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John Newton Carnahan Letters

Identifier: Ms-2009-112

Scope and Content

This collection contains 16 letters written by John Newton Carnahan, a private in Company F, 54th Virginia Infantry, during the Civil War. Dated from camps in Southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky, the letters are addressed to Carnahan's wife, Juliette Sophia Calfee Carnahan, and children at home in Pulaski County, Virginia.

Carnahan's letters focus largely on personal matters, instructing his children in good behavior and offering his wife counsel on the management of their farm and the sale of produce. He relays news of mutual acquaintances, makes frequent mention of his religious faith, and continually writes of a deep homesickness while pleading for more letters from home. Carnahan notes camp conditions and initially claims his health is much improved by army life, citing the weight he has gained while in service. In later letters, however, he increasingly complains of bowel trouble and states that he is suffering from "colery [cholera] morbus," which today would be diagnosed as acute gastroenteritis.

Departing from personal matters in his letter of December 15, 1861, Carnahan describes the aftermath of what was probably the Battle of Ivy Mountain, Kentucky, though his casualty figures do not match those in the historical record. On January 17, 1862, he briefly writes of the Battle of Middle Creek, Kentucky, in which his regiment had participated a week earlier. Carnahan describes the Middle Creek battle again in a letter dated February 3, 1862, when he also provides a lengthy account of the regiment's movements since the previous November.

Following a three-month gap, the collection resumes with a letter dated May 9, 1862. Not in Carnahan's own hand, this letter and another dated May 21 were dictated, perhaps to his cousin Mary Aston, and find the soldier in ill health in Dickensonville, Virginia.


  • 1861 - 1862


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

John Newton Carnahan, son of John A. and Elizabeth Bailie Carnahan, was born on December 29, 1824, in an area of Wythe County, Virginia that later became part of Pulaski County. On March 4, 1845, Carnahan married Juliette Sophia Calfee (1826-1909). The couple had six children (Margaret, Edwin, John A., Mary Ellen and Letitia P.) and owned a farm on the south side of the New River.

During the American Civil War Carnahan enlisted in Company F, 54th Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army at Newbern, Virginia on September 9, 1861. He seems to have remained with the regiment until he fell ill in Russell County, Virginia the following spring. Family tradition holds that Juliette brought her husband to the family's Pulaski County home, where he died on July 25, 1862. (Curiously, however, Carnahan's published obituary states that he died in Russell County.)

Administrative History

The 54th Virginia Infantry of the Confederate Army was organized by Colonel Robert C. Trigg in Southwest Virginia during the late summer and early fall of 1861 during the American Civil War. Mustered into service on September 10, the regiment trained at Camp Hall in Montgomery County before joining the Army of Eastern Kentucky. The 54th participated in battles at Middle Creek (Kentucky) and Princeton ((West) Virginia) in 1862, then returned to Southwest Virginia for several months before being ordered east late in the year. The regiment participated in the Battle of Kelly's Store in January 1863, then was transferred to the Army of East Tennessee. The 54th saw action at the battles of Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge before participating in Johnston's Atlanta Campaign and Hood's Tennessee Campaign in 1864. Afterward, Trigg and a detachment returned to Southwest Virginia, while the remainder of the regiment found itself participating in the Carolina Campaign at war's end.


0.1 Cubic Feet (1 folder)


The collection includes American Civil War letters from Private John Newton Carnahan of the 54th Virginia Infantry to his wife, Juliette Sophia Calfee Carnahan, and children in Pulaski County, Virginia.


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Source of Acquisition

The John Newton Carnahan Letters were donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 2005 by John Anderson Carnahan of Columbus, Ohio, and Julie May Hill of Norfolk, Virginia.

Related Materials

VT Special Collections and University Archives has the following related book in the Rare Book Collection: Weaver, Jeffrey C., 54th Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg, VA: H. E. Howard, 1993). Call no. E581.5 54th W44 1993 c.2 Civil War Spec.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the John Newton Carnahan Letters by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the John Newton Carnahan Letters commenced and was completed in August 2009.

John Newton Carnahan Letters, 1861-1862
John M. Jackson, Archivist
2009 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US