his spurs.” I have heard “that chicken” now for one hour and have not a thought beyond.

Who shall I tell you about? Shirley is quite well I know you will be glad to hear, and getting a little stouter and my lips are also convalescent. He brought me a message from Mrs. Fitz. Lee,[8] begging me to come to see her as she was “in such wretched spirits and heard I was so pleasant.” I told him that as soon as I got my cap and bells and my suit of Motley made I would go with pleasure. It is bad enough to have persons come to see you to be amused, but to be summoned to them for that purpose is more than my philosophy can stand.

Goodbye, that chicken is too much for me, combined with the loss of twenty dollars some one stole out of my Purse and the scorching of the skirt you gave me, while I was stirring custard on the stove for a wounded man-it makes a concatin­ation (sic.) of circumstances too hard to bear.

Give my love and a kiss (till I can give it myself) to Gen. Gilmer; tell him I shall only consider it a pleasure deferred. Most lovingly yours

Phebe

Do not be shocked at my paper

Mrs. Gilmer
Care Major Gen. Gilmer
Savannah, Ga.


 

[1] Candis is probably Mrs. C. Coffey, listed in returns of Chimborazo personnel at the National Archives as “ward matron,” and assistant, along with Miss Kate Ball, to Phoebe Pember.

[2] Gen. J. F. Gilmer, to whose wife this letter was written, had recently been ordered to Charleston to assist Beauregard in the defense of that city. See Jas. L. Nichols, Confederate Engineers (Tuscaloosa, 1957), 33.

[3] The reference is to Col. and Mrs. Walter H. Stephens. Col. Stephens, a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy, was engineer of the Richmond defenses. He and his wife, a resident of Louisiana at the time of their marriage, were former acquaintances of Mrs. Pem­ber.

[4] Probably Mrs. Armistead L. Long.

[5] Lawton, who was disabled until May, 1863, from a wound received at Antietam, was made Quartermaster General in August, 1863. Well-educated and experienced as a railroad president, he supervised the Confederacy’s quartermaster activities with commend­able efficiency. His home was in Savannah, Ga.

[6] Dr. S. E. Habersham, Surgeon-in-Charge of Mrs. Pember’s Divi­sion.

[7] Wife of Geo. W. Randolph, Confederate Secretary of War, March – November, 1862. He died of tuberculosis in 1867.

[8] Probably Charlotte Lee, wife of Gen. W. H. F. (“Rooney”) Lee, whose husband had been in Federal prison since June, 1863. She died in December 1863.

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