Headquarters Va. Life Guard
Yorktown, 4th June, 1861
My very dear Wife:
The multiplicity of my engagements precludes my writing as often as inclination would lead me. I have everything to do in order to provide for the necessities of my company and attention to my military duties. I am glad I did not leave home in a frolic, expecting pleasure, as I would have been sorely disappointed, for camp life is one of hardship, not only to the men but to the officers here, as there is nothing to eat but bread and flour which we have to cook in frying pans, so it is not equal to Louisa’s loaf bread. We have coffee, sugar and rice for those who eat it, no vegetables, salt, molasses or vinegar, all of which should be supplied. The people in the neighbourhood bring in little or nothing to sell and charge outrageous prices for everything they sell. Fish and oysters are scarce and very high. I haven’t tasted fish, but expect to have some for dinner today.
My regiment are quartered about a mile from me, and I have charge of a redoubt to defend when attacked, and also to prevent the passage of the enemy over a causeway through a marsh, the same over which Washington passed and surprised Cornwallis and resulted in Cornwallis’s defeat and surrender. I have to keep twenty men on guard day and night and the company ready at a moment to enter and defend my fort of earth, so they have to sleep with their arms about them, my pocket guard and redoubt guard at all times on the lookout to prevent surprise. If the enemy enter Yorktown at all, it will have to be by some other route, or I will with my command have fallen in the defence of our position, and will not be responsible longer for it, but I am convinced they will not attempt it. If they do, they will be repulsed. The people from here to Hampton are fightened to death and bring in all sorts of rumors of the enemy’s approach, but we have not yet seen them. We will give a good account of ourselves when they do come. We have 4,000 troops here and can resist successfully we think 10,000.
I see in the papers from Richmond urgent calls for more soldiers, which I hope will be responded to promptly, and that we will be able to throw into the field a force which can successfully compete with the invading enemy. Though this is regarded as an unhealthy place, my own health is unusually good, and I hope my so continue. Young Denny, who owing to cold we left in Williamsburg and came over here three days ago is quite unwell, threatened with pneumonia. He has no great constitution and will probably have to get a release. The others are generally well. The mosquitoes are the only enemies we have had to encounter in any numbers. Of course, I do not take note of fleas and chinches, which lay claim to everything in this town.
I lay down to sleep every night not knowing when we shall be called to the defence or march, but sleep sweetly and I fear almost too soundly for one expecting an attack, but I fear no evil and trust not a man but the Lord, certainly do not take trouble in advance, and hope grace from on high will be given to bear it when it comes. I arise at four o’clock and have a fine appetite by breakfast, and do a man’s full duty at breakfast on our plain but acceptable fare. I am feel truly thankful that I do not partake of the nervous excitement of the camp and can cooly act. I go to the Lord for council and direction and am by Him sustained. I pray He may bear me through and at last bring me off conqueror over sin, if not the enemy. Men are at their wit’s ends and give credence to so many foolish rumors and assist in circulating them, that I am not surprised the papers publish and people at a distance believe them, but don’t you believe anything of the kind unless it is brought to you direct from headquarters.
The absence of a clean shirt and a shaved face gives me more discomfort than all the Yankees at present. There are no washwomen here, except one or two, and I have seen the face of only one white woman in the town and she at the tavern, which is closed now and I suppose gone too.
Jim Crow cooks, acts chambermaid, dining-room servant and washwoman and has no time to spare, I assure you. If I had some starch and a flat iron I could get along pretty well, but as the ladies are not here, we have no regard for appearances.
Kiss the children and tell them when I get home I will have a great many stories to tell them of war life and the hardships of the campaigns, of battles fought and victories won, their liberties secured and their enemies defeated.
Best love to Mrs. Hays, and all friends, and my brothers, who I expect owing to the urgent call for more troops are getting ready to take up arms. Warn them they have a hard road to travel but a glorious cause to defend and if possible come as officers, for that is hard enough, while privates is much worse. We require a very much larger force here to hold the place at the same time drive the invaders back.
Remember me kindly to the servants, who I hope are doing well. They Yankees are taking them all down about Hampton and making them work on fortifications, etc.
Remember constantly at the Throne of Grace.
Your affectionate husband
Jno. S. Walker