Hi. Barb here.
When I realized my posting day was Memorial Day, I was a bit flummoxed. There are several people here on the blog who are better equipped to remark on this day than I am.
My father served in Korea, and my grandfather in World War I, and preparing to write this post sent me on a mad scramble to find a photo of either of them in uniform. I didn’t find any, and neither of them were the type to speak about their service. (And since my grandfather was a stockbroker, which meant he made his living on the phone, which meant he would talk your ear off about pretty much anything, the silence speaks volumes.)
But while I was looking, I did find something I hadn’t examined in ages, decades certainly–my great-great-grandfather’s letters from the Civil War.
I was almost afraid to look at them. I thought they might have crumbled to dust, but all but two are fairly well preserved. There are seven in all, written between January 19, 1864 and February 17, 1865 to a niece, Francis Alice Rozelle, back in Oswego, New York. Ancestry.com helpfully tells me that Alice would have been thirteen and fourteen at the time (though I haven’t yet figured out quite how they were related). A. Judson, as he is always called, repeatedly tells Alice that her handwriting is excellent and to stay in school as long as she can. Her side of the correspondence does not survive.
January 19th, 1864, Culpepper, VA
“Yesterday was a very nasty day, and to help along with, we had to move our train to the upper part of the town. Mud knee deep and raining quite hard, we had an awful time of it. I felt sorry for the men. No chance to get any shelter until they got their “shantys” up. I wish I could describe to you the way the soldiers live down here and how patiently they stand all manner of hardships and privations. I think it has improved me in some respects to come down here. I have learned to have a good deal of patience and forbearance. It requires a good deal to be on the march, for insistence, when it is raining as hard as it can pour down, and perhaps have to stand for hours without any shelter, wet to the skin, and not a murmur. I have often wished that people at home could know what a soldier has to go through with. If they did know, they would be apt to show them more respect.”
November 6th, 1864, Yellow House, VA
[The part at the top about his wife Sarah having bought a baby girl threw me for a bit of a loop, until I realized from other letters when his last leave had been. I don’t know if he is shielding a young girl from the realities of conception and birth, or if he is joking. The baby would have been my grandfather’s beloved Aunt Clara. She and her husband–childless themselves–paid for my grandfather to go to Columbia University after he came home from World War I.]
“You ask me what I think of this War. I think it is pretty near its end. We all think here in the Army that the Rebs are pretty well used up and there are very few but what think that the re-election of Lincoln will go a long way to closing up the War than anything that can be done just at present. All they are holding out now for is the hope that McClellan may be elected by which they hope to get better terms for Peace. But I think Lincoln’s re-election almost as certain as that the sun will rise to-morrow morning. How anyone who is not a traitor to their country could cast their vote for McClellan and the Chicago Platforms, I can not see.”
February 17th, 1865
“Our Campaign lasted six days, and suffice to say, we had a very nasty time of it. We got into a fight, and our Corps lost 100 killed and 900 wounded and about as many more missing and taken prisoners.”
The letters are fascinating and alternate between the harrowing (he casually mentions he has been taken prisoner “again” and has escaped “again.”) and the homely. He pines for letters from his wife, worries about money (his wife has had to borrow from relatives while he tries to sell a piece of property and waits to be paid) and writes frequently about the weather both where he is and at home in New York.
I do remember my grandfather, in his eighties, lamenting that he’d never asked his grandfather more about the Civil War. A boy of the 1890s, he was far more interested in cowboys and ranches. And here I am lamenting never talking to my father or grandfather about their service. Which goes to show something, I guess. Perhaps that people never change.