[Reconstruction-era letters of an ex-rebel in Port Hudson and New Orleans.]. Wade Gaulden Chiek, Lucien Bloodwell.
[Reconstruction-era letters of an ex-rebel in Port Hudson and New Orleans.]
[Reconstruction-era letters of an ex-rebel in Port Hudson and New Orleans.]

[Reconstruction-era letters of an ex-rebel in Port Hudson and New Orleans.]

Port Hudson, New Orleans, and other Louisiana locales; also Pennsylvania, 1866–1871. 9 letters (12mo & 8vo). 39 pp. of manuscript. 3 original envelopes.

An engaging group of letters by an ex-Confederate soldier writing from Port Hudson and New Orleans in the immediate post-Civil War period—conjuring the Reconstruction-era scene, chronicling hard times, and including some African-American content.

Seven of the present letters were written by businessman Wade Gaulden Chiek, a native of Winchester, Virginia (in one letter he calls Virginia “the place I love better than any other on earth”) to his sister Flora Baker (1844–1949) in Winchester. Internal evidence suggests that Chiek enlisted in 1863 and was wounded during the war. He often refers to his father, Henry M. Baker (1825–1900) who, like Wade, was also in Port Hudson, Louisiana following the war. Henry Baker was mustered into "F" Co. VA 2nd Infantry in 1861 and was discharged for disability (heart disease) later the same year. While it is not clear how he ended up in Louisiana along with several of Wade’s sisters (who are mentioned multiple times in these letters), it seems Chiek’s father and sisters may have moved to Louisiana to assist him in his business activities. While information on Wade Chiek is scant, he may have fought alongside his father during the war—both of them ending up in Port Hudson by 1866, the site of two major battles and a siege. Like its sister fort at Vicksburg, Port Hudson fell to Federal forces in 1863, ceding complete control of the Mississippi River to the Union. Following the war, it became an important military hub and a commercial center for plantations north of New Orleans. Chiek married Mary E. Merrill (1849–1884) in Port Hudson in April 1867.

Chiek’s letters touch upon such subjects as his father being detained for shooting a black man in the back of the head (a horrifying murder reported as if it were no big deal); a wound Chiek himself sustained; activity relating to the fort at Port Hudson; attending “a grand Yankee ball” (with many Union women in attendance); the matter of his sister picking him a “Sweet-Heart” (“she must be a little rebel and then I will be satisfied. I hate a Yankee worse than I do the you know what”); missing Virginia women; mourning the lost war (“If we had only gained our independence, I would have been satisfied”); the Yankee's advantages over the southerner during Reconstruction; his poverty, and more.

In May or June of 1866, Chiek relocates to New Orleans, but within a month he loses his dwelling and belongings in a fire. After losing everything, he compares his prospects to that of a freed black man: “The fire was put out when half of the block was burned down to the ground. I lost everything [and retained] only what I had on my back. Now I have to go to some other place and go to work like a negroe.” Exactly what he means here is unclear (sharecropping? common labor?), but in a couple of subsequent passages he refers to doing good business, suggesting that he has landed on his feet, at least to some degree. He leaves New Orleans on account of the cholera there, and returns to Port Hudson where he runs into family problems. His father has remarried, against Chiek’s wishes, and on account of this he takes leave. In a letter dated 2 March 1867, he writes from Afton Plantation, Louisiana (in Carroll Parish), where he appears to have worked as a sharecropper. In the last of his letters, dated 12 Feb. 1871, Chiek describes traveling from Honduras to Cuba, “when the great rebellion broke out. I stayed two or three months after.” [The Ten Years’ War (1868–1878), also known as the Great War, was a phase in Cuba's fight for independence from Spain.]

SOME REPRESENTATIVE PASSAGES

Port Hudson, Louisiana; 6 May 1866 [Chiek leaves a party at Jackson, Louisiana because] “my wound pained me so very much… You see, I cannot ride horseback now. I have to go in the buggy or a carriage… Next morning I was hardly able to raise my hand to my head. The Sergeant that is tending me says ‘that if I don't take too much exercise that it will be well in the course of one month, but I don't believe that it will ever get well… I do not ever expect to get well as I was when I left your house in '63. If we had only gained our independence, I would have been satisfied.”

“Father has just returned from the fort. They have had him in there nearly two weeks just for shooting a negroe. The boy cursed him and started to run but the old man caught him with a bullet in the back of the head. The negroe is not dead yet but they say he will die. The Yankees turned him out provided that he would never be caught in doing so any more. He promised them that he never would be caught any more.”

“I went to a grand Yankee ball last night [it] was a week ago. And you never saw the like of Union ladies in your life as there was there at that ball. Us poor little rebs were nowhere with the girls by the side of the Yankee officers. In my whole neighborhood there is but one dozen Secesh Girls in it.”

“All my old scool mates were nothing but mere children when I left and now they are grown young ladies, and the worst of it all is that they are little Yanks. I have only one more question to make in [your] picking me a Sweet-Heart—is that she must be a little rebel and then I will be satisfied. I hate a Yankee worse than I do the—you know what.”

New Orleans; 18 June 1866; to Flora Baker “You always told me that you believed that I was born under a lucky star, but, Sister, when you hear my whole history, you will not think that I was. I was forced to leave my Father and Sisters so I came down here to go to some kind of business. I got a good situation and had commenced to work like a good fellow. I had a room over the store with the rest of the clerks and of course I moved all my clothing and everything to my room and was fixed up very comfortably. When last Sunday night I heard the fire bell ringing and I was eating my supper but I did not wait to finish eating. I went to the Store as quickly as I possible could do and behold when I came to the store, it was nothing but one mass of flames. It was to [too] far for any of us to go up to our room so we lost everything we had. The fire was put out when half of the block was burned down to the ground. I lost everything only what I had on my back. Now I have to go to some other place and go to work like a negroe."

Port Hudson; 29 June 1866; to Flora Baker “The last time that I written to you I was in New Orleans. I was in business down there. But one day last week was called to the bedside of my very sick Father. He is very low but he is improving now. … The doctor says that he is out of all danger now. I expect to return to the city in a few days if my father get[s] well, if not I will have to remain on the place and try to make a living for my two sisters. … I think that I will lose everything on earth at one time. I will come up to see you in this next Ocotber or November if I live to see the time appointed arrive.… Give my love to all the family and except [read: expect] a position for yourself… Direct your letter to me at New Orleans for there I will remain until I leave for Virginia.”

Port Hudson; 3 Nov. 1866; to Flora Baker “I left New Orleans. I had to leave there on account of Sickness. The cholera was very bad there for a while and is still. We have failed in making a crop this year so we are all ruined down here. I don't know what we will do. We have had a general bust-up in our family since I written my last letter. Father was kind enough to go and get us another Step-Mother. He married against my will, therefore I have left my home to content against the world. I am doing very good business at present. I told him before [he] married if he did, I would quit him, so l have been as good as my word. I make enough to school and let my Sisters dress very decent so far.”

Afton Plantation, Louisiana; 2 March 1867; to Flora Baker "I only wish the girls in this state was as patriotic as the girls in Virginia. But instead of that, they think there is no one like the nigger worshiper. If a Yankee comes to New Orleans, he will have no difficulty in getting a situation but if a native of the state go there, it is as much as he can do to get in a place where he can make a living without he has some influencial friend that will take an interest in him and get him into some kind of business… I make enough to bear my expenses away from this place. I will be very apt to leave here I know not where I go for I have not made up my mind… I know I can make an honest living wherever I go. I never was use to hard work in my life, so you may judge how it uses me at present."

Port Hudson; 9 Jan. 1871; to Flora Baker "I am still in the land of the living and doing fine, making a good living for myself. We have a great many pretty girls around here, but they are all like myself—very poor."

Port Hudson; 12 Feb. 1871; to Flora Baker “Since I heard from you...I went from Honduras to Cuba. I was there when the great rebellion broke out. I stayed two or three months after. You can have no idea how I felt when the postmaster came up to the store and told me he had a letter from old Virginia for me. It almost made tears come to my eyes...."

The two additional letters to Flora Baker (1865, 1866) from friend Lucien Bloodwell[?] in Enterprise, Pennsylvania feature social content, e.g.: "Winchester is well supplied with ‘drinking saloons’ of course, they are sustained entirely by the military.”

CONDITION: Old folds, very minor defects.

Item #6334

Sold