Updated date:

Letters From the War: Chapter Three

Moving Forward

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.

Bull Run after the war had moved on

Bull Run after the war had moved on

APRIL 1862

Dear Julia,

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.



Dear Hannah,

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.



Tranquility, and then....

Tranquility, and then....


June 2, 1862

Dear Julia,

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

Dear Julia,

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 aftermath

The aftermath


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)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 25, 2020:

Three simple words, Peggy...war is hell...and yet we keep going there. :(

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 24, 2020:

"War is hell," was true during the Civil War and remains so today. Both sides thought that they were engaged in a just cause. Of course, with hindsight and history, minds do have a way of being changed. Sometimes change happens fast, and at other times, change is slow to come. Some of both happened at the end of the war.

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

That's so much, Sha! I'm glad you enjoyed this series.

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

Powerful closing paragraph, Bill! And so, so true.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on January 08, 2018:

Thank you very much, Natalie! This was a fun exercise for me.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on January 07, 2018:

Your ability to continue telling the story of the war from different perspectives through letters makes this an interesting and informative read. I fully intend to keep reading and see how you handle the rest of the story.

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

Thank you very much, Gilbert. I always found that fascinating, that the northern soldier respected Lee so much.

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

Excellent method used to personify the fear and respect union blue-coat soldiers felt toward Robert E. Lee.

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

Michael my friend, thank you! You have a large heart and I love you as friends truly love.

Michael Milec on December 27, 2017:

These letters contain cruelty of war the first-hand. A man loving, loyal, peaceful citizen, changes unto uncompromising soldier who sees righteousness done in the death of an enemy. (Though on both sides, they are just beautiful people.)

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

Lawrence, I agree with you and General Norm...thanks for adding that.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 18, 2017:


I think it was General 'Stormin Norman's Schwartzkopf said "No one hates war more than the soldier"

I think that is true in every generation.

This was compelling reading.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 13, 2017:

Thank you Maria and the same wish for you.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 13, 2017:

Agreed my friend!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 13, 2017:

Solid, steady and compelling - just like you, dear Bill.

Wishing you a wonderful week. Love, Maria

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on November 12, 2017:

I understand. It's hard to describe and hard to comprehend it if you haven't experienced it yourself.

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

Thank you very much, Zulma! I'm just trying to understand that level of fatigue and fear, and it's hard.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on November 12, 2017:

You could tell Jedidiah was tired. His letter seemed less guarded. Nice touch, Bill. You really understand your characters.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 10, 2017:

Indeed it is, Chris! Indeed it is! Thank you sir!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 10, 2017:

Thank you very much, Manatita! I need to get busy on the next chapter.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 10, 2017:

Thank you Lori! You are appreciated!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on November 09, 2017:

War is hell; the perfect summary.

manatita44 from london on November 09, 2017:

Brilliant summary. More fast-paced this time and with some heroes too. I guess we can say that there is artistry in all things. Who knows the ways of the Lord. Excellent letters overall. Great series.

Lori Colbo from United States on November 09, 2017:

You've made the history books come alive (no revisions). I can see, taste, and feel the battleground and their feelings. Nice creative historical presentation.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 08, 2017:

Very true, Shyron! May we all find peace soon.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 08, 2017:

Thank you Peggy! I appreciate you stopping by.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on November 07, 2017:

Bill, these letters are treasures and yes war is hell and there is a song that you could add to this one called "War is Hell on the Home Front Too"

Blessings to you my friend.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2017:

Letters being sent back and forth like the ones you related in this story have happened for so long a time. During the world wars they were often censored to make sure that if they fell into enemy hands, the enemies could not ferret out useful information. Of course this story predates those wars. Your ending is so true in that "war is hell."

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 06, 2017:

That was my goal, Nell, to personalize war...thank you for that insight!

Nell Rose from England on November 05, 2017:

Letters are so personal. I know that sounds obvious, but it makes the person into flesh and blood, amazing hub as always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

So very kind of you, Dora! Thank you for that lovely compliment.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Exactly, Nithya! This war was horrible on the families back home....as it always is.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

That was my goal, Linda, and I appreciate that you saw it. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Both of you, Kathleen and Sis, stop looking at the exit sign so longingly. I need you here.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

I'm glad to hear that, Bill. Thanks for following along with me.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Excellent point, Eric. Thank you for sharing that thought.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Aww, thanks Sis! I agree with your statement that many were trapped in a situation and had no idea what to do other than follow orders and fight. I hope one day we learn from history.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Thank you Kathleen! I do stay away from the questions and forums. The main reason for that is a lack of time. I have to choose between writing or discussing, and I choose writing. As for HP, they annoyed me several years ago, so I just concentrate on supporting my old friends here. Thank you for sticking around.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

I'll try not to disappoint you, Rasma! Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Thank you very much, Peg! I have great respect for those who have endured war.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 05, 2017:

For those of us who have no close relatives in the army, the soldier's emotions attached to his pride, loss, need for rest and food are issues we may overlook unless we read it in letters like these. You're like the well-loved postman delivering mail we like to read.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 04, 2017:

The letters convey the courage and strength of the soldiers as they go from one battle to the next. It must be so heartbreaking for their loved ones to read the letters and continue their normal everyday lives hoping and praying that they return home safely.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 04, 2017:

You've described a sad and difficult time in history, Bill. Of course, I appreciate your story, but I also appreciate the history lesson incorporated into each chapter.

Suzie from Carson City on November 04, 2017:

Kathleen...What is it, I wonder, about humans that makes us sooo happy to discover "we're not the only one?" It's only slightly related to "Misery loves company," and probably not related at all to "Birds of a feather," but I may decide it's entirely because "Brilliant Minds think alike." Next time I run into you, it may be near the exit sign. I've been eyeing it very closely.

Word for today: "D I S G U S T." No need for translation. When we feel it, we know it, even if for different reasons. (Bill, are you eavesdropping?) Stop it!

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on November 04, 2017:

Bill, I really like the way you're presenting this. You have my attention, and I'm enjoying this.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 04, 2017:

Bill I am working on a fairly technical piece on our constitution. But something made me come back to read your beautiful letters as they put the heart and soul into our guiding documents. We are not a nation of words on parchment, we are a nation that gathers strength from them.

Suzie from Carson City on November 04, 2017:

Bill, the very concept of a country at war with itself, leaves me disheartened & disillusioned. These letters expose the thoughts & emotions, determination of soldiers, yet I can't help but believe they were trapped in a situation, they never would have chosen. Your series is eye-opening of things we need to understand, since none of us were THERE at the time.

Thank you for always teaching us so entertainingly. If not for your series, I would continue my ostrich-like behavior & miss out on the truth & knowledge we all must know about our country's history. Peace, Sis

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on November 04, 2017:

Bill: I saw your name in my feed for the first time in a while this morning. Looking at your activity, I see you only comment on articles these days - not discussions.

My disgust with HubPages has grown this past year to the point I've considered moving my articles elsewhere. But before I do that, I'm going to give your pattern a try and just read and comment on articles - if I can find any!

As usual, you are a good example for HP.

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

I was there once, Flourish, and it is eerie for sure. You can almost feel the spirits reaching out to speak to you.

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

Shannon, it's a news story here, but not much time spent on it like in the south. I think there are strong feelings here, but it doesn't consume our conversations.

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

Thank you Eric! A fickled ugly dog for sure, my friend.

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

As am I, Jackie, and I thank you for stating it so clearly. We remain a work in progress, and it is fascinating to watch us as we grow.

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

Thank you very much, Marion! I appreciate your kind words. I want war to be human to the people who read this, rather than just some story on the news.

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

I would hope so, Pop! Thanks for the vote of confidence. We shall continue!

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

Ah, we shall find out soon, Kari! Thanks for worrying about them.

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

Thanks Larry! Stupid busy is good, I guess..keeps you out of trouble. :)

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on November 04, 2017:

Most fascinating and great videos. Looking forward to more.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2017:

Bill, this update from the field speaks volumes of the inner fear and struggle of those required to face war in person. The way you've characterized the leaders and the respect that their soldiers felt for them is clear in these letters home. Another captivating installment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 03, 2017:

Bill, I live along the James River in an area historically called Screamersville. One theory as to why it was named that is there was an old Yankee war camp where they did amputations with no anesthesia and you could hear the soldiers’ screams for miles. I’ve hiked and come across what remains of it. Eerie. There’s so much history here everywhere you turn. It’s hard not to feel deeply in awe of the sacrifices made on both sides and the immense human suffering and sacrifice that is still buried beneath our feet.

Shannon Henry from Texas on November 03, 2017:

I do believe, Sir Bill, that your last sentence is one for the history books. If I ever heard a quote about war and politics that should be famous, that was it.

There's been aot of debate and uproar about confederate monuments and namesakes around here. Is it the same everywhere or more so in the south since that's obviously where the confederate history is?

On a different note, we were walking through an old cemetery a month or two ago that had war veterans tombstones marked with the war they fought in. World War I and II and even the Civil War. Makes you stop and think.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 03, 2017:

War is a fickled ugly dog. While a man in a foxhole cannot really report on the progress of a war, just one can help us to understand.

Thanks friend.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 03, 2017:

Great job, Bill. I can't think of a single war we don't regret but there are times if we are not or were not brave, we would not be here now I fear or know the freedoms we have, such as even writing this article. Many died for our rights and this war was for a freedom too, one that I think started turning our nation in the direction it was meant to be. What our constitution stood for. One nation for all. The only one nation for all, really.

I am very proud of our nation (our flag) and our men so willing to die for our freedom to say just what we want to, at any time.

Marion Drury from Sydney, Australia on November 03, 2017:

Wow! Wonderful writing disclosing the very human side of these battles and the impact on peoples lives. (I have similar letters that my Grandfather sent home from WW1 to his Mother.) This is another great series. Thank you once again.

breakfastpop on November 03, 2017:

I love the letter format, billy. I think it is an excellent way to teach history, because it is far more compelling than straight dry non-fiction.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 03, 2017:

You speak so much truth in that last sentence. War is foolishness and always has been has the ordinary people. I worry about the wives. Did they survive the winter alone ok?

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on November 03, 2017:

Catching up friend. I've been stupid busy of late.

You have another intriguing series going here.

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

Exactly my point, Linda. Thank you for stating it so eloquently.

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

Mary, I don't think we'll ever know...we seem to be a warring species, and that is terribly sad.

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

Thank you Ann! I am not convinced that Trump can even read. :) I wanted to leave much unsaid in these letters, so thanks for recognizing that. Some things should never be shared.


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

So much unsaid, Mike. You are correct, of course. Loved ones should never be told about the horrors, or so I believe, at least not while their loved ones are still in danger.

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

Thank you so much, Janine! I hope you are enjoying those warm temps. I'm getting ready to go out and shovel snow. LOL

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on November 03, 2017:

Powerful writing my friend. Your final paragraph is so very true. In war there are no winners; both sides lose. These letters reveal the humanity of both sides. Neither of them was evil. They both bled and wept and simply yearned for an end to the madness.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on November 03, 2017:

I imagine letters like these were wept over with equal parts of pride, bewilderment, and loss.

Who knows how different the world would be today if problems could be solved through speaking openly with each other.

Ann Carr from SW England on November 03, 2017:

Your last paragraph is so true, bill. Again and again someone seems to think that war is necessary. You should send this series to Trump, not that he would recognise the sense of it nor would he probably understand it but that's just my opinion. The same applies to Blair who is still a peace envoy I believe! I always say that if our politicians had to go to lead their armies themselves, then it would be a different story.

The letters are poignant and take us right to the heart of each side, giving us a battle-field view - the nitty gritty of it all. We can sense what it unsaid, sparing their loved ones the fear and actual horror.

Well done again, bill!


mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on November 03, 2017:

Hello Bill - I am sitting here thinking about the letters written home. They outline the icing of what the men went through, but not the horrors. The men cannot tell their stories in so short a piece of writing as a letter, and cannot send fear home to their loved ones. I sit here and try to sense the loved ones reading and reading into these messages from the war.

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

Thank you Mary! I share your thoughts. I wish these letters are never written again.

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

Thank you PS. I've only been there once, but I was struck by how peaceful the scenes were, and how much killing happened in those peaceful places.

Hugs, love, and strength heading your way.


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

Well, Nell, they will continue to bloom until you can buy them. LOL Thank you!

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on November 03, 2017:

Wow, such powerful letters and great reminder of this time in history that is long past, but not forgotten. thanks for sharing, Bill and have a wonderful weekend now once again.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 03, 2017:

War letters always leave me sad. I wish we will never have any in this lifetime but they still keep happening. The letters you included here just break my heart. I can just imagine the suffering of those who had their dear ones in it.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 03, 2017:

O my...I felt this...I grew up in Virginia and walked much of the ground mentioned...so poignant for me....Angels are once again on the way dear friend. ps

Nell Rose from England on November 03, 2017:

That brought it to life Bill. I have been reading Outlander which is set in the War of Independence, obviously not the same war but she does write in the same sort of way. personal letters are the one thing that touch a persons heart when remembering. I love your writing, I must get round to buying your blooming books! lol!

Related Articles