Fall 1996 - Vol 1 - #2
The Job Neill Letters
The highly interesting and historically important letters you are about to read were written 135 years ago. They were first published in the Independence County Chronicle and made available by Mrs. Walter A. Dowell of Walnut Ridge. These letters are significant for a number of reasons. They document the life of a young man, one of the first from this region to volunteer for the Confederate Army. He was a private in Captain William E. Gibbs’ Company, The First Arkansas Mounted Rifleman. Thc letters also give us a glimpse of Arkansas life on the eve of the Civil War, and they acquaint us with an intelligent, willful, and sometimes vainglorious twenty-one year old that you will not soon forget.
This is the story of Job Stark Neill, the younger son of Henry and Dorcas Stark Neill. He was born on the old Neill homestead at Alderbrook (now Desha) in Independence County about 1840.
I suppose that you are aware by this time that
I have left home for awhile. It is rather a curious notion and you will
say a very foolish one but I hope you will excuse me for this once.
I wanted to leave home and knew I could not get off conveniently any other way so I ran away. I concluded to leave sometime since and did not get out of the notion. Intend to go down toward Augusta. From what I can learn I think it probable that I can get a school somewhere in that country. If I do not get any employment there I will go over about Cherokee Bay in Davis West’s neighborhood. Think there will be a chance to get a good school there if the place is not occupied.
I have concluded that I can make a living in a more comfortable way than by working in a Tan Yard for it is too hard for anybody but an African. I may have to do a great deal worse yet but will try to do better.
I got $10.00 from Maxfield’s which is all the money I started with except one dollar. I expect to write frequently. If I meet with no bad luck I will be home sometime next spring or summer. I have been in the neighborhood of Big Bottom since Monday until today and have enjoyed my self considerably.
A few months after receiving this letter, Henry Neill, who was in his 54th year, wrote back to his son “I used to think I was worn out but find I was mistaken. I would bet high on beating anybody shaving leather for about a half a day at a time.” Apparently Henry Neill still had not quite forgiven Job for preferring school teaching to the arduous, back-breaking work of the Tanyard.
Soon after the letter to his father, Job wrote an affectionate and revealing letter to his older brother Robert Neill. The letter to his mother to which he refers was not found. Perhaps Dorcas read it and re-read it, cried over it and prayed over it till she literally wore the letter out!
January 15, 1861
I have written Pa and Mother each a letter
which I suppose have been received. I am looking for a letter from home
tomorrow. I suppose you all think I treated you very mean but I guess you
get along without me.
I have been getting along finely so far. I have two more weeks after this of public school to teach then I can get a school on my own hook which will pay very well. Think I will like the occupation very well. Am troubled with but few scholars at present. My predecessor quit with only two but the number has been increasing since I commenced.
Major Shettlesworth and Lady intend to entrust me with the care of their two little girls, the only children they have. They think so much of them that there has never been a teacher in the neighborhood good enough for them before; which I take as quite a compliment to myself, of course.
I was at a very nice ball last night and let myself in for a good time until about midnight and then knocked off. We had a very agreeable time indeed and I find I get along fully as well as when nearer home. I think it probable that I will get an invitation to another party this week. This is a most pleasant country to live in that I have seen, though my observation has been rather limited. This immediate vicinity is somewhat rolling and sandy, never gets muddy in the least which makes it very fine for buggy riding. This is very fashionable now traveling to parties and etc.; and in riding on horseback most everybody goes in a gallop young and old.
The renowned Sindy Neill, a lady of color, is in the neighborhood. She is owned by Ivy Gibson, he paid $1250.00 for her. I have not seen her but understand she has a good master.
Most of the Africans are put through rather tight. The gins and presses are running before a day and continue till sometimes nine or ten o’clock at night. Major S. has made about 100 bales of cotton this year which is an average with the planters of the community.
Politics do not run very high here. Some are
in favor of secession and very many are not because they think so much
excitement affects the cotton market.
Please write as often as convenient and I will do the same.
The first letter we have from Job to his mother is surely meant to assuage any worries Dorcas might have had about her son. One could easily compare it to a letter written today from son to mother. Febuary 9, 1861 Augusta, Arkansas
I acknowledged the receipt of your letter some
two weeks since but I had just written to Robert and did not answer yours
immediately, for you must not expect me to write very often to any of my
correspondents as I am likely to have quite a number.
I was very glad to hear from home for I had concluded that you all were going to forget me for awhile after treating you so badly.
I am truly a thousand times obliged to you, dear mother, for your good advice and wishes as to how you would have me conduct myself, and I am happy to say that I am behaving as well as you could wish and have been entirely temperate. I do hope and believe that I will never contract the habit of drinking although I am frequently invited to indulge. The only objection I have to this community is that they all indulge more or less in the habit so much that I have become disgusted with it.
My health has been quite good ever since I left home. You must not give yourelf any uneasiness for I am certain to receive good attention should I have the misfortune to get sick. Major Shettlesworth and his family have treated me so kindly that they almost seem like relations and who knows but that they will be for they have a pretty niece living with them.
I expect to commence school next Monday for the term of five months. Do not know yet exactly how many students I will have but think I can get at least twenty-five. Tuition is $2 per month.
I saw Pate Tucker a few days since. He is on the opposite side of the river some five or six miles from here. Am looking for him to come over to see me today.
Pa spoke of sending me some money. I do not want him to do it for I have no need for it, besides he has already done more for me than I deserved. Colonel Patterson is a candidate for delegate to the convention. I have not seen him yet but am told he is very strongly for secession. Pa wrote that if Sind’s owner is an honest man that he ought to know her character, etc. I have never happened to make his acquaintance yet but it is said he is one of the best men in this county.
Major Shettlesworth returns Pa his compliments and says he remembers seeing him at the dedication of the Masonic Hall at Batesville. I received a letter from Robert and one from Delia yesterday and I will answer soon. Yours affectionately,
Pate Tucker, who Job refers to in the letter
to his mother, operated the “Tucker Express” to and from Batesville and
other towns and communites.
We have a rough draft of an agreement Job drew up between himself and his employer, Major Shettlesworth. (Apparently the young schoolmaster got carried away composing so impressive a document and in writing it in his beautiful hand, as the margins are decorated by rows of “J.S. Neills,” “A,B,Cs,” etc.):
Article of agreement between J.S. Neill of the one part and the assigners of the other part witnesseth that the said J.S. Neill bind himself to teach for the term of five months at the school house near Taylor Bay Church, and English School. Instruction will be given in the following branches: Orthography, Reading, Penmanship, Geography, Grammar, Arithmetic and Natural Philosophy. In consideration of which we agree to pay the said J.S. Neill two dollars per student per month due at the expiration of the school. If through providence or any unforseen event the school should cease to be we promise to pay for the time taught. The school to commence the second Monday, in Febuary,1861.”
On Febuary 19, Job pencilled a hasty note:
“Dear Mother, I will send my saddle bags by
Mr. Tucker.... and you will please send me some clothing in the way of
socks, drawers, and etc., and also some summer clothing if convenient.
I am well and as am in a hurry will not write anymore. You can ask Pate
as to what and how I am doing. "
The little Shettlesworth girls’ schooling that year was brief for in May of 1861 Job S. Neill enlisted in the Confederate Army. The next two letters are included in Job’s story for though not written by him, there can be no doubt that the younger brother shared the impassioned views and convictions of the older, and would have expressed himself just as vehemently. So exercised was Robert when he pencilled this letter that in parts his handwriting, ordinarily as near perfection as Job’s, is scarcely legible.
Camp Independence Rifles
Little Rock, Arkansas
Honored Father- I avail myself of this first
opportunity to drop you a line I could have written sooner but not satisfactorily.
And as Dr. Lawrence and John Price were going home I concluded to defer
till now. First - I will say Job is here as you doubtless know ere this.
Second - he has consent of Captain (now Lt Colonel) Matlocke to quit the
Augusta Company which he will do in the morning and immediately join ours.
He parts with the Augusta Company with regret though anxious to go with
us. Several of them seem much attached to him... Yours,
Benton County, Arkansas
Mrs. D. Neill
Dear Mother- I have time to write but few lines
nor have I any news if I had. I herewith send you by request of Dr. Lawrence
an eardrop with the United States flag as a device. Time was when we felt
a reverential love for the Stars and Stripes but it has been perveted to
a damnable purpose and whilst we should remember with pride the days of
glory, I think it now the most hatefull flag in existence. The flag of
England would not have excited more bitter emotions in my bosom that the
striped rag flaunting on the cupola in Neosho.
I should have like extremely to have been a witness to the Greenbrier banner presentation and am glad to hear of the speakers acquitting themselves so well.
I think there is a spirit pervading the very atmosphere of the South which breathes death to tyranny and domination of yousurper. We have the example of the revolution of ‘76 and should prove worthy of our ancestors in the great struggle going on.
Very truly, etc.
In camp on Wilson’s Creek, 12 miles from Springfield, Greene County, Missouri
My Dear Father and Mother- It is with feelings
of a peculiar and sad character that I shall endeavor to write you a few
We had arrived thus far on our march to Springfield. On the 8th or 9th inst. and on the morning of the l0th we were very fiercely attacked by the enemy under Lyon and Sigel. In this my dear brother fell. I was denied the poor consolation of standing by his side, but I have it from those who saw him that he died the death of a soldier and I have hope that his brave and noble spirit is now resting on the bosom of his maker. Our regiment was put in great confusion by the attack which was a complete surprise. My dear brother, though, was one of those who breasted the storm with the calmness of one who, relying upon the consciousness of a life of unstained honor and rectitude, fears not to meet death.
He was buried as well as could be done by kind hearts and strong arms and I send you a lock of his hair given to me by Captain Gibbs. I was myself seriously though not dangerously wounded; consequently, did not have the sad privilege of paying the last duties to my brother... I start with the wounded for Springfield this evening - will have to get Dr. Lawrence to conclude as the wagon is now waiting.
May God help you all is my sincere prayer.
In the postscript to Robert Neill’s letter, Dr. William M. Lawrence wrote:
My Dear Sir - Robert is doing well and will
recover. Your other brave boy fell fighting like a Southern patriot and
soldier. I hope you and your family will be resigned and consoled when
you are assured how nobly your dead and living boys have acted. God never
blessed parents with two better boys.
William M. Lawrence
Mr. and Mrs. Neill also received a sympathy letter from Dr. L.A. Dickson, a prominent doctor in the Alderbrook area.
Headquarters 8th Regiment
Captain H. Neill:
Dear Sir- I received your letter for Daniel
James on the evening of the 28th. I had heard of Job’s death several days
since. I can’t remember of ever having received news that shocked me so
much; I was entirely unprepared for it. True, I knew somebody must fall,
all who enter the service are liable to a similar fate, but I hoped and
almost made myself believe that a special providence would preserve through
the conflict one so gifted and Gallant, for he certainly was the most promising
young man of all my acquaintance. I had fondly hoped that after we had
gained our Independence and peace had once more smiled upon this land,
that we would all meet in joy again. But he is gone, ‘tis vain to lament;
he did his duty and fell at his post covered with glory, and henceforth
his name is immortal...
The extent of Robert’s injury was explained by his son Emest Neill:
“Robert Neill, Ist Sgt. Company K, lst Arkansas Mounted Rifleman, with his company, was at breakfast when the attack came. He mounted his horse as quickly as possible and began assembling his men. When he noticed one foot seemed wet in his boot, examination showed that he had been shot in the thigh by a “minnie ball” which passed entirely through his leg. He was brought home later and it was a year before he fully recovered. However, he rejoined his command and participated in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee and of Richmond, Kentucky. Was captured and spent the last 15 months of the war a prisoner at Ft. Delaware. Robert was Captain when captured.
The remains of Private Job Neill were first buried in the Neill’s cornpatch lot. His remains were later removed from that spot and interred in the Neill lot in Oaklawn Cemetery in Batesville. Captain Gibbs was missing after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, and mention of the Captain in Robet Neill’s letter of August 12 is of special interest. Obviously, he was not a battle casualty as he presented Robert with a lock of Job’s hair. What actually happened to the Captain will likely remain unknown. Robert’s son said that nothing was ever heard in Batesville of Captain Gibbs after the battle.
I would like to personally like to thank the Lawrence County Historical Society for giving me permission to use articles from their Journals and I especially would like to thank them for the use of this one.... Most of you know that my fingerprints are all over the Civil War Pages that are such a gift to the people of Arkansas... and I would like to thank Edward G. Gerdes for giving us the pages on his website for them... EG does most of the work on these pages and spends a lot of his time with his head in a Microfilm reader... I just make them pretty.
Last but not least I would like to thank Mrs. Walter A. Dowell of Walnut Ridge who made these letters available to share with all of you... I hope she knows how many people she has reached with this page....
Jeri Helms Fultz
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