1863: Dr. Baldwin Mathews Buckner to Solomon Carpenter

How Robert Carpenter might have looked
How Robert Carpenter might have looked

This letter was penned by Dr. Baldwin Mathews Buckner (1813-1886), the son of Baldwin Mathews and Fanny (Burton) Buckner. Dr. Baldwin wrote the letter from his plantation “Plain View” in Louisa County, Virginia. According to the 1860 Virginia Slave Census, Baldwin owned at least 15 slaves. When this letter was written in 1863, Baldwin was married to his second wife, Mary Ann Wilkinson (18xx-1864), the daughter of Rev. Robert Wilkinson of “Woodlawn” Plantation in Louisa County.

Dr. Buckner wrote the letter to Solomon Carpenter (1802-Aft1880) of Chatham County, North Carolina. From the letter we learn that Solomon’s 27 year-old son, Robert Carpenter (1836-1863) was killed instantly in a railroad accident in Louisa County, Virginia, that occurred on 25 August 1863. Robert was a private in Company E, 3rd North Carolina infantry. An article appearing in a Richmond paper dated 27 August 1863 reported the accident as follows [note: the paper incorrectly states that Robert was a member of the 55th North Carolina Regiment]:

The accident on the Central train.

A passenger by the Central train, Tuesday, furnishes us with the following facts concerning the accident which happened on the road Tuesday morning. It was more serious than at first reported:

As the train for Gordonsville arrived at a point about two miles above Bumpas’s, 10 o’clock, Tuesday morning, the axle of the hindmost car broke, throwing two cars off the track and upsetting one. A soldier, who had papers on his person identifying him as Robert Carpenter, of the 55th North Carolina regiment, jumped off the train, the car falling on him, crushing his head, right arm and leg in a horrible manner. He was instantly killed. Letters found on his person from his father and mother, and postmarked Martha’s Vineyard, N. C., showed that he was a convalescent from Winder Hospital, returning to his regiment. — His remains were buried on the farm of Dr. B. M. Buckner, who took charge of his effects, and who promptly hastened to the relief of the wounded. The left leg of another North Carolina soldier, named Tatum, was crushed and amputated above the knee; another, a youth, named Beckham, had his left leg broken above the ankle, and adjusted; another, name unknown, received a severe flesh wound in the right thigh. The wounded were sent to Gordonsville. No case is serious except that of Tatum. Several other passengers were considerably bruised, many of the seats being thrown from their places.

’The accident is believed to be attributable entirely to the defect in the axle of the car, and not to any fault in the bed of the road.

[Source: The Daily Dispatch: August 27, 1863. Richmond Dispatch. 2 pages. by Cowardin & Hammersley. Richmond. August 27, 1863. microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mi : Proquest. 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm.]

Several of the Carpenter Family letters are housed in the Joyner Library at East Carolina University. See Carpenter Family Papers 1859-1928. Apparently there is a letter housed in that collection in which Robert asks his father to locate a substitute for him, offering to dispose of all his possessions in order to gain release from the army. Solomon had four other sons who served in Company D of the 61st North Carolina. Two of these sons, Wyatt and James, died while at Tarboro, Edgecome County, North Carolina, and a third, Elbert, was killed at Kinston, North Carolina just three weeks later.

1863 Letter
1863 Letter

Addressed to Mr. Solomon Carpenter, Martha’s Vineyard, Chatham County, North Carolina
Postmarked Bumpass, Virginia

Plain View, Louisa County, Virginia
October 8th 1863

Mr. Solomon Carpenter
Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 19 Sept. is received. In answer to your inquires as to the injuries your son Robert received in the unfortunate running off of the cars which caused his death, I will state that he, I suppose, was killed instantly. When I got to the scene of the accident, the coach in which he was traveling was lying on its side against a bank and he under it. He could not be gotten out until the coach was taken off of him which occupied two hours or more. There were several severely injured.  One man named Tatum from your State had his leg mashed to pieces, which I amputated. Another had a leg broken which I set. Others had severe wounds which I dressed. As soon as I could get the car moved from off your son, I had him taken up and found the whole of the top of his head mashed off and all of his brains out. One of his arms and one of his legs were broken. He attempted, I learned from other passengers, to jump off but unfortunately he fell and the coach caught him under it.

If he had any clothes with him more than he had on they were carried on with the train to Gordonsville. All the baggage of the soldiers was in a baggage coach which did not run off. I did not see or hear of any clothing which he had than that he had on. As soon as I got to the road, I enquired if anyone was caught under the fallen coach [and] was told there was one man. I went to the coach [and] found your son was dead. The window of the coach fell just about his waist. His jacket in his pantaloons was cut open and I suppose if he had any money it was taken out. I enquired how the matter was and was told that his Sergeant had taken his money. I enquired for the Sergeant but could find none. I called the attention of some of the officers to this circumstance. Diligent inquiry was made but the man who had done the foul deed could not be found. My opinion is that some base villain robbed him as soon as the accident occurred. The papers which I found on him were in the side pocket of his jacket. They were taken out in the presence of several officers and many soldiers & citizens.

Respectfully yours with much sympathy and respect, — B. M. Buckner

Grave of Robert Carpenter
Grave of Robert Carpenter

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