Skip to main content
Updated date:

Letters From The War: Chapter Four

1862 Was the Year Things Became Real

It was a summer bathed in blood. One look at the historical timeline will tell you that, day after day of conflict, some skirmishes, some major battles, all a toll on the average soldier and the nation.

The chapters of this story are told with an eye on the eastern seaboard and the ongoing struggle between the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. There were, of course, other struggles, along the Gulf Coast, up and down the Mississippi and the Ohio River Valleys, each day adding to the body count; each day adding to the misery.

The long march continues

The long march continues

September 1 Near Washngton D.c.

September 1, 1862

My Dearest Julia,

Never let anyone tell you that war is about nations, or political theories, or philosophies. War is nothing more than man killing man. I do not know what Mister Lincoln is thinking at this moment, nor do I care. I do not know what our generals are planning, nor do I care. My only concern, the only thing which allows me one moment of sanity, is protecting myself and the men I fight with. Things like freedom, states’ rights, slavery, those are issues debated in political arenas and argued by old men playing checkers on front porches. For us, the soldiers, the only reality is staying alive. Our flag is tattered, as are we.

Gaines Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, the locations change daily but the killing remains the same. I cannot shield you from the ugly truth, Julia. Without a doubt, by now, you have heard the reports. This war is gruesome. We march and we fight, and we do it daily. I have seen men fall asleep while marching in the middle of the night, disturbing sounds from the ever-present woods echoing in their dreams, as their feet automatically move forward.

Today we march back to Washington after two months “visiting” the southern territory, after two days on a revisited battlefield, Bull Run, where we once again lost in battle, where we once again were pushed to the limits of our very limited military skills. Our leadership is in disarray, we are bloodied and battered, and much in need of time to lick our considerable wounds.

I shall write once we reach the capitol. Until then, I remain yours always.


September 1, 1862

My Hannah,

I will say this about General Lee: the man does not know how to yell “Uncle!” He apparently is not aware, or he simply does not care, that he is outnumbered in every possible way. He just keeps ordering attacks, forced marching in the middle of the night, and more attacks. The loss of life is staggering. Despite that, our hopes have never been higher as once again we have the Yankees on the run. Heaven help us if the North ever puts a capable military man in charge of its sizeable force. I fear, if that day ever arrives, we will surely lose this war.

Despite our recent successes, my darling, we are not doing well. I wish so to shield you from the truth but surely by now you know anyway. Our clothes are mere rags upon our bodies. Our meals are infested with rodents and bugs. More men die daily from infections and diseases than from Yankee bullets, our field doctors resembling meat butchers more than men of medicine.

We have once again been victorious at Bull Run and now we are marching towards Maryland. What the purpose is we may never know, but Bobby Lee is determined to press forward into the North.

I wish, badly, to tell you that I am fighting for our freedom, Hannah, but in truth I am simply trying to stay alive long enough to once again see your face. That is the reality of war for any soldier, to simply stay alive until the madness ends.

May God bless you, Hannah, and may God bless our cause, whatever that might be

Love always


Where is the enemy?

Where is the enemy?

October 1, 1862 Somewhere in Virginia

October 1, 1862

My Dearest Julia,

We are slowly following Lee and his army into Virginia after defeating him in Maryland along a small creek named Antietam.

Words fail me. I say we defeated Lee, and I have no doubt the newspapers will call it a Union victory, since they retreated first, but that is a hard truth to see from our camp. Over twenty-two thousand men died along that small creek. Another sixteen-thousand were wounded. A small creek in the middle of nowhere, with no more importance than one flea on one hound, and the ground was littered with the dead and dying.

And for what? For a political claim of victory? From where I sit, on this stump, in the middle of endless forest, I see no victories. All I see is blood. All I hear is misery. All I want is one night when the nightmares do not overcome my sleep. Instead we will march tomorrow, and we will march the next day, and we will all try to keep the nightmares at bay, try to stay alive, and one day return home to our loved ones.

Desertions are rising in number. Julie, although I strongly sympathize, I cannot allow myself to desert. My friends, to my left and right, need me, and I need them. This is my reality. This is my truth. The life I once knew no longer exists. I do not know of a future beyond this evening.



October 1, 1862

My Darling Hannah,

We are being pursued south through Virginia. There is no end to it.

I do not know who won at Sharpsburg, along that small creek Antietam. In truth I do not care about such matters. I simply want to return home to your loving arms.

Would any good be served by telling you of the suffering? I think not. The newspapers will tell you all you need to know, my darling. I am reasonably well. I was hit by flying debris when a shell exploded near me, but it was not worthy of a visit to the hospital tent and for that I am grateful. Those butchers kill more men than they save. My arm is not permanently affected by the wound and it is already showing signs of healing so please, do not fret over such things. As long as you receive letters from me, I remain healthy and well.

Is there an end to this? If there is, I do not see it. We are like two mongrel dogs locked in a forever grip of struggle, neither one willing to let go of the prized stick. One drags the other in one direction, and the next day the roles are reversed. There are no advantages or disadvantages large enough to make a difference, and as long as there are sufficient numbers of men to call an army, this fight will continue.

I will tell you, only, that I wish to lay down my weapon and just quit. I can see no sense to this any longer. But I will remain, for I owe it to my friends, and they owe the same to me.

Love forever,

Your Jedidiah




The Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, was the first significant victory for the North, and led directly to the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in January, 1863. It also assured that the British would not formally recognize the South as a separate nation and as such would remain neutral regarding the American struggle.

And the worst was yet to come!

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 26, 2020:

That is true, I think, of almost all soldiers in all wars, Peggy, and that's what I was trying to portray in those letters. Thank you!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 25, 2020:

Those letters to their wives must have been hard to read and absorb. It is easy to understand that the battle-worn soldiers no longer cared about politics. Being there to support their comrades in arms was essential to them. Just staying alive and returning home to their families would have been their highest priority.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 22, 2018:

I don't believe they do survive, Sha! I don't see how they can continue life without being profoundly affected by the war.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 21, 2018:

Bill, I can't fathom the life of a soldier. I honestly don't think I'd ever recover if I saw such death and mutilation on a daily basis. Shoot, not even if just once!

Allegiance to warring comrades seems to replace bravery and believing/fighting for a cause. It comes down to survival. But does anyone really survive war?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 05, 2018:

Thank you Gilbert! Many soldiers died after the war had ended exactly because of that.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on January 04, 2018:

Bug and rodent infested diseases combined with hunger became just as bad as flying bullets in the prolonged miserable war, good inclusion, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 28, 2017:

Thank you very much, Lawrence, and Happy New Year to you and yours.


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 27, 2017:


I love history, always have, and always will, but these hubs make things come alive.

Sitting down and writing to a loved one is probably what every soldier thinks about on the eve of battle, and your description that the two men give, I can well imagine them sat there, pencil and whatever writing material they can find in hand.

Well done

And happy new year


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 03, 2017:

Thank you so much,Genna! I can echo your thoughts about learning history in school. History isn't dates. History is the chronicle of people, and should always be learned from that vantage point.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 03, 2017:

Hi Bill...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of Bruce Catton before, but I'm sure he is honored with your dedication.

Your in-depth knowledge of US history has enriched some fo your stories, and now, these letters from Samuel to Julia, and Jedidiah to Hannah -- from both sides of the endless "brother against brother" fighting. (And so many thought that the Civil War would be over in just a few short months.)

My one complaint about learning history in school (I wish we'd had a teacher like you!), was the tedious memorization of facts and dates, with little insight into the people who lived those year -- they were more than words on a page, or images on canvass.

What these men had to endure is terrible. No wonder Abe's portraits seemed to have aged over a decade during his years in office. Your letters are just riveting, and take us into the hearts of these men, the battlefields, the encampments and more. This is one history lesson I will remember, always. Excellent writing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 27, 2017:

Thank you Peg! I live in a pretty awesome part of the country. All I have to do is point and shoot.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 27, 2017:

I forgot to mention that your photos are awesome! Especially love the one with the path through the undergrowth. Enchanting.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 25, 2017:

Nasty stuff, medical procedures back then. I think I would take my chances with Lady Luck, Zulma!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 25, 2017:

Thank you very much, Nikki! I appreciate the kind words.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on November 25, 2017:

I agree with Chris about avoiding the surgeons. 'Gone With the Wind' makes for some cringe-worthy reading on that front.

Nikki Khan from London on November 24, 2017:

Sad memories and war effects,,touches your heart deep inside.Brilliant work,,will go through other parts too.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 24, 2017:

Thank you Chris, and I wish for you a belated Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on November 23, 2017:

A simple shoulder wound in that environment could be deadly. But he was probably wise to avoid the surgeons. Very real, Bill. Thanks again.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 23, 2017:

And hugs and a Happy Thanksgiving to you, Maria.



Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 23, 2017:

Compelling, authentic and pulls at my heart strings ...

On this Thanksgiving Day, I wish you and Bev a day of peace, love and many smiles. Love, Maria

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 21, 2017:

Thank you very much, Rasma! The war will continue nextweek.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on November 21, 2017:

Fascinating and sad to read but looking forward to more. Thanks for adding the videos.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 19, 2017:

So very true, Zulma! Flag waving is for those safe in their beds back home.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 19, 2017:

And blessings to you, Shyron, and my sincere sorrow for your loss.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 19, 2017:

Thank you Bill! Every soldier I've ever talked to who has seen action has said the same thing. The war becomes a condensed scene, maybe 100 square feet, and the efforts to stay alive within that scene.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on November 19, 2017:

It seems that both sides are united in one thing: staying alive. This seems to be a common theme in conflicts the world over. When the reality of war sets in, the survival instinct takes over and all the high ideals go out the window. The only thing that matters is going home.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on November 18, 2017:

Bill, this is a look at the realities of war on both sides, it is sad but, that is the way it is.

Blessings my friend.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 18, 2017:

Bill, I must say, out of all that you wrote, this stood out in monster letters - "That is the reality of war for any soldier, to simply stay alive until the madness ends." You really bring the past to life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 18, 2017:

Thank you Mike! It helps to hear that from someone who has served.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 18, 2017:

Thank you so much, Peg! It's nice to know I'm not becoming stagnant in my writing. I don't see growth all the time.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on November 17, 2017:

Hello Bill - I like the way the soldiers, both blue and gray, try to shield those at home. A very realistic portrayal.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 17, 2017:

Likely this is your best work to date in its realism, its truth and in revealing the true nature of battle, "Like two mongrel dogs locked in a forever grip of struggle." So very sad.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

Aww, thanks Pop! Maybe one day I'll find the time.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

Thanks once again, Linda! I do hope we one day remember AND learn from it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

Kari, warfare boiled down to its most basic element, man trying to stay alive. Thank you for being here.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

For sure, Eric, and that's what we are left with, much food for thought and hopefully reflections which will lead to change.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

Not new, Manatita, and not about to end soon, I'm afraid. Blessings and peace, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

Alan, your last statement about WWI, in the trenches, we so, so accurate. Many similarities for sure....modern weaponry meets military tactics of a bygone era. The results are horrible. Technology will always stand tall in that "battle." Thanks for the mini history lesson.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 17, 2017:

Mary, other than arms dealers, I don't know who would "enjoy" a war. You and I have seen far too much of it.

breakfastpop on November 17, 2017:

Your portrayal of war through these letters is beyond moving. This series is worthy of a book.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 16, 2017:

The sadness, misery, and terrible conditions of the real-life situation are very evident in the letters, Bill. It's important that we learn about the situation and remember it.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 16, 2017:

I'm really enjoying this, but this one makes me so sad. How true that the politics do not mean much to the people fighting. Staying alive is all.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 16, 2017:

Thanks Bill this is great work. "Letters". Waiting for them and sending them. Interesting to ponder.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

Flourish, I seriously doubt that we have recovered. This is a moment in time that continues to haunt us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

Thank you Larry! That's a lesson my dad hammered home to his son.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

Thank you Lori! War should deeply stir a person's heart.

manatita44 from london on November 16, 2017:

Another interesting one. The history is beyond me, but yes, sometimes men are fighting just to stay alive and their thoughts are naturally on their loved ones. I bet that they ask themselves a few questions also.

What to do? man's inhumanity to man is not new. Heaven help us.

Another great read.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 16, 2017:

It was only the mention by Lincoln in a speech of slavery in the South that saw Britain, France and Spain distance themselves from the Confederate cause. Until then Europe was content to sell weaponry and ammunition to a Confederacy that lacked heavy industry that was mostly north of the Mason-Dixon Line (these two were British surveyors).

We've had civil wars in the past, 'dressed up' as family feuds such as the one against Henry III by Simon de Montfort, the later dispute between descendants of Edward III - Edward IV, the 'Rose of Rouen' was a bastard son of Yorkist duke Richard's wife Cecily Neville and an English archer whilst Richard was on campaign in Picardy. His opposite number was Henry VI, son of the warrior king Henry V, who was ushered by his wife the savage Margaret into war. Then we had the 'official' Civil War between Parliament and Charles I that led to 'Chuckie' parting company with his head on a cold January morning. We've managed to avoid countless 'near misses' since we were kicked out of the American colonies after Yorktown under Lord Cornwallis. George the Prince Regent only held onto the tiller by virtue of Parliament extracting his purse. Otherwise he might have gone the same way as Louis across the water in France. Georgie Washington was only saved from the scaffold by European purse strings.

Such is the difference between treason and patriotism, alliances and blocs.

An edifying piece of writing, Bill. It could just as easily have been about WWI in the Trenches, the next 'show'.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 16, 2017:

All the motivation in these men has gone.

I can imagine the wives waiting for the next letter as proof their husband is still alive.

Another moving installment, great read.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 16, 2017:

I've attended reenactments of Civil War, visited local museums dedicated to the Civil War and even the Confederate White House and museum (amazing place), and it's so important to remember the reality and bitterness that engulfed this nation during this time. You capture well some of the emotional misery and loneliness.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on November 16, 2017:

I love the way you demonstrate that war has no purpose moral or otherwise to the warrior. There is only survival.

Very insightful and deeply sounded out.

Lori Colbo from United States on November 16, 2017:

The first letter particularly moved me. The reality for him and his comrads is that the purpose of the war has been lost. It's only about killing, blood, and staying alive. Samuel sounds so despondent, full of futility. My heart is deeply stirred in this story.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

Oh, those pesky neighbors, Ann. Best of luck with them, and we all need a therapeutic Thursday, so thank you.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

That is my goal, Jackie, so thank you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

No, Linda, it won't, but wouldn't it be nice if it did? We would be war-free within weeks.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

I really appreciate that, Kristen. Thank you!

Ann Carr from SW England on November 16, 2017:

Cynic? Never! You and I both; I totally agree.

A Twinkling-Turquoise Thursday is just what I need, so thank you, bill. Neighbour getting worse but hey, others are supporting and I'd rather have the balance that way!

A therapeutic Thursday to you, bill.


Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 16, 2017:

You bring out the real horrors of war, Bill, that go way beyond fighting for a cause.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on November 16, 2017:

Bill, you are doing a wonderful job of bringing this story to life, giving it real feeling with real people.

The numbers of casualties are just beyond comprehension. To lose 22,000 is like simply wiping Mercer Island off of the map. If politicians and generals were the ones putting their lives in peril there would probably be no wars. Unfortunately, that will never happen.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on November 16, 2017:

Bill, this was a great epistolary short story excerpt for the Civil War. You're such a good storyteller and do write real well. Nice work.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

Ann, thank you! I suspect, and you can call me a cynic if you want, but I suspect there are people making money from wars, and as long as that is the case, wars will continue.

I have become so jaded in my old age.:)

Wishing you a Twinkling-Turquoise Thursday!


Ann Carr from SW England on November 16, 2017:

Just goes to show that any soldier experiences the same and all end up just fighting for a cause they don't really understand. Even those that direct don't seem to know in the end. And so it goes on today.....

When, oh when, will they all wake up?

Brilliant portrayal of how it was, up front and personal.

Well done, bill.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

The older I get, RoadMonkey, the more I'm convinced you are correct in your statement. People get rich, people die, nothing changes.

RoadMonkey on November 16, 2017:

Wars seem to be fought to enrich those who make weapons! For the ordinary soldier, it is as you say, no sleep, no food, no glory and death ever present.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 16, 2017:

It was a sad war, Mary, as they all are. Thank you for being here.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 16, 2017:

It is sad to read these letters and war has not ceased in spite of its pointlessness.

Related Articles