- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

DANVILLE, Va. (AP) - For 150 years, the letters written by a Confederate soldier - Pvt. Joseph Payne - back home to his wife in the Whitmell community of Pittsylvania County were carefully stored by descendants who had long-since moved to Michigan.

Now those letters, as well as other family correspondence and records, have returned to the South, as a donation to the Danville Historical Society.

Sarah Latham, president of the society, said Payne’s letters to Delphia Jane Payne tell about his travels, what was happening in the war effort and talk of normal, everyday things like crops and their children - but they also show his growing loneliness and fear that he would not survive the war.

“These letters reach across time and they grab you,” Latham said. “You know there’s an American soldier sitting in Afghanistan feeling the same thing.”

Payne marvels at how lush Pennsylvania is, with ample corn and wheat at affordable prices, compared to poor crop production in the South at the time. In another letter, he tells his wife about a $5 loan he took and instructs her to be sure and pay it back if he doesn’t come home.



Payne did not return home, dying of wounds he received in Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.

The donation came from the Rev. Clinner Mitchell and his wife, June. Mitchell grew up in Whitmell but moved to Michigan in the 1950s, carrying the family history with him.

Mitchell’s paternal great-grandfather, David Mitchell, also fought at Gettysburg, but came home and ultimately married one of Payne’s daughters. The correspondence was been stored until Clinner and June Mitchell decided they needed to be returned to their home, Latham said.

Latham said it will be a while before the collection is ready to public display. The papers are being scanned - the Mitchells asked for a copy as part of their deal with the Danville Historical Society and also will be offered to the Library of Virginia for its Legacy 150 collection of Civil War memorabilia.

The letters, written is the fancy script of the day, are taking some time to decipher as well. Latham said Payne was obviously literate, since he could write, but was not well educated, based on the number of spelling - many words are spelled phonetically rather than correctly - and punctuation errors that make the paperwork challenging to transcribe.

But even those errors reflect the speech patterns of the average country farmer of the day, Latham said, making the letters come to life.

“You can almost hear him saying the words,” Latham said.

Ultimately, Latham said, the collection of Civil War material will be on display, with the rest of the paperwork coming later, but for now, “We’ll get it scanned and available for families and historians to study.”

___

Information from: Danville Register & Bee, https://www.registerbee.com

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