Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Sword of John Stewart Walker

Because John Stewart Walker was killed early in the war, in Virginia, and in the same unit as his brother, his body was carried home. Hence everything that he had carried with him in the war was returned to his family. One of those items was the sword he was holding when he died. This is a photograph of the sword, taken by my aunt some years ago. At the time, it was hanging on the wall of my great uncle, David Walker Jr.

I am told that I met Uncle David Walker when I was a boy, though I don't remember the event. About a year ago, another member of the family suggested that I write to him, since I was so interested in the family's Civil War history. In reply, Uncle David sent me a package with a very nice letter and a portrait of John Stewart Walker, that had obviously once been framed. It is the same image that I've used at the top of the John Stewart Walker page. In fact, the one on the blog might be a photograph of the portrait he sent.

I believe the sword has now passed on to one of David's children, and I am hopeful that I might be able to get some more pictures of it in the future.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

J. S. Walker's Letter (23 Nov 1861)

Camp Deas, near Youngs Mills,
23d Nov., 1861.

My very dear Wife:

            I am in receipt of yours of the 20th covering Kirk’s affair. Let him have the furniture in your third story room and invite him to make my house his home. Tell him why you do not take the furniture from Lynchburg, that your mother will not understand it, and that her age, affliction and peculiar disposition and prejudices, should make her children cover with the mantel of charity and forgiveness any and everything which detracts from their happiness. You ought to advise her that since Kirk and Lucy have to determined to marry that since she cannot prevent it, and tho opposed to the union probably on the ground of consanguinity, that she should sink all these prejudices and in the hour of trial as it is to them to act without her approval, yet to remember that they have souls to save, and that if she would exert a good influence over them it must be not by estrangement but by conciliation, and that what she may regard as an evil may by the kind interference of our Heavenly Father be to them not only a seal of maternal love but of eternal happiness. God grant it may. Let your position be not that of a partisan, nor a judge of others’ motives, but the more heavenly one of a peacemaker, go to your closet and let God direct you that you may be able to lead to a happy result these family feuds. In this distracted world, convulsed by wars and rumors of wars, we can alone find peace in the discharge of the higher duties of our Christian faith and in the living to do good to others, we get good to ourselves, our own souls is refreshed by the comfort we world afford others.
            As Dr. Parker says, I am now very comfortable and will be more so when I get my hut built. I thought last night at 12 o’clock when awakened by a terrific bombardment that we were today to battle for our rights, but beyond a Federal vessel or two in the river nearby shelling our picket, when nobody was hurt, all is quiet. They may come at any moment.
            I went day before yesterday to see Mr. Wheelwright and found him the same warmhearted Christian friend, comfortably fixed, and having the entire confidence of his officers and men. I regretted that I could not have him alone to myself to talk over our trails and temptations, but it was a pleasant and profitable visit. I then went to Williamsburg to see my sick and found them all improving. The sickest man I had was kindly taken by Mrs. Dr. Williamson to her house. Mrs. W. is a sister of Mrs. _________, and I am very grateful to her for her kindness to young Briggs.
            I shall be glad to see Willie Hays, but he is too young for the temptations of camp and his constitution not sufficiently matured, I fear. It makes my heart bleed to see how the youth of the land are losing their souls eternally while they would patriotically save their country. The price of a soul, the death of Jesus, is too great to thus be squandered. May the Lord throw around the youth of our land his strong arm of protection and save them from the temptations of the evil one. You have no idea how homesick the old nursery carpet, the likenesses of my family, etc. make me. But thank the Lord I am content and will hope and pray to be speedily returned to them to be in the future a better husband, father, master and friend than in the past. But should the Lord see best to take me hence either by disease or violence of the enemy, I hope his mercy may cover my sins and my Saviour’s blood cleanse my foul spirit, and that in his hands as their protector my wife, children and servants may be so kept and directed as to insure that eternal, peaceful union which is beyond the grave. We are too apt to become so familiar with danger and death as not to fear the one or live prepared for the other, and it is well to bring ourselves face to face with both frequently, that we may see ourselves as we are. We know not what a day may bring forth and why should I believe all others mortal but myself, and see death without realizing that I have to grapple with, and submit to it, even if in its grasp, by grace divine, I come off conqueror.
            Kiss the dear children, and feel the solemn responsibility which rest on you to train them now in their youth as they should live hereafter, and your reward will be in a peaceful happy life with them.
            Love to all friends who I am vain enough to believe are too many to mention. Pray for our army and our cause.

                                    Yours most affectionately,
                                                Jno. S. Walker.

            I fear you cannot make out my scribble. I have to write on my knee. I find I am getting too careless and must do better.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

J.S. Walker's Letter (16 Nov 1861)

No. 3
Camp Dea, near Youngs Mill
Saturday 16th Nov., 1861.

My dear Wife:

            After waiting for an opportunity to send for the box containing the stove, etc. I received it at last yesterday, and I am now seated in my tent, with a plank floor, carpet and stove with a fire in it, and tho the wind outside blows cold, I am quite as comfortable as I would be in a house. Please return thanks to David for the cassimere shirts, which were the very things I wanted, also to Coz. Amanda and her little girl, with Luly, for the socks, all of which will contribute largely to my comfort this winter. You have no idea how the old carpet reminded me of home and the nursery, and it would require but little encouragement to become homesick, but orders are that leaves of absence are not to be granted till 1st January and it may be that I will not see you all before that time. I will come home in the event I am taken sick, but shall not otherwise unless Gen. Magruder relents.
            I have a great deal to do in having log huts built for my men as well as myself, for tents will not stand snow storms. Then I will have a great tax on me to attend to my sick when I lose Dr. Parker, who has resigned and expects to go up on Monday. He will be a great loss to the whole Regiment and from intimate acquaintance with him and seeing his success as a physician, I have great respect for his ability, and while I dislike to lose him I cannot blame him and think it would be selfish to wish others to be forced to share with me the troubles of our disorganized Regiment, while they have not the same responsibility to look after as the Captain of a Company. I am very uneasy about the health of my Company, as the winter is now coming on and they have not a house to go into on account of no tools to build them with, and the exposure to cold I fear will give them pneumonia, rheumatism, etc. I wrote to Col. August an official letter upon this subject the other day, calling his attention to the necessity of at once attending to the health and comfort of this Regiment, and requesting him if he could not remedy matters to send my letter to Gen. Magruder, and if necessary to the Secretary of War.  I have heard nothing more of it, but there is evidently a disposition to provide tools at once and hasten the building of winter quarters, and we may yet get in them by Christmas, tho I doubt it very much.
            I have more sick now than at any time since I have been in service, 10 at Hospital in Williamsburg and 16 unfit for duty in camp. I hope the Lord will temper the storms of winter and not let its severity carry them to an early grave.  Oh, that through the dark clouds of war peace could shine upon us, that God, our God, should become the God of our Nation and be acknowledged in all their ways. Then will war have proven and blessing rather than a curse. (I am writing it being so dark I cannot see the lines).
            Yesterday was a fast day, and in fasting I hope I found it profitable to my soul. We had no military duty to perform, and it was the best day of rest and prayer and private mediation that I have enjoyed during the last six months, and while I find sin in my heart and feel self condemned that I have not improved the time allowed me to entirely root it out, I behold at the same time the boundless mercy of the Lord, the great love of the Saviour, and I determine to keep on relying alone upon them for salvation. I hope that the great national chastisement of war may make us individually better Christians, and a united Christian effort will tell upon the world around for the Glory of the Redeemer, and that the close of the war may be followed by a more vigorous onslaught upon the kingdom of darkness. But the end of the war is far distant, it may be, and since all things are possible with the Lord, let us improve the present and do good while we would get good.  How unfortunate that at a time when an unusual number of human beings are being ushered into eternity, both in battle and the disease incident to camp life, Christians, yes good people, allow themselves to be so entirely absorbed in war and rumors of war, who have itching ears for the result of the latest victory, whether we conquer or they conquer, and forget for the time the great warfare, which is to tell in eternity in which they engaged as soldiers of the cross, they allow themselves to sleep at post, and the great final Court Martial will consign them to an ignominious eternal death unless the executive clemency of a kind Saviour interfere in their behalf.  If the occasion does not present itself to do good, let the quiet  example of Christian consistency like leaven make for God’s glory.
            I am expecting orders daily for our Regiment to march towards Hampton to be absent twelve or fifteen days, sleeping out without tents, to gather corn, etc., from all the farms between this place and Hampton, all the farmers having deserted their farms early in the summer.  After that expedition the weather will be so cold and the roads so bad that the campaign will be closed for the winter, and we will then build winter quarters and remain in them till spring opens. In this expedition my buffalo robe will be invaluable and will keep me warm in spite of the weather.
            My dear, if I have not before told you, I have been guilty of neglect in not advising you that this is a land of sweet potatoes, but not Irish. I know you send them because you know I am fond of them, but just put something in the place of them.
            Kiss all the dear children and let them know that I want to see them just as much as they do me and that six months or more and I hope our little home circle will again be made pleasant by a happy continuous reunion.
            Give my love to the Stewarts, Uncle ______, and all friends when you see them, and remember to pray continually for God’s favour on our arms and his direction of our affairs and a speedy peace.

                                                            Yours most affectionately,

                                                                        Jno. S. Walker.