|Salem Baptist Church, 1870s (Confederate Memorial Literary Society)|
John C. Davis was born in 1837 on a farm in Limestone County, just west of Huntsville, Alabama. He was the oldest of fourteen children born to Elizabeth Covington Davis and James Brown Davis, a farmer, slave owner, constable and justice of the peace.
|James Brown Davis (Ancestry)|
|Elizabeth Covington Davis (Ancestry)|
John C. Davis married Elizabeth Jane Jackson by the mid-1850s and they had at least three children together--James "Buck" Buchanan, Mary Helen and Elizabeth. By 1860 the Davis family was living on a farm, one they likely rented.
|Muster of new recruits in Company H, 9th Alabama|
John enlisted in Company H of the 9th Alabama Infantry in Athens, Alabama on March 22, 1862. He was soon sent to Virginia to join the rest of his regiment. Like many new recruits, John soon fell ill with one of the many ailments that afflicted soldiers new to camp life. He was twice a patient at Chimborazo Hospital No. 4 in Richmond during the summer of 1862, with a diagnosis of "Debility," meaning general weakness from some undiagnosed illness. He returned to active duty after his second hospital stay on September 28.
|First page of John's letter to Betty Jane|
Just three days before the Battle of Chancellorsville, John sat down to write a four-page letter to his wife. My transcription of this letter follows below. To make it easier to read, I have corrected many of his misspellings but have otherwise let his writing speak for itself.
April the 28th 1863
Camp Near Fredericksburg Virginia
After my love and respects to you I will answer your very welcome letter. I received it a few days ago and was mighty glad to hear from you all and you were all well, was very good news. You gave me great satisfaction to hear and see a letter should come from under your loving hand. Betty Jane I can look at it and think that your hand has been the instruction of it & I can bring the very image of your lovely looks. Betty Jane I can see that black spot on your face in my mind as plain as noon day. Betty Jane never cease writing me for I love to hear from you and the little children. Now if I just could see Buck & Mary's little sharp teeth a-smiling at me once more. Betty, you say that you have a mighty pretty little girl [Elizabeth Jane, their youngest child]. Well Betty I expect she is pretty if she is any kin to Mary. Betty I know Mary is a pretty child. Her eyes will always help her out for beauty. Please give me the Baby's name in full. I thought I never would ask you her name because you would not tell me. But Betty it is no time for curiosity for I may never see you all again. Tell Buck to go to school and you try to encourage him to learn. For if I ever should get home I am determining to educate him if he will partake of it and if I should never get home I will Request you to give him good learning if you have to live on dry Bread never think Poor folks can't send their children to school it is all a mistake. We know that if you could live with his work you could live without it. Betty I reckon it will be a great while before I can see you again but make yourself sure if we can but only live that time will surely slip off after a while and then it will be for life time. I do not intend to ever go into another war. It is a rough one and when I get home again it will take a great deal more than the Yankees ever done to make me mad enough to come away to old Virginia and leave all that is near and dear to and bind myself tighter than any negro you ever saw. I tell you my dear Betty Jane I can never do it again. You say a heap of the Boys have deserted. I can't blame them much for they do not treat the private soldiers right. You written to me that you was glad when the cavalry came in there a-picking up the Conscripts that I was gone. I will join you there. I am glad I was not there but I wish I had a-stayed longer and a-got in Thompson's Cavalry and then I would have a-been so much closer to home. You said that you would not blame me to desert. Betty I would be afraid that you would not give me anything to Eat. Well do not think I shall ever desert if I am treated as well as I have been. We do not get enough to eat. We get a quarter of a pound of Bacon and a heap of time there is half of that dirt and a pound and 2 ounces of flour and then it is all [illegible]. We have got two messes of Irish potatoes this spring. Tell me in your next letter all of the deserters' names and do not let everybody be a-reading your letter. It is not concerning anybody but you. What I write to you I do not care for pap a-reading them. Tell me whether Sam Cot was in the army or not. Tell me whether Pink Davis has ever gone back to the army and all about the connection. You take good care of all the things. Mind the horses and do not let them be rode to death. I expect my saddle and my fiddle will both be ruined before I ever get home. Well my paper is gone and I must stop for this time.
John C. Davis to Elizabeth Jane Davis
At the time John wrote this letter, the 9th Infantry was one of five Alabama regiments in the brigade commanded by General Cadmus Wilcox. This brigade would undertake some serious work in the days ahead.
On the morning of May 3, 1863, Union forces commanded by General John Sedgwick attacked General Jubal Early's Confederates defending Fredericksburg. This was the beginning of an effort to open a second front against General Robert E. Lee's troops at Chancellorsville. The outnumbered Confederates were pushed off Marye's Heights, and the Federals began to march west on the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 3) toward Chancellorsville. Most of Early's troops retreated a couple of miles south to defend the railroad to Richmond. Hearing that Sedgwick had dislodged the defenders at Fredericksburg, Lee sent the divisions of McLaws and Mahone to reinforce Early.
|The Battle of Salem Church (Official Military Atlas of the Civil War)|
Wilcox's brigade, which had been guarding Bank's Ford on the Rappahannock, moved to the turnpike and occupied a position across the road at Salem Baptist Church. They were soon joined by McLaw's and Mahone's men. Wilcox set up a skirmish line, which included two pieces of artillery, at the turnpike's toll gate about a mile east of his main line at Salem Church. After exchanging a few shots with these Confederates, the U.S. army then pushed them back and advanced toward the church.
The men of the 9th Alabama, together with those of the 10th Alabama, stopped the advance of the 121st New York, which suffered fifty percent casualties. Then the 9th, 10th and 14th Alabama, joined by the 51st Georgia, pushed the Union troops back toward the toll gate, where their artillery was placed. The retreating soldiers in blue reformed their line there, and poured withering fire into the charging Confederates. Wilcox called off the attack shortly before dusk.
|Salem Baptist Church (Library of Congress)|
|Salem Baptist Church (National Park Service)|
A makeshift hospital was set up at Salem Church, and hundreds of wounded soldiers were brought there for treatment. Among those men was John C. Davis, who died of his injuries. John and the many others who died there were buried in the church yard. Later, his remains were taken to the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg.
|Headstone of John C. Davis (Dan Janzegers)|
-John C. Davis's letter was shared with one of my readers by one of his descendants, Robin Burchfield