Oct. 12th ‘62
Camp near Harpers Ferry
Dear, dear Wife,
I commence my Sunday letter under peculiar circumstances. About an hour ago we had orders to pack our things and be ready to march at an hour’s notice. We have heard heavy firing1 in the direction of Leesburg this morning and that may have something to do with the order but soldiers are never allowed to know anything but to obey orders. We are now ready to move but the order has not come and the Capt. says if it was not Sunday he would bet 5.00 dollars we would not move in a week, but I think differently. We must move soon if we do anything this year and I can’t believe that our Government is so fatally foolish as to keep the army idle for the next six months. In four weeks the mud will be so deep that it will be impossible to move an inch. If we do anything this fall we must do it soon. Oh, for a leader!
You spoke of getting stuff for a bed, you can let us alone for that if we have a chance but the night I spoke of laying on the ground we had been up ‘till one o’clock and stopped to rest expecting to be ordered forward every minute. We fell over on the ground and all went to sleep. In the morning we had to get back and go over the road again, but where we encamp for awhile we fix something to lay upon. We have had a little straw since we came here but our shelter is very poor and no room for us to stir in. I believe I described our kennel in a previous letter.
Night before last we had a heavy rainstorm, I woke up in the night and the water was running into my ear, a stream about as big as a straw and I was wet through in several places, but strange to say I took no cold and feel first rate. I believe I am getting tough.
I wrote you in my last that we lived better now than we did, but our bread is full of little bugs and the salt meat stinks but we have good fresh beef once or twice a week and sometimes 3 times, so you see I can live and nobody has a right to grumble.
We hear that the Rebs are getting used up out west but our folk here set still and let them do just as they are of a mind to. They have got into Pennsylvania about forty miles from here2, I don’t know as Little Mac will think it worth while to try and stop them or not. If he don’t the Gov. Curtin will without doubt, their defeat in N.Y. will spoil their programs.
You want me to tell you about sending a box but I don’t know what to say. Paddock had one sent but it has not got here and I don’t know of but one [soldier] that has got anything sent by express. I should like very much to receive one but don’t want one sent to be lost.
You want me to say how many letters I have received from you, I think I have received nine since they have begun to come. They have come like refreshing showers giving strength and consolation to my heart, they have been goodly messages from a far country. Please send them along. I have not yet received the promised letter from Mrs. Phelps with a description of your visit to Wales Dickerman’s but perhaps I may. If you think I ought to I will send one of my cartes-de-visites3 to John Hall. I would as soon have given them one as Martha but you know she begged one, I think I should have written to them today if it had not been for that order to pack our goods.
You asked me if I wanted you to prefix “Seargt” to my name? No, I only wrote the directions as I was told to but you can write my name (as the old Quaker said) without any tail4.
I don’t know what numbers to put on my letters but I believe this is number twelve, though some of them are not worth mentioning. I got a letter from Mr. Thayr for which I was very thankful but he said nothing about the weight of letter, he said you seemed hopeful and in good spirits. I hope your hope will not be as the spider’s web.
The weather here has been very hot ‘till last Wednesday, since then it has been damp and chilly. The boys here have all had a touch of diarrhea or dysentery5 but are getting better. I haven’t had it, I try and take good care of myself for your sake as well as my own. I haven’t got lice yet and I don’t think I shall, but my ears do grow a little! I have just heard that the Rebs had tried to cross the river below here and destroy a canal lock but were driven back with loss, but I have no particulars.
I have been to church as usual, I suppose you go once in a while. I was amused with your visit to your cousins, [tell] Mrs. Wales Dickerman her child is very forward, you might make an egg stand up if you set it down hard enough. Tell Sue she must learn to be more sedate, it won’t do to show so much levity on grave occasions.
Tell Mr. O’Brian that I am under lasting obligation to him for his kindness to you. He has my lasting gratitude and I do not forget Mrs. O’Brian, may she long live to enjoy her little heaven of peace and never see more trouble. Remember me to all her children, give my love to all our friends.
I will now speak of Louise. God bless her little heart, how I wish I could see her but that can’t be at present, I suppose she will get so as to understand what I write, she must be a great comfort to you. Tell Mother I think of her often and hope to see her again. I wish she would make me a pair of gloves though I don’t know as I should ever get them.
I am sorry that I had those thick drawers made for I don’t believe I shall ever wear them if I get them. I have not worn any yet but I may put on the cotton ones before long.
I should like to look in on you tonight, I suppose you are writing to me. I wish we had a telegraph just for tonight. I look for a letter every night and can’t help but feel disappointed when I don’t get one though I know that I can’t expect it. I think I have been highly favored.
Dear wife, goodnight with many kisses. I must not forget baby, kiss her for Papa.
C. A. Burleigh
P.S. I have just heard that we whipped the Rebs below here and took some cannon and some prisoners. Yours, C. B.
The heavy firing that Cecil speaks about would have been a brief skirmish that occurred between J.E.B. Stuart and Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton. On the 10th of October, two days prior to the authorship of this letter, Stuart had been dispatched with 1,800 C.S. Cavalry troopers under his command. His orders were to make a raid toward Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, wrecking an important railroad bridge over Conococheague Creek, and to capture horses. This he did quite well, and managed to evade Federal forces that were sent after him. His return trip took him into contact with Pleasonton, who initially thought that the Confederate troopers were Federal forces due to the dark blue uniforms they wore that they had acquired during the raid. A brief skirmish was fought and the Federal soldiers retired from their strong position and let Stuart and his men pass and cross the Potomac river, returning to Confederate territory. ↩
See the above footnote. ↩
A cartes-de-visite was a small photograph, roughly 2 inches by 3.5 inches, attached to a paper backing slightly larger. They were quite affordable and portable, which made them very popular during the mid-1800s, so popular that the term “cardomania” was coined and attached to them, and people would collect photographs, not just of friends and family, but also of celebrities, to place in albums. ↩
Whenever Cecil gave his address for Caroline to write to, he would always prefix his name with “Seargt”. ↩
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. ↩