When the dark clouds of war were gathering in the South in the spring of 1861, not everyone embraced the new cause. While some were eager to fight for a secessionist government, many others considered the impending war a wicked, treasonous undertaking and wanted no part of it.
Indeed, a majority in the hills of Northwest Alabama, mostly poor yeomen dirt farmers, saw little value or reason in taking arms against the federal government. They recognized quite early that this was not their fight, but that of the landed gentry. It was obvious to the hill folk that the plantation owners and their political spokesmen were fanning the war flames and talked the loudest about separation.
James B. Bell, of Winston County, AL, had six children: Robert, John, Henry, Eliza Jane, Francis, and James T., all Union Loyalists except for one son, Henry.
Henry joined the Confederacy and moved to Mississippi. Henry’s brothers, sister, and father all tried to convince Henry to rethink his feelings, but to no avail. There are seven known letters sent to Henry, who turned them in to the authorities in his community. They were then sent to Governor Moore on July 10, 1861 with a letter signed by A.W. Irvin from Lodi, MS:
“Dear Sir, Enclosed please find a treasonable correspondence from Kansas P.O. Walker Co., Ala. to a citizen of our community, Mr. Henry Bell, signed by James B. Bell, John Bell, and Robert Bell which the undersigned regard as dangerous and forward the same to Your Excellency in order that you may be advised of the existence of such sentiment in your State and to enable you to investigate or take such cause in the premises as your judgment and duty may dictate. Mr. Henry Bell to whom the ___ documents were written ___ ___ these individuals reside in Black Swamp Beat in Winston Co. Ala but the Kansas Walker Co. is their P.O.”
Robert died in Andersonville on August 3, 1864 (a prisoner of war), John died on August 17, 1864 in Rome, GA, Henry died March 24, 1863, James T. died on July 24, 1864, and James B., their father, died September 15, 1862. Francis was the only male who survived, and his descendants can still be found in Winston County. These letters have little punctuation, gaps, and blanks, and were written to Henry trying to convince him to come home and change his ways.
Robert Bell to his brother, Henry Bell in Choctaw County Mississippi
June 10th 1861
State of Alabama Winston County Dear brother it is this one time more that I take my pin in hand to try to right you a few lines to let you no that I am tolebral well and I hope that when this Comes to hand that it may findes you all well and that you aught to bee when I say what you aught to bee is to not bee and rebel nor a fool the way you hair bin righting hear you air one or the other and you cant deniy it nor you nead not to try to deniy it to mee your side has not got a foundaution that is eney sounder than a soft bull tied in the spring of the year you have not I suppose from the way you have bin riting seen nor heard nothing but disunion secession confederate confederated and confederation and you all haive Swollode it down like Sweet milk and Softe peaches I say hurrow for lincol it has ben Said that lincol was a going to free the negros that is a ly I will say that it seames to me like congress has something to say aboute it first it has bin said that the union men was traitors that I say is a ly again I am a heap freader of the disunions with their helish principals than I am of lincol. he has not said that he was a going to free the negros he has bin beging far peas ever since he was elected he has offered the south more than I wood have dun he has offerd the south eney thing they wood ask for if they would stay in [One full line is unreadable because of fold.] bee as it was with Joseph and his brothers if the south will not do eney thing that is right and fair it is said by you or some of you dis union party that lincol was elected by a large negro vote that is not so and you now it two when I say you I mean you all on the dis union side and all hoo the shoe may fit Can ware it. theair was something said a bout a company being sent out here to do something with the union men Send them on when you git redy and it will bee a too hand again I am not afeard in to it my self come on and you will mete with your uncle feddys theair is no dainger of you a coming or sending on that bysness there is too mutch meanness at the bottom of the disunion party to soot me one man in this county said that he wood live fat among the (women) if the war cum on and he has left the County and I heard of a nother one being shot or shot at for trying to force a woman to it.
I am a union man my self and a union principal and all the rest of the con nect tion here there is not ceding 15 rebels in our beat and I say hurrow for lincon and the union party the dis union party has committed treason You say that lincon was elected by a large negro vot that will not do if that bee the case why did not you brake the election at the start it looks to me like he was lawfully elected when he beat the others all to gether you all had better try to keep your negros as for mine they may go I do not like to smell them so will Rebel is one who opposis lawful authority. Rebel to rise in opposition against lawful authority Rebellion insurrection against lawful authority Secede to withdraw from fellowship secession the act of with draw ing from union the act of joining concord.
this is what I am in for I was bornd and Raised in the union and I exspect to dy with the union principal in mee I will Dy before I will take an oath to support the Southern confedersa when ever lincoln dus eney thing Contray to the Constitution I am then ready and willing to help put him a way from their so i ad no more. Robert Bell