Civil War Letters of Polk County Confederate Describe Battles at Pea Ridge and Vicksburg

When the Civil War broke out, James Washington Woodard lived with his wife and four children on a farm in Polk County, Missouri. Sympathetic to the Confederacy, Woodard, like many of his neighbors, joined the Fifth Missouri Infantry Regiment in January of 1862. He rose to the rank of lieutenant before he was killed on June 29, 1863, five days before the Confederate surrender at Vicksburg. A collection of Woodard’s papers recently donated to the Springfield Research Center provides insight into his wartime experiences.

The Woodard Papers include six letters written by Woodard in Mississippi during 1862 and 1863. The letters describe the fighting he took part in at Corinth, Grand Gulf, and Vicksburg. One letter discusses the march of General Sterling Price’s Missouri troops across Arkansas following the Battle of Pea Ridge, which Woodard refers to as “Elkhorn.” The men survived for several days on parched corn and were sorely undersupplied.

Woodard was one of seven brothers, all of whom fought in the war. Only three survived. Woodard’s letters include reports on the health of his brothers and brothers-in-law. He also instructs his wife and family members not to use their real names in correspondence with him, to avoid prosecution in Missouri for aiding the Confederacy.

Woodard’s land in Missouri was nevertheless seized by the state, but documents in the collection from after the war detail the transfer of land to his widow, Alzana, from family members. Alzana Woodard remained a resident of Polk County until her death in 1909. She never remarried.

View the Letters