Item description: Letter from John Kimberly, Chapel Hill, N.C., to his wife Bettie in Nashville, Tenn. John Kimberly was a professor of chemistry and agriculture at the University of North Carolina, 1857-1864 and 1875-1876. It is unclear why Bettie Kimberly and the Kimberly children are in Nashville at the time of this letter.
Kimberly discusses life in Chapel Hill in July 1861 (“Chapel Hill looks like a deserted village.”); he describes the dissemination of news in the village, particularly that town folk would gather every night to hear readings from the newspaper from Petersburg or Richmond, Va.; he instructs Bettie on household chores and errands; and he gives other updates about the town and news of the war.
[Item transcription available below images.]
Chapel Hill. July 28 1861-
My dear Bettie. I do not know when I was so lonely and depressed as I have been for the past week, though I have been closely engaged in putting our rooms in order meanwhile, and in doing some studying. I find it hard work, after so many months of idleness to buckle down to my books again, and I now almost loathe the sight of one. I began my lectures last Thursday, and that will be just about work enough this session to knock the barnacles off me. My two hours on Thursday is all the time I spent with my Class, which now numbers 21.
I was disappointed in not getting a letter from you on Friday or yesterday, as I expected. I presume you did not write last Sunday, on account of not hearing from me. How my heart exults over the victory of Manassas. I would have given my right arm to have been in the battle. What a proud legacy the memory would have been to my children! We receive here…more reliable accounts of affairs at Manassas than you. We manage to get every night a paper published the same morning at Richmond or Petersburg. About eight o’clock every night every body in turn assembles at the hotel to wait for the hack-as soon as it arrives there is a tremendous rush–the paper is seized, the crowd gathers in the porch of the hotel, and a reader is perched upon a bench to read the news. It is truly a picturesque scene. In the 6th N.C. Regiment, engaged at Manassas, whose colonel was killed, Col. Fisher, whom I knew very well, we had [many?] students. It was the regiment stationed at “the Shops” when we passed. The companys we saw at Durham’s was also in the action. We hear of the death of two of our students, who fell fighting gallantly at Richmond town. They were brothers, graduates of the classes /58 and /59. They were true gentlemen, and of a very wealthy Virginia family, and very warm friends of mine. How many families are called to mourn! It is the bitterness in our cup of joy. Yet what death could be nobler or sweeter than death on the battle-fields, fighting for what our hearts most dearly prize. It was public talk on the cars between N.York and Washington among the Ellsworth Zouaves, that they intended to avenge the deaths of their leader by dishonoring every woman at the South. The conduct of the war on the part of the Yankees has been characterized by the grossest outrages, and we might reasonably conclude they would stop at nothing in the way of insults and injury. I am still designated Captain here, and am told to hold myself in readiness. I do not know what folly I shall be guilty of, unless I can soon have you and the children with me.
Such washing and [scurrying?] as I have had for the past week! To-morrow I hope to finish. Yesterday I had Spence washing up the library, the last room up stairs. Windows, floors, walls and casing I have had thoroughly cleansed. I bought some matting at 32 1/2 cts. a yard, and covered the floors of the parlor and dining room with it. [?], I think, paid 1,5 cts. for hers. The parlor is now all fixed. I have not unpacked the things for the etagere. The parlor needs some kind of shade or curtain for the windows. It is too light, even with the blinds carefully closed. I thought of getting some buff silica and making shades, but I shall wait until you come. For the dining room I have got some dark green calico for shades, and to-morrow will put them up. The fixtures for shades I got in town. For the old parlor, I thought I would get some calico like that with which your sewing chair is covered, as there is a piece in town, and have shades made.
Spence has just come in to know what I would have for supper–as if there were a great choice and an infinite variety to provide. Tea and biscuit warmed over have, been my fair heretofore, but Spence comes every night for orders, and looks ready to be astounded by an unlimited order for cake, preserves, toast, strawberries, and everything else unattainable. Last night I ordered ice cream and Charlotte Russe, and got tea and warmed-over biscuit as usual. I believe I shall break his head, if he asks me again what I shall have for supper. Mrs. M– is a bigger fool than ever. She waylays me, every time I go in and out, to have a talk. I listen for a few moments in perfect silence, and then abruptly turn on my heel. Poor creature, she must talk to somebody, but I am determined not to be that somebody. I have billed Milly for the balance of the year for $25. She can clean up the house and do our washing. She is an excellent washer and ironer. She was sick last week. She wanted me to hire her, as did her mistress, but the man who hired her did not want to give her up. He speaks very highly of her–but Milly began to cut up some tantrums, and he then let her go. Our rooms look now so charming and pleasant–as clean as a new penny, and cool as a cucumber. No flies. No dust. No dirt–but so lonely, so overwhelming and depressing in their silence and loneliness. I don’t know what I shall feel after everything gets cleaned up and returned, and I have nothing but my books to engage me. But you will come, will you not? And now make a memorandum of what I wish you to do in N– [Nashville]
1st. Take those maps of mine in the office, some 3 or 6 of them, I think, and bundle them up in the cloth. Sew a large card on, direct them here, and send by Adams Express. Pay the charges there, it will be cheaper. The map in the dining room of mine, I don’t want. I want the maps to hide in part these miserable white washed walls.
2nd. Get yourself a riding-dress and have it made up handsomely.
3rd. Get something for the parlor windows. Whatever you think best, only let it be cheap. The large window extends to the floor from the top of the casing to the floor it is 11 feet. The width from outside of casing is six feet eight inches. The other window is eight feet from top of casing, and the width five feet two inches.
4th. Get some table cloths.
5th. Go to Wilson’s on College Street and get the lamp I left there to be altered for burning coal oil. Charge $1 1/2. Get shade for it.
6th. Have your portrait finished off and sent to the frame makers, then packed up and directed here by Adams Express.
7th. Go immediately to the dentist’s if you have not already done so, and have your teeth properly attended to. Do not put it off a moment longer.
8th. Decide at once whether you will get your silver in N- or Raleigh. If you wish to select it yourself, you had better do it in N-. Have it marked B.M.K.
9th. If you hear of a chance of buying quinine at between three and four dollars an ounce, lay out all your money in it. It is here worth six dollars an ounce.
10th. If you see a [?] of good colt’s army or navy revolver at $50 a piece or less, buy them.
11th. Kiss my little darlings for poor papa.
I rec’d Mr. Lehon’s dispatch last Monday. I am now trying to get some New Orleans funds to send you, unless I can get them in a few days, I will send N. Carolina.
As soon as I hear from you, my dear wife, and learn your wishes, I shall act accordingly. If you wish to remain at home, I will try to comfort myself in my bereavement by flirting with Mrs. Morrow. If you wish to come, I will arrange to meet you at Atlanta, first sending you a dispatch on what day I shall be there. You can take the cars in the afternoon at Nashville, have your baggage checked to Atlanta, and be there next morning. I had more than half a mind to start after you last Thursday night–perhaps, I shall do next Thursday, and break in upon you about the time you are deciphering this letter. I must see you and my little darlings.
I rec’d a letter from Baldy last week, he was in Raleigh to place at St. Mary’s one of his cousins. He took Lizzie off with him. He threatens us with a visit. I am obliged to him. He was the Capt. of a company, but the governor would not receive them as they would not enlist for a longer term than twelve months. He writes that he is now offered a lieutenancy in a cavalry company, and is considering its acceptance. Tom is 3rd Lieut: in a cavalry company. Baldy wants to go to the wars, and every time he mentions it, Meeta has the hysterics and says she will go too. There is devotion for you.
Chapel Hill looks like a deserted village. Occasionally a few students pass here on their way to their meals, and very rarely one is to be seen in town. All are required to room in the College buildings. They look quiet, subdued, snubbed. The country people who come in with their butter and eggs think that old Satan himself has taken possession of the place. They firmly believe that the students have kept away expressly to spite them, and that it is an outrageous imposition for the storekeeper to charge 30 cts. a pound for coffee, when they can’t sell their eggs and chickens at any price.
Did I tell you, how near we came to a collision as I was coming in. The cause very near pitching into a freight train. Ran up within 20 yds of it. Another second or two and something would have been smashed generally. It seems we were out of [time?], and the trains were rounding a curve. Quite a sensation among the passengers.
You cannot imagine, my darling, how nice and pleasant our room looks. It is so distressingly clean, that I think I should have a more comfortable feeling, if Spence should throw a few wheelbarrow-fulls of dirt on the floor. The sun brightens it up in the morning, and the rest of the day the trees shade it in their dense foliage. The weather has been rather cool than otherwise, so much so that I have had the quilt on the bed, ever since I have been here. To-night I shall take it off. The door of the dining-room stands open, and it is pleasant to look in there and see the cool, clean matting covering the floor. Then at midday I can [drape?] the curtains and have almost the darkness of night. But I miss you and the children. The stillness of the rooms and house is oppression. I wander about from room to room, restless and in search of something lost. Every thing seems familiar, yet unnatural. There is a strange blending of old and new associations. Your photograph looks down upon me from the wall, but it won’t talk to me, it won’t scold. I look about for the children, but everything is hushed and [mute?]. I want to hear the sound of their voices, even if they cry, and I want to hear Rebecca’s little feet pattering over the floor. I need not say how much I miss you. Last week seemed like an age, and I cannot say how I shall get through another week, now that I have less to do in fixing and cleaning. I made Spence clean up the kitchen and the yard around it, and you cannot imagine what a revolution has been effected in the appearance of things. But I must close. I have written you another of my long letters, and I am growing more and more melancholy every moment. Give my love to all. Talk to the children, bless their little hearts, about poor papa missing them and tell them papa always sends them a good night kiss. God bless you, my dear wife, and keep you evermore under his watchful care and love, and guidance. With all love, Ever John Kimberly
More about John Kimberly: John Kimberly was a native of New Jersey and a descendent of Huguenots who settled in Long Island in the seventeenth century. He spent his adult life in North Carolina and was a staunch advocate of the Confederate cause. He received a degree in chemistry from Harvard University and taught chemistry in Hertford County, N.C., where he was married to Caroline Capehart of Hertford County. He later married Bettie Maney of Nashville, Tenn., and became a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 1857-1864. He was the chair of the agriculture department at the University, 1875-1876.