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William Harrison Proffit’s Letter Home From 1863

We’ve recently published a reprint of the Mary Alice Hancock book, Four Brothers in Gray. Ms. Hancock wrote her intriguing narrative of the Civil War using excerpts from the Proffit Family letters, now in the Southern Historical Collection of the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Working with Wilkes Community College, who holds copyright to Ms. Hancock’s work, Imaging Specialists has added complete transcripts of over a hundred letters written by the boys and their “connection” (or extended family) home to Lewis Fork in Wilkes County.

Below is an excellent example of one of the letters written by William Harrison Proffit who volunteered to serve in the Army of Northern Virginia just a week after North Carolina seceded from the Union. Harrison Proffit was a school teacher and arguably the most eloquent of the four boys in describing his opinions of the war and his personal observations.

The correspondences, written throughout the conflict, from 1860 t0 1865, report the changing mood of the boys, from their initial optimism, the struggles of the war and the gloom of their inevitable fates.


Camp of the 1st N.C. Troops,
Near Port Royal, Va.,
Monday Morning, February 23d. 1863

Dear Father:

I write you another short letter to let you know that I am enjoying good health and getting along very well. Our Regiment has just performed another hard task of picket duty. We started from camp on Saturday evening and returned yesterday evening. On Saturday night and Sunday morning, we encountered the worst snow storm that has fallen this winter. Our Co. was stationed at a house near the bank of the River, therefore we fared tolerably well. The snow was about 12 inches deep.

We have comfortable quarters and are well supplied with clothing, blankets, &c. Our rations have been considerably reduced- we draw only half as much bacon as we did in the first part of the winter, but our wages have been raised $5.00 more per month, which make privates pay $16.00 per month. I have very little war news to write you at present. All operations on land are necessarily suspended on account of the inclemency of the weather.

I believe no attack is now expected in the vicinity of Fredericksburg; some think that most of the Yankees are leaving here. I should not be surprised if it were true. I suppose that Charleston, Savannah and Mobile, will be attacked bery soon. It is also very probable that another attack will be made on Vicksburg. I think if ithey are unsuccessful in these attempts, that active operations will cease, and our independence soon after acknowledged, but if the enemy should be successful, I have no doubt that it would tend grately to the prolongation of the war. Grate disaffection exists in the North Western States, and a North Western Confederacy is strongly spoken of. It is said that Gen’l Longstreet’s Corps of this army is going South. I think part of it has already gone. We belong to Jackson’s corps, therefore it is probable we will remain in Virginia.

I have not seen the other boys since I wrote you before, but heard from Andrew and Alfred a few days ago, they were well. I hope you received the letter I wrote you some time ago. I directed it to Lewis Fork P.O. Would it be more convenient for you to get letters from Lewis Fork? Write me as often as you conveniently can. Fearing that your letters are not backed correctly, I will send you an envelope properly directed.

My love to Mother and Sis, with all who may enquire for one.

Yours, as ever,
Wlm. H. Proffit

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Four Brothers in Gray Available Now

The newest release from Star Route Books, Four Brothers in Gray, is now available! The book tells the story of Confederate soldiers Andy, Harrison, Calvin and Alfred Proffit. Star Route Books reprinted the book with permission from Wilkes Community College (who has copyrights to the 1975 work by Mary Alice Hancock.)

In it, Ms. Hancock tells about the Proffit family of Wilkes County, North Carolina, and the four sons of William and Mary Proffit that left home to fight for the South in the Great Rebellion. She uses the boys’ own words- excerpts taken from over 100 letters sent home to Lewis Fork by the boys and their cousins to trace their paths through the war.

Mary Alice Hancock began writing articles for magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated, American Legion Magazine, Progressive Farmer, Catholic Digest and VFW magazine. She wrote two fictional children’s books, Menace on the Mountain in 1968 which was eventually made into a two-part, television episode of The Wonderful World of Disney. Her second book, in 1969, was a non-fiction novel called Thundering Prairie about the Oklahoma Land Rush.

In addition to the narrative, transcriptions of 100+ of the brothers’ letters, which inspired Ms. Hancock, are included. Like other titles in the Star Route history series, Four Brothers in Gray includes contemporary photographs, drawings, illustrations and and period maps obtained from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, Virginia Military Institute, Harpers Pictorial History and many other resources.

Also included is family information, describing the relationships of the brothers, their cousins and in-laws, who are frequently mentioned in their letters. Their letters reveal the excitement of battle, the loneliness at the front, thoughts of home and their concern for family and nation.

The 320-page, black and white, softcover book, 7.44″ x 9.68″ (Crown Quarto size), is currently available at The Sparta Store in Sparta, N.C., and online at for $32, + tax and shipping. For more information on wholesale pricing, please contact Claire.

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Civil War Mystery from an Area History?

Coming Soon from Imaging Specialists

While researching online for our upcoming book, Four Brothers in Graywe’ve found a few things we weren’t looking for. ISI is reprinting the book with permission from Wilkes Community College (who has copyrights to the 1975 work by Mary Alice Hancock.)

In it, Miss Hancock tells about the Proffit family of Wilkes County, North Carolina, and the four sons of William and Mary Proffit that left home to fight for the South in the Great Rebellion.  She uses the boys’ own words- excerpts taken from over 100 letters sent home to Lewis Fork by the boys and their cousins to trace their paths through the war.

The oldest, Andrew J. Profit, was captured twice by the Union: first at Chancellorsville and released, then at Spotsylvania, where this time, he was sent to Pt. Lookout, a Northern prison in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay.

At Chancellorsville, he was officially- and erroneously- listed by Colonel John Barry as killed in action while bearing the flag of the 18th NC Infantry. But Andy was, in fact, captured and later wrote in a letter to his father, “the Yanks… took us to Washington and kept us about 13 days… treated us with great respect, give us plenty to eat…”

The flag he was captured with is now on display at the NC Museum of History.

The 18th NC Infantry Regiment flag captured by Union forces at the Battle of Chancellorsville and now on display at the North Carolina Museum of History

While looking for images of Pt. Lookout, we found one through the Library of Congress website. The image, hosted at Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society is described as:

[Prisoners at Point Lookout taking the oath of allegiance] [Albumen print]
CREATED/PUBLISHED June 30, 1865 and a larger image is on their site here.

We also found a discussion board at Authentic Campaigner Website & Forums, discussing the NYHS image here, and whether the men were actually taking an oath or possibly just, as someone named froghunter suggested, at a “conclusion of Sunday school class with a hand holding prayer. They could be Methodists.”

Poster yeoman stated the image was also printed in The Photographic History of the Civil War: in ten volumes (1911), Volume 3 and that a low res version of the book is available online, here where the caption states, The Last Confederate Prisoners Take the Oath at Pt. Lookout.

Todd Watts said they couldn’t have been the last group, as the book says the photo was taken in, “late April” and he has, “a copy of my ancestor’s oath of allegiance taken at Point Lookout in June, 1865. So this particular group, if photographed in April is not the final group to take the oath there.”

NYHS and the Library of Congress say June 30 and the 1911 book says late April. yeoman finally replies, “As far as being free from factual error… horseshoes and hand grenades.”

We agree. Accounts from that time don’t always match up. Even from eyewitnesses like Colonel Barry and Andrew Proffit.

But, we think they are, in fact, the last group from Pt. Lookout.

Image at New-York Historical Society
Image from Photographic History of the Civil War
(From a double page spread)

Look closely at the two photos: same men, same time, same poses, down to the folds of their clothes-
Except for behind the judge’s bench. In the book, there are two men standing behind the bench and in the NYHS image, there’s only one. Two different shots. Someone stood up (or sat down) but nobody else moved. They didn’t as much as shift their weight or change their stance. Big deal?

In those days, two shots that close together in time, was a big deal- possibly requiring two cameras with two photographers or more probably one, really fast photographer wanting to get an important shot.

A shot like the last group to leave the prison.

Imaging Specialists reproduced a set of A Photographic History… in the 1990’s for a leather-bound edition by a national publisher. We dismantled two sets of original 1911 books acquired from a library in Minnesota and shot the actual pages on our cameras, so we have a little history with this historical title.

We hope to include at least one version of the Point Lookout event in this very interesting book, Four Brothers in Gray.