Civil War

Union Officer Writes To Lynchburg Woman, "the death of the Confederacy was so near at hand"

Union Officer Writes to Lynchburg Woman Regarding Fall of Richmond


WILLIAM W. BECKWITH, Autograph Letter Signed, to Mary H. Slaughter, May 12, 1865, Richmond, Virginia. 2 pp., 7.75" x 10". Expected folds; one tear on fold.


Complete Transcript

Office of the Provost Marshal General,

Armies Operating Against Richmond.

May 12th 1865


            I was very much pleased two days since to receive yours of the 28th Ult & have this moment an opportunity to send by a gent an assurance that we are in Richmond at last and that the information given you respecting Genl Patrick being in command of the City is correct. Nothing would give me pleasure than to call upon you, which I shall do if at all practicable. Little did we expect when you passed through City Point that the death of the Confederacy was so near at hand. It will not be very long before communications with your place will be established we hope. I regret not being able to inform you concerning your Richmond friends (as you doubles have many here). But you know it is rather difficult for us Yankies to find the friends of those whom we have met. I trust the paper enclosed may be of service to you, or rather that there will be no necessity for its use. Hoping to hear from or to see you again I am

                                                                        with very great respect

                                                                        Yours Truly

                                                                        W. W. Beckwith

                                                                        Capt & A.D.C

Mrs. M H Slaughter

PS / Hope the initials of your Husband are as herein named. / WWB


Historical Background

Early in 1865, Mrs. Mary H. Slaughter had taken her seven-year-old son John (1856-1914) from their home in Lynchburg, Virginia, to a noted doctor in Philadelphia. The child suffered from “hip-joint disease,” possibly infantile paralysis, and Dr. David Hayes Agnew (1818-1892) was a renowned surgeon and physician. To facilitate her return, her father Charles Matson Harker (1811-1876) and former New Jersey Governor William A. Newell (1817-1901) sought a pass from President Abraham Lincoln.


On February 16, 1865, President Lincoln issued the following pass:

Allow Mrs. Slaughter, children & servant, with ordinary baggage, to pass our lines and go South.

                                                            A. Lincoln


She secured another pass from General Grant at City Point, Virginia, where she likely met Captain William W. Beckwith of the 20th New York State Militia, who was an aide-de-camp. On March 6, 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant wrote to Col. George W. Bradley, “Pass Mrs. M. H. Slaughter to the ‘Flag of Truce’ steamer near Varina, Va. by first steamer.” The flag of truce steamers were often used to exchange prisoners and mail across the lines.


When Mrs. Slaughter and her son reached Varina, they were still more than one hundred miles from home in Lynchburg. Because railroads had been destroyed, there were no locomotives or passenger cars. At one point on her return journey, her carriage broke down, and she resorted to a flat freight-car pulled by mules. The mules “trotted amiably along the level stretches and willingly pulled the car up hills, but stopped short and refused to go further when they reached the summits.” The drivers placed planks for the mules to climb up on the car with the passengers and baggage, “while all coasted together down the slope.” When they reached level ground, the mules resumed pulling the car.


Less than six weeks later, on April 14, 1865, General Grant ordered the 20th New York State Militia (“Ulster Guard” / 80th New York Volunteers) to move from City Point, where it had been stationed as a provost guard since mid-June 1864, report to Brigadier General Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal General for the Army of the Potomac, and proceed to Richmond. This regiment and the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers formed the provost guard of Richmond until November 1865.


Apparently, Mary Slaughter wrote to Captain Beckwith on April 28 to ask about friends in Richmond, and he replied with this letter.



William W. Beckwith (b. c. 1830) was born in New York.  He enlisted in June 1861 at Elmira, New York and was mustered in as a sergeant-major in the 35th New York Infantry. In October 1861, he received promotion to 1st lieutenant of Company H. In December 1862, he was promoted to captain. In June 1863, Beckwith mustered out of the 35th New York and joined Company E of the 20th New York State Militia (“Ulster Guard”) as captain, and an aide-de-camp to General John W. Turner. He also served as Assistant Provost Marshal General for the District of Henrico, Virginia, in the summer of 1865. Beckwith was mustered out of the service in January 1866. He was brevetted lieutenant-colonel for “gallant and meritorious services in the battles of Groveton, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg,” to date from March 13, 1865.


Mary Haines Harker Slaughter (1835-1897) was born into a Quaker family in New Jersey and married John F. Slaughter (1828-1893) in New Jersey in 1853. He was an attorney in Lynchburg, Virginia, and they settled there and each of their dozen children were born there. When Virginia seceded, he volunteered but was placed in reserve and only called out briefly in 1864. In 1880, he was listed as a capitalist. She died in Lynchburg, Virginia.





Item: 64787

Price: $600.00
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