“We Respectfully Request That He Be Released from Arrest”

In September 1863, the 51st North Carolina was camped on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston. Life on the island was miserable for the men. Heat, wind and sand, mosquitoes and gnats, and disease and malnutrition created an almost unbearable environment for the soldiers. Worst of all was the food, especially the beef, “that a respectable Charleston buzzard would not eat.”

The officers of Company C conceived a plan to at least improve their diet. They would send a private to Wilmington to procure decent food and return it to the officers. To avoid censure for their actions, the group invited Lieutenant Colonel Hobson and Major McDonald to participate in their scheme. The five officers chose Private Joel Atwood of company C to fetch the provisions for them.

Eighteen-year-old Joel Atwood served in Company C. He had worked as a clerk in his uncle’s store in Duplin before the war and was well known to the officers. The young private held the trust of his superiors and had served on the regimental and brigade staffs during his brief service.

The officers pooled their money, created a list of provisions, and sent Private Atwood on his way, expecting the young man to return within four days. Unfortunately, Atwood was delayed returning from his mission, waiting for room on a train. When he finally returned to Charleston with his goodies, he was immediately arrested as an unauthorized sutler. The incident was reported to General Clingman, who preferred charges against the private and ordered him jailed.

The conspiring officers immediately realized that they had caused Atwood’s arrest. They appealed to General Clingman to release the young man. On September 24, they penned the following letter to Captain Edward White, Clingman’s adjutant:

“We, the undersigned officers of the 51st R N. C. Troops, supposing it would not be transcending priveleges [sic] usually granted to Sutlers, requested Joel P. Atwood to proceed to Wilmington to bring on for us certain baggage and boxes of provisions. He faithfully executed the task and expected to return on 4th day, but was unable to do so, as Rail Roads was in hands of the Government transporting troops. Subsequent to his leaving an order was received and published curtailing priveleges of Sutlers. We respectfully request that he be released from arrest.” The letter was signed by Lt. Colonel Caleb Hobson, Major J. R. McDonald, and three officers of Company C: Captain Samuel Stanford, First Lieutenant James Branch, and Second Lieutenant Edward Watson.

General Clingman considered the officers’ request and three days later asked the Provost Marshall to release Private Atwood: “Since I caused Atwood to be arrested and the charges preferred against him I have been informed that two of the field officers of his regiment and some other officers sent him away to attend to some business of theirs and though their action was irregular and improper, yet under the circumstances I do not regard him as culpable and therefore respectfully request that the charges against him be withdrawn.”

Private Atwood returned to duty. He was killed the following year at Drewry’s Bluff. You can read a short bio of Joel Atwood HERE.

Click HERE to see scans of the original letters.

Copyright © 2021 – 2023 by Kirk Ward. All rights reserved.

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