Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Thomas Dwight Witherspoon Papers, 1861-1871

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, June 1994

Summary Information
Title: Thomas Dwight Witherspoon papers
Creator: Witherspoon family and Rascoe family
Inclusive dates: 1861-1871
Bulk dates: 1861-1864
Extent: 32 items
Abstract:
Chaplain Thomas D. Witherspoon wrote these letters to members of the Witherspoon and Rascoe families during his Civil War service in the 2nd, 11th, and 42nd Mississippi Infantry Regiments.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1994. M-3032.1, M-3032.2.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Alternate Format:

The Thomas Dwight Witherspoon papers have been microfilmed.

Preferred Citation:

Thomas Dwight Witherspoon papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

Witherspoon, Thomas Dwight, 1836-1898

Rank : Private, Chaplain

Regiment : C.S.A. 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment (1861-1865); C.S.A. 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment (1861-1865); C.S.A. 42nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 May-September (11th Miss.); 1861 September-1862 July (2nd Miss.); 1862 July-? (42nd Miss.)

When secession turned to war, Thomas Dwight Witherspoon contracted the war fever that became epidemic in Mississippi and volunteered to "measure arms with the Abolitionists." By the end of May, 1861, his company, the Lamar Rifles (Co. G, 11th Mississippi Infantry) had already been dispatched to Harper's Ferry, expecting at any time to confront the invading northern hordes, but to his dismay, he found a federal Army lacking in vigor and a Confederate army maneuvering uncertainly in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

A devout Presbyterian bent on the ministry, Private Witherspoon soon assumed pastoral duties among his fellow soldiers, though apparently only informally. Agitated over the slow pace of the earliest months of the war, and depressed over splitting his duties in this way, he applied to President Davis in July, 1861, to be commissioned officially as chaplain to the 2nd Mississippi Infantry. Before his orders had gone through, part of his wishes came to pass: the 11th swung into action. After parrying with union forces in West Virginia, they were rushed to Bull Run, where two of its companies were engaged. Although Witherspoon did not enter the fray, he shared fully in the glow of victory and the growing southern contempt for federal generalship, crowing that Scott had been humbled, Patterson and Butler cashiered, Lyons killed, and that only McClellan was left, and he had little to recommend him.

In September, Davis approved Witherspoon's transfer to the 2nd Mississippi, where he pronounced himself proud to retain the "privilege" of carrying arms in battle, perhaps because of the overwhelming trust he had developed in the superiority of Southern arms and Southern commitment. "We have only about half the number of the enemy," he wrote blithely, "but we are fighting as freemen they as hirelings; we for our liberties, they for their money. We believe that God will be on our side" (1861 November 19). Yet in war, attitudes and fortunes can change suddenly. In December, family troubles left him yearning to return home, and the combination of befuddling inactivity and growing distaste for his commanding officers sparked his interest in obtaining yet another transfer. Witherspoon resented being "tossed about as a puppet at the hands of quartermasters and other officers," and was irritated that his commanding officers had reneged on their promise to have a chapel built for the soldiers (1862 February 7), and thus it was no surprise that by the spring, Witherspoon was chaplain of the 42nd Mississippi Infantry. He joined his new regiment on the Peninsula, and served with them during the hellish Seven Days' battles and other battles of that memorable summer.

Nearly one year later, still with the 42nd Mississippi, Witherspoon entered into the signal event of his Civil War experience. On the evening of July 4th, 1863, he remained behind with 300-400 severely wounded members of his brigade during Lee's retreat from Gettysburg, and he was taken prisoner with the hospital staff the following day. Having been chosen to escort the body of Col. Hugh R. Miller southward, Witherspoon was waylaid at Baltimore and remanded to prison at Fort McHenry, which was used principally as a point for assigning Confederate prisoners to Point Lookout, Fort Delaware, Johnson's Island, or other camps. The date of Witherspoon's release is uncertain, but following the war, he settled in Memphis, Tenn., and later held pastorates in Virginia.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The surviving letters of Thomas D. Witherspoon, most addressed to members of the Rascoe family, include a small number of insightful Confederate letters. There are, unfortunately, large gaps in the correspondence, most notably between July, 1862, and 1870, interrupted by only one letter from Witherspoon, January 7, 1864, and this lacuna conceals the entirety of Witherspoon's imprisonment, the end of the war, his departure from the service, and his adjustment to civilian life and Reconstruction. The surviving correspondence, however, forms an interesting and surprisingly fleshed-out portrayal of one man's service as a Confederate chaplain during the earliest stages of the war.

As an educated, clear-thinking, and utterly committed man, Witherspoon is an ideal correspondent. His letters are filled with emotion, driven by a sense of purpose in his military service, and ordered by a strongly held code of morality. His religious leanings and training make him particularly sensitive to the moral state of the Confederate army, and somewhat prone to viewing the conflict as an almost Manichean struggle between southern Good and northern Evil. The scattered letters written during the late spring and summer, 1864, include additional comments on organized "Christian" relief during the war, including a particularly interesting comment from Witherspoon that the (northern) Christian Commission does more to crush the rebellion than the entire Army of the Potomac through their intrigues and trickery in getting sick and wounded men to take the oath of allegiance (1864 January 7).

After the war, Rev. Witherspoon settled in Memphis, Tennessee, and published at least two works: Children of the Covenant (Richmond, Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1873) and The Appeal of the South to its Educated Men (Memphis: The Association, 1867). He also contributed an essay, "The doctrinal contents of the confession" to the Presbyterian Church's Memorial volume of the Westminster assembly, 1647-1897 (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897).

Witherspoon was also author of "Prison Life at Fort McHenry." Southern Historical Society Papers 8 (1880): pp. 77-82, 111-119, 163-68.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Confederate States of America. Army--Chaplains.
    • Patriotism--Confederate States of America.
    • Soldiers--Religious life--Confederate States of America.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Religious aspects.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   51 Schoff Civil War Soldiers Letters  
    Thomas Dwight Witherspoon papers [series]:
     
     1861 May 02-1864 July 10 (30 items)
     
     1870 December 5;  1871 January 23 (2 items)
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Anderson, John G., b. ca. 1846
    • 1864 July 8
    Bolivar Heights (W. Va.)
    • 1861 June 11
    Brevets
    • 1864 July 8
    Bull Run (Va.) Battlefield
    • 1861 July 24
    Bull Run, 1st Battle of, Va., 1861
    • 1861 July 24
    Camps (Military)--Mississippi
    • 1861 May 6
    Civilians--Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865
    • 1861 May 11
    Confederate States of America. Army--Barracks and quarters
    • 1861 December 16
    Confederate States of America. Army--Chaplains
    • 1861 May 2
    • 1861 May 6
    • 1861 July 12
    • 1861 September 2
    • 1861 December 2
    • 1861 December 16
    • 1864 January 7
    Confederate States of America. Army--Leaves and furloughs
    • 1861 December 2
    • 1861 December 16
    Confederate States of America. Army--Military life
    • 1861 July 6
    Confederate States of America. Army--Reenlistment
    • 1862 February 7
    Confederate States of America. Army--Uniforms
    • 1861 September 18
    Confederate States of America. Army--Chaplains
    • 1862 February 7
    Cookery, Military
    • 1861 July 6
    Dead
    • 1861 July 24
    • n.d.
    Death
    • 1861 June 11
    Disengagement (Military Science)
    • 1862 March 27
    Erysipelas
    • 1862 April 1
    Fair Oaks (Va.) Battlefield
    • 1862 July 24
    Fathers and sons
    • 1862 February 22
    Harper's Ferry (W. Va.)
    • 1861 May 22
    • 1861 June 11
    • 1861 June 27
    Home
    • 1861 December 2
    Johnston, Joseph E. (Joseph Eggleston), 1807-1891
    • 1861 July 12
    • 1861 July 24
    • 1861 November 19
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865
    • 1862 February 7
    Maryland--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
    • 1861 November 19
    Mason, James Murray, 1798-1871
    • 1861 May 22
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885
    • 1861 August 19
    Miller, Hugh R.
    • n.d.
    Morale--Confederate States of America
    • 1861 July 6
    • 1862 March 27
    Patriotism--Confederate States of America
    • 1861 June 11
    • 1861 November 19
    Patterson, Robert, 1792-1881
    • 1861 July 24
    Presbyterian Church--Clergy--Virginia
    • 1871 January 23
    Prisoners of War--Confederate States of America
    • 1864 January 7
    Railroad travel--Confederate States of America
    • 1861 May 11
    Savage's Station (Va.) Battlefield
    • 1862 July 24
    Scott, Winfield, 1786-1866
    • 1861 May 22
    • 1861 June 27
    • 1861 August 19
    Separation
    • 1861 July 12
    • 1861 December 2
    • 1862 March 27
    Soldiers--Books and reading--Confederate States of America
    • 1862 February 7
    Soldiers--Conduct of life--Confederate States of America
    • 1861 July 12
    Soldiers--Confederate States of America
    • 1861 November 19
    Soldiers--Religious life--Confederate States of America
    • 1861 May 6
    • 1861 July 12
    • 1864 January 7
    • 1864 April 27
    Soldiers--United States
    • 1861 June 27
    • 1861 November 19
    Strategy--Virginia
    • 1862 March 27
    Union sympathizers--Tennessee
    • 1861 May 11
    United States Sanitary Commission
    • 1862 July 15
    • 1864 January 7
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects
    • 1861 September 2
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care
    • 1861 December 16
    • 1862 April 1
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Prisoners and prisons
    • 1864 January 7
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Religious aspects
    • 1861 August 19
    • 1861 November 19
    • 1864 April 27
    • 1864 July 10
    United States. Army--Generals
    • 1861 August 19
    Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
    • 1861 December 2
    Whiskey
    • 1870 December 5
    White Oak Swamp (Va.) Battlefield
    • 1862 July 24
    Whiting, William Henry Chase, 1824-1865
    • 1861 November 19