Thursday, May 21, 2015

1865 Letter from Belle to her Papa

1865 letter,

This letter from Belle Tisdale to her Papa, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, was written on both sides of a single 5 ¼” x 8” sheet of paper. It starts out in what appears to be her mother's handwriting. Perhaps Eliza was helping ten year old Belle learn to write with a dip pen. In a few lines the letter continues in Belle's handwriting. My transcription was made from a copy and is exactly as written. The location of the original is unknown.

[Eliza's handwriting?] Monday, Sept. 11th, 1865
Oakland Place
My Dear Papa,
                    How are you I would be very glad to see you Col Biberon was here this morning I was so glad to here from you we were all very much pleased at the new monney you sent us & very much obliged to you.

[Belle's handwriting] Mama says she is comeing home in two weeks. We have a good many Persimmons, and watermelons are nearly a all gone. oh my darling Papa how bad I want to see you I will soon be there and see you good.. and Papa I will never come up here any more with out


you. bless your heart. Ben says do you know him. Oh how I wish you was only here a minnet.[“here a” inserted in Eliza's handwriting]  Oh how glad I would be. We are all well. I hope I hope you are well to. Frank is not very well to day, and Willie has not been. tell Martha aunt niv  nerve has a baby, a little girl. I send you a thousand kises.
            Your daughter Belle.
                   god by
             good by ga God bless you.
             [“God” inserted in Eliza's handwriting]

When Belle wrote this letter her older sister Mary would have been 13, brothers Frank and Willie would have been 5 and 3, and baby sister Olivia “Lee” would have been 17 months old. We don't know how long Eliza and the children had been living at Oakland Place with her parents, Bernice and William Pratt. Frank, Willlie, and Lee were all born in New Orleans and their births were registered in Orleans Parish.  It was not unusual for New Orleans families to move from the city into the country during the late summer and fall months when the danger of yellow fever was highest.

The period of military occupation in New Orleans was a difficult time which didn't change with the end of the war. Belle's letter was written only four months after the assassination of President Lincoln and the accession of Andrew Johnson. It was just a little over three months after the signing of surrender terms on May 26 in New Orleans for the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy. The city was still a base for federal troops and violence was common. The family may have moved to the Pratt plantation because of the danger as well as because of the scarcity of food and other commodities.

John D. Winters in his book The Civil War in Louisiana says that the banking system was in ruins. Many of the older mercantile firms were in financial ruin or were struggling to exist...Only speculators, Union sympathizers, and carpetbaggers seemed to have adequate money, which they loaned at ruinous rates of interest.”

B. F. Tisdale is listed in the 1861 New Orleans City Directory as living at Calliope and Dryades streets and working for John B. Murison & Co. There were no city directories published during the war and occupation.  When Benjamin F. Tisdale records Olivia Tisdale's birth in February 1864 the family is still living on Calliope Street. In the 1866 directory B. F. Tisdale is listed at 244 Calliope street with no place of business mentioned. So it may have been financial difficulties that sent Eliza and the children to Oakland Place Plantation, as is hinted at by the mention of “the new monney you sent us.”

Life at Oakland was not much better. Winters quotes planter E. W. Moore as writing, “The closing of the war this section of the country having been subjected to the ravages of both armies for the last two years leaves us all in a very exhausted and ruined condition...”  He also states that   “At least half of the horses, mules, sheep, cattle, and pigs had disappeared during the conflict.” The countryside was desolate with many homes burned and fields ruined.

Belle's cousin Kate Craig Couturie writes in her 1904 letter that the end of the Civil War left Grandpa Pratt's “Mills, gins and stables burned, horses and carriages stolen...”( from my blog post of January 15, 2015) At least at Oakland they could grow persimmons and watermelons and other fruits and vegetables to feed the family and there would have been a cistern to provide clean water.

Aunt Nerve that Belle mentions may be Minerva Connelly Calvert, Grandma Bernice Pratt's sister. However, she was born 22 May 1811 which would make her 54, a bit old to be having  a baby. The only other Minerva I can find in the family is Minerva Lowry, born in 1831. She was Bernice's niece, daughter of her sister Olivia Wakefield Connely Lowry. Or she may have been a friend of the family or a servant. It was common in Louisiana for children to call unrelated adults Aunt or Uncle out of respect.

At any rate, in two weeks Eliza and the children would board a steamboat at Baton Rouge and travel down river to New Orleans where Belle would see her beloved Papa once more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pratts and Tisdales in the Civil War

Joel Eugene Pratt c1865,

This Carte de Visite of Belle Tisdale's Uncle Joel Eugene Pratt (1847-1932) is the only photo we have of one of Belle Tisdale's relatives in Civil War uniform. The interesting thing about this photo is that it was taken in New Orleans at E. A. Piffet's National Gallery of Art in New Orleans. The two tax stamps on the back date it to between August 1864 and August 1866. New Orleans during the Federal occupation would not have been a place to walk into a photographer's studio in a Confederate uniform, so it must have been taken after the end of the war.

J. E. Pratt c1865 back, belletisdale.blogspot.comJoel Eugene Pratt was Belle's mother's youngest brother. He was just eight years older than Belle. He was listed in Andrew B. Booth's 1920 Records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers and Confederate Commands, Vol. 3, page 195 as E. J. Pratt, Private in Company I, Ogden's Louisiana Cavalry. Booth's Records database is also available at 

Eugene is also listed in “Louisiana, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865” Index at The microfilm images of the actual muster rolls can be found on's “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Louisiana.” NARA microfilm publication M320, roll 29. According to Eugene's pension application of 1915 he enlisted near Clinton, Louisiana, on May 4, 1864 when he was 17 years old.

Eugene's older brother Marion Franklin Pratt (1832-1909) was also listed in Booth's Records in Company I, Ogden's Cavalry, serving as a First Sergeant. Marion had served previously during the defense of New Orleans in Company G, Confederate Guards Regiment, Louisiana Militia, from March 8 to April 30, 1862. On Marion's pension application in 1908 he says he enlisted at Baton Rouge in 1862 and served in Duncan Stewart's Cavalry, Company A, Ogden's Battalion. Muster Rolls say he was taken prisoner on 2 May 1863. He must have been paroled because he says that his unit was consolidated in April 1865 and became Company I, Ogden's Louisiana Cavalry. Marion said he received a flesh wound while fighting near Jackson, Mississippi, and spent 60 days in the hospital there.

Both Marion and Eugene are listed in Union records of prisoners of war as surrendering at Citronelle, Alabama, on 4 May, 1865, and being paroled at Gainesville, Alabama, on 
May 12, 1865. (fold The only story that has been passed down in the family was of Uncle Marion spending some time at the Confederate Veterans Home at Beauvoir in Gulfport, Mississippi. Check out the website at  Belle's daughter and my great aunt, Vera Booksh Ventress, had a wooden spoon that he carved while he was there.

James W. Pratt 1865,
Dr. James William Pratt
July 2, 1865
Moses & Piffet Studio, New Orleans
Records for James W. Pratt (1828-1920) have been hard to find. Kate Craig Couturie in her letter of 1904 says that all three of William Pratt's sons fought in the war. (See 2015 01 15 blog post.) There were several Confederate soldiers by that name, but so far none have turned out to be Belle's Uncle James. We do know that James was a physician, so he may have served in that capacity and was not listed among the soldiers. On 29 April 1863 the Confederate government paid James Pratt in Clinton, Louisiana, $8.00 for one coffin and $2.00 for digging a grave. Also in April they paid him $9.50 for repairing the Quarter Master's Stable and $7.50 for repairing tables at the hospital. Was that Uncle James? An April 1, 1864 receipt from the Confederate Depositary's Office [sic] in Columbus, Mississippi, shows that James Pratt purchased $800 worth of Confederate bonds. Once again we do not know if this is our James Pratt. In the 1890 Civil War Veterans and Widows Schedule, James Pratt of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, is listed as a veteran, but we cannot be sure this is the same James Pratt. Belle's Uncle James survived the war and lived to be 91 years old.

Besides Belle's father, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, and her cousin, Nathan Tisdale, whose service in defense of the city of New Orleans in 1862 has already been detailed, several other Tisdale relatives served in the Civil War and are listed in the Booth's Records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers and Confederate Commands.

According to his obituary Nathan Tisdale left the defenses at Algiers in April 1862 and took off to find his brothers, Joseph and Richard. They were all sons of Joseph Wade Tisdale I (1808-1848) and his wife Mary Amelia Wilson (1815-1888).

Nathan Tisdale enlisted on April 23, 1862 at Algiers, Louisiana, where he was working as a ships carpenter. He was 30 years old and was a Private in Co. A, 30th La. Infantry. He is listed as present on rolls from April 1862 to December 1862. He served on detached service at Charleston, South Carolina in May and June of 1863 and at Montgomery, Alabama from July 1863 to April 1864. While he was on detached service at Mobile from November 1,1864 to February 28, 1865, he was seriously injured during the Siege of Mobile. He is on the Roll of Prisoners of War of Quintaard Hospital, C.S.A, and was paroled at Meridian, Mississippi on May 14, 1865.

His brother Richard G. Tisdale is listed as a Private in Company F, 5th La. Infantry. He enlisted at age 25 at New Orleans on May 3, 1861 and was in General John B. Magruder's Command in Virginia. He appears on rolls from 1861 through 1863. In July and August 1863 he was sick in Richmond. He was listed as sick in Lynchburg on Rolls from September 1863 to December 1863. The records say he “Left the Regiment sick. Not heard from since. Deserted.” In his pension application of 1906 Richard says, “I was transferred in the fall of 1863 to the Cavalry Service and continued in the Cavalry Service until close of war at which time I was under Brig. Gen.Imbodear[?]...” He says, “I was never taken prisoner until after the surrender. At the surrender our company disbanded at New Market, Va. From there I started on barefoot toward La. About 12 miles from Hartesville, Ga. While on my way home, I was captured by some Union soldiers and carried to Hartesville where I was immediately paroled.” In another statement he says that he made his way from Hartesville in May 1865 “...across the country towards Louisiana and reached home about the 10th of June 1865...” Richard survived the war and the walk home and married Abby Mitchell in Butler County, Alabama on 24 February 1866.

Nathan's brother Joseph Wade Tisdale II was not so fortunate. He was 19 when he enlisted at New Orleans on 12 May 1862. He served as a Private in the same company as Richard, Company F, 5th La. Infantry. He was killed on 1 July 1862, probably at the Battle of Malvern Hill on the James River in Virginia.

Eugene and Victor Tisdale, sons of Benjamin Franklin's brother Nathan O. J. Tisdale and his first wife Maria Louisa McCrae, also served in the Confederate Army and their records can be found at the National Archives and

Eugene was a Private in the 5th Company, Washington Artillery Battalion. He was about 20 when he enlisted 6 March 1862 at New Orleans. He is present on Rolls in April 1862. During May and June 1862 he is listed as “Absent, sick.” He appears again on the rolls from September 1862 to February 1863. In March and April he was in the hospital at Tullahoma, Tennessee. He was admitted to the 1st Mississippi C.S.A. Hospital at Jackson, Mississippi on 1 July, 1863 with variola, an archaic term for smallpox. The Secretary of War ordered his discharge on 7 August, 1863 and he was discharged from service on 28 September 1863.

Eugene's younger brother Victor was 18 when he enlisted as a Private in the 3rd Company, Washington Artillery Battalion on 3 June 1863 at Mobile, Alabama. Victor is listed on rolls from August to October 1863. He was “Absent, sick at Lynchburg, since August 1, 1863.” He returned to his company on Nov. 27, 1863 and is listed on rolls from January 1864 to February 1865. He is on the list of prisoners of war paroled at Lynchburg, Virginia on April 13, 1865.

Belle's uncle, John B. Tisdale, her father's younger brother, served as a Second Lieutenant in Company A, 2nd Regiment, Alabama Volunteer Militia. Another Alabama Tisdale cousin, also named Benjamin Franklin Tisdale, served as a Private in Company C, 46th Alabama Infantry.