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Nell Wilkinson Letter

Nell Wilkinson was the sister of Mrs. William Warren and was living at Caney at the time of the Matagorda tragedy. Sallie Wadsworth was attending a young ladies' seminary in Chapel Hill , Texas .

                                                                          Caney, January 3, 1864

My dear Sallie,

            It is with sorrowing heart that I write this week, and let me beg you, dear Sallie, to call to your aid all the inherent courage and strength of character, which I know you possess, to enable you to bear with fortitude the distress I am called upon to impart. Remember "The Lord Chasteneth whom He loveth." Tom, our dear Tom, is at rest...Tom was dear, very dear to us all; how much more so to an affectionate sister. I sympathize with you, dear Sallie, for without loving him as much as you or Mollie, I loved him as a brother.

            I will not disguise from you the particulars of his death are distressing but will simply point you to the Redeemer, who bore more than mortal anguish, for grace and meekness to bow beneath the rod.

            On the evening of the 30th of December--near an hour to sunset the gunboat, Jim Carr, with Captain Rugeley's company on board, started across to the Peninsula to capture a party of Yankees, who had built a fort there.

            The whole party was almost wild with delight with the idea of the expedition and left the wharf cheering and waving their hats. When they reached about a mile of the shore, the party entered the launches, impatient to land, but had scarcely started when a norther blue up. The Captain immediately ordered the boats to return to the gunboat. It was ten o'clock at night, and the norther was blowing oh so fiercely.

            The boat in which Captain Rugeley and some four or five others reached the Carr in safety; the second boat containing thirty-eight men, and all our brave boys sunk in deep water. All except two brothers, who were drowned in each others' arms, reached the shore, and there, saddest of all, nineteen out of the thirty-six froze to death. Among that unfortunate number, my dear, dear Sallie, was our brave boy. Early in the morning of the thirty-first, he breathed his last, in the arms of one of his comrades, who, in vain, had exerted himself to save Tom's life.

            It is a terrible disaster, the most painful of the War, but there are many things to console you in this awful affliction. Tom was an innocent, pure, and good boy...

            During all that terrible storm until death released him from suffering he was calm and collected; both Gayle and Billy have told us that he was not frightened. His body with thirteen others was found that day and brought to Matagorda New Year's night. He with four others was buried yesterday evening; eight were buried this morning, and little Jimmie Rugeley was brought to Caney. Mollie and I went down yesterday as soon as we heard that they had been found but were too late. Everything was done for him by Mr. Willie Power that you could have wished.

            Let the knowledge that seven of his fellow soldiers are still missing, and their friends may not have the satisfaction of having burial rites over their inanimate remains, console you. It is hard to reconcile ourselves to so hard and sudden a calamity, but dear God does all for the best. Perhaps, my dear Sallie, this is intended to lead you to him....

            Tell Sue, Gayle is safe, tho he suffered dreadfully and came near sharing the fate of those who now are peacefully sleeping. Tom looked very natural and as if he had just fallen asleep.

            I enclose you a list; as you will doubtless like to learn who of your acquaintances perished.

            Mollie sends you much love and says she will write in a few days.

            Goodbye, my dear friend, God comfort you.

                                                                        Nellie Wilkinson

(Source: Miss Ella of the Deep South of Texas by Arda Talbot Allen, published in 1951 by the Naylor Company, San Antonio, Texas)


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Feb. 2, 2005
Nov. 29, 2009