Letters From the War: Chapter Two
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?
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.
MEANWHILE . . .
July 23, 1861
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
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,
July 26, 1861
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.