Fairfax Station, VA Jan. 7th
My dear Wife,
I had the pleasure of receiving your letter1 written the day before New Year’s last Monday night but thought I would not answer it ‘till my usual time of writing you, for I had written you an answer to most of it before I received it, which you probably have received before this, though I think I have written several letters that you never have got since we have been here.
I don’t know hardly what to write you, I would give you a description of our long march2 but it is so long since it would not be so interesting as it would be if it was of recent occurrence, but many times when tired and weary with marching, I have forgot my troubles and looked with delight on the beautiful works of God.
How horrid this war seems when we contemplate what crime and suffering it has brought on this noble country, surely those who have brought this upon us3 cannot go unpunished. They may be successful for a time but their day will surely come, and already they are reaping the fruit of their own doing. Our victories in the west4 more than balance the defeat of Burnside if all we hear is true. You think I have seen enough to make me satisfied that we cannot conquer the south but I have never seen the time when I had the least doubt that we should succeed. I have read history some, both sacred and profane, and very few are the instances that a just cause has not triumphed in either and if I did not think ours a just cause you would not find me here. Others may have come here for pay or to escape the draft but you know that I have enlisted to serve my country and God willing I will stand by her to the last. I have suffered some in her behalf but the worst part of it is the separation from my dear Wife and child. It’s often very hard for me to prevent that homesickness that has been the bane of so many but a consciousness that I was doing my duty and the favor of God in giving me health has been my antidote.
You wished me to write something of the influence of camp life upon the mind and morals of the soldier. I wish I could speak more favorable of either for there is much to be deplored in regard to the influence or want of a proper influence upon the minds of the soldier. The interest which attaches itself to military life soon wears away, it becomes monotonous, it is nothing but a regular routine of drill and guard duty. There is nothing that calls into action the faculties of the mind [so] the soldier ceases to think and becomes dull and stupid [and] suffers himself to be dragged around with apparently as much apathy as an ox is driven in the yoke. We have men in our Co. that I thought were were quite smart but who are now almost idiots. This is not the case of all for some active minds will think in spite of the difficulties but after careful observation I am fully convinced that camp life is very unfavorable to any great mental effort.
The mind, like the body, needs food and unless that which is furnished is healthy it must of course become feeble and sickly. It also needs stimulants sometimes in the form of amusements or excitement of some kind, otherwise it becomes pedantic and gloomy. Such are some of the effects of camp life and I would to God that it were the worst for it is possible that when they (the soldiers) return to their home they may recover from their stupidity but when will those stop who acquire the habits of using intoxicating drinks and of swearing and gambling and stealing. It is no going matter when you say that hen roosts will have to suffer when we get home if we take our habits with us, though I am happy to say that none that tent with me have stolen anything but what belonged to secessionists5 and all think it right to plunder them, even to our Capt. who you know would not steal except by mistake.
You spoke of sending us a box, I hope it will get here soon and have some dried beef in it for I think we shall march again soon. We have had no [marching] orders yet but they may come very suddenly. I have no idea where we shall go, it is thought by some that we go to Washington or in that vicinity to be put into Gen. Tyler’s Brigade of heavy artillery. I hope this is not so for in that case we might not get discharged so soon if the war should close, besides, we should have a great deal of hard drilling to do. If it were light artillery I should like it6.
If we go to Washington there will be one advantage: we can get letters in shorter time and everything that is sent back and forth between us. We should then be only two days apart but I don’t [think] we shall go there. I think we shall join Burnside for a new move somewhere or else be sent farther south on coast expedition. The fact of the men being vaccinated for the smallpox would indicate the latter. This division is in excellent condition and will give a good account of themselves wherever they go.
We are in a comfortable situation here, though it is very gloomy in this pine woods, the winds make a mournful sound as it whittles through the trees as if the standing pines were mourning for their companions that we have to take to build our huts, last night they chanted their funeral dirge with a vengeance, for the wind blew a hurricane from the north that felt as if it had just kissed an iceberg and was pressing cold lips against us to thaw them.
It is very cold here today, it rained yesterday and cleared off with a slight fall of snow, the first I have seen in this part of Virginia, but it is as cold here as you often see it at home.
Dear Wife, I cannot write much more now but the greatest pleasure I have is to consummate my thoughts to you, except receiving your letters. I know what I write is not of much consequence but if it adds to your happiness it is all I ask. Give my love to Libby Peck and all good friends, Mother in particular, kiss our darling for me, a spirit kiss for you.
Unfortunately, this letter no longer exists. ↩
On the 10th of December, the Twentieth left their comfortable camps outside Harpers Ferry, and marched towards Fredericksburg through snow and mud to provide a support element for the battle there. However, before they arrived, Burnside’s fighting force was easily and bloodily repulsed, and so on the 17th, the Twentieth received new marching orders to turn north and march to Fairfax Station, which they arrived at that evening after a march of 25 miles. ↩
Viz. the Confederates. ↩
In his letter of December 31st, Cecil writes:
I have been to work all day (that is all the time I could get) building a hut. We have got it done and it is quite comfortable. We have a stove that Mark stole for us, now if we stay here we can live again.
Apparently, that stove was stolen from a secessionist. ↩
Heavy artillery spent their entire service in the forts surrounding Washington, and saw little to no campaign or battle service throughout the entire war, spending their time drilling and doing little else.
Light artillery, on the other hand, accompanied the soldiers on campaign and heavily participated in the battles. ↩