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Leonard Williams Letters

Identifier: MSN/CW 5068

Scope and Contents

Of the 127 letters in the collection, 115 were written by Leonard Williams to his wife Anna Laval Williams during the Civil War. These letters range in date from 18-19 July 1861 to 11 February 1865, and provide a literate, lengthy, and relatively continuous epistolary narrative of Williams's wartime experiences. The letters also stand as one side of an ongoing dialogue with Anna on managing the Greenville household and farm, including the slaves. (During the war the mercantile store was overseen by Williams's business partner, William Whitmire, who is mentioned frequently in the letters). The most significant chronological gap in the letters to Anna occurs at war's end, as no manuscripts survive from the last few months of Williams's service.

All the present letters from Williams to Anna were published by David G. Douglas in A Boot Full of Memories: Captain Leonard Williams, 2nd South Carolina Cavalry (Camden SC, 2003). Douglas is Leonard and Anna Williams's great grandson; the letters descended through the family to him. Notre Dame subsequently acquired all but six letters that appear in Douglas's book. Those lacking from the present collection are dated 29-30 August 1861; 6 June 1862; 12 June 1862; 8 June 1863; 30 June 1863; and 26-27 February 1864.

Of the twelve letters in the collection not directed by Leonard Williams to Anna, Williams wrote four: two to his brother Henry Williams (16 May 1863 and 18 March 1864), one to an unidentified aunt (27 June 1864), and one to his slaves (22 August 1863). Six additional letters were directed to Anna Williams; two from Leonard's brother William A. Williams (30 December 1862 and 15 June 1864), two from Anna's cousin William R. Martin (25 January and 25 February 1862); one from an unidentified cousin (29 December 1861), and one from an acquaintance (28 July 1863). Neither author nor recipient of the two final letters (7 January 1864 and undated) can be identified.


  • Creation: 1861-1865


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

Leonard Williams was born on 15 December 1823 in Newberry District in the South Carolina Piedmont, the son of Davis and Anne Andrews Williams. The family had settled in the area in the eighteenth century; Davis Williams owned a plantation named Sycamore Grove, and by 1830 held 13 slaves. Leonard Williams graduated from South Carolina College in Columbia in 1844, and subsequently returned to Newberry as teacher and principal at Newberry Academy. Around 1854 he abandoned teaching and moved to the town of Greenville, where he operated a small farm and began what would become a successful mercantile business. The 1860 Federal census values his real estate at $6500, and his personal estate (including 11 slaves) at $55,000. In 1858 Williams married Anna Olivia Laval (1830-1879) of Charleston; the first of the couple's five children, Caroline, was born in 1860. With the outbreak of war Williams joined Greenville's Brooks Troop of cavalry, which in May 1861 became one of the four cavalry companies of Wade Hampton's South Carolina Legion. Williams served as orderly sergeant in Brooks Troop until elected 2nd lieutenant in March 1862. With the army's subsequent reorganization the companies constituting Hampton's Cavalry Battalion were absorbed into the new 2nd South Carolina Cavalry; in May 1862 Williams was elected captain of Company K, a postion he held for the duration of the war. He served in the cavalry arm of the Army of Northern Virginia through the major campaigns of 1862-63, including the Peninsula, Antietam, and Gettysburg. In March 1864 the 2nd South Carolina, its ranks depleted by continuous service, was withdrawn to coastal South Carolina. Williams saw action around Fort Fisher, North Carolina and in the Carolinas campaign against Sherman before Joseph Johnston's surrender ended his war in April 1865.

After the war Williams returned to Greenville and his former agricultural and mercantile concerns. He also entered public life, serving as a Democratic member of the state legislature during Reconstruction (1870-1872). He was a conspicuous supporter of his former commander, Wade Hampton, in the South Carolina gubernatorial election of 1876, and seved as auditor of Greenville County following Hampton's election. After the death of Anna Laval Williams in 1879 he married his former sister-in-law, Harriet Julia Laval. Williams died at Greenville on 22 May 1908.


1 Cubic foot (2 containers)

Language of Materials



Collection materials arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Williams letters were acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2008-2012 from Raynor's Historical Collectible Auctions, Burlington NC; acquisitions funded by Robert and Beverly O'Grady.

Leonard Williams Letters
Hannah E. Sabal
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556