1842: Capt. Roger Sherman Dix to Lucy (Hartwell) Dix

Col. Roger Sherman Dix

This letter was written by Capt. Roger Sherman Dix (1810-1849), the son of Lt. Col. Timothy Dix (1770-1813) and Lucy Hartwell (1773-1863). Roger S. Dix was an 1832 graduate of West Point. He served briefly in the Black Hawk War as a  Brevet 2d LT. In 1833-34, he was on frontier duty at Fort Smith, Arkansas. From 1835-36, he was detailed to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, and was promoted to 1Lt. During 1837 and 1838, he was on Quartermaster duty at at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and promoted to Captain in 1838. While at Carlisle, he supervised the construction of the barracks there. In 1839-40, he was on duty at Charleston, South Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, until returned to frontier duty at Fort Jesup, serving as Captain of the 7th Infantry.

Capt. Dix remained in command at Fort Jesup until September 1845 when he was promoted to Major and attached to General Taylor’s army at Corpus Christi where he became acquainted with Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant. Maj. Dix served as the paymaster of Taylor’s army until the Battle of Buena Vista when he took the field and was breveted Lt. Colonel for his bravery. After the war, Dix was returning from Mexico on his way to Washington D.C. when he died of cholera in Hillsborough, Pennsylvania, in January 1849.

The Battle of Buena Vista, where Dix was credited for rallying American forces.

Dix married (July 1835) Mrs. Mary Beam Johnson, an army officer’s widow, in Pulaski County, Arkansas. Mary’s uncle, Dr. William Beanes, was the planter whose release Francis Scott Key had gone to negotiate when he was detained on the British man of war during the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in 1814.

Dix’s sister, Catherine (“Kate”) Hartwell Dix, is mentioned in this letter. She was the wife of John Augustus Bowles, a lawyer and politician in Boston, Massachusetts.

We learn from this letter that Capt. Dix moved his family into a dogtrot style log home located about 150 yards outside of the Fort Jesup frontier post, which was 22 miles southwest of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Stampless Letter

TRANSCRIPTION

Addressed to Mrs. Lucy H. Dix, Care of John A. Bolles, Esq., Boston, Massachusetts

Fort Jesup, Louisiana
April 12, 1842

My dear mother,

Page 1

We arrived here safe & sound, thanks to God, on the 28th March, the day after we got into our house (after turning out the parson). I have been going on pretty comfortably ever since. The house is about 150 yards outside of the garrison, is very [retired?], & the grounds about it are really beautiful. Peach & fig trees are in abundance & roses & flowers surround us on all sides. You would be delighted with the grounds & Marion — were she here — would go into ecstasies.

The home is built of logs; one story piazza in front near 8 feet deep, a hall 15 feet wide entirely open running through the house; on one side of it a parlor & pantry, on the other two sleeping rooms & a dining room. [There is also] a kitchen 10 feet back of the house with a piazza & a roof entering from the house to the kitchen. There is a fine stable, cow pen, pig pen, smoke house & has house and a fine well of water. A fine garden with peas in blossom, potatoes & corn 10 inches high, beans, & radishes fit to eat.

A typical 1840s Louisiana Dogtrot Home

The house stands back from the lane about 100 feet. The ground in front laid out in walks with shady china trees on each side & beds of flowers — all in full bloom.

Page 2

The walls of the house & kitchen & the piazzas are covered with roses. Tis really a beautiful spot & we all would be delighted were you here to enjoy it with us. The garden is the work of the parson & I really felt unpleasantly at turning him out, but as I had the right & the power, & as my family could be as comfortable no where else, I did not hesitate. (He has no family except a little girl of 2 or 3 years old; his wife died a year ago. I told him I would share the produce of the grounds with him.) We have a fine cow & calf & two beautiful little pigs. Hens & chickens I bought of the parson & they have already furnished us with more than 100 eggs.

We are very comfortable but we have to work hard. Mary (my wife) has done all the cooking since we came & made & baked all of our bread except some 1/2 dozen loaves. You would be surprised to see her work, and it has done her good. She is much better. Mary McGown is all the help we have (although we are expecting a white woman from New Orleans — one who lived in the house with us at Charleston, S. C.) & she is very efficient. Had we known what trouble we were to experience, we should have brought Rachel away by force, if necessary. Perhaps ’tis all for the best, however, for Mary has been thrown on her own resources & she has been much benefitted. She does not complain about it either. Tis her own choice, and she declares she will do her own work as long as she can. She will not consent to have a black woman in her kitchen — they are all so dirty. Two Indian squaws have done our washing, & Mary & Mary McGown have done the ironing.

Page 3

I have thus given you a brief sketch of how we live. I have little leisure here at present & should not now write but to relieve the anxiety I know you feel about us. I shall write Kate next. Tell her & John¹ they must both write to us.

I wrote to Freddy yesterday. Browne writes me that she is a good girl & is doing well. We are rejoiced to hear it.

And now, dear mother, how is your health? You must be careful of yourself. Mary & I have talked seriously of having you & Browne come out here in the fall to live with us. We think this climate would do you much good. Some of your old friends are here. Lt. & Mrs. [Henry H.] Sibley,² Lt. Lowry, & Mrs. Herron (Mrs. Sumner’s sister), (Mrs. Sibley has, however, just left for the North on a visit to her father.) They all inquired very kindly after you. Goodbye. Mary & the children all send much love to you all. They often speak of you. Write us soon & often. From your affectionate son, — Sherman

Floorplan of Dogtrot House

[P.S.] The children were delighted with our house. Kate & Emma are running through the garden from morning till night. They are in fine health. Helen is improving although slowly. All of them have had their hair cut short. Love to you all. Your son, — R. S. D.

April 14th. We (Mary & myself) went to a little party last evening. She danced 3 times & waltzed once & was quite a belle. There were 5 other ladies (2 young ladies from Natchitoches & 3 garrison ladies) & some 7 or 8 officers. Mary is doing well & will, I trust in Providence, soon be entirely restored to health. Goodbye, — R.

FOOTNOTES

John Adams Dix, ça. 1844

¹ Dix is probably referring to his older brother, John Adams Dix (1798-1879) — American soldier and political leader, born at Boscawen, New Hampshire, on the 24th of July 1798. He studied at Phillips Exeter Academy in 1810-11 and, at the College of Montreal in 1811-12, and as a boy took part in the War of 1812, becoming a second lieutenant in March 1814. In July 1828, having attained the rank of captain, he resigned from the army, and for two years practiced law at Cooperstown, New York. In 1830-33 he was adjutant-general of New York. He soon became prominent as one of the leaders of the Democratic party in the state, and for many years was a member of the so-called “Albany Regency”, a group of Democrats who between about 1820 and 1850 exercised a virtual control over their party in New York, dictating nominations and appointments and distributing patronage. From 1833 to 1839 he was secretary of state and superintendent of schools in New York, and in this capacity made valuable reports concerning the public schools of the state, and a report (1836) which led to the publication of the Natural History of the State of New York (1842-66). In 1842 he was a member of the New York assembly. In 1841-43 he was editor of The Northern Light, a literary and scientific journal published in Albany. From 1845 to 1849 he was a United States senator from New York; and as chairman of the committee on commerce was author of the warehouse bill passed by Congress in 1846 to relieve merchants from immediate payment of duties on imported goods. In 1848 he was nominated for governor of New York by the Free Soil Party, but was defeated by Hamilton Fish. His acceptance of the nomination, however, earned him the enmity of the southern Democrats, who prevented his appointment by Franklin Pierce as Secretary of State and as Ambassador to France in 1853. In this year Dix was for a few weeks assistant U.S. Treasurer in New York city. In May 1860 he became postmaster of New York City, and from January until March 1861 he was secretary of the treasury of the United States, in which capacity he issued (January 29, 1861) to a revenue officer at New Orleans a famous order containing the words, “if any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him “on the spot.”

Gen. John Adams Dix

He rendered important services in hurrying forward troops in 1861, was appointed major-general of volunteers in June 1861, and during the Civil War commanded successively the department of Maryland (July 1861 to May 1862), Fortress Monroe (May 1862 to July 1863), and the department of the East (July 1863 to July 1865). He was Ambassador to France from 1866 to 1869, and in 1872 was elected by the Republicans governor of New York, but was defeated two years later. He had great energy and administrative ability, was for a time president of the Chicago & Rock Island and of the Mississippi & Missouri railways, first president of the Union Pacific in 1863-68, and for a short time in 1872 president of the Erie. He died in New York City on the 21st of April 1879. Fort Dix, an Army base in New Jersey, is named for him.

Confederate General Henry H. Sibley

² Lt. Henry Hopkins Sibley, soldier, was born in Nachitoches, La., May 25, 1816; grandson of Dr. John and Betsey (Hopkins) Sibley; and husband to Charlotte Kendall of Governor’s Island, New York. He was graduated from the U.S. Military academy, and promoted 2d lieutenant, 2d dragoons, July l, 1838. He took part in the Florida war; was promoted 1st lieutenant, March 8, 1840, and served in the expedition into the Everglades of Florida, Dec. 3-24, 1840. He was adjutant of 2d dragoons at regimental headquarters, 1841-42 and 1842-46, being stationed at Fort Jesup, La., and Fort Washita, Indian Territory; participated in the military occupation of Texas, 1845-46, and was promoted captain, Feb. 16, 1847. He served through the Mexican war, being engaged in the siege of Vera Cruz, skirmish of Medelin, battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and the capture of the city of Mexico, and was brevetted major, March 25, 1847, for Medelin. He was in garrison in Mississippi in 1848; on recruiting service, 1848-50; on frontier duty at Forts Graham and Croghan, Texas, 1850-53, and other Texan depots, 1853-55: engaged in quelling the Kansas disturbances, 1855-57; in the Utah expeditions, 1857-60; was in garrison at Forts Marcy and Defiance, New Mexico, in 1860, and in the same year engaged in the Navajo expedition. He was promoted major and transferred to the 1st dragoons, May 13, 1861, but resigned on that day to enter the Confederate service.

Sibley Tents in use on the Plains.

As brigadier-general, Sibley was placed in command of the Confederates in New Mexico, July 5, 1861, raised a brigade of 2,000 men in Texas, with which he marched from Fort Bliss in January, 1862, and succeeded in forcing the national troops under Col. E. R. S. Canby from Valverde, N.M., 21, 1862. He took possession of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but was subsequently driven from Peralta and sought refuge in Fort Bliss in April, 1862. He completed his service in the Confederate army under Gen. Richard Taylor and Gen. E. K. Smith; served as a brigadier-general of artillery in the Egyptian army, 1869-74, where he was active in building coast and river defences, and on his return to the United States, lectured on the working classes of Egypt. He was the inventor of a tent [the “Sibley Tent”] constructed upon the plan of Indian wigwams, for which he received letters-patent, and for the use of which the army made a contract. The terms of the contract, however, were never fulfilled, owing to alleged disloyalty on the part of General Sibley, and his claims, unsettled at the time of his death, were unsuccessfully brought forward by his friends in February, 1889. He died at Fredericksburg, Va., Aug. 23, 1886. From: Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Johnson, Rossiter, editor


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