Monday, 6 December 2010

John Stewart Walker's Second Letter

John Stewart Walker's second letter was written neary three months after his first. It is filled with interesting stuff, and so I thought I would share all of it.

Williamsburg, Sunday, 28th May, 1861.

My very dear Wife:

                I have congratulated myself since I learned that you were at the corner at the time our regiment passed, that I did not see you, as it might have unnerved me for the time, though I have never had a doubt as to my line of duty, I am now, with the experience of the past 10 days, more impressed with the fact that I am fully in the performance of it, both as regards my duty to my God and my country, and I honestly believe the safety of my family required my rendering this service. I command a noble set of men, who are quietly exercising a salutary influence upon all with who they are thrown.  They are recognized as the most Christian company in the regiment and respected accordingly, and the rowdism, of which there is plenty in the camp, would sneer, my men are pleased to do their duty without minding their sneers. By our superiors we are placed in positions of importance because they have confidence, and are assigned the best quarters because we have their respect without for a moment courting their favor.
                We left Richmond on a steamer about 12 o’clock – 750 men – and got off about 7 a Mill Creek. Unfortunately, whiskey was brought on board by a great many and used too freely. The Colonel, hearing that a great many were providing themselves with whisky, brandy, etc., advised the captains to examine the canteens of the men. I told him I would obey if he required it, but that I did not believe it necessary and that he was at liberty to have any man of my command shot that was found drunk, and then told the Company what I had done, and they all approved of it.  I allowed a great many, at the request of their parents, to take brandy, and it was very well as we have seen nothing by limestone water since we landed, and that produces diarhea and dysentery on those not accustomed to it. It is only taken medicinally.
                To return to our landing, by the order of the Colonel my company was detailed to guard and forward the baggage of the regiment while the rest of the companies marched on to this place.  There were no accommodations at the landing, so we had to camp out without tents, sleep on the ground, etc. We built a good big fire, cooked supper, kept the fire up all night, detailed guards, etc, and got on finely. In the morning we bought 25 chickens, 8 dozen eggs and had a good breakfast, attended to sending off the baggage, and then had to march 6 miles about 12 o’clock, hot, dusty, which we performed without any detriment to us, tired more form heat than the march.
                We arrived here and are quartered in the Hall of one of the literary societies of the College, all the regiment being quartered in William & Mary. It is pretty close work and very inconvenient, and there was no preparation here for us, so we have pretty soldierly fare, pork and ship biscuit, but are getting on very well. There are one or two with slight diarhea, but nothing serious.
                Dr. Parker is invaluable to us, as all the men go to him as soon as there is anything the matter, and he treats them promptly and they get well.
                My men are very respectful, and I have never heard an oath, and they are attentive to their devotional exercises, and attended church this morning.
                I find my time so occupied in doing justice to my company that I cannot keep a diary tho it would be a very readable thing to make a memorandum of the incidents and impressions, with the thoughts and hopes, etc., which will follow, but I must save these to tell my grandchildren when old age prevents my active usefulness and time may be more at my disposal.
                You must not expect to hear from me often or regularly, nor do I know where to tell you to direct. You may write me to this place, care of Dr. Bidgood, and if I am not here he will send it to me. We may be ordered from here at any time to Yorktown or down the river, and consequently the uncertainty of my writing and the mails are by no means regular. If I am sick you will be sure to hear of it, for I will have nothing to do but write, and if I should be at any time seriously affected I will get a furlough and go home.
                I hope my absence will not be to you a cause of uneasiness, either on my own account or yours, but that you will draw all your support and comfort from a rich fountain of Grace, Providence, lean upon Him knowing that all things will work together for good, and that the same strong arm which has afforded me protection through many years is still upheld to shield from all danger.
                Give no credence to every idle floating rumor which many come from this section, for there will no doubt be many idle news makers. I do not believe there will be any engagement for some time, if at all, and my own convictions still hold that there will yet be peace between the contending parties without bloodshed.
                Kiss all the children for me and tell them I want whenever Mother writes me to hear that they are all good and obedient to Mother and don’t quarrel among themselves. I wish you would send for Mr. Chambers and ask him to write at once to Lynchburg for another boy to come down and wait on me and my company. The servants are doing nothing there and will be very useful to me. I will let you know in my next where I want him sent. Let him be provided with clothes and shoes, flannel shirts he can get of Mr. Peter Franklin at Ellet & Drewrys.
                I also want you to have me made at once two pair of dark stout linen gaiters, to fit well over the foot and run up about half way the calf, to be worn outside of the pantaloons, to button up on a line with the outside seem of the pants. You can get them cut out at Pages if you will describe how I want them, and them by mail to the care of Dr. Bidgood, Williamsburg, and I will get them. Attend to this as soon as you can, as I am very much in need of them to keep out the sand, etc. on the march.
                You can tell Mrs. Minno that her son keeps not only very well but is improving on soldier’s life. So of most of the others.
                Commending you to the care of a good and kind Heavenly Father,

                                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                                Jno. Stewart Walker.


  1. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. This begins to remind me of The Guns of August, where "things" are beginning to move strongly and almost everyone involved cannot see the catastrophe about to engulf them.


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    I want whenever Mother writes me to hear that they are all good and obedient to Mother and don’t quarrel among themselves.