My Dear Wife ~ Letters to Matilda
The Civil War Letters of Sid and Matilda Champion of Champion Hill

Edited by
Rebecca Blackwell Drake and Margie Riddle Bearss

     My Dear Wife ~ Letters to Matilda tells the story of a family whose lives were forever changed as a result of the Civil War. Sid S. Champion, a 39-year-old plantation owner, was determined to join the Confederate Army in spite of the protests of his wife, Matilda, who was 34 years old and the mother of four young children. Sid was persuasive. He argued that the war would be brief and that the South would be victorious.
     As Grant and Sherman threatened Vicksburg, Sid found himself caught up in the excitement of war. In spite of Matilda’s protests that he was too old to have enlisted, Sid chose to remain in the army and to fight for the Cause.
     In 1863 as Grant’s army marched for Vicksburg, the Champion plantation became the scene of one of the bloodiest and hardest-fought battles of the war. Matilda’s grief was amplified when the Yankees torched her house, leaving it in smoldering ruins. Anguished over the loss, Matilda speculated, “I have always looked on the dark side of this war and what the end will be is beyond human comprehension.” Her fears were soon realized when Vicksburg fell to the enemy and Sid was taken prisoner. Seven months later the regiment was ordered to Georgia to begin yet another campaign.
     During the Atlanta Campaign, Sid’s hopes were dashed when the Confederate Army, commanded by John Bell Hood, was ‘outgeneraled’ by Sherman and Atlanta fell to the Union. During this time, Matilda read the local papers to learn the names of the wounded and the dead. She cringed in fear of finding Sid’s name among those listed. Sid’s final campaign was the Tennessee Campaign fought in November and December of 1864. Sid was still hopeful that the South could be victorious but instead the Confederate Army was all but annihilated during the Battle of Franklin when 3,000 Confederates, including six generals, were killed or wounded.
     Sid S. Champion was one of the last of the intrepid warriors. He was mustered out of the army in May 1865 and returned to Matilda. They built another house at Champion Hill and prepared to resume their lives but Sid died three years later, leaving Matilda a widow at the age of 40.
     What Matilda endured as a result of the war is a story that reads like Gone With The Wind. The letters tell of a couple caught up in the passion of war, eventually losing everything they held dear, including each other.

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About the Letters

Original letters courtesy of Sid J. Champion
104 letters, 276 pages
Available in September 2005

     The letters are a window into the lives of Sid and Matilda Champion during the three long years that Sid was engaged in the war. In the beginning, the letters were filled with hope that the South would be victorious. In the end, their hopes were crushed as the war took everything dear from them, including each other.
The majority of Sid’s letters written in 1862 were not dated. They have been placed in order according to the historic events revealed by the contents of each letter. On March 29, 1863, Matilda wrote a postscript requesting that Sid date his letters. Thanks to her urging, the 1863–1865 letters are dated.
     Nineteen letters survive from the year 1862. All of these were written by Sid who was stationed with the 28th Mississippi Cavalry in Vicksburg. Twenty-five letters survive from the year 1863 – seventeen written by Sid and eight by Matilda.
      A total of fifty-two letters survive from the year 1864, all written during the time Sid was engaged in the Atlanta Campaign. Forty-four of these letters were written by Sid while eight were written by Matilda. Undoubtedly Matilda wrote more than eight letters during the Atlanta Campaign but the letters were most likely lost as Sid moved from battlefield to battlefield.
     Only eight letters survive from 1865, the final year of the war. six were written by Sid and two by Matilda. Around this time, Sid sustained an injury during the December 1864 retreat from the second Battle of Nashville and returned home to recover. He rejoined his regiment in 1865 following a 40-day medical leave of absence.
     The letters of Sid were relatively easy to transcribe except for a few that were faded and mildew-stained. However, the letters of Matilda were much more difficult since she wrote in a small script and often crossed lines, a style of letter writing that helped to save paper.
     The letters presented in this book are abridged and punctuation has been added for clarity of reading. The original letters are in the possession of Sid J. Champion, great-great grandson of Sid and Matilda.

About the Editors

Margie Riddle Bearss and Rebecca Blackwell Drake

Margie Riddle Bearss, Historian and Author

     Margie Bearss of Arlington, Virginia, and Brandon, Mississippi, is the author of Sherman’s Forgotten Campaign: The Meridian Expedition and co-author of My Dear ~ Letters To Matilda with Rebecca Drake. In 1962, when the Grand Gulf Museum opened at Grand Gulf State Park, she designed and made all of the exhibits including maps and paintings. She also wrote the historic markers for the now extinct town of Grand Gulf, while her husband, Ed Cole Bearss, Vicksburg National Park historian from 1955-1966, wrote the markers for the Grand Gulf Military Park. In 1964, she helped to recover and restore over 10,000 artifacts taken from the USS Cairo after the ironclad gunboat was lifted from the bottom of the Yazoo River, having been sunk by two torpedoes on December 12, 1862. In later years she edited, proofread, and indexed almost every Civil War book written by Ed, who became Chief Historian of the National Park Service in Washington. She was elected to membership in the National Military Collectors and Historians and named a Fellow for her work pertaining to the USS Cairo and Grand Gulf State Park. She is recognized nationally for her vast knowledge of the Civil War but nothing remains of more interest to her than the hallowed grounds known as Champion Hill.

Rebecca Blackwell Drake, Historian and Author

     Rebecca Drake, freelance writer from Raymond, Mississippi, is the author of five Civil War books: The Battle of Raymond and Other Collected Stories (1999); In Their Own Words: Soldiers Tell the Story of the Battle of Raymond (2001); A Soldier's Story of the Siege of Vicksburg (2001); Lone Star General: Hiram B. Granbury, co-authored with Thomas D. Holder of Fort Worth, Texas (2004); and My Dear Wife ~ Letters to Matilda, co-authored with Margie R. Bearss, Arlington, Virginia, and Brandon, Mississippi (2005). She is the recipient of numerous awards including: 2001 Volunteer of the Year presented by the Mississippi Economic Development Council; 2002 William D. McCain Publication Award presented by the Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans; 2003 Resolution of Commendation presented by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for historic preservation; and in 2003 received the Daughters of the American Revolution award presented for Excellence in Community Service. Rebecca and her husband, James Drake, maintain three battlefield preservation websites; The Battle of Champion Hill, The Battle of Raymond, and Raymond’s History, and devote much of their time to battlefield preservation.

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