Tuesday, 27 November 2012

J. S. Walker's Thirty-Seventh Letter

Camp Deas, near Youngs Mills,
9th Nov., 1861.

My dear Wife:

            It is Saturday night, it is raining and the wind getting around to the north admonishes us that it is going to be cold.  We began yesterday to cut logs to build huts for our winter quarters, and as we have no tools but axes and have to split out slabs to cover our huts, to make doors, etc., I cannot hope to be in a house before Christmas, at which time I should like to have the pleasure of yourself and the children at Christmas dinner, but the state of roads, the roughness of the country, and the proximity of the enemy would not justify the trip for such a dinner as a soldier would serve on his tinware.
            I am anticipating great comfort and luxury upon the receipt of the carpet and the stove and have no doubt I will get on first rate.  I am very thankful that military ambition nor worldly glory led me into this position.  Had it, I would have been cured, tho I confess the hardships of the campaign have not equalled my anticipation, for I had counted the cost and prepared myself for greater, and my chief complaint has always been the inefficiency of my superiors and the flagrant neglect on their part of the comforts and health of the troops under their charge.  In this connection, I have sorrowfully to record the death of one of my own men, Joiner, at Biglows Hospital, of Typhoid fever on the 4th inst., the first I have lost, and he a victim to the necessity of sleeping on damp ground without straw or plant to protect him.  I have some ten now in Hospital, none seriously ill and all but one in Williamsburg, where I think they will be attended to.  They are sent when at all seriously sick to Hospital 20 miles from our camp, and I have been trying for three weeks to get to see them, without success.  I shall try and get up next week.  Tom Minnow is a perfect lightwood knot, keeps well and fattens all the time.
            The continual changes of position of our camp and the bad arrangement of the camp with the cold weather, has broken in upon our prayer meetings for some time past, but as soon as we get our winter quarters completed I shall resume them, and want to adopt some plan to make the longer winter nights pass profitably to my men.  To that end, I want to have a select library of standard attractive reading for them, which will interest and at the same time improve them.  I will get them to build a house about 25 feet square for a chapel and sitting and reading room, in which I will have  a stove to make it comfortable, so that after supper and a smoke, at sunset we can meet and have prayer meetings and then reading, etc., and thus if not disturbed by the enemy or ordered somewhere else, spending the evening  more profitably than it is generally spent in camp, but we know not what a day may bring forth, so I plan with no disappointment if some order breaks in upon all my plans.
            The probability of my resigning having gotten to my men, they protest and I cannot think of leaving them to the mercies of others, and for the present give it up.  They with all honest patriotic persons who have enlisted have been so imposed upon by the officers put over them that I do not think they ought to reenlist at the expiration of their year, and I have made up my mind to let some of the “stay at homes” take my place unless circumstances at the time make it my duty, which I must discharge, but I still hope the year to 14th May, 1862, may find us at the end of the war and peace  restored, with our rights established and the glory of God shining brighter and brighter to the perfect day.
            I wish you would ask Bro. David to have me a military vest made at Wm. Ira Smith’s of Crenshaw grey cloth, and send it down by Lieut. Willis, who will come down Monday week, 18th November, with whatever else you have to send.  If you have time, have a daguerreotype taken of yourself and the children and send that also, that I may see you all without a leave of absence.  Kiss the dear children for father and tell them to be very good and obey mother.  Love to all friends, pray for me.

                                    Yours very affectionately,

                                                Jno. S. Walker

            Miss Sue Archer _______ is down here 6 miles below this and near Newport News.  She is a spy in our cause, romantic and heroic.  She has made the acquaintance of Yankee Officers down there and will probably be useful.  Keep dark.



At a guess, the woman referenced by J.S.W. in his post script is ‘Sue Archer Tally’, a writer and a friend of Edgar Allen Poe who was arrested during the war for being a Confederate spy, though later released.

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