The Arter Letters
The story that was told to me of how my parents came into possession of these two letters is quite interesting. My father, Harrison Tyler, was sitting on the porch of Lyon's Den in the summer of 1980.
Lyons Den is the home where my Dad grew up. It was the hunting lodge the President John Tyler, my great-grandfather, built in 1856. It is located on the bluffs of the James River about a mile form Sherwood Forest, and from the front porch you can see down the river to Fort Pocahontas about two miles off in the distance.
A car drives into the yard and a young man and woman in their early twenties hop out of the car. The young man is cradling a small cigar box with box with both hands as if it is very valuable. He looks my Dad in the eyes as asks if he was Harrison Tyler. When my Dad says "Yes," his face bursts into a smile and he tells my Dad that he is on his way to Virginia Beach for his honeymoon with his new wife. He is a construction worker and he found this cigar box buried inside a wall when he demolished a house near Hanover County. It contained two letters. One from G.M. Arter asking about his father's artifacts stolen from the "Tyler mansion." It also contained the original letter written by A.Arter telling of time spent at Fort Pocahontas and his subsequest raid on President John Tyler's home, Sherwood Forest. The young man said he knew that my Dad lived at Sherwood Forest, so he asked directions at the local General Stores and drove down to give him this box personally. And then he got in his car and drove off to his honeymoon.
The neat thing about this letter, is that there had been oral stories handed down through the Tyler family that when the house had been ransacked by union forces. The story was that, during the Civil War, soldiers had destroyed the piano and broken the glass out of a mirror then used the glass shards as shaving mirrors. In fact, there were a pair of matching mirrors in the ballroom of Sherwood Forest during the war. Today one of the mirrors is still at Sherwood Forest and it still has its glass in it. But the matching mirror is located next door at creek Plantation where George Tyler now lives. He never replaced the glass because the story was that the soldiers broke it out and they recognized the historical significance of it not being replaced. Now, with this letter, we had actual proof.
The soldier in this letter is a white soldier and he came to the fort about a month after the battle with Fitzhugh Lee. The black troops were apparently well behaved to the local inhabitants. But the second batch of white troops that this soldier came with spent a lot of time "appropriating resources" from the local community. One of the odd things about this letter is the way this soldier talks about the local slaves and wanting to know if his Dad wanted him to bring one home.
If anybody can find anything about A. Arter or G. M. Arter, please call Kay Tyler at (804) 829-5377 and tell us what you have found out. Anyway, we want our brass kettle back!
Original Arter Letter 1 PDF -1.57 Megs
The boys are all out on duty, and I am the only one in the tent and having nothing particular on hand to day, I thought I might be wrighting a small history of my campaign as well as be loafing in my quarters and at the same time knowing that it will be interesting to you to look over them. Lieut Burson is out on Picket our Picket lines extends about 11/2 miles outside of the fortification, and is very strongly mand. I was put on Picket on last Sunday and remained until monday evening I had control of the Picket Line. The circumstances in which I went out made me feel a little squally on Sunday morning a dispatch came into camp that there was a heavy Force of Rebs making their way towards our works. Consequently every man that could shoulder his gun was at his post and should we of been attacked we would not of gave them a very kind reception as we have one of the best arranged breast works I have seen and had also about two thousand men armed with the sharps Rifles, and one full artilery company composed of some 12 or 15 heavy cannons in addition there is Two Large gun Boats laying at the landing. This point was taken by our men from the Rebs some four weeks ago and there is no dout they would like to have it back again. This point is the most prominent on the James River & is said to be the highest it is about Fifty feet above the river so you will see that the country on the Jas River cant be very high. Mr. Wilson the man that owned this farm had put out this spring some 500 acres of corn there has never been a plow or how put in it. it is growing up in weeds. it is said he owned some 2000 acres and well stocked with Negros when our army came in he started out and had the Rebs to attack our forces. they were entirely defeated Mr. Wilson with many others Rebs were kiled, and can be seen lying around out side the camp yet his negros were all set free. There is a man right across the River Reb who ownes some Seventeen thousand acres of land and any amount of Negroes. & since our troops got posession here they have taking all his negroes & everything else. This whole country is owned by heavy land holders owning from one to Twenty thousand acres A poor man cant own any land. all the men on the approach of our forces leave their homes and our men destroy the boys bring in lots of stuff every day that they take from deserted houses. A lot of the boys went out yesterday and broke into President Tylers hous and took and destroyed lots of stuff. They say he has the nicest kind of a mansion the house furnished in the best of style. they brought in some very nice furniture such as sofas looking glasses stands carpeting &c of the very costliest kind and destroyed the pyana & large looking glasses & such other stuff they could not Bring in. there was also a foringing Party went out from this post yesterday on a steamer and came back last evening with a full load they Brot in 80 head of sheep some 20 or 30 head of cattle lot of mules & Horses & among the rest eighty negroes they were mostly women & children good many of them young women one old nig 105 years old so he says these were all took from one family they also took all the furniture they had. the family they said went on at a great rait at the idea of loosing their all. and well they might. Just think we would feel if we had ever thing took. our men shows the rebs, in this section no mercy take everything we are getting up another party to start out tomorrow to clean out an old Reb which lives out some six miles they say he has lots of Niggers & stock they will bring them in the negroes we send to Fortress Monroe There they have a large lot of land which they make them work. There is about 2500 there some of our captains are selecting young darkeys to take home they want me to take one I can get any kind I want they are more of a drug than anything else. I see young darkies all kind of colors from nearly white to as Black as Black. I thought I had better counsil with you before I risk to bring one. Now if you think you would like to have a little darky and that you would undertake to raise one let me know and also what kind you would like to have for I can get any kind of one. they are a perfect drug here. there is a great many things I might wright you that would be of interest to you but time wont permit when I get home I will be able to give you a good deal of news and many interesting details. That is if you can get me in a good mood for talking for you know I am quite a talker. I wrote my Father yesterday quite a history of what I have seen & will no dout be some interest to him as it comes direct from one that has saw what it contains you can get it of him as I intended it for you all to read you can take it over if you want & let your father see it as it contains no secrets you can also let him see what I send to you, as there is no one that will be more interested in a letter from this section than he will. in Regard to general news you will get it sooner than I could send it to you. You can tell Mary Greg that her Brother Alb came in to camp the other day he was very glad to see the boys. he looked purty hard having to travel a good deal & I gues have been in some hard skirmishes he is very tired he says of soldering and I don't wonder to see the way some men are used made perfect slaves &c good Bye write often direct to
Capt A. R Arter Co C
A R Arter
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