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Letters From the War: Chapter Five


Our story continues as 1862 comes to a close. It was a horrific year of warfare, almost continuous during a three month period, and yet it was simply a warm-up for what was to come.

By the end of 1862 the war had transformed in the minds of the individual soldier, from a battle for principles to a battle of survival. Lofty philosophical discussions were shelved. In their place were discussions of weariness. Everyone, save the makers of weapons, was tired of the war and yet it was just hitting its stride.

Those in the trenches saw very little hope as 1863 approached.

Death occurs, in war, no matter the season

Death occurs, in war, no matter the season

DECEMBER 18, 1862

My Dearest Julia,

If I never again visit the town of Fredericksburg it will be too soon. The waters of the Rappahannock flow red from our blood, and the bodies of my friends litter the ground at the base of a hill called Marye’s Heights.

General Burnside’s plans seemed sound. We were to race through the city through an open door to Richmond before General Lee could rally his troops to stop us, but delay after delay allowed Lee to fortify in Fredericksburg. They were ready for us and it was murder. We laid pontoon bridges to cross the river upon, and they shot at us. We marched through the city and they shot at us. And then, dear God, we made charge after charge up that God-forsaken hill, them being entrenched on top and waiting for us, and their bullets tore through us like child’s play. We stumbled over the wounded and dead, racing for the bottom of that hill, foolishly trying to outrun the bullets, only to be told to get back in formation for another assault, and another, and another.

Julia, I now fear I will never again see your face.

Burnside will surely be relieved of duty. Who President Lincoln turns to for leadership is anyone’s guess at this point, but I’m sure Bobby Lee does not give a damn who he faces, so great is his confidence after the last battle. What we need, my darling, is a general who isn’t afraid of fighting. We get kicked in the face and then race back home to lick our wounds instead of following Bobby Lee and his men into hell before they can catch their breath. Everyone knows we have more men, so let’s fight them until we are the only ones with men left.

But that seems to be an unpopular opinion. I am just a soldier. What do I know about the grand plan? I go where they tell me to go and fight when called upon.

I suspect we will be inactive the remainder of the winter. The snows make marching a miserable activity, and the cold threatens to do what the Rebel bullets failed to do to the remainder of our army. We will march back to Washington and there we will spend a Christmas worth forgetting.

I send my love to you. Know I wish, with all my might, that I could be with you for Christmas, but Lincoln has other plans for your husband.



December 18, 1862

Dear Hannah,

I wish to never see killing again, my love.

What just happened at Fredericksburg cannot be called a battle.

It was a slaughter!

I saw bravery from the Union soldiers, the type of which I have never seen before. How they mustered the will to continually charge up the hill, into the endless onslaught of our bullets, is beyond me to comprehend. When it was all over the bodies dressed in blue were piled on top of each other at the base of that hill, like cords of wood, some with ghastly looks of pain and horror, some with peaceful expressions, possibly seeing, in those last moments, their loved ones back home.

I will see their faces for the rest of my life, grizzled veterans, young boys probably too young to fight, all sons and husbands and fathers, now simply memories strewn across the blood-soaked ground of a city not worth a tinker’s damn. Twelve-thousand dead, maybe more, an equal number wounded, I could hear the moaning of pain even as we marched off after the battle, for what seemed miles the sounds of misery followed us, even visiting me in my sleep at night, my companions for the remainder of my life.

There will be no Christmas with you, Hannah, and for that I grieve. No furloughs will be granted, so sure is General Lee that the Union will follow us even in winter. And so we will set up camp outside of Richmond, dream of our loved ones, and pray that the New Year brings with it an end to this madness.

Love always,


Tranquility and death are constant companions

Tranquility and death are constant companions

JANUARY 20, 1863

My Dearest Julia,

It is bitterly cold here in the nation’s capitol. I’m not sure I will ever be warm again, for I suspect part of the cold stems from the lost hope we all are trying to endure.

Is there a plan? I do not see it. All I see, in my sleep, are the ghostly apparitions of my fallen friends. Upon awakening, all I see are the blank stares of men who have lost faith. President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, and the newspapers are speaking in superlatives about it, but from my position, on this frozen camp ground, I see no difference in the war because of that proclamation.

As I sit here, by the campfire, rats race across the parade ground, some with four legs, others with two, all looking for a scrap to eat, feeding off of the great war machine. The streets of D.C. are filled daily with businessmen, weapons manufacturers, suppliers of machine parts, inventors, all looking to get rich from this war, all willing to pay a congressman for favors, and it seems obscene to me, Julia, that men get rich from war, line their pockets with shining coins while young men bleed out on frozen ground.

But these thoughts help no one, my love.

General Hooker is now in command of our army, and it is apparent we are going nowhere until a new spring campaign can be begun in more favorable weather conditions. That is perfectly fine with me. I am content to just sit here and watch others profit while I mend my uniform and daydream of you.



Dear Hannah,

And so it continues!

There will be no more fighting until the spring. It is impossible to move cannons and supply wagons over the back roads, so the two armies have chosen to repair and rest. There will be time enough for killing when the cherry blossoms arrive and the wind doesn’t stab like a knife.

A friend of mine, Johnny Maxwell, I told you about him, a farmer from Atlanta, he took off for home. Said goodnight to me and the next morning he was gone, no hint of his intentions, no farewell note, just slipped out in the dead of night heading south, I’m sure.

Lincoln stirred up a hornets’ nest with that proclamation of his. The coloreds in these parts are acting pretty uppity the past few days, talking about freedom, sassin’ a few white men, a couple were shot, a couple hanged, getting’ the point across for those who gave witness to it all. No good comes from any of it, Lincoln had to know that, no sense to it at all.

The folks around these parts are good to us, feeding us when possible, mending our clothes, giving comfort within their means, and I’m reminded daily how happy I am that we are camped here, surrounded by folks who believe as we do. The Yankees will not find a warm welcoming if they decide to venture down here in the spring and that is for sure what they plan on doing.

So worry not for me, your Jedidiah. I am reasonably safe and sound here, and although I miss you terribly, I am surrounded by friends and well-wishers, and that small comfort makes a big difference.



And death always the eventual winner

And death always the eventual winner


The zenith of the war, for the South, is about to happen in the spring of 1863. The turning point in their fortunes will happen in the summer of 1863, in a sleepy little town in Pennsylvania . . . the highs and the lows of fate. Hope based on ideals is like that, so dependent on the vagaries of a thousand different factors, all out of our control.

The ultimate price will be paid by tens of thousands of “Americans” in 1863.

But what was the product purchased?

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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

Peggy, take a look at photos of the Battle of Fredricksburg sometime...at the foot of Marye's Heights...unbelievable.

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

Bodies stacked up like cords of wood. People making money and profiting from war does not seem right. "War is hell" encapsulates it all, no matter the time, justification, or place.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on September 24, 2018:

I don't have an answer to your question, Sha! I think it might be more convenient to take the easy answer to a problem. :) Thanks so much, my friend!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 22, 2018:

Thanks for clarifying, Bill. Why does today's society have to make everything about race? History is history. It can't be undone and it shouldn't be misconstrued. All that does is create dissension, division and (misguided) rage.

I have one more chapter to read. I really enjoyed this series, Bill. I'd like to see more of this type from you.

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

More than anything else, Sha, it was a battle over state's rights, and it had been brewing in Congress for a good fifty years before the Civil War. The Southern states did not believe they were being heard in Congress, that most of the important laws were benefiting the northern cities...and they were correct in that complaint.

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

Exactly. What was the product purchased? Bill, I was taught that the Civil War was a war between the North and South. The South wanted to be separate from the Union. Why now is everyone saying it was about slavery? Here in Florida, Confederate statues are being taken down left and right. It's as if Florida is trying to wipe a huge part of history off the map. Can you set me straight on the reasons for the Civil War?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 09, 2018:

Tough questions, Lawrence....is the price of war ever worth it? I suspect vets of WW2 would say yes, but some of the others? Not likely!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on January 09, 2018:


The words 'Pyrrhic' victory come to mind, yes the North, or Union won the war, but the cost was so high that I wonder how many questioned whether it was worth the price paid?

I wonder if the world we live in today is a world they would be proud of?

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

Very true, Gilbert! It's a price ensuing generations had to pay, I'm afraid.

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

The Southern soldier's observation of murdered union soldiers is a haunting image, Bill. The North may have won the war, but at a heavy price.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 01, 2018:

Thank you Thoughtful! I was hoping to make it seem as real as possible.

Claudia Smaletz from East Coast on January 01, 2018:

I could feel the soldier's attempt to hang onto good things in the world of hell he inhabited. I enjoyed the photographs also.

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

Thank you very much, Dee! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Dianna Mendez on December 18, 2017:

You brought out the truth of war to readers. I felt despair and desperation in the words. I can only imagine what families felt when they received these letters.

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

For sure, Peg! I can only try to capture the horror of this destructive force.

Thank you, Peg,and Merry Christmas to you.

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

It's difficult to imagine the depth of destruction and sorrow these battles brought about, but you have given it life in your letters. Truly a sad and horrific time when brother turned against brother and blood flowed like a river.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 12, 2017:

All true, Genna! It was a remarkable document considering its intent and outcome.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 12, 2017:

Thank you very much,Genna! This war, more than any others, always broke my heart. It was inevitable in many ways, but we are still paying for it, and that is so sad.

Genna East on December 11, 2017:

Almost forgot -- sheesh. Sorry, Bill.

I meant to add that Lincoln issued the EP as a moral imperative in the goals of the Civil War, while sending out rallying message to Union soldiers, and another to the world - specifically, England and France.

Nevertheless, what it had to mean to those suffering and dying in the battle fields was something else entirely.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on December 11, 2017:

The Emancipation Proclamation was a legal quagmire, testing Lincoln's war powers under the Constitution and the question of "property" and the southern states' rights. But the men fighting on the ground and in the trenches and the deaths by the thousands, while war profiteers counted their profits, is just heart rending to visualize. You have given us an inescapable, living portrait of those men -- on both sides.

I have to agree with Maria in that I can't imagine receiving letters like this from the man I love, powerless to do anything to help him directly, hoping that at least some of the letters that I write in return will reach him.

This is excellent writing, Bill.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 07, 2017:

Thank you Maria! I am having a good week, dear, and I wish the same for you.



Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on December 06, 2017:

I can't imagine getting letters like this from the man I love, dear Bill.

This story delivers a double punch to my gut and my heart.

Hope you are having a good week. Love, Maria

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 04, 2017:

Thank you Chris! I need to get busy on the next chapter...thanks for the push.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on December 03, 2017:

I suppose we've all been waiting for 1863 in your story. I look forward to reading your account only because it is an event we cannot afford to forget. Like so many Americans, I've been there and tried to visualize the events. I think the one place in town that caught my imagination most was the Rupp House. But I'm getting ahead of you. Well done, Bill.

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

Thank you very much, Bill! I appreciate that.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on December 02, 2017:

You really make the ugliness of war happen here, Bill. Enjoying it much!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2017:

Thank you Rasma! We are approaching the turning point in the war, although for those who fought in it, such subtleties were lost on them.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2017:

Oh my goodness yes, Flourish! How they survived operations is a mystery I'll never understand. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2017:

all true, Manatita....our original sin as a country, slavery!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2017:

Thank you Lori! By the end of the war, I think most families could comprehend the horrors of that war....I hope we never have to find out locally.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on December 02, 2017:

Another fascinating read and I sure am looking forward to what comes next.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 01, 2017:

The bloody descriptions reminds me of the medical instruments and other memorabilia I saw at the civil war museum in Appomattox. One can only imagine the horrors they suffered.

manatita44 from london on December 01, 2017:

Food for thought. What can I say? When I read the bit about some getting rich from war, I was reminded of slavery. It had the same, or worse brutality and the callous goal of outer opulence for the rich.

Another well-written piece, my friend.

Lori Colbo from United States on December 01, 2017:

These descriptions on the horrors of war are so graphic I can see feel, and hear the war. I can't imagine what the wives felt like. Did they comprehend in any way what their men were experiencing? And the men's lives were never the same. The emotional and mental scars followed them for the rest of their lives. Good writing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 01, 2017:

Thank you very much, Mike! Having never served, it is good to hear you say that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 01, 2017:

That would be fascinating to see, Nellieanna! What a treasure trove of history those letters are. Thank you for sharing that.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 01, 2017:

There should be great difficulty in declaring war, Pop, but only soldiers seems to understand that.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on December 01, 2017:

Hello Bill - Your insight into the minds of the men who fought the battles shows your keen observations of the human condition. It's cold and I am hungry, are two prominent emotions of every soldier.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on December 01, 2017:

I have letters written between my grandfather and his brothers who were in the Civil War and their families. It's like having a magnifying glass into the way it was, though theirs were did not describe events this brutal.

breakfastpop on December 01, 2017:

Perhaps if everyone can see the war through these letters, we would come to it with great difficulty. War is hell, and there is no way around it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 01, 2017:

Thank you so much, Nikki! I really appreciate you following along.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 01, 2017:

Thank you Linda! This was a war that really couldn't be fought in bad weather. It was impossible to move the big guns and supplies in mud and snow.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on December 01, 2017:

I have hope, Jackie, but it's waning. All you say is true and it seems to be never-ending. Thank you my friend.

Nikki Khan from London on December 01, 2017:

Hi Bill,

Another amazing episode of beautiful series on war and its effects on human beings.Letters are so interestingly woven,give you an inner feeling and effect of war on us.Just loved reading it,waiting for another one.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 30, 2017:

This series is so sad, but it's important that we read it and remember the real event. I'm glad that there is a temporary respite for your characters. They've had some horrible experiences.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 30, 2017:

You have just been warming up until this one, Bill. Too bad we never learn a thing and also that the ones responsible were the ones to have to pay instead all our young men.

Even today the rich do not want to pay workers an honest dollar but hire illegals (another form of slavery) all that they can or go to another country to have another form of slavery with the poor there working themselves to death. Another problem being ignored. Will it ever end really? Is it possible?

We have to hope.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Peg, it should never have reached this point. The great politicians of those times kept ignoring the problem for decades, hoping it would go away on its own....in the end, war seemed to be the only option...seemed to be....

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Ann, I had the same feeling when I visited Gettysburg and Arlington. There was such a heavy stillness to those places, like even Nature was quiet in reverence. Thank you for mentioning that and I do not have the answer to your question, my friend.

Peace and thanks


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Dora, I do not believe in war at all. I hope it shows in this series.

Peace always, my friend

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Shannon, I have a similar mind. Deciphering was no problem. LOL

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 30, 2017:

It's always been a sad thing to remember these were battles between people who spoke the same language, yet, their views remained so far apart. I can sense some politics inching into the minds of the soldiers as the war continues.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 30, 2017:

What a viewpoint on war in general this is, bill! It makes such an important point - that all soldiers experience the same, are the same, and just obey orders. And for what? We'd all like to know the answer to that one wouldn't we?

We stopped in France at the graves of the hundreds of thousands killed on the Somme; a burdened atmosphere where the birds didn't sing even after all that time.

Great series, so well written.


Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 30, 2017:

These letters must be especially hard to write and to read at Christmastime. Glad that friendship provided a measure of comfort. Bill, you're making see patriotism and sacrifice in a whole new light.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Dennis, to me, Gettysburg is almost a religious experience. I came away feeling much as you did. I had goosebumps!

Dennis L. Page from New York/Pennsylvania border on November 30, 2017:

The Civil War was vicious and reulted in horrible losses for our country. Once, my wife and I stopped for a day visit to the Gettysburg battlefield. It was a haunting experience for both of us. As a matter of fact, our one day visit turned into three as we were mesmerized and extremely solemn walking on such hollowed ground.

Shannon Henry from Texas on November 30, 2017:

I'm lucky you deciphered that mess of a comment. It's what I get for a hurried posting.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

To answer your question, Shannon, it was not unusual at all for a boy as young as twelve to fight in the war, or at the very least to be a flag-bearer or drummer boy. Many lied about their age...in the south, those who enlisted soldiers did not pay close attention to documentation. It's just the way it was.

I love the questions you reflected on. Another thing about the Civil War...many small towns lost ALL of their men during the war. There were literally no men left in the town under the age of sixty when the war ended....how's that for a population depletion?

Thanks for your great comment!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

I see no good in war, Kari, and I would hope that my stories reflect that. Thank you for mentioning that.

Shannon Henry from Texas on November 30, 2017:

"Many of them to young to fight," you wrote. . .

I have briefly been back to the cemetery after sending you a picture of that memorial. I wanted to look at the headstones forvdeath dates. Because, as I mentioned, I wonder how many bodies of the fallen made it back to family. Iblocatedvwhere the graves are on the map, bit then my son had some fascination with finding the first person buried there, a 7 month old baby. They were walking someone's dog and this dog suddenly refused to go back down a road we only wandered down a short ways. My daughter had to walk him the opposite direction and around some graves to get back to the main road. Strange, stubborn dog dug his heals in and refused to go that direction. A little creepy since it was approaching twighlight. Had to leave anyway since it closed at sunset.

So. . .I liked their names up online and found some interesting information. None of these soldiers died during the war. They're lived into the 1900s. In fact, some died around the time my dad's mom was born in the 1920s. How's that for perspective? Makes the war seem not that long ago.

One of the guys had a father whobalso fought in the American Revolution. Again on perspective. How young our country was when the Civil War broke out. Hard to really imagine.

And then back to the quote I started with.... Some of these veterans were preteens or teens. I guess I expected the teens, but not boys as young as 11 an 12, born in 1850. Did they actually fight at the beginning of the war?

Also, some had children listed that were born during the war. So I guess they had opportunity for furrow or something at least briefly.

One story that seemed particularly sad to me was a man whobwarned married three times. His first wife died before the war and the second during the war. Made me wonder if he was there with her when she died or off fighting somewhere. How and when did he get the news?

Sigh. . .history and questions. And imagination. Thanks for using yours to share some insight here.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 30, 2017:

Your story brings to me the hurt and anguish of those at war. Not just the Civil War, but all wars. "But what was the product purchased?"

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Mary, I haven't read anywhere that letters were censored. Many of them didn't make it home because of disrupted mail flow, or mail trains being destroyed, but I think most of the letters actually made it home uncensored.

Thanks for being here and have a great weekend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Thank you very much, Janine! That means a lot to me. Happy Thursday to you, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

I suspect, Eric, I would start out sugarcoating, but at some point I would imagine it would be too much.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Thank you Linda! I tried to make them realistic. I've read quite a few real letters from that war, so I think I'm close.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 30, 2017:

These are so sad to read and yet, I'm sure they are so close to letters written at that time. When a nation takes up arms in a civil war, it's like brothers fighting.

Do you know, were letters censored back then or were the troops never told much.

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on November 30, 2017:

You most definitely captured the essence of war and what it must be like to be a soldier during wartime. So, perfectly written and expressed here today. Now wishing you a wonderful Thursday ahead, my friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 30, 2017:

Well done Bill. These letters oozed despair. It makes me wonder if I would write such letters. I think I would sugar coat them and hold off on the terror. But then some 150 years later we would not have them. Hmmm

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on November 30, 2017:

Bill, I know that these letters are fiction, but they are probably very close to what was actually being written, or thought. The sadness, the utter feeling of defeat and loss of hope is just heartbreaking.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

I think of how close I was to going to Vietnam, Zulma, and I often wonder if I would have made it out of that war sane. No wonder so many of our boys were high during combat . . . I can't imagine not being high in that kind of hell.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on November 30, 2017:

'Julia, I now fear I will never again see your face.'

It's heartbreaking when someone loses hope.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

Thank you very much, Nell! Having never fought in a war, I'm pretty much using history as inspiration, so your words are encouraging.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 30, 2017:

And bless you, Frank, and thank you! This is one of my favorite fascinations, the effects of war on the soldier and the price paid.

Nell Rose from England on November 30, 2017:

It sends a shiver down my back when you see these. I know its not real, but having read real letters from the first world war its so spooky to know that they are no longer with us, and in fact a long time gone. You certainly know how to create atmosphere! lol!

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 30, 2017:

I think I have to go back to bring myself current with your letters from the war... every time I read these types of hubs..I get a good feel.. Bless you

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