Fairfax Station, Va, Dec. 24
Dear loved Wife,
Here we are in the woods where we were when I wrote last. They have turned us out to browse and I don’t know but we are likely to stay here. The Capt. tells me he has written home for a box and he says he told his mother you might go halves. No you need not send anything very valuable, but you may send something to eat and the medicine. I spoke of two articles that would come very handy for we are short of provisions and there is a great deal of sickness here. The march1 and exposure consequently used up a good many men. I think I was very fortunate for my health is very good most all of the boys have hard colds but none are very sick in our company. Cook is getting better, Beckwith has been sent to the hospital at Alexandria, he was not very bad but his disease (inflammatory rheumatism) was of such a nature as to prevent his getting well when he had to lay on the ground [during] nights.
I commenced to tell you what I wanted you to send but like widow Bedoth I shall have to tell you everything else first. I should like a pair of gloves of some kind, cheap ones would answer just to keep my hands from chapping. You better not put in the comfortable [ones] for if we move I can’t carry it.
Joel says to tell his folks to put in some of Dr. Foot’s cough pills. If you send me any put them in a wooden box. The paper boxes break so easy we lose them. I had none of Brandreth’s pills as I find I have not taken much medicine but I have given away some. I have not a particle of medicine with me, the Capt. had to leave his chest and I left my little box in it. I am sorry to lose it but if I get sick Mark has most everything and I can borrow off him.
You have no idea how much stuff we have to lose when we march. Our loads are heavy enough if we take nothing but our clothes and blankets and every ounce you put on extra we feel on a long march. Now I think of it, I wonder how I could stand that march and the exposure but I feel as well now as I did when we started and a little better. If they would only give me enough to eat2 I could stand it well, but we are short on rations and have been since we stopped here. There was a good deal due us by the commissary but there has been some law passed so that we can’t draw them. I don’t understand, I believe there is some rascality in this Regt. or the Brigade or we could get enough to eat, and I mean to find out where it is. Our Col. and Gen. are at enmity and that may have something to do with it. I hope they will find some way to spite each other besides starving the soldiers. The Gen. promised us we should have enough to eat in a day or two, it has passed that time and we can’t draw full rations yet but we get more than we did at first.
We have built us a shed and covered it with our rubber blankets3. Willis and Joel are at work chinking it up. It will be comfortable by tomorrow. It looks like a cow shed, it is quite low, you can’t stand up in it but it will do to sleep in. The door looks like a large cat hole. We have to crawl in on our hands and knees. If we have to stay here long we shall build higher but we think this is as good to leave as we can afford4. We have worked all the time we could get for 3 days.
I thought I would go down to the station to see if we could not get some nails. I had just got there and was looking at a tremendous big engine when along came the patrol guard and took me prisoner and sent me back to camp under guard. I felt a little sheepish going up but I know I had done nothing out of the way but I did not like the idea of being arrested. It was the first time I had seen daylight in some time (for it is dark as night in these pines). As soon as our Col. saw us he told the guard to go about their business and let us alone. You see we have very little liberty in the army, our perambulations are restricted to a few acres of ground. They say to us “thus far shalt you come and no farther”.
I suppose you expected when I came here that I would put the best face on everything pertaining to the army, but I have not done so. I have meant to give a true impression of camp life which is on the whole disagreeable. We have few comforts and but little recreation and endured many hardships. We are away from home and those we love and after a while the novelty of the thing is gone and we begin to get discontented and then everything goes wrong. It is hard to perform the duties required of us be they ever so light.5
We have men that shirk duty by playing sick but they pay an awful penalty for inaction ruins their health and worst of all it impairs their mental faculties. There is one man in this Co. from Waterbury that is almost an idiot from this cause, while one has died6 from the same cause. If they had had as much to do as I have they would be well now.
I would not have you think that we take no comfort for we do pass one evening quite pleasantly once in a while. At Loudon Valley we had things fixed up nice7 and were just ready to live, but we had to leave. Now we have another hut, not so good as the one we left but better than none. Tonight, which is Christmas Eve, we bought a little cornmeal and made a pudding but we had no salt to put in and nothing but a little sugar to eat with it but I daresay it tasted better to us than roast turkey would at home.
Dear Wife, I have written all I have time to but have not written what I want to but you will pardon any omission. I love to write to you for I know that a very dull letter will be better than nothing to you. I felt bad when on the march to think you could not hear from me, but I had no opportunity to send you. I am very anxious to hear from you for when you wrote last you were about sick. We don’t get mails here very regular, it has been two days since we had a mail. I hope to hear from you tomorrow.
A merry Christmas to you and all the folks at home. Give my love to Libby Peck and all the good folks. Your’s with much love and many kisses to you and the baby. Goodnight.
The stay at Fairfax Station was one of the few times throughout the war that the Twentieth actually suffered for a lack of food. ↩
The Twentieth Connecticut finally received their tents in late November, but they were not able to take the large tents on the march, so once again they are without any overhead shelter. ↩
The cynicism is quite apparent here. In their last camp in Loudon Valley, they had finally gotten comfortable and finished constructing their winter cabins when they were ordered to move out. ↩
John Whiting Storrs wrote in his regimental history of the 20th:
While stationed at Fairfax, the troops, though with but thirty miles of railroad between them and Washington, actually suffered for food,—through somebody’s neglect, of course. There was a good deal of dissatisfaction prevalent, also, among the men at the non-appearance of the paymaster, who was due every two months. Half starved as they were, enfeebled by exposure to the wintry elements, and with no money in hand to send home to their families, it is not to be wondered at that the men of the Twentieth and their comrades could, from the bottom of their hearts, have declared, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” But they had another lesson still to learn, viz: that patient endurance, starvation and wrong, is simply a part of a soldier’s duty. He must suffer all things, and complain of nothing, except to the winds. ↩
This is probably either Pvt. Henry Farrell, who died on December 20th, or William E. Talmadge, who died on December 21st. ↩
Just prior to marching out of their camp in Loudon Valley, Cecil wrote that they had finally finished building their cabins for winter there. ↩