27 September 1861: “There are here now only ninety students, last year there was about four hundred, there is about 300 gone to war…”

Item description: Letter, 27 September 1861, from P. H. Sessoms, Chapel Hill, N.C., to his sister, Penelope White, in Coleraine, Bertie County, N.C.

Sessoms describes his trip from Coleraine, past a soldier’s camp in Weldon, N.C., where he observed 1,000 Confederate soldiers drilling and also saw Union troops who had been taken prisoners of war. He also describes his arrival at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where only a few dozen students are enrolled, most having gone to war; detailing the campus, the town, and his daily routine.

Item citation: From folder 5 of the University of North Carolina Miscellaneous Papers #3129Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Chapel Hill, September 27th 1861

Dear sister,

When I left there on tuesday before I left for school, you told me to write you and I said that I would. I have been here a good while before writing to you, but I will make my word a true one. I have not hardly had time before, being confined very closely to my studies, The Next monday night after I left you I took the steamboat at Coleraine about 11 o’clock in the night. I traveled all night long on the steamboat a good ways a up the Choan river, and next morning about six o’clock I got off the boat at Franklin. We went up to Franklin to wait until the cars come along, but in the morning just before they got to Franklin, they ran off the railroad and was three or four hours in getting them on again, and we had to wait at Franklin until eleven o’clock in the day, then we took the cars and traveled until that evening when we arrived at Weldon, When we got at Weldon the other cars had left because we were behind time by the train running off the track, We got to Weldon that evening about 3 o’clock and we had to wait until next morning at 11 o’clock before we could take the cars for Raleigh. That evening I stayed about Weldon and looked at the diferent curiosities that were there, and went down to the soldier’s camps and saw the regiment of soldiers drill, there was about one thousand in the regiment. It looked like war itself to see one thousand soldiers walk out in the field, formed in battle array seeing the southern flag waving over our new country against the northing armies, and the drums are were beating that warlike march which braved them on to battle, There were five or six hundred camps joining one-another over about four acres of land, I saw many cavalry companies, horses halled about in the cars. But now I will go on with my journey. The next morning at 11 oclock we took the cars for Raleigh and we travel over about 100 miles in the time from 11 o’clock until that evening at 4 oclock, That evening we arrived at Raleigh. As soon as we got at Raleigh the other train of cars had just come, we got off from the cars we came to Raleigh on, and took the other train as soon quick as possible for Chapel Hill, We came from Raleigh to Chapel Hill as fast as forty miles an hour, and that evining at seven or eight o’clock we got in Chapel Hill, Next morning I went up to see the Professors to be examined to enter college. I stood my examination and entered the 2nd class which is little high for one just entered, Abner Askew, J. O. Askews son enter the class below mine. That day I got my boarding house and room, I got my room and board at a widow woman’s house, she is very good and nice, I like her very well, my room is up the stairs of her house. That day I got all things fixed and that night brother John left for home again. At every morning sunrise the college bell rings for you to get up and dress, the bell is a large one about 1 1/2 foot through hung in the top of one of the college buildings [South Building], it is rung by a long rope and when it rings you can hear it about a mile off. The first time it rings in the morning is for to get up and dress and about 1/4 of an hour afterwards it rings again for to go to prayers, there is prayers up the college every morning and night evening and preaching every sunday the professors preach in returns, and the students are bound to go to church every sunday and every sunday evening bound to say a bible lesson, each class, We go to prayers in the morning before breakfast and soon after prayers we have to recite a lesson all the whole college recites the same, time, but they recite in diferent rooms and there are four diferent classes, before breakfast recite one hour, the bell rings then we go from recitation right on to breakfast, after breakfast the bell rings for to go studding, study 3 hours then the bell rings at eleven o’clock to recite again, the whole college recite until twelve, being one hour at recitation, then at eleven one is dinner, the college bell rings for dinner, after dinner we study again 3 hours, then the bell rings to recite again at four o’clock, recite 1 hour, soon after recitation is prayers in the evening, after prayers is supper. There are 3 recitations during a day. There are seven large buildings, which are the college, they are builed out of rock and brick, each one five or six stories high, there are about 50 rooms in each building they are for the students, but I have got a room by myself out in the town at Mrs Yancey’s. There are eight or nine professors, each one hears the recitation which he is professor of. The Professor of latin hears nothing except latin lessons, The Professor of Greek hears nothing except greek lessons, and so on, There are here now only ninety students, last year there was about four hundred, there is about 300 gone to war, When I was coming on the boat up to school, I saw some yankees who were taken priseners, they had handcuffs on them to keep them from getting away, I saw six of the yankees and one German. There are four diferent churches in Chapel Hill. A Baptist church, a Methodist, and Episcopalian and a Presbyterian church, there are meetings in every one on sunday and once or twice during the week, In every sunday morning, I cant hear nothing but bells ringing all over town for church. Chapel Hill is very hilly, hills about here as thick as they can be, 2 or 3 hundred yards high, and it is very rocky about here, There are nothing but rock fences in town, fences about 3 feet thick made of rock, they last forever. It is very healthy about here. I have been well since I have been here, and like the place very well. This session ends at the last of november, then there is vacation six weeks I shall come home about the first of december and stay until about 2 weeks after christmas. I suppose that I must close, Is Mr. White well, is Henderson well, have they been well ever since I have been away. Write me soon in return and tell me how things are going on there.

Please write me,

I continue to be your true brother

P.H. Sessoms

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