Smith Family Letters

A Guide to the Smith Family Letters, 1861-1865, 1912-1996, n.d. (Bulk 1861-1865) Ms.1996.018


Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061

Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech
Smith Family Letters1861-1865, 1912-1996, n.d. 1861-1865
0.2 Cubic Feet 1 box
Smith family (Carroll County, Va.)
Smith, Frederick R.
Ridgway, John Nichols
Smith, Barton Pierce, 1838-1863
Smith, James R., 1831-1863
Smith, Stephen Mitchell, 1832-1913
Smith, William Alexander, 1835-1868
The materials in the collection are in English.
The collection contains forty-nine Civil War-era letters written by four brothers of Carroll County, Virginia: James R., Stephen Mitchell, William Alexander, and Barton Pierce Smith. All four served in Confederate units from Virginia. The collection also includes a family history and notes by Frederick R. Smith.

Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials. Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to research.

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: [identification of item], [box], [folder], Smith Family Letters, Ms1996-018, Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

Source of Acquisition

The Smith Family Letters were donated to Special Collections in October 1996.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of the Smith Family Letters commenced in October 1996 and was completed in November 1996. Additional description was completed in April 2009.

Biographical Note

Alexander (abt. 1807-1893) and Charity (Mitchell) Smith (1798-1858) married in 1828. They had seven children: James R. (1831-1863), Stephen Mitchell (1832-1913), William Alexander (1835-1868), Kiturah (b. 1836), Barton Pierce (1838-1863), Polly G. (b. 1839) and Sarah E. (Sallie) (b. 1840).

James R. enlisted with Co. I of the 50 th Regiment, Virginia Infantry around May of 1862. He was sick and on furlough at home in Carroll County when he died in November 1863.

Stephen Mitchell married Mary Gillespie Lindsey (1833-1898) in 1855. They had five children. After Mary's death, he married Emily Lindsey. Since Stephen was the only blacksmith in the region, it seems he was exempt for military service during the early part of the Civil War. When the need for soldiers became pressing, however, he was drafted in late 1864. He served in Company G, 54 th Regiment, Virginia Infantry. He seems to have deserted and hidden out on family land until the end of the war. He died in 1913.

William Alexander ("Alex" in the family letters) was a teacher in Carroll County, Virginia. He enlisted with Company I, 50 th Regiment, Virginia Infantry, in June 1861, eventually rising to the rank of 2 nd Lieutenant in May 1862. While on leave in October of 1863, he married Ann Electra Utley (sister of Barton's wife, Mary). They had two children. William was captured May 12, 1864 at Spottsylvania Court House. He was held prisoner at Point Lookout from until June 23 rd, then held at Fort Delaware until June 16, 1865. He returned to Carroll County after the war and resumed teaching. He died from injuries relating to an accident in December 1868.

Barton Pierce married Mary P. Utley in 1862. They had one daughter. He enlisted in Company D, 29 th Regiment, Virginia Infantry, in February of 1863. He is often referred to as "Doc(k)" in his brothers' letters. He may have had medical training prior to the Civil War, as he was assigned as a steward to the regimental surgeon. He was shot and killed by the Home Guard while on furlough, September 24, 1863.

John Nichols Ridgway (1836-1898) served in Company D, 58 th Regiment, Virginia Infantry. He married Mildred Ann Kennett after the Civil War. They had one daughter.

For additional information, see the following (Virginia Tech Special Collections Call Numbers included):
Alderman, John P. 28 th Virginia Infantry. The Virginia Regimental Histories Series. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1989. Rare Book Collection: Spec Civil War E 581.5 29th .A64 1989 c.2
Chapla, John D. 50 th Virginia Infantry. The Virginia Regimental Histories Series. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1997. Rare Book Collection: Spec Civil War E 581.5 50th .C51 1997 c.2
Weaver, Jeffrey C., and G. L. Sherwood. 54 th Virginia Infantry. The Virginia Regimental Histories Series. Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1993. Rare Book Collection: Spec Civil War E 581.5 54th .E44 1993. c.2

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of forty-nine letters written by the brothers of the Smith family of Carroll County, Virginia, mostly while they served as soldiers for the Confederacy during the Civil War. A majority of the letters are written to one of the brothers, Stephen Mitchell, from encampments in Virginia. Other correspondents include: their father Alexander; Stephen's wife, Mary; and two sisters, Sarah (Sallie) and Polly.

Most of the letters are reports of recent events in camp and daily life, frustrations with the "soldier's life," and inquiries for news and letters from home. The letters also share information on family and friends from Carroll County who are serving with the brothers. William's letters include some description of the battles at Lewisburg and Chancellorsville. Letters to Stephen often contain discussion of the Home Guard and warnings to be cautious and avoid being dragged into service.

The collection includes one letter by John Nichols Ridgway of Franklin County, written in 1862. The collection also contains supplementary information about the Smith family compiled by Frederick R. Smith.


The letters in this collection is arranged into six series. Series I-V are arranged by correspondent, then chronologically. Series VI is arranged chronologically.

Series I contains the Barton Pierce Smith Letters from March to June of 1863. With one exception (a letter to his father), these letters are written to his brother, Stephen Mitchell Smith. Series II contains the James R. Smith Letters from August 1862 to October 1863. His letters are written to Stephen Mitchell (and in one case Stephen and Mary) Smith. Series III includes the Stephen Mitchell Smith Letters from December 1864 to February 1865 written to his wife. This series also has a photograph of Smith's exemption from earlier in the war, and a pension check he received in 1912. Series IV consists of the William Alexander Smith Letters from July 1861 to April 1864. The letters are mostly to Stephen, but also include correspondence to his father, sisters, and brother, James.

Series V consists of a single letter written by John Nichols Ridgway to R.P. Wright, on November 6, 1862. Series VI contains Frederick R. Smith's "A Smith Family History" from 1975 as well as his later notes and letters about the history.

Related Material

Transcripts of the Smith Family Letters, created for a class project, are available online , with addition background information.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the Smith Family Letters by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Significant Persons Associated With the Collection

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Container List

Series I: Barton Pierce Smith Letters
box-folder 1 folder: 11863
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Series II: James R. Smith Letters
box-folder 1 folder: 2-31862-1863
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Series III: Stephen Mitchell Smith Letters
box-folder 1 folder: 4-71864-1865, 1912
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Series IV: William Alexander Letters
box-folder 1 folder: 8-111861-1864
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Series V: Other Correspondence
box-folder 1 folder: 121862
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Series VI: Family History
box-folder 1 folder: 13-141975, 1996, n.d.
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