Harpers Ferry, Oct. 5th,
Dear loving wife,
Sunday finds me again writing you a few lines, this time with pen and ink for we have stopped two days in this place and got our things all together1. I am writing on the desk you gave me, which I would not part with for gold.
Every day I find some evidence of your thoughtfulness and it makes the tears come in my eyes when I think how much you sacrifice for my comfort; you speak of being a better wife, if I ever come back again I hope I shall be more worthy of you and may we both learn to submit to the decrees of providence without complaint. I am not one of those who preach piety when in danger and grow worse when it is past, but the horrid wickedness2 of our army I fear will defeat our cause, holy as it is. Yet there are many noble men in the army and [if] it may be that the God who was willing to spare Sodom for ten righteous may save our country for their sakes, may it be so.
You speak of becoming a monomaniac on the subject of our country, if you know of anyone troubled in that, you just get them to enlist and I will warrant them a cure.
You wanted me to write how B. T. Ives was, I think I have written you that he was better, he is at present well, but has been troubled with diarrhea3 considerably, but I think there will be less of that disease than there has been for the weather is cooler than it has been. We have had very hot weather down here until last night, [when] we had a shower and it cleared the air so that it is quite wholesome weather today.
You speak as though you wrote me a great deal but the fact is you don’t write half as much as I do but I take no pains, only scribble off just what comes in my mind. I fear I make you vexed with every letter because it is not written better, but the fact is that I don’t take more than ten minutes to write my longest letters and am usually interrupted two or three times at that. If you don’t like them just let me know and I won’t write but once a week and will take more pains but I like to write as often as I can.
You try to imagine how I am situated when I write to you, I will try to assist your imagination on a little. Go over to Basil Munson’s peach orchard, select a place about in the center, take two blankets, fasten them at the top over a pole in this way , making a place about large enough for two dogs to crawl into – look in and you will see Willis and me doubled up with portfolios on our knees trying to write to our sweethearts far away, and you [will] have a very good picture of our situation.
You speak of my playing cards4, I have played very few games since I left I tell [you], I have no time for such things when I am well and no disposition when not well. I am sorry our child is so natural a card player but I guess it won’t amount to much, she only wants to look at the Lallie (Queens) that is all, God bless her little heart. You can imagine how I long to see her, I kissed the letter her little lips had pressed over and over again. O, may I see you and her again, not that I am homesick or sorry that I am here but my affections are very strong and I love my wife and child with an unselfish and everlasting love. You need not be jealous because I am willing to give my life for my country for if your hoping had demanded it you should have had the poor sacrifice long ago.
I don’t know what to write you, the war news you got by the papers, the Rebels pickets are in about eight miles of here, some say in four and some say on the hill opposite about a mile but I don’t believe they have much force in this vicinity. Our men captured a spy the other night in a house near here, but it is pretty quiet here generally.
I don’t know how long we stay here, I hope long enough to get rested for it is no small job to move if we take our load with us. Our company has a good many complaining and they need rest, but they need something to eat more; I should not have been alive now if I had not had some money to buy victuals with, I think it a great shame when Uncle Sam furnishes enough that speculators should cheat the soldier out of it. I believe they will receive their reward, yesterday we had beans without any pork and today we have pork without any beans, the beans are two or three years old and so hard we can’t boil them soft they would at forty rods. You know I can’t eat such fodder, if I could it would make me sick, but after we have been in a place awhile we live better, but so long as we keep on the move we must buy our own grub or suffer. The water is good here and the location healthy but it is a mean country all surrounded by hills and woods and them without beauty or grandeur; I have seen some beautiful sights since I left home as I have written you before but shall not dilate on them today for I must hurry and get through in time for worship.
I like our officers very much except the Colonel and I shall say nothing about him.
Capt. Dickerman is not very well just now, he got a letter from Ed Dwight saying he received my paper just in time so I suppose you have that fifty dollars in hand before this.
I think twenty-five dollars for Fanny5 is small but if Boss Ed won’t keep her ’til April you had better let her go if you think best. I think I have written you all about these things before, I don’t see why our letters are longer on the way than others unless they are heavier; Willis gets his from home two days after they are written but I have to wait a week for mine.
Dear Wife, I must again take leave of you for a short time. You must write me all your heart, for your letters are as the smell of spices on the offerings table and like myrrh from the valley, they are as a shadow of a great rock in this desert of human depravity, [I wish] I could receive more of them. Give my love to Mother and all my friends and especially to Mrs. Edward and Libby Peck. Yours as ever,
When the 20th Connecticut moved from “Camp Chase” in Arlington Heights to Frederick on the 29th of September, the men were instructed to leave their knapsacks (containing their blankets, tents, and personal effects) and baggage with the post Quartermaster, and were told that the baggage would be forwarded onto them. While it did finally arrive, it was quite late and the men had to spend several nights with no protection from the elements. ↩
Prostitution and thievery ran rampant during the Civil War in areas where military forces were stationed. As documented by Dr. Freeman Bumstead, 8.2% of all recruits would contract a venereal disease during each year of the war. Gambling and drinking also were very common, drunkenness was especially common early in the war when the soldiers became homesick. ↩
Diseases of all kinds ran rampant during the Civil War, with dysentery and diarrhea taking a forefront. Dysentery and diarrhea alone claimed at least 57,265 lives in the federal army, greater than the number of battlefield casualties (44,238 recorded deaths). The soldiers lovingly referred to diarrhea as “quickstep” because of how quickly it could cause a body to move toward the nearest sink (latrine).
There are many reasons why bowel problems were so rampant. Unsanitary and cramped conditions, unclean water, poor diet, and lack of medical knowledge greatly contributed to the number of cases. Many doctors of the time would simply prescribe suffering soldiers Blue Mass, a mercury-based pill that when taken in the prescribed doses exceeded 100 times the safe daily consumption levels of mercury. ↩
Cards were a very common method of passing time in the army. However, card-playing was looked down upon by the “righteous” members of society, as it often implied gambling (another favorite pastime of many Civil War soldiers). ↩
“Fanny” was the name of a horse that Cecil and Caroline were attempting to sell. ↩