Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte. Jeff Giambrone, aka “championhilz” online (Mississippians in the Confederate Army), graciously provided the image of this article to the Siege of Petersburg online. According to the article, letter writer Timothy S. Mcalister wrote the quoted letter on the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater on July 31, 1864, just a day after the fight. And the NEXT day, August 1, 1864, he was killed in the trenches at Petersburg. I could not find McAlister’s compiled service record (CSR) at Fold3.com, but he was definitely in Elliott’s South Carolina Brigade, which defended the area where the Union mine was exploded. The fact that he was killed while on horseback leads me to believe he was either a line or staff officer. His comment about the explosion occurring directly to the right of his regiment means he should belong to either the 22nd South Carolina or 23rd South Carolina. If you have any more information on McAlister, please Contact Us.
A Soldier’s Last Letter
Confederate Cites Horror of 100 Years Ago
One hundred years ago today [July 31, 1864], Timothy S. McAlister wrote his last letter.
One hundred years ago tomorrow, Timothy S. McAlister, a South Carolinian fighting for the Confederate Army in the Civil War, was killed in action.
A copy of the letter has been obtained from McAlister’s niece, Mrs. Virginia Bowman, now 96, and her son, James L. Bowman, 75, both of 1025 Arlington Ave.
“In trenches, Petersburg, Va. July 31st, 1864
“Dear Father and Mother: I will endeavor for two or three reasons to write you a letter. First, because I think you will be glad to hear from me; secondly, for employment; to get at something that will relieve the dull monotony of this hateful siege business; and thirdly, to let you know I have again safely passed through one of the most obstinate battles that I have ever witnessed during my experience of war.
“On yesterday, July 30th, it was fought here, and although it will be considered a small affair, yet it only lacked numbers to make it one of the greatest battles of the war. . .
“It has been known for some time that the Yankees have been undermining our works, but to what extent could not be fully ascertained. We were entirely undeceived, however, at daylight yesterday morning [July 30, 1864] by the terrific explosion of a mine directly on the right of my regiment. . .
“When the mine was sprung, it shook the ground for hundreds of feet around. Pieces of artillery, cartridges, wheels, tongues, pieces of timber, earth and everything else it takes to make breastworks, were seen flying in all directions through the air. . .”
The Yankees, McAlister explains, then attacked and gained the Rebel breastworks. The he describes the counterattack:
“Here one of the most sanguinary battles was fought that it has ever been my misfortune to experience.
“About half the Yankees were Negroes. Most of the fighting was done with bayonets and butts of muskets. Blood ran in the trenches all around. Finally the Negro and white Yankees were overcome; a great many were taken prisoners. Most of the Negroes were killed; a few were made prisoners.
“Oh! the horrors of war! I have often heard of it, but never imagined what it was till the last two or three years. . .
“Oh! if there is a just God in heaven, surely the thrice repeated, double distilled authors of this war, will ere long meet a just retribution; whoever they may be, God grant how soon it may come, and may they suffer a just doom.
“This is Sunday. No doubt you are enjoying the blessing of a quiet undisturbed country church, while I can hear nothing but the common, but very hateful noise, of bomb shells and Minnie balls. . .”
On the next morning [August 1, 1864], McAlister was shot while on horseback, and killed.1
- “A Soldier’s Last Letter.” Oakland (CA) Tribune. July 31, 1964, p. ? col. 1-3 ↩