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The Parrett Letters - Part I

James Parrett's family migrated across the Cumberland Plateau when he was only a child. His father had died when James was only two years old. James caught the measles during the migration. His widowed mother left him with another family in order to keep her other children safe from the terrible disease, and before she could return for James, she died. As a young boy, James was made an indentured servant, which means he worked under contract for someone in exchange for food, clothing, lodging and other necessities. Eventually, he grew to be a man, with a dark complexion, dark hair, hazel eyes and he stood 5'10". In the 1850's, James married Mahala Ann Bowman in Overton County, Tennessee.

On November 27, 1862, James enlisted in the Civil War. He joined Company H of the 28th Tennessee Infantry at McMinnville and achieved the rank of Sargent.

A collection of letters that James wrote to Mahala during the war were handed down over the years and eventually became the property of Doris Parrett Williford, James and Mahala's great-granddaughter. The letters chronicle the inner struggles James experiences while being away from his wife and children during the war, and how he uses his faith to see him through the ordeal.

Gary Norris transcribed the letters and they were posted online. In his transcription, Gary included James' misspelled words alongside the correct spelling. For the sake of space, I have only included the correct spelling. In some instances, I put a sentence in proper order only for the sake of allowing the sentence to make sense when reading it.
Photos courtesy of Dale Welch of Monterey.

If we shall never see each other again in this life, I hope that we will meet in heaven where there is no war, but peace forever. (James Parrett, September 10, 1864)

The Parrett Letters
Letter #1

Written just after the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee on December 31, 1862 and January 1, 1863. James takes the opportunity to tell Mahala Ann Parrott he had survived the battle and missed the entire family. Already the Confederates were taking up defensive positions between Shelbyville and Tullahoma. This defensive line was called the Duck River Line. It would hold the Union forces in check until June 1864.

January 9, 1863
Bedford County, Tennessee

Dear Wife,
I want to use the opportunity to write to you to let you know that I am well and I hope you and all are well. I got to my regiment on the second day after I left home. I found it on the battle field about three miles of Murfreesboro. We are now north of Shelbyville and Tullahoma. There has been a terrible battle here. I want to see you so very bad but no telling when I can. Do the best you can. If you have the opportunity, write to me. Write every chance you have. I dont know when I can come home. Kiss for me, my babies.

I remain your husband till death,


Letter #2

At the time of this letter, the Confederate Army of Tennessee is sitting on a defensive posture on the Duck River in Middle Tennessee. Apparently, James had either been wounded or was recovering from illness. Rome, Geogia was a rear hospital area or the Confederate Army of Tennessee. At this time Mahala Bowman Parrott was still protected by General Bragg's Army of Tennessee. By the first of July the Confeferates were in retreat and all of Middle Tennessee was surrendered to the Union forces. After that point, it would be a deadly process for James to attempt to visit his wife in the Upper Cumberland area.

April 2, 1863

Dear Wife,

I now seat myself to write you another letter to let you know that I am well but not stout. I am weak yet, but I can eat every hour in the day. If nothing happens to me, I will be able to go to my command in another week. I have had a hard time of sickness, but thank God I am well now and when this letter comes to you I hope it will find you all well and doing well. I want to see you worse than anybody on earth. Nobody is now company for me. You and your little boys is on my mind continually. I pray to God that the time will soon come when I will get home to you in peace. Hala Ann, I love you better than anybody in this world. I want to see you and kiss your sweet lips in token of my kind of love to you. I never knew what trouble was until I left home. We lived together eight years, lacking one day, and a happy life we lived. It melts my heart to think that such lover as us has to be parted in such a manner as we are. A many a tear I have shed since I left home. I want you to pray for my return home soon, and if we never meet again on earth, I hope we will meet in Heaven, where parting will be no more; no wars nor sickness, nor trubbles never come. Pray for my future welfare. The prayers of the righteous [availeth] much.

Do the best you can till I get home. I don't now when I can get to come home. They won't furlough nobody, but I am to come to see you if nothing happens sometime between this and fall. Furlough or not, for it don't seem to me that I can stand it much longer without seeing you and the boys. I think this year is the last year of the war. I think that we will have peace. People is geting tired of this war on both sides as the cotton famine is great in England and France. So, that France and England will recognize the south independence. I want you to watch the office at Goodbars. I direct my letters to the Goodbars, but the mail stops at Gillilands but Goodbars goes there after his newspapers and he will bring all letters to his house. I have wrote you three letters since I have been in Georgia, and have not no answer as yet. I received our letter that was dated the 24 of February. It came to the regiment and I wrote to Jerry if any letter had come from you to send them to me and he sent that letter to me. I was glad to hear from you, to hear that you was all well. It was all the news that I have heard from you since I left home of consequence. I want you to write to me every chance you have. I dont know where to tell you to send your letters. Until I go to the camps you can't answer this letter. Before I leave here, I watch the office for [an] answer from the last letter that I wrote you. I wrote for you to write in haste but use every chance you have to send them by hand.

(This letter continues next)


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