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Introduction to the Henry S. Figures Letter
By George Rugg
When Henry Stokes Figures (1841/2-1864) wrote the accompanying letter to his father, he was a young salesman living in Montgomery, Alabama then the capital of the newly formed Confederate States of America. Figures' family home was in Huntsville in Madison County, in the hill country of northeast Alabama; he was the son of William B. Figures, then editor of the Huntsville Southern Advocate. One month after the letter was written, on 10 June 1861, Figures enlisted in the Confederate army. He served as private and sergeant in Company F of the 4th Alabama Infantry (the "Huntsville Guards") before being named adjutant, with a rank of 1st lieutenant, of the 48th Alabama (May 1863). He was killed at the Wilderness on the evening of 6 May 1864. Robert T. Coles, who served with Figures in Company F and later wrote a history of the 4th Alabama, recalled him as "a gallant soldier and esteemed friend, a youth of decided military talent" (Jeffrey D. Stocker, ed., From Huntsville to Appomattox, p. 166).
From the opening session of the convention of seceded states (4 February 1861) to the Congressional vote to remove the capital to Richmond (20 May), Montgomery was the epicenter of secessionism. The capital's two hotels were overrun by arriving politicians, soldiers, newspaper reporters, and office seekers. Confederate rhetoric likened the place, and the events transpiring there, to 1776 Philadelphia, and an earlier revolution. By the time of Figures' letter, 9 May, the apparatus of government was in place; the great task at hand was to place the new polity on a wartime footing. Much of the letter's content treats the military plans and aspirations of Figures' acquaintances, as the Confederacy hastened to mold existing state militias and fresh volunteers into a national army. Many of those mentioned would serve with Figures in the 4th Alabama: Clifton Walker, Samuel Moore, and Fielding Bradford all were privates in Company I, and William Fariss, like Figures, served in Company F. The regiment had in fact organized in the first week of May, at Dalton, Georgia, and by 9 May was already in Virginia (where Figures would join it in June, in time to fight at First Manassas). To his father, Figures says not a word of any plans he may then have had to follow his friends into the army.
Of the more notable figures mentioned in the letter, Colonel Davis is of course Jefferson Davis. P. G. T. Beauregard was at the time a newly minted military hero, the Confederacy's first, having commanded the batteries that forced Fort Sumter to capitulate on 13 April. William Howard Russell was a journalist for the London Times, who had established a reputation as a "war correspondent" during the Crimean War. As one with the potential to enhance the Confederacy's credibility in Britain, he was much courted in Montgomery.
Provenance note: The Figures letter was purchased by the University Libraries in 2002, from Teri Franks of Phoenix AZ.
Bibliographic note: For Montgomery in 1861, see William Warren Rogers, Jr., Confederate Home Front: Montgomery during the Civil War, Tuscaloosa AL, 1999. For the 4th Alabama, see Jeffrey D. Stocker, ed., From Huntsville to Appomattox: R. T. Coles's History of 4th Regiment, Alabama Volunteer Infantry, C. S. A., Army of Northern Virginia, Knoxville, 1996. A monograph treating both the regiments in which Figures served is J. Gary Laine and Morris M. Penny, Law's Alabama Brigade in the War between the Union and the Confederacy, Shippensburg PA, 1996. Rolls of the officers and men who served in the 4th and 48th have been compiled by Kenneth W. Jones at www.tarleton.edu/~kjones/lawsbrig.html.
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|MSN/CW 5001-01||Letter||May 9, 1861||Montgomery, Alabama||Henry S. Figures|