Updated date:

Letters From the War: Chapter Two

Welcome Back

The war continues. The 1st Battle of Bull Run is history, a horrific affair by all accounts, and yet it was mere child’s play compared to what was approaching in the Civil War.

Shall we join our soldiers?

Bull Run

Bull Run

JULY 23, 1861

My Dearest Julia,

Please forgive me for the delay in writing. I simply could not find the words to describe the battle now past.

I was foolish and I shall forever be changed.

The gaiety is gone. The bright battle flags lay strewn across the countryside. The blood of my friends now flows with the waters of Bull Run. I hesitate to write more, so great is my fear of worrying you more than you already experience but, my darling, it was horrible.

Rest assured that I am safe. The grace of God carried me through the battle unharmed. I just wish I could say the same thing about many of my comrades. It was a disaster, Julia, pure folly, inexperienced men, many just children, led into battle by generals with more courage than common sense, and when the shells began to fly, and the bullets filled the battlefield with that ungodly buzzing sound, all semblance of order broke down and full-scale panic ruled the day.

Oh, the horrors man will do upon his fellow man.

There will be no early homecoming, Julia. I am terribly sorry. It is now apparent that this Rebel uprising will continue into the foreseeable future, and may God bless us all.

We who fight these battles are in the dark. We are not privy to the workings of President Lincoln’s mind. Great strategies are not shared with us by our field leaders. We are here only to do their bidding, to pick up our weapons and march in the direction they point, to eat the bug-infested rations they give us, and to pick up the wounded and dead who cover each mile of land fought for.

There are whispers of desertions happening. I am sorry to tell you, Julia, I cannot allow myself to be among their number. I believe this cause is just, and I must carry on.

We will be leaving Washington soon to give chase to the Rebels. We are waiting for this devilish rain to subside and then we will strike our tents, stand in formation, and march once more.

I will write when I can. Know that my love for you grows daily.

Your Samuel

A farm abandoned as soldiers go off to fight

A farm abandoned as soldiers go off to fight


July 23, 1861

Dearest Hannah,

We are victorious! The Yankees ran like little children afraid of the dark, ran back to Washington with tails between their legs, and oh how glorious it was.

For a time, Hannah, things looked bleak in the great battle, but General Jackson lit up the skies with cuss words and praises of God, urging us on, not allowing us to retreat, by sheer force of will standing like a stone wall against all dangers, and by God we heard his screams and believed we could defeat the devil himself with Jackson leading us.

I fear though, Hannah, this war will not end soon. The Yankees skedaddled back to Washington to lick their wounds, but there is already word of them re-training and preparing for another assault soon. There are many of them, my love, like locusts, and I sense they will be better trained when next we meet on some meaningless stretch of acreage.

I see no sense in telling you the particulars of the battle just passed. A gentle, loving person such as yourself should never hear of such destruction and pain. I will admit to you, Hannah, and to no other, that fear gripped me throughout the battle. It is hard to imagine so many bullets and shells in one place, so many explosions, a constant symphony of ear-splitting noise and the subtle moaning as death strengthened its grip on the wounded. And in camp now, my darling, the stench is overpowering at times, diseased wounds fill the air with foulness, and I cannot imagine anything worse.

No man should ever be asked to witness such things. I pray we will never again see such hostilities in this country.



More From Camp

July 26, 1861

Dearest Julia,

We are still in Washington, all stunned by the dismissal of our general commander, McDowell, and the elevation to command of McClellan. The new commander cuts a fine figure in the saddle, and gives off an air of great confidence. He has already told us that we will now begin re-training, his words, and learn how to be a cohesive fighting unit.

President Lincoln signed an order calling for the enlistment of 500,000 more soldiers for a period of three years. It is now brutally apparent that our leaders expect this to be a very long war.

Our main job, besides re-training, is to strengthen the fortifications around Washington. It is feared that the Rebels will attack our capital city, and if we were to lose Washington I fear all hope would also be lost.

To our surprise, there is talk of our great army remaining in the Washington area until next spring. I cannot help but wonder how that sits with Mr. Lincoln and all the others screaming for an early end to this war?

I love you. Do not allow a day to pass without knowing how happy I am to be your husband. I look forward to the day when we can once again live under one roof and return to happier times.

With God’s grace,

Your Samuel

Waiting for the end to arrive, and new beginnings

Waiting for the end to arrive, and new beginnings

Approaching Richmond

July 26, 1861

Dear Hannah,

It is back to Richmond we go. President Davis has called for an additional enlistment of 300,000 more men, and it has been decided that more training and organization is needed. Spies have reported that the Yankees are still in Washington and are showing no signs of aggression. We are all aware of their superior strengths, and a day does not go by we do not hear a rumor of massive enemy forces gathering in the woods just beyond our camp, but such are the stories of boys trying to be men, wrestling with fears they will never give voice to.

It appears the new Yankee commander, McClellan, is in no hurry to resume the festivities, and that is fine with us. We’ll give them a lickin’ whenever they feel the need to meet us down near Richmond. Perhaps, if we lick them enough, this whole matter will be settled, and our two countries can live in peace.

There is much illness in camp, Hannah. The food they serve us is of poor quality. Many men have taken to the woods to shoot suitable game. It is said many have already left camp for good, heading back to their farms. It is hard to find fault with that. We have men marching without boots, wearing shirts and pants which have more holes than material, and this God-awful heat is doing none of us favors. And God help those who were wounded in the last battle. Our doctors are better suited for helping with the birth of cattle and not amputating arms and legs. The open wounds, the gangrene, the overall stench of camp, well, Hannah, it is enough to make any man consider leaving and never coming back. But where to run? They either hang deserters when they are caught, or they send them right back to the camps in disgrace. Neither of those options sounds appealing to me.

I will return home when I am able, Good Lord willing. Until then, I am yours in spirit.




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

I hope you enjoy it, Peggy! thank you for reading! Stay safe!

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

You are bringing to life the horrors of the battlefield and thoughts of these two opposing soldiers as they fought in the Civil War.

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

Thank you Sha! My experience with history was similar. In fact, I didn't like it in high school...a college professor changed all that for me.

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

You're giving me a more enjoyable history lesson than my teachers did. I retained what I learned long enough to ace the tests. It wasn't until my history teacher in 10th grade decided to teach history from a social aspect that my interest in the past was piqued enough to listen.

You're giving us the human side. Bravo to you, my friend!

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

Thank you again, Gilbert! This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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

I love your idea Bill. You are attempting an honest point-of-view of the Civil War Soldier on both sides of the conflict. The images you conjure are compelling.

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

Thank you Natalie! I've studied this war for years, and I was hoping to make the language seem authentic.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on December 18, 2017:

Bill, your account of the war through the eyes of the soldiers presents the events in a way that makes them feel real. The language you use in the dialogue seems so accurate that the I can practically hear the characters talking in my head. I think we forget the horrors of the war and the length of time that it stretched out since it seems like such a long time ago. In truth, when we consider other countries and their age and history in comparison it happened yesterday. Thanks for a wonderful serial. I look forward to reading more.

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

Thank you so much, Lawrence. A new one coming tomorrow!


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on December 13, 2017:


This is amazing, I really enjoyed the hub.


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on November 22, 2017:

Thank you very much, Richard! I appreciate those kind words

Richard Parr from Australia on November 21, 2017:

This is exceptional writing, and a riveting subject. Your letters could be genuine correspondence, they have such a genuine feel to them. Great job!

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

Michael my friend, I heard that same thing from friends who served in Vietnam. There were a few second lieutenants who were hit by "friendly fire" on purpose.

Michael Milec on November 17, 2017:

Your portraying wars reality says it in total adequacy "Oh, the horrors man will do upon his fellow man".

A horror general commander McDowell failed to prepare his men for, supposedly. I remember while in training one of the first instruction we were told “if you do not kill him, he will kill you…” Hope new commander McClellan will teach his men to stay alive… You are keeping me on the the edge of excited expectation my friend.

Good night and many blessings.

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

There was no respite in that war, Manatita. The horrors of battle and the horrors of camp life and constant marching.

manatita44 from london on November 09, 2017:

I knew that he would not be coming home soon. Wishful thinking. Through your masterful writing, you manage to bring out the horrors of war quite well and got some seriously touching letters as a bonus.

Yes, God is generally mentioned at such times and you are covering this well; so is the food and nutritional problem. By Golly!! Soldiers are hit on all fronts! Carry on bro.

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

Thank you Chris! The Civil War has been a passion of mine for a couple decades now, so much of this is drawn from some excellent books I read along the way.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on November 05, 2017:

I don't know if you are writing off the cuff or researching into the wee hours of the morning. You make it look so damned easy. You are bringing this war home to us, and I admit, it is uncomfortable. Stay and fight again? Brave, mad fools? Or simple men of conviction and honor?

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

Thank you Zulma! I'll file that away in the memory banks.

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

No winner at all, Emese! Thank you for the visit and your kind words.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 31, 2017:

If you ever decide to give it a try, I highly, highly recommend Dragon Age. The first instalment is Origins, the second is Dragon Age 2 and the latest is DA Inquisition.

I've played them over and over again for years. The characters are so engaging I just never get bored with them.

Emese Fromm from The Desert on October 31, 2017:

You can really bring history alive, Bill.

I like the way you present it through letters, it brings the horrors of war closer to reality. Indeed, the soldiers always suffer, there is no winner in a war.

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

I've never played one, Zulma, but now you have me curious.

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

Believe it or not, I've picked up this knack from playing RPGs (role-playing video games). The really well-written ones use these types of nuances to flesh out their characters. Sometimes, this is the only way to figure out who the good and bad guys are.

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

Aww, thank you, Zulma, for noticing the difference in men treating their women. That was a nuance I didn't think anyone would catch. That makes me feel good. :)

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 26, 2017:

There are two things I like about your handling of this. Three, actually. First, using letters to let your characters voice their feelings about war. Second, how you describe the aftermath of the first battle. There were no real winners here as both sides are dealing with poor conditions, inadequate medical attention, and low morale. Third, how the men treat their women. The Union soldier is more straightforward about his experience while the Southerner shields his wife from the true horror, as any good gentleman should. Well done.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 26, 2017:

Thank you so much, Rasma! I wish I had too.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on October 26, 2017:

Wish you had taught my history classes. A fascinating read and great videos.

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

Aww, thank you, Dora! I'm just trying to imagine the horrors of war from a distance.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 23, 2017:

Although the soldier does not want to give details of the horrors, he cannot help writing. It is great to read his innermost thoughts about the happenings and about the love he has for his mate. Bill, these letters are exceptional.

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

Well, Bill, that's a huge win for me as a writer. Thank you!

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

Than you Larry! I'll try not to disappoint.

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

Thank you Mary, and that was my goal, to make history more real by adding the personal touch to it.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on October 23, 2017:

I have to admit, Bill, I never cared for history in school. but the first two chapters have won me over. Great stuff!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on October 22, 2017:

I like the letter format for your historical fiction.

Wonderful read. I look forward to more.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on October 22, 2017:

All the blag and bluster of the pre-battle have been replaced by the reality of war.

With both sides thinking the others would soon be defeated, they now have an idea that it will go on a long while.

I imagine many questioned whether they would ever see their family again.

Patriotism changes men.

An excellent way of teaching history, it makes it more real than mere dates and figures.

I hope your weekend has been peaceful.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Thank you Maria! That was my goal, to touch hearts. :) Job done!



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Thank you Linda! I'm always trying to find new approaches to storytelliing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Very sad for sure, Clive! I think the word "horror" is a perfect description of any war.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Thank you Nithya! I am so fortunate never to have fought in a war.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Kari, it must have been quite a sobering reality for those men. I can't imagine.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Blessings, Shyron, and thank you so much...may we all see peace in our lifetimes.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 22, 2017:

Thank you Sis! I am one of the lucky ones, never having faced the destructiveness of war, but I've seen the haunted looks of those who have.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on October 22, 2017:

Teaching and writing do make for a lovely combination, dear Bill.

Once again you are taking a history lesson to a personal, intimate and relatable level.

Compelling story that touches my heart. Love, Maria

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 21, 2017:

The technique of telling the story via letters is very effective, Bill. It also conveys the horrors of war very well.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on October 21, 2017:

I have to say Billy, these letters are quite imaginative. Even though the horror of war is nothing to get excited about. Sad...very sad

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 21, 2017:

The details of the brutal war is heart breaking. The soldiers marching to the orders given to them not knowing when the war will end must have been terrible for them and for the loved ones back home.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on October 21, 2017:

What a thing, to think you will go home soon and then finding out that you will be staying the winter. Great story! :)

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on October 21, 2017:

Dear Bill, these letters tell the tales of pain and grief

from those who fought for their belief

Men who would not run or hide

But, chose to stand side by side

With their brothers in arms

Then chose another when a brother died

Blessings my friend.

Suzie from Carson City on October 21, 2017:

bil-bro....So many of us cannot & will never be able to look straight at realities of destruction. Through the moving thoughts of these men, it becomes what we have to face.

I relate most to the recipients of these letters, having been there, treasuring but trying to censor painful truths.

You've managed to bring to us, up close & personal, a time so very long ago.... Sis

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

Great parallel, Peg. I hadn't thought of that buy yes, just like today. At least, for the most part, we haven't turned to weapons to win our arguments. Thanks for a great comment.

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

Shannon, that is exactly what it was like, antiquated military strategies against modern weaponry. It was a slaughterhouse. More courage than I have, for sure.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 20, 2017:

Through the words of these soldiers we can truly see the wreckage and devastation that war brings rather than only numbers and strategies of those in command. This story reminds me of today's divisive political climate where each side is convinced that their cause is just and that God is on their side. Looking forward to reading more of this interesting story that brings history to life.

Shannon Henry from Texas on October 20, 2017:

Well, Teddy Bear, you certainly don't bore us out of our stuffing with these letters. When watching something or reading something about the Civil War, I often imagine what kind of courage and utter commitment to a cause it must take to stand in a lineup like game pieces on a Stratego board and then March directly at the enemy, simultaneously becoming a target as well.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2017:

We are in total agreement, Pop! Thanks!

breakfastpop on October 20, 2017:

War is always awful, and that is what it should be so that men do not engage in it easily.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2017:

And still is today, Mike, or so I believe. Thank you for your insight.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2017:

For sure, Linda, and pretty accurate for some of those battles. War is hell, as Sherman once said, and it is good that it is; otherwise we would want it more often. :( Thank you!

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on October 20, 2017:

I hear the veil of desperation in the letters of these soldiers. Their inherent good sense prevails over the empty words of their commanders. Their battles have become personal, rather than national. The stench of war is on them, both North and South.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on October 20, 2017:

Bill, as I read this I was reminded of the scene in Gone With the Wind showing the aftermath of the battle in Atlanta. Hundreds and thousands of men lined up on the field injured, dead, or dying. The camera continued to pan back, and there were bodies as far as the eye could see. Just dreadful.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2017:

And I love what you said, Flourish. It really was all about perspective . . . still is as a matter of fact . . . states' rights vs strong central government, and on and on we go into the future.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2017:

Thank you, Ann, and I'm with you all the way. There is nothing at all glorious about war. Nothing at all!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on October 20, 2017:

Jackie, your last statement, so far, is very accurate. Never to be undone. I wonder if this country will ever recover from it.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 20, 2017:

On they go towards Richmond. It’s fascinating to know the different perspectives, even down to the names for the war: War of Southern Rebellion and War of Northern Aggression. Perspective is everything.

Ann Carr from SW England on October 20, 2017:

From the ideals back to reality, eh? The idea that war is glorious fills me with disgust. And they still do it. I know some wars can be justified but we never talk enough and some can't it seems.

Great series, bill, and we can see these soldiers in their camps, in the filth and stench, as well as their wives in their humble homes.


Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 20, 2017:

You give a very good idea what it must have been like, Bill. My guess for those not more than children really had no idea what they were fighting for and since the rich could buy themselves off this slaughter was of so much innocence with no heart in what they stood for. Such a crying shame, never to be undone.

Related Articles