As a young Texan in the Confederate Army, Thomas Jewett Goree quickly climbed the ranks of Confederate brass. He was a personal aide and close friend to General James Longstreet, and he was involved in every major engagement of the Civil War that included Longstreet’s Command, from the First Battle of Bull Run to General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. During the Civil War, Goree wrote several letters to his family members and close friends. These personal letters gave insight on the politics of the Civil War era, skirmishes and major battles, Confederate troop conditions and morale, the issue of slavery, and Goree’s personal and family affairs.


Thomas Jewett Goree was born to Dr. Langston James Goree and Sarah Williams Kittrell Goree on November 14, 1835 in Marion, Alabama. He was the eldest of their six surviving children. When he was fifteen years old, Thomas, who was also referred to simply as T.J., moved with his family to Huntsville, Texas. [1] T.J. had only lived in Texas for three years when his father passed away. As the eldest male of his household, Thomas assumed the fatherly role of the family.

In 1853, after his father’s death, T.J. attended Baylor College, which was then located at Independence, Texas. There he earned a baccalaureate degree, or in today’s standards, a law degree. By 1858, at the young age of twenty-three, Thomas formed a law partnership with Colonel William P. Rogers. [2]

Before the War

In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, T.J. left everything behind to join the Confederate Army. He began his military career in the summer of 1861 when he volunteered as a Texas Ranger. [3] On a ship headed from Galveston to Virginia, Thomas met James Longstreet, who had just resigned from the U.S. Army. From this point on, the two became close friends, and T.J. fought in many battles alongside the renowned Confederate general.

Although T.J. had lived in Huntsville only ten years before the Civil War began, Texas was the place he called home. When he was away fighting the war for the Southern cause, he often pleaded to his mother and other family members to write him often and to include news of Texas. “Any letter from Texas, no matter how short, or on what subject, always affords me much pleasure and satisfaction.” [4] His love for Texas did not stagger throughout the entirety of the conflict. In a late-war letter to his sister, Thomas wrote, “Although I have been away from home nearly 3 ½ years, I have lost none of my interest in it.” [5]

T.J. was a firm believer in the Southern states’ right to secession, and he was willing to fight for his newly-formed country. “I advocated Secession, believing that we would have to fight to sustain it. I am ready to do it, and more than willing.” [6] Even in the face of death, T.J. was firm in his belief and was willing to give his own life for his country. In a letter to his only sister, T.J. wrote, “I know that I love life & the pleasures of it as well as anyone, but I feel, or pray I feel, willing if necessary to sacrifice it for the good of my country.” [7] These sentiments did not falter even in the later stages of the war. In a late-war letter, T. J. wrote to his younger brother, “It is better to die than be subjugated, and I for one am ready and willing to fight to the bitter end.” [8] These letters showed that Thomas was ground in his beliefs and principles, and that he never wavered from them throughout the entirety of the Civil War.

Early Battles

Thomas often wrote his mother during the build-up to the United States’ official declaration of war against the Confederate States of America. “The U.S. government is preparing for war… a protest has been sent to the European govts. against the Confederate States.” [9] T.J. wrote this letter on April 7, 1861, five days before the Confederate siege of Fort Sumter. T.J. also wrote his mother a day before the First Battle of Bull Run, or as known in the South as First Manassas, the first major battle of the Civil War. He explained that he had only previously been engaged in a single skirmish, and that this would be the first major battle that he would participate in. A few days before this battle, General Longstreet had made Goree an official aide and promoted him the rank of Captain. T.J. wrote that he was fatigued in the face of the upcoming battle and explained to his mother that he “[had] not had a chance to wash [his] face for more than three days.” [10] He also confessed to his mother that he very well could be killed in this battle, albeit for a “glorious cause.”

When the Civil War began, T.J. was a young man of the age of twenty-five. He was eager for battle, and quick to engage the enemy. In an early letter to his mother dated June, 15 1861, he wrote, “I think that we will get there in time to have a hand in the pie – at least I hope so.” [11] Furthermore, Thomas seemed disappointed when he did not take part in a battle. During the bloody Battle of Chicamauga, he raced to the battlefield but “only reached the field just as the battle closed.” [12] In yet another letter to his mother, he described another skirmish in which he took part. “I went on ahead with one man, & coming up very near the enemy’s rear guard, we captured two Yankees with their horses and equipments. We each took a horse.” [13]

During the initial phases of the Civil War, the South won several major engagements against the armies of the North. These victories boosted the Confederate soldiers’ confidence and greatly elevated their morale. At this point in the war, Thomas held a condescending view of Union soldiers. “We have thought that the Yankees would always take to their heels after firing a few rounds.” [14] In 1862, however, less than a year after the war began, Thomas had a more realistic understanding of the enemy soldiers. “Our foes are not such cowards as we have heretofore taken them for, [and] our forces are not the invincible heroes which we have though them to be.” [15]

Battlefield Conditions

Many of the words T.J. devoted to his letters described the conditions of the Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. He wrote on how the soldiers’ morale was affected by victory and defeat. The first two months of 1962 saw several devastating defeats for the South. The most notable of these was the Battle of Fort Donelson, where an entire Confederate army surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. In another letter to his Uncle Pleas, Thomas wrote about the morale of the soldiers after hearing of the defeat. “[I] felt so low in spirit and despondent from the bad news that has been pouring in upon us.” [16] T.J. also gave details on the physical condition of his soldiers as well as other units before and during battles. “The men were all badly clad when we went into winter quarters, and many thousand were barefooted.” [17] Thomas also described how the climate and seasons greatly affected the soldiers’ performance and ability to make war. “Wet weather, several snows & sleets… makes it very severe on the men.” [18] In another letter to his mother, T.J. explained how physically difficult it was to simply write to her because of the extreme winter cold.

In his letters, Thomas described the emotional conditions of commanding officers and generals, especially those that were closest to him. He wrote to his mother about a horrific series of events involving General Longstreet. “Three children within one week [died due to scarlet fever]. The General is very low spirited. He has only one child left.” [19] This in no doubt affected Longstreet’s ability as a commanding general. In a later letter, Thomas described how the General’s right arm had been paralyzed as a result of a being hit by a bullet. Longstreet’s condition did not allow him to serve as an active general for several months. He also wrote of a Confederate officer who longed for death after witnessing his own men being slaughtered at the hands of the Union army. “He told me that at one time when he saw how fast they were falling around him, he stopped and prayed God to send a bullet through his heart.” [20]

Late Battles

As the Union armies saw more and more victories, Thomas described the effects of the Union advance. In one letter, he apologized to mother if she had not been receiving letters from him regularly. “Our mail communications were interrupted by the Enemy, and we had very little intercourse with the outside world.” [21] In the same letter, he described a battle in which his soldiers were under severe battlefield conditions. “We were cut off from all communication from any direction. Could not get shoes, clothing, or provisions fro the men except what we gathered up in the surrounding country. The consequence was that the suffering was very great.” [22] The effects of continued warfare also had its toll on the Southern economy, and the Confederate soldiers suffered because of it. In the South, food and supplies had become scarce and inflation was extremely high. “I managed thus far to get along somehow or other on my pay, but it is hard work, the prices of everything to eat and wear being so enormously high. My pay, $235. per month in Confederate scrip is only about equal to $7.00 in gold.” [23]

But not all was melancholy in Thomas’ letters. T.J. often described in detail battles in which the South had achieved victory. An example of this was a letter to his mother concerning the Battle of Dandridge. He gave detailed accounts of troop conditions, troop movements, and the outcome of the battle. “But Longstreet (instead of retreating as they expected) marched down to meet them, and after a very light skirmish he got them on the run.” [24] In an earlier letter, he mocked Union General McClellan about his battlefield position. “McClellan knows that he can never attack us successfully here, and it is very unlikely that he will attempt a flank movement.” [25]

By the winter of 1864, Union General William T. Sherman had begun his infamous “March to the Sea” campaign. “Sherman has succeeded in marching through from Atlanta to the Atlantic coast near Savannah, and I feel in constant dread of hearing of the fall of that city.” [26] At this point, the Confederate army had been on the defensive for well over a year. But this did stop Thomas of writing with hopes for a Southern victory. “Our troops are good and our fortifications are strong, and Grant will find it an exceedingly difficult matter to overcome them.” [27] But Southern victory was never achieved. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant after the battle of Appomattox Courthouse village in Virginia, an engagement in which Thomas took part. Lee’s surrender effectively ended the American Civil War.

Important Issues

T.J. often mocked and spoke poorly of Union soldiers and generals, but he had even harsher words for lackluster Confederate generals and even Confederate President Davis himself. “Mr. Davis is undoubtedly a great man, but he has his faults, his whims, and his unbounded prejudices. I have nearly lost all the admiration I ever had for him as an honest man and a patriot.” [28] Furthermore, in a letter to his Uncle Pleasant, T.J. denounced the appointment of an unfit Southern general. “I believe Genl. C[rittenden] to be a brave and a true man, but he has not the ability such as I think requisite for a Major General.” [29] He would not do so out of spite, however, but would rather write about prominent Southern leaders in a frank yet honest manner.

Thomas also believed that all Southern men should stand up for the Confederate cause. He scolded those who would not fight or otherwise acted as cowards. “Shame upon the men who have gone to Texas for easy service, and have deserted their brave comrades here.” [30] In addition, he felt that all the men of the South should stand up and fight against Northern oppression anyway they could. “If a man cannot get a gun, he should arm himself with a tomahawk, pike or anything with which he can kill the invader.” [31]

Thomas’ letters shed light on more pressing matters of the day. The most important of these was the subject of slavery. There are very few references on the matters of race in T.J.’s letters, but in one letter to his sister, Thomas spoke briefly yet intensely about the use of slaves during the war. “And if needs be, I say put the negroes in the ranks and make soldiers of them – fight negro with negro.” [32] Thomas was willing to free Southern slaves in order to keep the South free from Northern oppression. “We had better even free the negroes to gain our own independence than be subjugated and lose slaves, liberty and all that makes life dear.” [33]

T.J. (sitting at bottom right), with his younger brothers and sister

Family Affairs

Thomas’ brothers Edwin and Langston were enlisted in other divisions in the Confederate Army, and his youngest brothers Robert and Pleasant, also known as “Scrap,” enlisted in the later years of the war. He would often write his mother concerning the conditions of his brothers. “They are fine specimens of good soldiers. You may all fell proud of them.” [34] In a letter of acknowledgement for Lang, T.J. wrote, “The 4th Texas captured a Yankee regiment and Lang had the honor of demanding the surrender & receiving the swords from on of the field officers & a captain, also the sword & flag from the color bearer.” [35] Furthermore, as the elder sibling, T.J. showed extreme care and selflessness concerning his brothers. He often gave them supplies and money at a great deal of sacrifice of his own well-being. In a letter to his mother, Thomas wrote, “I used none of [the money you sent] myself… as we thought it better to keep it and purchase Scrap a horse.” [36] When Thomas would find leave to visit his brothers, he would often give them several pairs of socks and other small supplies, with nothing to spare for himself.

One dramatic episode concerning Edwin transpired in the summer of 1864. Ed had been shot just under the knee, and the complications stemming from this wound put him in a critical state of health. As the eldest brother, Thomas felt that it was his duty to be the one to break the news to their mother that Ed was close to death. “It is unnecessary, my Dear Mother, to conceal from you the fact that Ed is in a very critical condition.” [37] In a letter to his Uncle Pleas, T.J. wrote that it was the surgeons’ professional opinion that Edwin had a small chance of surviving no matter what medical procedure was imposed on him. Furthermore, the decision would be left to Thomas himself to decide on amputation or another course of action. In addition, as Ed’s father figure, Thomas felt it necessary to speak with him about the probability of death. “He feels very deeply on the subject [of dying], and seems to put his trust in Christ, though his mind is not yet clear on the subject.” [38] Despair set in as T.J. wrote to his uncle about his brother’s condition, stating that “there is hardly room for hope.” [39]

But “Providence” as T.J. referred to it, was on their side. After weeks of painful operations and months of being bed-ridden, Edwin began to show signs of recovery. “At one time the surgeons all thought there was no possible chance for his recovery, but close, careful attention and good nursing saved him.” [40] Ed made a slow but steady recovery. The bed sores which had caused him so much pain while on his hospital bed began to close up. “He had a great many abscesses on his leg, all of which he says have healed.” [41] By the end of that year, Ed’s wounds had all but healed up, and he was well on his way to a full recovery.

Interesting Facts

T.J.’s letters also reveal less important yet interesting facts about his personal life. One, namely, was Thomas’ fondness for his favorite horse, Bullet. He had ridden into battle with Bullet since the Second Battle of Bull Run, or Second Manassas. Sometime in the fall season of 1863, his faithful steed was stolen away from him, and T.J. was forced to ride a horse loaned to him by the Confederate government for the next eight months. But the two would soon be reunited. “[My old horse Bullet] was stolen from me about the 1st last September, and I never expected to see him again, but much to my surprise & joy, I found him on the 4th day of May last.” [42] And luckily for T.J., Bullet had not gone completely blind. More battles were yet in store for the two!

Thomas performed his duty well as a Confederate soldier, and he often put himself in the line of fire. Little did he know that not only would he survive the war, but he would do so without being struck by a single bullet. In another letter to his mother, Thomas recalled the bloody Seven Days Battles of 1862. “I was far more exposed than I have ever been before, but neither myself nor horse was struck.” [43] Often after a battle, “his clothing was riddled with bullet holes.” [44] Those around him, however, were not so lucky. Throughout the war, several of his horses were shot while he was riding them, and even General Longstreet was injured more than his trusty aide.

T.J.'s wife, Eliza

After the War

After the war, T.J. went back home to Texas, where he oversaw the Raven Hill Plantation near Huntsville. His mother had purchased the plantation in 1858 from no other than the great Sam Houston himself. On June 25, 1868, Thomas married Elizabeth Thomas Nolley, who was the acting principal of Andrew Female College at Huntsville. In 1873, T.J. formed another law partnership with Colonel Leonard A. Abercrombie. Most notably, Thomas was appointed the Superintendent of the Texas Prisons in 1877, a title that would later be called the Superintendent of Penitentiaries. [45] He held this position for fourteen years. T.J. later moved to Galveston, where he survived the devastating Hurricane of 1900. On March 5, 1905, Thomas Jewett Goree died of pneumonia at the age of 69 in Galveston, Texas. [46]

Aftermath of the devastating Hurricane of 1900


The last known letter written by Thomas during the Civil War was dated December 18, 1864. The next available piece of writing is his travel diary, which was dated on June 26, 1865. However, this travel diary holds little relevance to the events that transpired during the war. In 1864, Thomas had only written eleven personal letters, and there is no record of any wartime letters written by him in 1865. This is in stark contrast to the dozens of letters written in the first three years of the war. Perhaps it was the Union army intercepting Confederate mail couriers more and more with each victory. Perhaps Thomas had begun to lose the will to write in the face of the Union advance. Perhaps he was constantly needed on the battlefield and did not have the time to write. The reasons for this remain unknown, but one fact is certain: the stories of the Civil War as seen through the eyes of one man, revealed to us by his personal letters, will continue to provide insight and depth on the issues and events of American Civil War.


[1] Langston Goree. “Goree, Thomas Jewett Family.” In Walker County, Texas: A History. (Dallas, Curtis Media Corporation, 1986), 409-10.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Longstreet’s Command Living History Association. “Thomas Jewett Goree,”
[4] Thomas Cutrer. Longstreet’s Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas J. Goree. (Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 74.
[5] Ibid., 138
[6] Ibid., 15
[7] Ibid., 76
[8] Ibid., 141
[9] Ibid., 15
[10] Ibid., 23
[11] Ibid., 16
[12] Ibid., 112
[13] Ibid., 124
[14] Ibid., 73
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 73
[17] Ibid., 116
[18] Ibid., 72
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid., 95
[21] Ibid., 114
[22] Ibid., 116
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid., 117
[25] Langston Goree. The Thomas Jewett Goree Letters, Vol. 1: The Civil War Correspondence (Bryan, Texas: Family History Foundation, 1981), 140.
[26] Thomas Cutrer. Longstreet’s Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas J. Goree. (Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 140
[27] Ibid., 137
[28] Ibid., 67
[29] Ibid., 73
[30] Ibid., 117
[31] Ibid., 76
[32] Ibid., 137
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid., 71
[35] Ibid., 97
[36] Ibid., 116
[37] Ibid., 127
[38] Ibid., 128
[39] Ibid., 129
[40] Ibid., 139
[41] Ibid., 139
[42] Ibid., 124
[43] Ibid., 97
[44] The Handbook of Texas Online. “Goree, Thomas Jewett.” TSHA Online,
[45] Jerry Phillips. “Thomas Jewett Goree As a Witness to the Controversy Surrounding Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.” (Huntsville, TX: Sam Houston State University,1993), 72.
[46] The Handbook of Texas Online. “Goree, Thomas Jewett.” TSHA Online,


Primary Sources:
Cutrer, Thomas. Longstreet’s Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas J. Goree. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1995.
Goree, Langston. The Thomas Jewett Goree Letters, Vol. 1: The Civil War Correspondence. Bryan, Texas: Family History Foundation, 1981.

Secondary Sources:
Goree, Langston. “Goree, Thomas Jewett Family.” In Walker County History, 409-410. Dallas: Curtis Media Corporation, 1986.
The Handbook of Texas. “Goree, Thomas Jewett.” TSHA Online. (accessed November 20, 2009).
Longstreet’s Command. “Thomas Jewett Goree.” Longstreet’s Command Living History Association. (accessed November 20, 2009).
Phillips, Jerry K. “Thomas Jewett Goree As a Witness to the Controversy Surrounding Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.” Huntsville, TX: Sam Houston State University, 1993.

Thursday, December 10, 2009