By Emily Hansman
I spent this fall getting to know John Hatfield Frazee. He was an interesting man who spent much of his life in Tennessee. He worked as a lawyer, a clergyman, a soldier, and a father. He was born in New Brunswick New Jersey where he spent his childhood. After attending Rutgers College he worked as a lawyer for several years, during which time he married his first wife, Christiana. Misfortune came into his life when Chrissie passed away just three years after their son was born. Three years later he married his second wife, Caroline, who was fated to be left anxiously at home while her husband fought in the Civil War. Their family was living in Mississippi when the news of secession shook the country. Included below is a letter to his father in which he expresses a feeling of isolation, torn between maintaining good relations with his neighbors and parishioners, and remaining loyal to his family, his country, and his home up north. As the civil war progressed this sentiment drew him and his family back up north where he enlisted in the 3rd New Jersey Cavalry as the Chaplain. As he moved from battlefield to battlefield he constantly wrote letters to Carrie at home, describing everything from his evening meal to watered down accounts of battle in which, with much skill, he conveyed the stark emotions of the battlefield without including gruesome scenes of carnage that would scare his wife. His love for God comes through in everything he writes, as his faith was the cornerstone on which he built his life. His letters show that despite what he was surrounded by, his faith never diminished, instead it only grew stronger. After the war, he became a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee where he spent the rest of his life. His passion for his country and his family is evident in the extensive research he’s done on his family’s past, particularly his ancestor Hendrick Fisher, a soldier in the American Revolution. He lived a long life and died in old age as a well-loved man.
As a high school student, oftentimes the only way I experience history is through the pages of a textbook. This internship added a whole other dimension. To hold in your hands the very letter that was written a century and a half ago on the battlefield of out country’s most devastating war, is an incredible experience. John Hatfield Frazee is such an interesting man and I was privileged to spend an hour each day getting to know him through the legacy he’s left in his letters.
Claiborne Miss. January 14, 1860
My Dear Father,
While Carrie is writing a note to Mother, I will begin a short one to you. It is time our letters were off, if they are to go in tomorrow’s mail. You are all doubtless kept much better informed of the actual condition of affairs here than we are, for we depend on a paper which is published eleven miles off and gives us but one side of the question. It is rabid on the subject of secession and that is not our feeling, as you may well know! We have heard cannon booming all about us for one or two evenings, and the rumour is that this state has seceded. A member of the Legislature stopped here this morning on his way to Jackson where the Governor has summoned the Legislature to convene tomorrow. We are in the midst of great confusion, and God alone knows what the issue is to be. You may easily imagine that we feel very peculiarly at being alone, literally in the far south, and hearing so many hard things said against those we love so much. But we are away off from the centre of excitement and go on our way quietly, saying and doing nothing which shall excite the prejudice or opposition of anyone. Our duty is outside of politics entirely, and we strive to do it faithfully to all. I have, however, this morning, written to the Board of Domestic Missions upon the subject, and have told what my views were, as to the probable necessity of my having to return my commission as their Missionary at the end of this quarter. And I have also talked with one of my Elders and he has assured me that if at the time named we feel it is our duty to go north all will be well: we shall be paid. You need not fear for our safety. We feel as safe as we ever have at the south. I cannot see any reason why the negroes should rise now, and if there is to be any collision between the states, we are so far inland that we do not fear any harm or injury. We may very now be in a situation in which letters may not be carried either way for reason you will easily understand but if you should get none, don’t feel that we are in danger or run off into the swamps. Continue to have Hattie write, and we will do the same.
We have warm and damp weather just now. A small congregation yesterday owing to rain. The people seem to like me, and we like many of them very much.
Thanks for your little rubber articles. We will have a settlement some day. You must not hesitate to tell me of all your little difficulties and remember that I am always ready to assist those who have done so much for all mine. I would love – oh how much I would love to see you and all at home! I never was away from you all so long before. Yet we are contented, striving to be useful, and satisfied that in God’s own time He will unite us. Often pray for me, dear father, that my hand may be upheld in this ministry, and that souls may be converted through ever such a feeble instrumentality as my preaching. We pray daily that your afflictions and bereavement may be for the purifying of your souls, even as gold is made pure by the [xxx] fire. Love to Mother, Sister, Niece, and Brother. I would love to get a note from your two hands.
God bless you all.