Where Are The Letters While He Is Ungloriously Fighting?

Return to Mississippi Soldiers in the Civil War


Fredericksburg, January 29, 1863

My Dear Sam, The only possible apology that I can render to myself for writing to you is that the snow which is eight inches deep so dazzles my eyes that I cannot walk without my eyes filling with tears; — that I have no book just now, worth the reading, — that letters are due me from all my regular correspondents, — and finally, if I don’t do something in the way of mental exercise, I shall die of intellectual inanition. I consider these excuses necessary, inasmuch as you owe me two letters in answer to two very long and very entertaining epistles from my hand. The exceeding honor and weighty obligation which I thus conferred and imposed, you seem by no means properly to appreciate. Thou most unloving of brothers! Who sittest hour after hour upon thy much oppressed oscoccyn, smoking the pipe of indolence, rather than bestir thyself to send a few lines to a homesick soldier, to whom a letter from home is more cheering than a strain from the Ranz de Vaches to the Switzer pining afar from Alpine cot and mountain maid! Don’t you call that shabby? Don’t you feel bad!

Here I am, seated in a rocking chair with spinal disease, — the chair has the disease, not I — before a cheerful fire, — in a comfortable room which, to my eyes, used to the limited area of a tent, rather deserves the dignified title of an apartment. We sleep upon the floor, one blanket under us, and three to cover with! I much fear that we soldiers will grow too effeminate to endure, as we should, the hardships of the next campaign. Our brigade is on permanent picket duty here in town. The advantages are, that we have houses to stay in; the disadvantages are only probable but quite serious, viz forty eight hours shelling from a hundred cannon not five hundred yards off.

Our experience in that sort of thing satisfied us all, when “Barksdale’s brave brigade” opposed the crossing in Decr. last. It was an awful time Samuel. When one sees a shell cut down a tree twelve inches through, as though it were a pipe stem, he is forcibly impressed with the conviction that his body wouldn’t stand much chance should it happen to be in the way of a 32 pounder. And then, if the whole shell don’t crush and smash you into a mess that your largest creditor couldn’t swear to, — why some if its fragments may hit you, or a minnie ball may go singing merrily through your body. If that isn’t the “pomp” of war about which Othello raves so eloquently, it constitutes most of its “circumstance,” which I can’t, for the life o’me, admire. Other folk may pretend to foam at the mouth, and cut up large dog about the glorious excitement of the battlefield, with its flaunting banners and “the stormy music” of the drum; but as for me, I don’t care if our regiment is never in another fight. It’s all exciting enough whilst one is in it; and partly scared, and partly enthused, — from pride, and duty, and hatred of the Yankees, a body rushes on with shout and wild hurrah to the cannons mount, and forgets to think about running; — but the afterbirth is sickening and horrible though another glorious child of victory has been born. Bloody ambulances, mangled corpses, the butcher table at the hospital with its pile of legs & arms, feet and fingers, underneath, are not pleasant things to see.

But enough of war; yes, “Hold! Enough!” We are going to see this thing through, — but I long for peace, even as the hart pants after the waterbrooks: though better no peace at all than a dishonorable adjustment of difficulties. Every now and then, there is a cry for peace, but it is all premature. I feel sure that, unless we can dictate our own terms from the yankee capital, crushing their army by some overwhelming blow, the war will not end in less than two years. By that time, where will I be and what will have become of you? You will probably weigh two fifty; and I will probably be a disembodied spirit, for I have no idea that I should survive the hardships and perils of two years of war.

By the way, where is John Sumner? I expect that he is trying artillery this time, as when I saw him, he seems to have been surfeited with infantry service. Jim, I believe, is in Wicher’s artillery. John is such a practical philosopher, that he will do pretty well anywhere. I should like to see Jim startled into a violent and energetic dodge by the sudden coming of a shell. I’ve seen a whole regiment bow with automatic precision to let one of the shrieking devils pass over. But I doubt whether anything less than a shell could disturb Jim’s equilibrium.

I imagine that your house remains in statu quo, as it is quite probable that you, like most others, can do but little besides feeding and clothing your family white and black. Speaking of your family, how many children have you got! Gaston, Nelly, Ed, and the baby, — anybody else? You had better name one after me, — for you know I’m to be an old bachelor, and he might come in for a share of my large estate. I’m a baldheaded man! Woe is me. — my name is Ichabod, for my glory has departed! Pretty, sweet, white bosomed, succulent, girls don’t fall in love with as ugly a man as I now, unquestionably, indubitably, and indisputably, am. And I don’t blame ‘em either; for I wouldn’t love a homely girl, and wouldn’t marry one. So it is settled that I am to be the bachelor uncle of the family. I heard that Kate has been at your house for some time, — and this letter would have been to her instead of to you, had I known precisely where she is. She has, I suppose, beaux enough, — if not, the men must be sadly lacking in taste, as she is the most attractive woman that I know, except sweet Jennie Withers.

I am so sorry to learn that Charley Vaughan is dead. Poor Mary! I would write to her, but human sympathy is worth little until the storm of grief shall have passed. It is indeed a heavy blow: she was happy with her kind husband, and life seemed to have much in store for her. A curse on the devils who are thus, either directly or indirectly, desolating our southern households. I sometimes feel as if this should be a war of extermination; the spoils to the victory and death to the conquered!

Tell Jennie that I hear she is making the best cloth in the neighborhood, excelling even the domestic Mrs. Whitfield. Hooray for Nof Calina! When you two married, it’s my private opinion that you did much better than she did — Eh? Jennie. Bro. Robert said something about yourself and sister Betsey farming together. I am sure that you would attend carefully to her interests, — and that her property would be more valuable to her under your superintendance than in Attala; though partnerships very often end in ill feelings between the interested parties. I am glad that Ermine is with Mary, — as she will be company to Mary, besides being able to see more of the world than her opportunities have hitherto permitted. Sister Betsey has such fine children, that it is a great pity they cannot have the advantages enjoyed by the other children, their cousins. Isn’t sister Betsey a noble woman? I admire her more, the better I know her. Indeed we are blest with noble women for sisters.

I am rejoiced to learn that Bro. William has been promoted. He is equal to any position, when the whiskey curse is not on him, — and I am told that he has stopped drinking. Thank heaven for that. Any woman is a fool to marry a man addicted to liquor, if she knows it; and any man who takes to drinking after marriage, thus blasting his wife’s happiness and subjecting her to a perpetual slow fire of misery, that man is a dog. I do not refer to Bro. Wm, as he drank, I now believe, before his marriage; he is but one of the millions of victims of a terrible vice. We expect the Yankees to attempt to cross at anytime, — when our brigade will have a warm time of it. We intend to fight ‘em to the last cartridge, and then use the bayonet. I have just read extracts from late northern papers; the democrats of Illinois breath the rankest spirit of rebellion and secession. I do hope that there will be a regular Kilkenny cat fight north, and nothing be left of both sides but their tails, and a melancholy tale ‘twill be. But I must say good bye. Be sure not to dislocate any joints in extreme hurry to answer this, though “an early answer is respectfully solicited.” Give my best love to Jennie and the little folk about the house.

Farewell, brother Crafford

Your affectionate Jeems

Jan. 30. Burnside has resigned; Sumner and Franklin have been relieved, and Joe Hooker is in command of the Federal army.

James Clark Papers, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.