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Letters From the War: Chapter Six

1863 Has Arrived

It was a brutal year of warfare, pitting antiquated military tactics against modern weapons. The result was all too predictable.

It was a year of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, of Vicksburg, Chickamagua and Chattanooga, and dozens of other “skirmishes” which added to the carnage.

It was a year of death across the country. During a three-day period in a small town in Pennsylvania, over 50,000 men lost their lives . . . imagine that much death littering the ground in such a small space . . . and still the lesson was not learned and the pain continued.

Death rides among us

Death rides among us

MAY 14, 1863

My Dear Julia,

We have once again left a battlefield feeling defeated. I am now of the belief that the great General Lee cannot be defeated. He appears to be invincible and incapable of making an error while in the heat of battle. How else can one explain his ability to win battles despite being terribly outnumbered?

The losses at Chancellorsville were horrendous for both sides. The Rebels lost their great commander, Stonewall Jackson. Rumor has it he died from friendly fire, a shot fired in the dark by a panicked sentry. Our own General Hooker, so confident going into battle, now keeps to himself and appears to all who see him to be a shell of the man he was before the battle began. What President Lincoln does from this point forward is anyone’s guess, but there are many calling for Hooker’s replacement. My God, Julia, if the President could find a commander to ably lead us into battle . . . but I’m not sure that man exists on our side. Does the equal of General Lee exist? I have my doubts.

And so we march once again, my love. We are now heading northward, once again leaving the area of Richmond for northern soil. We know not the plan. We only know to march, one foot in front of the other, always on guard, always wondering if our names will soon be added to the register of the dead, whether our time here will be marked by a small white cross on a green hill.

Forgive me, darling, for my dark mood. I lost several close friends in that last battle, and their absence from my life weighs heavily on me. I pray you are well and that one day soon I may join you once again on our farm.

Love always,

Your Samuel

May 14, 1863

Dear Hannah,

We were victorious once again, my dearest. We are brimming with confidence despite the heavy loss of our brave soldiers at a crossroads named Chancellorsville and the devastating loss of General Jackson.

We will rest for a few days and then Bobby Lee will march us north into the enemy’s home, so confident he is that we cannot be defeated no matter where we fight. I suspect he is correct in that assessment, Hannah. The northern boys, brave though they are, are lacking in leadership, and that may well be their undoing.

My God, Hannah, the bravery I have seen, on both sides, acts of courage which defy proper explanation or description.

It is hard to fathom, the peacefulness of camp on this day, a mere seven days after such a horrible scene. The sun rises, as it always does, on this pastoral setting, trees fully in bloom, the campfire smoke drifting slowly upwards towards a blue sky, birds singing, men laughing, while three miles away bodies rot under that same sun, in sight of those same birds, the sounds of camp laughter unable to reach that scene of carnage.

Supplies are no longer reaching us in great numbers. Our uniforms are in tatters, but food is plentiful in this “friendly” area with farmers giving us what we need. Once we march north I suspect we will have to live off the land and find provisions wherever they are available. I doubt the northern farmers will be so eager to feed our troops.

I send you my love, Hannah. Know that I am with you always.

Your Jedidiah

and among us

and among us

The Turning Point, July 5, 1863

JULY 5, 1863

My Dearest Julia,


I wondered if I would ever be able to write that word to you, but sitting here in camp, two miles outside the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I am finally able to report on a positive outcome. For once we arrived at a battlefield before General Lee and his army, and we were able to prepare fortifications in advance of the enemy’s arrival.

I will never again doubt the bravery of the southern boys. Against overwhelming numbers they fought like men possessed. Three times I saw them fall into formation and march across a mile of open ground into the teeth of an artillery attack. They fell like wheat to the scythe and yet they continued to advance. There was a peach orchard, Julia, so littered with the dead that a man could have walked across that orchard stepping on the bodies of southern boys and never once touching the ground.

I do not know what the press will write concerning that battle, Julia, but what they should write about is the determination of the men and their willingness to follow orders despite the near-certainty of death. In truth, Julia, I do not know how I have survived this long. There but for the grace of God, my love. Defending one hill I had men on both sides of me fall to the bullets and yet I was untouched. The whistling and explosion of shells so close as to render me temporarily deaf and yet not one fragment struck me. I can only consider it a miracle, and I am left to wonder what God’s plan is for me, for Him to have spared me injury thus far.

It is rumored that over 50,000 bodies remain in and around the town of Gettysburg. I suspect that number is accurate.

We are now slowly following the Rebels back into southern territory. I suspect, after such horrible losses, General Lee will not be eager to return to the north anytime soon. I do not know how much longer this war will last, Julia, but I sense a turning point at Gettysburg. I hope that sense is correct.



My Dearest Hannah,

There is great misery in our camp today, my darling. In a town named Gettysburg we suffered horribly, and now word has reached us that the southern fortress of Vicksburg has fallen as well. The Southern Cause has felt the lash of the whip for sure.

I do not know what the historians of the future will say about Gettysburg, but for those of us who answered the call of General Pickett and rushed across a mile of open ground into the teeth of the Yankee guns, Gettysburg will always be associated with the word insanity. There was no hope of achieving our objective, the taking of that distant hill, and yet we were called upon three times to march forward. In truth, Hannah, I do not know why I was spared while so many around me fell. It can only be the grace of God, Hannah. He was with me on that day.

A friend saw General Lee weeping as we retreated, and well he should lest he become too fond of this exercise in pain.

I am weary, my love, and must sleep while the opportunity is given me. You remain in my heart with each step I take.



and among us

and among us

The Inevitable Begins

The victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg were not only important from a military standpoint for the North, but they were also an important morale boost. Still, the war would grind on for almost another two years.

A new leader was emerging out west, along the Mississippi River, a man unafraid to fight, a man who respected General Lee greatly but was not in awe of him. Samuel’s wish for an able leader was about to happen as a short, rumpled man by the name of Ulysses S. Grant slowly and methodically took control of that great river.

And President Lincoln noticed!

Inevitable? The cards were stacked against the South from the very beginning. The industrial might of the North and sheer overwhelming number of soldiers, a seemingly endless supply of soldiers, would be too much for the South to overcome. All they needed was a military leader who understood that, and in Grant they found that leader.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 27, 2020:

Thank you very much for your kind words, Peggy. I really do appreciate it. Stay safe this weekend.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 26, 2020:

You brought this story to life in such an expert manner. I am in awe of your writing skills as an author. Too bad so many men had to die in our Civil War. Those numbers of losses were astounding! It took a long time to heal after that war, and it continues to this day for some.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 25, 2018:

Sha, Gettysburg was magical when I visited it. I would have loved to see that miniature reenactment. That would have been so cool.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 24, 2018:

Bill, when I was in Catholic school in Philly, one of our many field trips was to Gettysburg. There we visited the Gettysburg Museum of History. There was a theater there where down below the balcony seating was a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. Thousands of miniature soldiers, horses, artillery, etc. put on a show in complete darkness. It was amazing to see and hear. Before leaving this comment, I googled the museum. It seems that show no longer exists. I feel fortunate to have experienced it. Philly (and Catholic school) really was an awesome place to learn about history first hand.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 28, 2018:

Lawrence, I think, reading some of the letters from the soldiers that were there, that it did seem like madness. I can't even imagine.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 27, 2018:


It must have seemed like madness at the time, charging across almost a mile of open country to get at an enemy that was waiting for you, and with all the weapons of modern warfare, it must have seemed insane, but crazier things have worked in the past!

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

Accurate statement, Gilbert! It was the turning point, that and the victory at Vicksburg. I wonder if those present realized that.

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

Interesting turning point in our history, Bill. It seemed the North felt frustrated by the victories of Robert E. Lee, but then their spirits were invigorated with a positive outcome at Gettysburg.

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

Thank you Genna! Have you been to Gettysburg? Powerful experience, standing on that battlefield.

Merry Christmas dear friend!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 23, 2017:

And then came Gettysburg, the turning point in the Civil War. But at a horrific cost with huge casualties. Such powerful visualizations, Bill. (This wasn't some movie, where the director yells, "Cut!" and the extras rise to their feet, wiping away the fake mud and blood before heading to the lunch trucks.) And then there was Grant, who would later parlay his victories to a ride to the White House. It is hard to keep the tears from my eyes as I think of Julia and Hannah, and fear for them, for the day those letters might stop coming. Excellent writing.

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

Aww, shoot, Maria, it weren't nothin'

Thank you my dear. I appreciate you during this holiday season . . . and always!



Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on December 23, 2017:

What a tale of perspective, dear Bill - chilling to the bone.

This story shows a true mastery of your craft.

Love to you and Bev,


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

Thank you Mary! I don't think they ever recover to a normal life and that is a price we al pay.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on December 18, 2017:

How could men who have seen such carnage ever return to a "normal" way of life? It's as true today.

Seeing people who you spoke with moments before blown apart inches from where you stand. As you say, some must have felt guilty and wondered why they were spared.

As always, a great read.

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

Peg, I can't imagine! For that matter, having anyone in the military must carry that weight of worry...will today be the day an official car pulls into the driveway with the horrible news?

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on December 18, 2017:

I'm trying to imagine the impact of receiving such a heart-wrenching letter from a loved one. What fear and uneasiness must have accompanied each mail delivery for those left behind and for those who wrote of these horrific battles. You paint a vivid picture.

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

Thank you Rasma! I appreciate you very much.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on December 18, 2017:

Another fascinating journey into history. Looking forward to more.

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

Thank you Bill! I greatly appreciate it.

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

Thank you very much, Kari! Maybe one day we will learn, as a country, the lessons the dead are trying to teach us.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on December 17, 2017:

Another masterful piece, Bill. I love the mix of history and fiction. I'm ready for the next one!

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on December 16, 2017:

Although the thought of all that slaughter makes me sick, I am enjoying your story. I like the way you get it all told through letters. :)

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

Beautiful, Eric! Thank you my friend, and blessings during this holiday season.

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

Thank you so much, Nikki! Merry Christmas to you and yours as well.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 15, 2017:

Wonderfully done friend. I spent some years preaching and giving arguments to Juries. And you reminded me to look this up; ""the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."" By our great leader Lincoln. It keeps our words humble in sight of those who gave so much more.

And yet through your words - as clearly Lincoln was wrong about the Gettysburg Address - you speak to my heart and remind me to give praise.

Nikki Khan from London on December 15, 2017:

Of course, the pain and fear can be imagined through your letters.I feel so sad for those who been in war and their families’ misery as losing their loved ones.

Merry Christmas to you and your family Bill.

Have a good one.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 15, 2017:

Thank you Pop, and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas as well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 15, 2017:

I appreciate that, Nikki! Thank you very much. Since I've never served, it is hard for me to imagine the pain, frustration, and fear they must have felt.

breakfastpop on December 15, 2017:

Another fabulous installment depicting the horrors of war. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Billy.

Nikki Khan from London on December 15, 2017:

What a masterpiece Bill,,you depicted war letters very creatively and soldiers’letters depict the tragedy of wars on humans and how wars change everything so quickly.

So tragic to read, can only imagine how those soldiers actually felt who were fighting there.

You wrote it very well Bill,,God Bless you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 15, 2017:

Thank you Nell, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 15, 2017:

Thank you again, Ann!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 15, 2017:

Thank you Nithya! I'm very happy that you stopped by.

Nell Rose from England on December 15, 2017:

So much more personal reading the letters than listening to history, another great Job! hope you have a wonderful Christmas Bill!

Ann Carr from SW England on December 15, 2017:

I will be as soon as I get on that plane (even though I hate flying!). Wishing you and family a fantastic Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year, bill!


Nithya Venkat from Dubai on December 14, 2017:

The victories was a moral boost but it came at a very high price of losing so many precious lives. Learning about the details of the war as I read.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Dora, I completely agree. There is nothing glorious about war. Thank you for that comment.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 14, 2017:

Heavy hearts and dark moods despite the battles won, make us aware that there in nothing glorious about war. So happy for the soldiers who had the love of their wives to help keep them sane.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Ann, that is very kind of you. Thank you dear friend, and I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

A great many for sure, Manatita! I can think of a handful that could be justified, but not many more than that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Don't we all, Zulma? Don't we all!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Thank you Frank! I've read some real letters from that war and I am still amazed at how lovely they were.

Ann Carr from SW England on December 14, 2017:

You continue to provide this unbiased account of such atrocities, as is the way with wars.

The tone adds to the drama, matter of act but with such emotion.

I salute you, bill, as you do wonders with this difficult subject.


manatita44 from london on December 14, 2017:

Yes, God's plan, I agree and add, 'as always.' For you portray exceptionally, what seems like sure defeat for one side and it looks like the tables are stilll turning.

Arjuna fought against overwhelming odds on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. So many great heroes on the enemy side. Yet Sri Krishna was on his side, so they won. Oh the senselessness of war - not in all cases, perhaps, but in a great many. Peace.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on December 14, 2017:

It's funny how both Samuel and Jedidiah wonder about God's plan for them. I wonder myself.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on December 14, 2017:

These letters just show us how captivating writing can be with beautiful observations through victory and battle... even though they're far away.. you find them still here in letters

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Ain't that the truth, Clive?

Thank you sir!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Thank you Linda! I don't want to be too graphic, but still I want the full weight of the horror to be understood.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Linda, yes to all of your questions. I read somewhere once that a full 40% of the Civil War deaths were from disease and poor medical care....but the 50,000 dead at Gettysburg were actually from wounds on that battlefield.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on December 14, 2017:

"I do not know what the press will write concerning that battle, Julia, but what they should write about is the determination of the men and their willingness to follow orders despite the near-certainty of death."

The good will always die for someone else's cause.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 14, 2017:

There were some horrible events on each side of the conflict. You've described this horror very well, Bill.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2017:

Bill, so much carnage. But considering the lack of supplies, the brutal landscape, and the dead bodies I wonder how many of those deaths came from starvation, hypothermia or disease? Were there suicides? Deserters shot? What a shameful page in our Nation's history.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

I fear that as well, Jackie! I still think wars should be fought by the old men who think they are necessary.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

A combination of both, Flourish! Many mass graves, man unmarked graves, and many made it back home eventually.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2017:

Well, Meg, I'm glad you decided to follow along. Thank you!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 14, 2017:

Makes me think of Hamburger Hill...no doubt we need our armies but those who lead and control should have to answer for the unnecessary slaughter. Men should not be numbers which I fear in war is all they are.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 14, 2017:

With all the bodies strewn about, it makes me feel onset if everyone got buried and if so was it in individual graves?

RoadMonkey on December 14, 2017:

What carnage is left by war. When will we ever learn. It is good to see this being written from both sides. I had originally intended not to follow this series but found myself unable to resist the points of view from footsoldiers on both sides.

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