May 07, 2020 - Sale 2534

Sale 2534 - Lot 321

Price Realized: $ 7,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 3,000 - $ 4,000
"I CAN'T SEE HOW HE CAN EVER POSSIBLY RECOVER" (MILITARY--CIVIL WAR.) Trail, William. A private in the 28th U.S.C.T. describes the slow painful death of his brother from scurvy. Autograph Letter Signed to brother Barzillai Trail of Knightstown, IN. 4 pages, 8 x 5 inches, on one folding sheet; minimal wear. With original stamped envelope bearing inked New Orleans postmark. Corpus Christi, TX, 20 September 1865

Additional Details

William Trail, Sr. (1784-1858), the father of this letter writer, escaped from slavery in 1814 to a new life in Indiana. Among his 8 children, 4 of them served in the Civil War. William Trail, Jr. (1830-1914) enlisted as a private in the 28th United States Colored Troops in February 1865; his brother James Trail was already in the regiment. After the shooting stopped, the men were stationed in Texas, where the men faced perhaps more danger from scurvy than they had from bullets. Here William writes movingly of his brother, who lay at the point of death under the doctor's care:
"I am quite lame in the left leg with the scurvy but I still go about a little. I went to see James yesterday eavening. He seemed to take more note of things than he has for a while past, but can I tell you I can't see how he can ever possibly recover. His mouth is perfectly rotten. One cheek is rotted clear through. I go to see him every day, and see to having his clothes changed and washed, and that is about all I can do for him. The hospital is about a half mile from our camp, and it is quite an undertaking for me to walk there and back. . . . In my opinion, long before this letter reaches you, he will be gone to his long home.' Military records show that James Trail died of complications from scurvy later that same day.
The remainder of the letter discusses money: "I have the care of both James and my own money, which is about $250. I have no place to keep it but my pocket. There are but poor chance of sending it home from here, no express. . . . I don't know who to trust. Several in the regiment had all their money stolen already." William Trail survived his own bout with scurvy and returned home safely from his military service, leaving us this poignant account of his brother's final day on earth.