Letters From the War: Chapter Three
The Summer of Bull Run passed by. The two sides of the fledgling war licked their wounds. Winter arrived, carrying with it the occasional skirmish, but coordinated efforts on a grand scale were shelved until the winter snows melted and the spring of 1862 arrived.
In Washington D.C., General George McClellan assembled and trained the greatest army the planet had ever seen. They were drilled and re-drilled. They were marched and marched again. He was determined to take a fighting unit of unparalleled skill onto the next battlefield.
Meanwhile, in Richmond, General Johnston and his army waited.
It has been a long winter with constant drilling and building of fortifications, but word is filtering down to the soldiers that soon we will board a ship for a trip into battle. Of course, we are not privy to more information than that, but supplies have been taken to the docks for many days now, and we have been ordered to pack and be ready at first light tomorrow.
We are filled with pride, Julia. Our General has prepared us endlessly, but the result is, I suspect, the greatest army this earth has ever seen. Confidence will be our companion as we move out in the morning, and your love with keep me moving forward if dark times appear.
The shame and horror of Bull Run is behind us. We are a cohesive battle unit now, and there will be no further talk of retreat or defeat.
I will write when I can. Until then, darling, I remain yours.
Battle is near, my dearest. Our spies tell us the Yankees are preparing to board ships in the morning and sale down the coast. From there they will attempt to march overland to Richmond.
We will be waiting for them.
Do not worry about me, Hannah. General Johnston has a plan and I trust in the man. I am surrounded by good Southern boys who will keep me safe, and we are fighting on our land, surrounded by our friends and loyalists. Although I miss you greatly, I know that our cause is just and God will bless us with victory.
THE BATTLE OF SEVEN PINES
June 2, 1862
We were so close to total victory, only to have it taken from our grasp.
General McClellan was brilliant in marching us up the Peninsula to within sight of Richmond, only to meet a massive fighting force. We were so confident. We were so prepared. But there are times, my dearest, when the gods transpire against men, and this was one of those times. Poor communication, poor terrain, a sickening slowness in moving our troops where needed, all led to massive loss of life and injury . . . but there is no time to rest. The new Southern commander, General Lee, is now taking the fight to us. He appears confident and incapable of resting. It is against his constitution. He is not a man who waits for events to transpire but rather makes them transpire, and I fear we are now up against a formidable foe.
And so we march, and we fight! The battle along the James River had just ended when we began marching to another crossroads and another skirmish. At times we cannot see through the vegetation, but we can certainly hear the bullets as they rush towards us, and we can hear the enemy as he scuttles from bush to tree, whooping and hollering, gleeful in the way he befuddles our commanders.
Tomorrow we fight again, I believe! I shall write when I am able.
Until then, I remain yours.
June 2, 1862
We have met the largest army ever assembled on this continent and we have defeated it. The only thing which detracts from that victory is the loss of our commander, General Johnston, our beloved leader. He was replaced by General Robert E. Lee, a man in gray upon a gray horse, regal in stature, a gentle face, it is hard to believe such a gentle-looking man could be so set on fighting, but he is.
We had no sooner whipped the Yankees along the James, only a mile or so from Richmond, when General Lee ordered us to begin marching again, and the day after Seven Pines we fought again, and today the bugle sounds and another battle is certain. One suspects that General Lee has decided to fight continuously until no one stands on the field of battle and the war ends simply because there will be no more soldiers. At that point the politicians can argue amongst themselves.
We eat when we can. We sleep for ten, fifteen minutes at a time. We seem to march all day long, only stopping long enough to form ranks and protect our flank, or to attack with a shriek and overrun some meaningless plot of ground.
I am tired, Julia, so please take that into account. I fear my words are worrisome to you. I will be fine, and before long we will be reunited. Until then, I march!
The Summer of 1862 was a busy time for the armies involved in the Great Struggle. While two great armies fought continually on the eastern seaboard, out west, at a place called Shiloh, the bloodbath was so monstrous that it defied description, unlike anything ever seen on the North American continent.
It was during the Summer of 1862 that a general named Lee established a reputation that still stands today, a reputation based on courage and cunning, a reputation as one of the finest military minds this nation has ever seen. It was also during the Summer of 1862 that the North saw its darkest days, and the Union, less than one-hundred years old, was close to dissolving.
The history books chronicle the events of that summer, but they in no way capture the suffering of man. Three simple words, “war is hell,” were true then and are still true today. Politicians start wars; ordinary men pay for the foolishness with their lives, and the rest of us are left with the job of recovery.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)