Monday, 13 December 2010

John Stewart Walker's Third Letter

Wren Building of William & Mary University c. 1859
This picture really should have accompanied the last letter, as now John Stewart Walker has left William & Mary College and moved out into the trenches. I once again present the entire letter as it is filled with interesting tid-bits.

In the woods at the trenches
3½ miles from Williamsburg
29th May, 1861

My dear Wife:

                I wrote you a hasty note at 4 o’clock this morning in a great hurry to get our men to work in the ditches, with spade, pick and axe. Our boys work cheerfully, live on ship biscuit and middling, with a cup of coffee (sea tick), very brown sugar, and no milk. They sleep as honest men should and wake at day cheerful and ready for work. They are hardening, fattening and becoming accustomed to the water and all well and ready for any good work, and anxious for a fight, which anxiety is increased by the distressing sight which presents itself every five minutes in families of men, women and children fleeing from the enemy, there being a perfect panic among all the people in this section of the country. They come in every kind of vehicle, leaving their homes, furniture and slaves subject to the tender mercies of the minions of Lucius and Gen. Butler, commander of Fortress Monroe. We are throwing up a very fine earth work fort here, which will protect any approaches inland on this peninsula which lies between James and York Rivers, and will with a sufficient force behind it, with good skirmishers and outscouts, keep ten times our number back. The topography of this country is very favourable for the defence on our side.
                I think my health as good as it ever was in my life, and am only disturbed with the apprehension that you will be frequently unnecessarily anxious and kept in suspense by absurd rumors and reports; such as the one recently published about Col. Augut’s Regiment, and if you will only be willing to trust in the Lord and not anticipate evil but rely upon the superintending care of Providence, which has shielded me from the dangers of youth and dissipations of manhood, which are far more dangerous than the fire of an earthly enemy, trusting in the Lord when the time of fight comes. I hope to rely upon Him then and my own strong arm, and to come off conqueror in any event.
                With the exception of one family, Mr. Jones, who was known to Lucius Baldwin (Dr. Bland having married their daughter and Baldwin was groomsman) – they have been particularly kind and hospitable to my company – the rest of the people seem selfish or too lazy to contribute to the comfort of the soldiers. There is no market here, and everybody seems scared to death.
                Kiss the dear children and tell them if they could see Father sleeping one night on the ground and the next on the floor, with all the ups and downs of camp life, they would be very sorry for him, but he is having a very good time and has no cause of complaint.
                Remember me affectionately to Sister Hayes, Bro. Bennett and all the Centenary people, and tell them to continue their prayers for me and my company, also to all friends that may feel enough interested in me to inquire after me, also my Brother. I shall write Amandas soon and warn him of the danger of intemperance.

                                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker, Capt.
                                                                Va. Life Guard

Young Minno is fattening, sends his respect to you and says he is very well.



As I read John Stewart Walker's first three letters, I wondered about his rank. I've always heard him called 'Major', but the way he kept referring to 'my company' suggested that he was a captain at this point. His signature proves it, and what is more, it even names the company. I have been unable to find any information on the Virginia Life Guard, but considering the name and the early formation of the regiment, I'm thinking it might have been a pre-war militia. I will continue to investigate.

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