This letter was written by Dr. Jeptha Fowlkes (1808-1864) to his second wife, Maria Jefferson (Baker) Fowlkes (1806-1864).¹ They were married 24 January 1846 in Davidson County, Tennessee. Dr. Fowlkes first wife, Mary Gatlin Lamb, died in November 1841 in Nashville.
Dr. Fowlkes was the editor of the Daily Avalanche, a democratic party newspaper published in Memphis. In 1860, Fowlkes supported the Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge for the Presidency. Henderson Summerville was the editor of another democratic party newspaper published in Memphis called The Appeal outwardly supporting Stephen A. Douglas for the Presidency. These editors engaged in such heated debate in their respective newspaper columns that a duel was arranged and only called off at the last minute when Dr. Fowlkes claimed that, being a family man, it would be unfair to risk his life against an unmarried man. Dr. Fowlkes was also the President and major stock holder of the Southern Pacific Railroad.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
Addressed to Mrs. Maria J. Fowlkes, Nashville, Tennessee
August 19, 1846
My dear & beloved wife!
I had hoped anxiously to hear from you by tonight’s mail — especially as Ally was sick when you last wrote me. I have felt much sincere & anxious concern about him as he has been unwell so long and having no confidence in the health of Middle Tennessee or in the profession of physic[ian] as now [?] — men unfit for the solemn & profound responsibilities of the bedroom in “the day of severe visitation.” I have great affection for the boys — indeed, Maria, I love you & everything you love! For my life — my hopes of the future — temporal at least, I would not have it otherwise! All things connected with you give me interest — a deep loved & profound interest! I feel greatly disappointed. I may add distressed at not hearing from you tonight. There is good cause for it or my wife would not omit it.
I am on tip-toe to be off, except I can’t now promise when — but as early as I can you may expect me. There will be no mistake in this none whatever as I know you will give me credit.
I am almost crazy to see you, to be with you — and when we do again get to each other, wife — my sweetest & most beloved one — let us see who shall next say part separate for a day even! To me south & all it has is as nothing weighed against my dear Maria! She outweighs earth — its honors & its hopes! To me so fair; so dear; so lovely & so dearly beloved!
May heaven bless you, preserve the boys, and keep you all safe & happy, sound & healthy, till we join each other again!
Much affectionately, your fond husband, — J. Fowlkes
¹ The following notice says Maria’s name was Ward, rather than Baker: Married, In Davidson county, on the 24th ult., Dr. Jeptha FOWLKES of this city, to Mrs. Maria J. WARD. Weekly Appeal, Friday, 2/13/1846.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
Addressed to Mrs. Maria J. Fowlkes, Nashville, Tennessee
September 1st 1846
If I do not write tonight, I apprehend it will not be received on Saturday. Finding my chief happiness now in reading your feeling on paper & of imparting mine to you, I cannot live without :throwing off” every few days the accumulated feeling of my bosom by letter. But Maria it seems I can’t write except to pour forth the accumulated feelings so strangely springing up before you & I ever saw each other!
Before I saw, I loved you — and “I want, saw, was conquered.” Glorious captivity! Wife, how tenderly I love thee. How dearly I prize thee. How much I value your mind, heart & person — language can’t express! Wife, do forgive all errors. Love me with all your devotion and in your heart I have a treasure more valuable to me & more valued by me than all the precious stones of the earth! Sweet one, I hope ‘ere long to find myself with you, there to be long before another separation.
Maria, love me — faulty as I am. Forgive my weaknesses & by your own goodness strengthen my own weakness!
But wife, I have bad news for you. Mrs. [Catharine J.] Gibson ¹ died today — yesterday well. Congestion fever I learn. Robt. Hatch will die, I fear. Not much disease, I believe. One children well. Mrs. Anderson has been very ill _____ abortion or miscarriage. She is better.
It is hot & disagreeable. Maj. Finley is here. ² Will go tonight to Holly Springs. He is undetermined about going to Florida. He was much pleased with the country. I have formed a partnership for John Finley with Major Connell and a good connection I think. He will do well, I hope & believe.
I have been stopped. Jim calls for my letter at last moment.
Farewell dearest wife! Farewell. Affectionately, — J. Fowlkes
¹ “Died in this city on the forenoon of Tuesday last, Mrs. Catharine J. GIBSON, late consort of Mr. Isaac Y. Gibson, and daughter of the senior editor of this paper—aged twenty three years. She had been slightly indisposed for several days, but no serious apprehensions were entertained either by her physicians or her friends, until a few hours before her dissolution. Less than half a year has passed since we took up our pen to record the demise of our eldest daughter, and now we are called up to discharge a like painful and heart-rending duty to our next. The bridal garments in which she was arrayed a little less than three brief months since, have been exchanged for the habitments of the grave. The fond anticipation of a devoted husband of many coming years of wedded happiness have been suddenly crushed, and his hearth made desolate; the young sisters feel that they have lost a second mother, and the fond father that he is almost left alone. Yes, of seven children presented us by a devoted and deeply lamented wife, there are now but two. Two were cut off in their infancy; then followed their angel-mother—a third was called away in the innocent and beautiful girlhood…” — The Tri-Weekly Memphis Enquirer, Saturday, 5 September 1846.
² This was probably Jesse J. Finley (1812-1904). He served as captain of mounted volunteers in the Seminole War in 1836. Finley studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1838. He moved to Mississippi County, Arkansas, in 1840, where he practiced law. Finley served in the State senate in 1841. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1842, and continued the practice of law. He served as mayor of Memphis in 1845. He moved to Marianna, Florida, in November 1846 and was elected to the state senate of Florida in 1850. Finley was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1852. He served as a judge of the western circuit of Florida from 1853 to 1861.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Finley was appointed judge of the Confederate States court for the district of Florida in 1861. He resigned in March 1862 and volunteered as a private in the 6th Florida Infantry of the Confederate Army, and was successively promoted to be the colonel of the regiment. He took part in the Kentucky Campaign in Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s column, but his first significant combat came at the Battle of Chickamauga, where his regiment captured a battery of Union artillery, but was unsupported and forced to withdraw with 165 casualties. He was promoted to brigadier general on November 8, 1863 (with date of rank of November 16), commanding all of the Florida infantry in the Army of Tennessee. Finley’s Brigade, part of Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s division, was caught up in the Confederate rout at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, but performed well in protecting the rearguard of the army as it withdrew. Army commander Gen. Braxton Bragg expressed his thanks to Finley for “his gallant bearing and prompt assistance in every emergency.” Finley’s brigade saw heavy fighting in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864. He was badly wounded at Resaca and placed on medical leave until the army reached Atlanta. At the Battle of Jonesborough, his horse was killed by artillery shell fragments, which severely wounded him again, but he refused to be evacuated to Atlanta until all of his wounded men had been taken care of. Finley was unable to return to his brigade for the rest of the war. He tried to reach it in North Carolina after he recovered from a second wound, but Federal troops blocked his way. He surrendered with Maj. Gen. Howell Cobb in Columbus, Georgia, and was paroled in Quincy, Florida, on May 23, 1865. [Source: Wikipedia]