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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

150 Years Ago (1863 12/4)


Brattleboro, December 4th,
1863.

Dearest wife -

I have today the finest chance in the world to write you a good, nice warm room and a desk and nothing to do although I have had enough work yesterday and this forenoon. Day before yesterday I was detailed to assist in making out rolls in Mr. Mead's office. He is superintendent of recruits. Commenced work yesterday, and have had to work pretty hard until a short time since, that job is done. How long I am to remain here I know not. I am here now, and shall improve it writing to you. I was rejoiced to receive a letter from you. It appears that we both had a letter in the road at the same time. You will find that I sent twenty dollars instead of fifteen. Well, I could not get the bill changed in camp and let it all slide. I suppose we shall get our bounty sometime if we do not get it, another pay day will come on some time or another.

I am well. Can eat all the rations that I can get, had for dinner today coffee, bread and molasses. Well, I managed to get two of bread 1 ½ of molasses. It went well. I expect to be as tough as a frenchman by Spring. We have got another stove in the barracks. It is at the foot of the bunk, so I stand a good chance to keep my feet warm, let the wind blow upon the head. I should have been on guard today if I had not been here. The guard comes harder and harder, Other duties are light. One hundred of the recruits are to be paid off today and are to leave tomorrow. Their names have been written ten times since yesterday noon and the men have signed their names ten times each. This is to get their pay, bounties, etc. etc. They (the rolls) were rolled up and tied with a piece of red tape.

Among those that signed was Patrick Donnelly, a brother of John. You may think that it is a piece of good fortune to be here, but I had rather do duty. I shall go on dress parade tonight if I get this letter done, and shall drill when I can, although I am not obliged to answer a roll call, but I cannot help falling-in. I have been looking for Moses Leavine among the recruits. There are about two hundred and fifty here now. There has just now ninety of the
hospital boys left the hospital to rejoin their Regiments. They are now marching down by the barracks. I will go and look at them. Well, I have been out and seen them. Most appear to be in good spirits. Some look rather sober. Many of them have friends that have come to bid them good bye, wives and little children that is sad
to look upon. If I were going to the front I should not wish you to be present when I started. Perhaps, I should never go. Would you not be willing to have me go if I could get a better place. There is no chance here. There is not a man here in either of these companies that a cent of extra pay, let his business be what it may, and there
is no chance for any promotion of any soft.

I tell you that I was truly rejoiced to hear that Corporal Mansur was sent to Vermont. The 10th has smelt the fire. Mead it seems is back to Brandy Station. I have not thought that he could do anything. Perhaps, he
did not intend to, but it would be hard to make back tracks for me. I was glad that I was not there, but Grant and Burnside, they are the boys. The weather here is fine. We have had some cold weather and ice has run in the river, but there is no snow. Wednesday, just after dark, there was a squall of snow, that lasted about ten
minutes. It was a very cold windy night. I cannot realize that we are so far into December as we are, though it seems an age since I left home. How I do wish to be there again. There is a vacancy in the hospital now, perhaps, if Jacob is not much better they will send him along with the next detachment. I hope he will come. The hospital is nice, though I do not expect they live very extravagantly. If I stay in Mead's office, I shall not get a chance
to go to Washington. If I can see Jacob here it will be better. I expect there will be a guard sent Monday from one of the companies. It is a pretty hard trip and sometimes they stop only from 10 A.M. To 3 P.M. And sometimes until 3 P.M. next day. Columbia College Hospital is about 2 miles from the Depot, I understand. Tf they stop
only the five hours could not have much time to spare. It takes sometime to get rid of the prisoners. I expect that the recruiting is going forward pretty lively now. There is a much better class of men coming forward than came at first. I think that in the spring the army ought to be able to take the field in pretty good shape.

Have not been over to Hinsdale since I wrote you, but I hear from them often now. I wish that Zopher would come down, and we would go over there and have a nice time. I have not written to him yet. How I hope he will come. I see some of his company here have caught a little of it. Why is it that I feel so nervous about others, and
still feel so much like mingling in the strife myself?
But I never wish to be marched up in the face of an enemy and get wounded or killed myself, or see some of my comrades served so, and then tired, foot sore and mad as a march hare be marched back. I have not sworn and since I came into the army, but if I had been one of Mead's men the other day, I fear that I should have sworn some. I want to go right up on and over the enemy when I go, then I should not feel it if my feet were a little sore. Now, that makes me think about my stocking. They have worn out but little, my toes but just look through. Please send me in the box if you have not sent it a little yarn and a darning needle. My shoes are first rate; about wearing out the stocking, a sewed hole will save the extra expense in stocking. If you have sent the box before you receive this I will get some yarn of Susan. I like Susan first rate, much better than I supposed I should. I want to kiss her and Mary Ann every time I go over there, but I have not yet, for there is someone else in my mind all the time, and when I see them it increases the feeling.

I want to write to Uncle Porter, but I do not have time and chance to write much. Whenever I can write I have written to you. How are they to raise the $7.00 per month for me? It looks as if there would be some difficulty in doing it legally. Money might be raised for Amos Piper and he give it to you, but let them do as they please. If they do I shall say “God bless the people of Charleston”. I have felt very bad fearing that you might suffer. I will tell you of a mistake I once made on dress parade. One night I was thinking so intently of you and the children, and of the injustice of the State of vermont, that I did not notice the word of command, no more than if I had been
in Charleston, but I feel better. There is some patriotism in the country yet. That barrel of flour has done me good and those good ladies of Swanton that sent so many good things to us entire strangers Thanksgiving day. The butter and cheese is served out, and it helps nicely. Susan has given me some cheese twice. The last she
gave me was green cheese and as nice as I ever saw. Tell the boys to be very good for me, for I think of them much. Tell Harry (5 years old) that he must mind every work you say to him. I shall be very happy to hear that he is a good boy and minds every word you say to him, but I shall feel very bad to hear that he is not good. If he ever means to be a soldier he must mind every word that is said to him. I mean tell him and Ephraim that I see every day some men that have not been good boys, and they have to be locked up in a dark room, and some irons locked around their wrists, and their hands fastened together, sometimes two men are fastened together and have to sleep so over night without any bed. Well, that is a poor subject to finish on. Will try and do better next time. I must finish up here. I shall try to write often while I am in my present place. I wish to hear whether you have got the money or not.

Yours in love and affection,

Charles

Note: Not sure if the (5 years old) was in the original letter or added by the transcriptionist.

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Long Letters

I really enjoyed reading Charles' timely December 4 letter today, written right here in Brattleboro 150 years ago. Not only was it touching to hear a man's thoughts, as expressed to his wife, in the midst of a peaceful reprieve from war, but also it reminded me of the joys of the long letter -- both sending and receiving them. We have lost that today, but when I was a kid, way back in the 60s, we lived for letters from our friends during summer vacation. In fact, any letter was a great thing, handwritten on someone's stationery, in their own words, enclosed in an envelope with a stamp....

Who knows what kind of paper Charles wrote his letter on, although he certainly would have used some kind of pen you had to dip in an inkwell, as, get this, ballpoints weren't invented until the 1960s. I still like the idea of letters and have written and sent one in the last year. I had to make my own stationery though (decorated with handmade stamps) because you can no longer buy "writing paper" here in Brattleboro or very nearly anywhere.

Today Charles would have had no need of paper or ink. He would have just have talked with his wife on Skype every night and the only record of their discourse would have been deep in the archives of the NSA.

 

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