Tuesday, 25 October 2011

J. S. Walker's Twenty-Fourth Letter

Kings Mill Landing,
Camp Adams,
20th Augt., 1861

My very dear Wife:

                It has been some time since I had the opportunity of writing you either with ink or at any length, my want of opportunity and my military engagements having required that I should be brief and hasty. After a varied experience of now going on four months of active camp life, I am satisfied that the pursuit of war is neither profitable to the soul or body, that while the latter has to be crucified to the pleasures and comforts of this world that the former has to hunger for spiritual food, and yet the same experience would not allow me to retrace my steps or give up the present contest for the ease of home without the victory won. The cause outweighs all the trials, troubles, privations, and not only on our part justifies the war, but condemns all who are not for it.
                A kind Providence has thus far protected me in the danger of battle and even the more dangerous malaria of this country, for we have had to sleep in marshes without tents or covering but our blankets, drink the unwholesome water of the marshes and mill ponds, make forced marches under an August sun, eat ship biscuits and pickled pork, sleep at night under the dews of heaven, awake next morning wet with dew and stiff from the exposure of the night and the hardness of the ground, and again march without breakfast, sleep with our clothes and shoes on by our arms, within three miles of the enemy and ready for an attack, and yet I am now well, and any little headache of the bowels that I may have had has been less than I most probably would have had had I remained at home, and when I may be allowed to exchange the priming hook for the sword, I will certainly be better able to appreciate the blessings of peace and the happiness of home that those who have never been subjected to the same privations. I only regret that all our people may not probably have to take an active part in this contest. I think above all things else it would insure the stability of our government, for none but those who know the cost of liberty can appreciate it, and they who suffer the trails of war are alone in the proper appreciation of peace. Well, if the Lord spares my life and I live to a great old age, when the eye no longer reflects the light and I roll the soothing quid between the toothless gums “a la grandpa (unreadable)”, I will make happy the grandchildren by recounting the times of 1860, while I will go down to my grave with the proud consciousness of having discharged my duty to my country, and with the approbation of heaven I still hope and pray.
                With too weak a faith I fear that this war will soon be terminated, but sooner than see our principles for which we contend compromised I would have it continue to the end. I hope there is now a reaction going on at the North which will prove to our enemy that his great strength is his greatest danger, that the large population from which he would draw his immense army and the great wealth from which he would fill his treasury, will not respond to his cry for men and money, but that in the honesty of their hearts or dishonesty of their principles, they will arise and rebuke, aye pull him down. I look not to the recognition of England and France as a means of peace. I would prefer not to have them unless we had just proven by our strong arms and manly hearts that we were worthy of the prize for which we contend. I want no outside influence to be thrown in the scales to turn the balance in our favour. If we are not alone equal to the emergency, then let us sink into deserved slavery. Let not a peace be now patched up which like an unhealthily healed sore is in a short time to break out with greater violence than before and greater danger. I now contend to secure peace and happiness to my children, not to buy present peace to myself at the price of endless war to them, and tho the present may be to me unhappy the future may be bright and happy. Should the war be long and bloody, the greater security will there be of permanent peace to our children, but the Lord reigneth and He can bring the devices of evil men to naught. Let us act well our part, recognize Him and His chastisements as well as blessings, acknowledge Him in all things, and He will not leave or forsake us.
                I understand every article of necessity in the grocery and dry goods line is going up in value very much. Will it not be well for you to lay by such things as you require for yourself, servants and the children. I do not know what may be the end of this war, it may find me penniless, my wife a widow and my children fatherless, and while I am willing to leave it in the hands of Him who has always been protector and friend, yet I must discharge my duty to prevent such a casualty to them. To that end I again remind you of the necessity of great economy, and it may be lessons learned under peaceful circumstances may now prove of great value to you “make shift, turn and twist”, cut up old clothes for children, and save where you can and what you can, buying only when necessary, and whatever the consequences may be, you will be in a better condition than you otherwise would.
                If the truehearted men who compose the army should by the vicissitudes of war be called hence, I should fear to leave my wife and children to the sympathies of charities of the Knights of the Home Circle, who never took a full breath of the air of liberty since they came from their mother’s womb, but have always been the slaves of human selfishness and all the baser appetites and passions, and for whom I have the same contempt that a woman has for a eunuch. Of course, I do not censure all who stay at home. Far, very far, from it, but only those who stay to make money out of our troubles and act as watch for their own property. I believe my own brothers’ hearts are as much in as tho they themselves were, and that Providence has kept them out and not a want of disposition or inclination, and no doubt many more are similarly situated who can be relied upon in the hour of need. The place of usefulness for a great many is home.
                I have spread this letter out to three pages, with very little in it. It may be that I may be at home in a week, having today applied to Gen. Magruder for leave of absence to buy clothing for my company. He is in Yorktown and it may require several days to hear from him, and he may then refuse to let me go, for he is now my master, more rigid than ever I was to any of my slaves. If I get up, we can talk it all over, if not, this will have to suffice till I do.
                Kiss the dear children. Tell Dave father got his letter and has not forgotten him but when he gets time and in the right humor he will answer his letter. Best love to all friends, and if there are any who are afflicted with chronic dyspepsia tell them they will try the field for four months and if it does not cure them that I will agree to be prisoner to Gen. Butler at Fortress Monroe for the balance of the war.

                                                Yours very affectionately,

                                                                Jno. S. Walker

1 comment:

  1. That is an incredible letter! My favorite part was:

    "for none but those who know the cost of liberty can appreciate it, and they who suffer the trails of war are alone in the proper appreciation of peace."

    But I also enjoyed his comments on the possibility of foreign intervention.

    Thanks for sharing.