1864: Daniel C. Govan to Mary (Otey) Govan

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Daniel C. Govan, ca. 1864, Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Daniel Chevilette Govan (1829-1911) was born in North Carolina, the son of congressman A.R. Govan. He became a planter in Mississipi in 1852, and in 1853 he married Mary F. Otey. In 1854, he moved to Phillips county, Arkansas, where he was a planter until the onset of the Civil War and then again after the war, until 1894. Govan served as a Confederate general and fought in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia. From 1894 until 1898, he was an Indian agent at the Tulalip Agency in Washington state.

By the time of Hood’s Late 1864 Campaign into Tennessee, Daniel Govan was in command of the Arkansas Brigade in Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s Division. His brigade formed the center of Cleburne’s attacking column during the Battle of Franklin (30 November 1864) which resulted in Cleburne’s death and the loss of 50 percent of his men.

This letter by Govan, written to his wife two weeks after the battle, is in the archives of the University of North Carolina and I notice that portions of it have been quoted in various publications, including the fine article appearing in The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Autumn 1995) by Daniel E. Sutherland. I was directed to the letter by John White, Govan’s g-g-g-grandson.

Cleburne leads his men at the Battle of Franklin, 30 November 1864


In front of Nashville
December 14th 1864

I wrote you a few days after the Battle of Franklin. Also sent a telegram informing you of my safe deliverance from peril of that bloody conflict—the bloodiest by far for the time it lasted of all the battles in which it has been my fortune to be engaged. As usual, Gen. [Patrick] Cleburne’s and [Benjamin] Cheatham’s Divisions bore the brunt of the fight and sustained the heaviest loss. It really seems as if it is intended that we should do the fighting of the Army and wherever the severest opposition is to be encountered, there we are surely to be placed. Our Division was decimated, losing one half of its officers and men. That I am left alive to write you, I feel is due alone to a “Special Providence” whose shield has so often covered me in the day of battle.

On the 28th of November, Gen. Cleburne’s Division attacked the enemy at Spring Hill and drove them from their position after a severe fight. The enemy retreated from Spring Hill upon Franklin and then entrenched themselves prepared to give us battle in front of which we arrived about 12 o’clock and prepared to attack them immediately. The enemy were covered by heavy entrenchments & abattis. On a portion of this line at about 3 o’clock the advance began. Gen. Cleburne’s Division attacked on the right of the line [and] Gen. Cheatham on the left. We were compelled to advance through an open plain exposed to the heaviest artillery and musketry fire. The “stem anoy” of our advancing columns was magnificently grand. My men advanced with fixed bayonets and arms trailed and were ordered to storm the entrenchments without firing a shot in the face of the most destructive fire. Our men advanced and drove the enemy from the front line of entrenchments and swept on up to and many of them over the interior line of works, and here commenced the most desperate fight I ever witnessed which lasted until near midnight, our men occupying one side of the breastworks, the Yankees the other, when the enemy retreated, leaving their dead and wounded on the field—a victory, but dearly purchased.

A list of the General Officers killed and wounded, you have doubtless seen published in the papers ere this. Gen. [Patrick] Cleburne & [Hiram B.] Granbury were buried at Ashland near Columbia. I had the melancholy satisfaction of visiting your mother’s and sister’s graves and a more lovely resting place I never saw. The green grass, the young tender cane springing up by the side of the climbing ivy (emblematic of youth and age), the lofty forest trees, all make it one of the most romantic and lovely spot I ever saw.

Just after the fight at Franklin was over, I received one of your affectionate and welcome letters. I read it surrounded by the dead and dying and you cannot imagine what exquisite pleasure it afforded me. Since that time, I have received two others and your affectionate greetings are deeply treasured in my heart.

I heard from Frank Govan ¹ and Capt. William yesterday. Both are doing well and will soon be able to walk about. I would be glad [if] you would write to Dulin or brother Pugh & let them know that Frank is doing well and kindly cared for at a private home.

I long, my darling wife, every day and [ ] of my life to be with you. No one can tell when this campaign will end, [but] whenever it does, I will make application for a furlough. If through the mercy of God I am permitted to see you this winter, I feel…[rest of letter missing].

¹ Frederick (“Frank”) H. Govan was Daniel’s nephew who had recently joined the staff of Gen. Cleburne. He was wounded in the fighting at Franklin.

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