I long for a little excitement,” a Confederate private wrote to the folks back home in Texas on Nov. 11, 1864, “and a battle is the only thing that can satisfy me.”
To hear historians tell it, the War Between the States was a giant chess game played by gentleman generals. But the soldiers, who fought and died in America’s bloodiest conflict, were men, not faceless board pieces, with families, hopes and dreams and each had his own story to tell.
Confederate cavalryman Dunnie Afflect put his down on paper in scores of letters to his parents in Central Texas. His correspondence survived the ravages of time and today provides a priceless peek at the life of the ordinary Reb as well as the struggle for survival on the home front.
The Afflecks came from Mississippi, where their oldest son Isaac Dunbar was born in 1845. Dunnie, as he was known, was 13 when prosperous planter Thomas Affleck moved his clan to a Washington County plantation called Glenbly seven miles northwest of Brenham.
As soon as Texas seceded and joined the Confederacy in early 1861, Dunnie left the Bastrop Military Institute, where he was a classmate of Sam Houston Jr., and hurried home to enlist. But his father refused to let his first-born be cannon fodder and insisted the 16 year old wait a year before going off to war.
Soon after turning 17 the next spring, Dunnie joined the Eight Texas Cavalry, better known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. He caught up with his unit in Mississippi in April 1862 just days after the terrible Battle of Shiloh.
His first letter did not mention the 23,000 lives lost in the recent bloodbath. “We live very well now in camp,” he reported cheerfully. “We have plenty of coffee, which was taken from the Yankeys, sugar, meal, flour, bacon and beef, and we can always get chickens and eggs, and butter some times.”
As was common for Southern soldiers from the privileged class, Dunnie had taken along a so-called “body servant,” a family slave named Perry, to do the cooking, cleaning and heavy lifting. When Perry was “lost,” presumably killed, later that year, Private Affleck’s father sent a replacement.
Dunnie’s first taste of combat came in June 1862 during attacks on Union supply lines in Tennessee. He did not make much of his baptism by fire saying only, “I was in three fights in one of which we lost about 35 men killed.”
As part of Gen. Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky in the fall of 1862, the Rangers fought nearly nonstop for five days. “The Yanks cut us off with 3,000 of their cavelery,” Dunnie wrote. “We got up in about a hundred yards of them when Col. (John Austin) Wharton ordered a charge. Co. B (Dunnie’s unit) was in the advance, we raised a yell and charged them at full speed. I shot both barrels of my (shot) gun at a croud of yankeys in a lane about thirty yards distance…and I think I either killed or wounded some.”
The carnage at Perryville clearly had a sobering effect on the raw recruit. “I saw more dead men in an hour than I ever saw in my life before. About two-thirds of them were yankeys. They were lieing in every position, some shot in too (two) by cannon balls, some with their head and legs shot off; they were killed in every position.”
After Bragg’s withdrawal from Kentucky and a major engagement at Murfreesboro, Tennessee in December 1862, Dunnie saw little action for several months. Spring made him homesick causing him to write wistfully, “I wish I could see the prairies of Texas now. I reckon they are beautiful.”
Dunnie saw Texas a lot sooner than he expected. Wounded at Sparta, Tennessee in May 1863, he was given a medical discharge and sent home to recover.
By the end of 1863, Dunnie was fit for duty. His wound, however, seemed to have taken the fun out of fighting because he tried to use his family connections to wangle a less hazardous assignment in Texas. When that failed, he went back home possibly in a huff.
Dunnie finally rejoined the Rangers in May 1863 and spent the summer in Louisiana as a cavalry escort for Gen. Wharton. In his letters he asked for everything under the sun – money, boots, clothes, food, medicine, even a sombrero – with no apparent regard for the hardships his parents were enduring.
His wish list moved his indulgent mother to write, “It seems so strange that you are so blinded to our true position here.” She encouraged him to “try a little self-denial” but later satisfied most of his requests.
In spite of his craving for “a little excitement” expressed in a letter from Arkansas in November 1864, Dunnie spent the last months of the war having the time of his life in East Texas. By February 1865, he had had his fill of dances, parties and horse races. “I want to leave this place, and go over on the Brazos as soon as possible because I was never so worn out in my life before.”
Just goes to show that war may be hell, but it is not necessarily hell for everybody.
Read all about Mexia, Roaring Ranger, Desdemona and Bloody Borger in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil.” Order your autographed copy with a check for $28.80 to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549 or on-line at barteehaile.com