For East Texas Historical Journal
Review by W. T. Block
Rebel Private Front and Rear: The Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier, by William
Andrew Fletcher (reprint: Dutton, 375 Hudson, New York, N. Y. 10014),
1995 P. 224, $22.95, Paperback.
About 1907, William A. Fletcher of Beaumont, Tx., already wealthy,
retired, and in his late 60's, wrote and published his memoirs as a Confederate soldier,
and soon after publication, nearly all copies were destroyed during a fire at his home.
One copy made its way into the National Archives, and in a letter to Fletcher's daughter a
half-century ago, Margaret Mitchell acknowledged using Fletcher's book while researching
Gen. W. T. Sherman's march upon Atlanta.
Fletcher first enlisted in Co. F, 5th Texas Infantry, of Hood's
Brigade, in 1861. During ensuing years, he fought in the Seven Days' Battle Before
Richmond, and at the Battles of Second Manassas, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and
Chickamauga. He was twice wounded, at both Manassas and Chickamauga, but he soon recovered
and rejoined his unit.
After the Battle of Chickamauga, Fletcher was reassigned to the cavalry
of Terry's Texas Rangers as Gen. Joseph Johnston began his slow retreat from Chattanooga
to Atlanta. On one occasion near Rome, Georgia, Fletcher was captured, but he succeeded in
escaping after a few days. He remained a part of that command until Gen. Johnston
surrendered to Gen. Sherman near Bentonville, N. C. in April, 1865.
Fletcher returned to Beaumont, Texas, and in the course of the next 35
years, he became president and major stockholder of Long Manufacturing Company, which made
36,000,000 cypress shingles annually at Beaumont,; of Texas Tram and Lumber Company, with
sawmills at Beaumont and in Jasper County; and of the Village Mills Company sawmills in
Hardin County. By 1893, he owned 110,000 acres of Hardin and Jasper County timberlands. He
was also a master machinist and millwright, and when he could find no steam loader and log
skidder that he liked, he built and patented his own Fletcher log skidder and loader, that
he tested and perfected at Village Mills in 1895.
Fletcher also developed the "Fletcher log scale" for
measuring the board feet of stumpage of logs floated down the Neches River. That William
A. Fletcher attained national stature for his successes as a lumber manufacturer was
apparent in his biography in St. Louis Lumberman of 1892, when during a national
lumbermen's convention, he was accorded the appellation of "the old man
eloquent" for his oratory before the convention. In 1902, W. A. Fletcher sold out his
Texas Tram and Lumber Company and Village Mills Company properties, including all
timberlands, to Kirby Lumber Corporation. The old soldier died in 1915.