Aunt Katy's Civil War Tale
There are gaps in Pa's letters, some must have been lost in the mail, others during the years since. I have a letter dated Chantilly, Virginia, Nov. 26, 1862, which is rather interesting.
"We are pleasantly located in a piece of young oak and hickory timber a short distance from the turnpike which runs from Alexandria to Aldie.We always camp in the woods if possible as it is much drier in wet weather and the trees come in handy to hitch horses to. Since I wrote to you before we have been to Aldie and Hopewells Gap and when Sigels Corps fell back our regiment was the rear guard and we stayed at Gainsville nearly all day in the rain waiting for the rest of the troop to pass by. We finally got started and rode until about 8 o'clock and camped on the Bull Run battlefield. It was too dark to see anything but there is some horrible sights to be seen there yet. There are many bodies lying unburied and many that were buried were only partially covered; but such is the fortunes of war.
"I expect our regiment will be sent to join Burnside's army before long and if we are I suppose we shall be in the field all winter. It will be rather tough camping out when winter sets in. My health is pretty good now and I guess I can stand a winter campaign as well as anyone. Bert is not very tough but he keeps around, although he don't do much. Lonzo is tough as a nut and always feels well. I have been pretty busy for sometime past as we have been drawing some new clothes and I have that to see to.
"I should like to be at home tomorrow to eat Thanksgiving dinner with you but I shall have to make do with some hard crackers and salt pork washed down with coffee. You think the hardtacks must agree with us pretty well? We can get along with them very well when they won't run alone; but for the last few weeks our crackers have been so wormy that we have to keep our Haversacks tied up to keep them from crawling off. We have been in hopes that we would get the old ones all eat up after awhile and they would go to baking new ones but there don't seem to be any change. I shall be glad when the time comes I can sit down to a table and eat a decent meal again.
"We have had uncommon fine weather here this fall. There has been no snow yet here but the Blue Ridge has been covered with a white mantle once and as the wind came down upon us from that directionn it made many a poor fellow think of his Overcoat and Blanket abandoned in the heat of summer on account of the trouble of carying them. But I think I have got all the boys in this company pretty well fixed with such comforts now."
In October he complains of missing letters from Ma, especially the ones she directed to the hospital when he was sick. The mail was very unreliable and got worse before it got better and the three of them, like all soldiers, yearned for news from home. The weather still held mild but they knew from the year before that there were weeks of rain, mud, and bitter cold before them, and they hoped to get into winter quarters soon. There is evidence of bitter feelings among the troops too, as in these letters:
"I don't know of anything new to write, it is the same old story in the papers our army is preparing for a grand move somewhere but it never moves until compelled to by the Rebels. If the war is ever ended by fighting it will be when the government gives up whipped and gives the South what they are fighting for; their independence.
"Well, I have got only two years longer to serve Uncle Sam and then I think I will give up soldering and try some other line of work. Bert is well as common but I suppose he will write to you or Min himself as he got a letter from her today. Lonzo says he will write to Miss Bea if she will write him first. We suspect you girls have something smart up your sleeves to do with them. Bert thinks it would do Lonzo good to have a girl, so go to it."
"Stafford Court House, Va., Dec.30, 62
"We have been here about two weeks and I don't know but we will stay here all winter if the Rebels don't drive us out. Perhaps you may think there is no danger of being drove out of here by the Rebels with such an army as we have got here, but the Rebs are all around us and there is no knowing which way to look for them. We were ordered to saddle up last night and be ready to leave at a minutes notice but they did not come; if they had I guess there would not many of us got away as our horses had not eat a mouthful in two days and the most of them were wore out by the time we did 10 or 15 miles. It seems hard to ride a horse with nothing to feed him but we have to do it. As for ourselves we have had enough to eat but now we have been without anything some days since we have been here.
"I am satisfied that we shall never succeed in conquering the South and I believe the country will see it in the same light before many months pass over. Our army is fast losing all confidence in their leaders and they have good reason for it too. Burnside has proved a failure and I don't know who they will try next. There will have to be a move of some kind made soon or we shall all starve as well as our horses for when the Patomac freezes over, as it does three winters in four, there will be no means of getting supplies here and they can't get enough now.
"My health was never better than it has been for the last two months. Lonzo and Bert keep well too"
And so began the second winter of the war.