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Anderson-Reavis Correspondence - Introduction and Index

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Introduction to the Anderson-Reavis Correspondence

By George Rugg

Leroy Hammond Anderson, M.D., was born in Richmond, Virginia on 29 April 1814, the son of Leroy Anderson and Hannah Wright Southgate. Like his brother, the noted physician William Henry Anderson (1820-1887), he was educated in Virginia and received medical instruction both in the United States and in Europe. In 1836 Anderson's parents moved west to Mobile, Alabama, where the elder Leroy Anderson died in 1837. By 1840 L. H. Anderson and his mother had settled in Sumter County, in the cotton growing Black Belt in west-central Alabama. Anderson resided in Sumter County, in Sumterville and subsequently in Gainesville, until the war, practicing medicine and making at least one significant contribution to the literature on Alabama's infectious diseases (a differential diagnosis of typhoid and malarial fever, published in the 1852 Transactions of the State Medical Association). Business interests included speculation in the burgeoning East Tennessee copper industry. The 1860 census values Anderson's personal estate at $50,000, and the family real estate (most of which is listed as the property of his mother, who died that July) at an additional $25,000. The 1860 slave census indicates that Dr. Anderson held eight slaves, of whom only two were above the age of fourteen.

In May 1861 Anderson traveled to Richmond "to take a share in what is going on;" his military records show him to have been enlisted in the Confederate army from 9 July 1861 to 2 January 1862, when his resignation was accepted. For at least part of that time he served as surgeon of the 9th Alabama Infantry. The letters leave no doubt that Anderson resigned because of his health; he was a self-described "pulmonary invalid" who appears to have suffered from tuberculosis. In August 1862 he left Richmond for the reputedly healthful resort town of Aiken, South Carolina. He was married at Aiken in the summer of 1863, to Charlotte Whitsitt, but died on 3 October.

The Anderson-Reavis correspondence includes nine letters and three undated postscripts written by Dr. Anderson in 1861-63 to Mary S. Reavis (b. c1831) of Gainesville. Mary Reavis was the second wife of Turner Reavis (1811-1872),  a prominent Sumter County lawyer and judge who served in the Alabama state senate during the war. The Reavises were friends and near neighbors of Dr. Anderson and his mother. Two of Anderson's letters were written from Richmond, one (28 May 1861) just after his arrival and one (1-2 January 1862) just prior to the army's acceptance of his resignation. The remaining letters and fragments were written from Aiken, from September 1862 to August 1863. Also in the collection are two ink sketches by Anderson, of prospective gravestone designs for his mother; a printed obituary of Hannah Anderson; a prewar letter written by Turner Reavis to his wife Mary (which mentions the Andersons); and a receipt.

Anderson's letters include casual personal news, with frequent inquiries after members of the Reavis family — especially Mary's two daughters, Lucy (b. 1842) and Mittie (b. 1848). They also include discussions of his own, and Mary's, health (she too seems to have been consumptive); and war hearsay. In this latter regard Anderson is generally optimistic about Confederate military prospects (as in the letter of 18-19 March 1863) but less assured of the capabilities of the politicians, especially Jefferson Davis. Of his own military service little mention is made, perhaps due to the lack of surviving correspondence from the months in question.

The greater purpose of Anderson's letters, however, was the management in absentia of his affairs in Gainesville. For this he relied in no small part on Mary Reavis; Anderson had no family in Sumter County, and Judge Reavis spent much of his time at Montgomery. Some of this involved the shipping of personal items from Gainesville to Aiken, as Dr. Anderson's stay in South Carolina assumed an increasing air of permanency. And though nothing in the letters indicates that Anderson planted cotton or other cash crops, there was still much to attend to on his "lot," not least with regard to his slaves. The wartime disposition of these household slaves (or "servants") is a frequent concern of the letters. The doctor was not a major slave holder by Sumter County standards (where the average holding was twenty slaves, and where by 1860 the slave population outnumbered the white population by three to one). Still, his protracted absence meant that his slaves had to be situated elsewhere, or sent to join him at Aiken, or sold. Each of these options was debated and probably acted upon in individual instances, through the agency of the Reavises.

Bibliographic note: For Sumter County see Louis Roycroft Smith, Jr., "A History of Sumter County, Alabama, through 1886" (Ph.D. diss., University of Alabama, 1988). For the medical context, see Howard L. Holley, The History of Medicine in Alabama, Birmingham AL, 1982. For mention of Anderson's service with the 9th Alabama, see Janet B. Hewitt, ed., Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Wilmington NC, 1996, Part II, Vol. 1, p 396. The Robert Anderson Papers in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library include 43 letters written by Leroy H. Anderson to his uncle, from 1839 to 1851 (Folders 344-348). Thanks to Jessica Lacher-Feldman of the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library at the University of Alabama for her research assistance with this essay.

Index of Letters

MSN/CW 5004-1LetterJune 24, 1857Eutaw, AlabamaTurner Reavis
MSN/CW 5004-2LetterMay 28, 1861Richmond, VirginiaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-3LetterJanuary 1-2, 1862Richmond, VirginiaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-4LetterSeptember 29, 1862Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-5Memorandum[October 27, 1862]Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-6LetterOctober 28, 1862Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-7LetterJanuary 1-4, 1863Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-8Drawings[1862]Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-9Obituary[1860]
MSN/CW 5004-10LetterJanuary 27, 1863Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-11LetterMarch 18-19, 1863Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-12LetterJune 17, 1863Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-13LetterAugust 10, 1863Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-14Note[1862-63][Aiken, South Carolina]Leroy H. Anderson
MSN/CW 5004-15Note[1862-63]Aiken, South CarolinaLeroy H. Anderson

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