Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton (Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers)

Chesapeake Hospital,
September 11, 1864.

Dear Sister L.:—

I received a letter to-day from Captain Dickey dated “In the trenches before Petersburg. September 7th.” He says the regiment is forty-eight hours in the outer line and forty-eight off alternately. It is certain death to show a head above the works. Some one is killed almost every day. Captain Walker, a particular friend of mine in the Seventh, was killed by the sharpshooters a few days since. We have lost one killed and four wounded in our company. It is a pleasant thing to have the respect and good will of your comrades. I will give you an extract from the captain’s letter. After speaking of Lieutenant Thompson’s being detached as Ordnance Officer, he says: “So you see, I am all alone, and a sweet time I’ve had of it, making muster rolls (they were finished an hour since), monthly returns, etc., with my books and papers all locked up in Norfolk. Hasn’t it been a delightful job? But with you matters seem less promising. I am sorry to hear you improve so slowly. Seems to me a milder treatment would be better, but a man in the doctor’s hands must follow prescriptions. But keep a cheerful tone of mind. There is no necessity for you to fret or worry the least about your duties here. You have the sympathy of all the officers. No one intimates that Norton is ‘playing off.’ No one intimates but that you did your duty and your whole duty. On the contrary, many are of the opinion, and among them your humble servant, that it would have been better for you if you had left your post sooner. You ought to have done it, and yet I know very well how you felt. I know one is loth to leave his command during active operations, and is perhaps as unwilling to trust his judgment then as under any imaginable circumstances. I have no doubt you felt unfit for duty long before you left it. Norton reasoning with Norton, thought himself sick, but declared he wouldn’t be sick. Felt that he ought to be excused, but resolved not to be excused.”

The captain is nearly or quite right in that last remark. Still, where so many “play off,” a man’s character is worth a good deal, and I am not very sorry I did not give up immediately, though it might have been better for my health. I think I am on the gain slowly.

I was writing to H. on the morning of the 7th, when I had an interruption. It came in the shape of one of Uncle Samuel’s rebellion smashers, called for short “E.” He was on his way home, and while the boat stopped at the fort for coal he came up here to see me. I was “tolable” glad to see him. He looked quite like a “vet.”—a little thin and very dirty, perfectly soldierly. He says Phillips will give him $600 a year to come back in his store, and it’s my opinion he will accept that as quickly as the good Lord and his parents will let him get to Toledo. If P. backs out he won’t lack employment. Barker, of Ketchum & Barker, spoke to him of coming into his store again, but I think Mr. P. will be glad to get him.


Chesapeake Hospital,
September 1, 1864.

Dear Mother:—

I was very much surprised to hear that E. had not got home, but was to stay here till the 7th of September, and I don’t begin to understand it yet. The One hundred and forty-second Ohio National Guards, which must have been formed after his regiment, has gone home, and I was sure the regiment that passed us that night answered “One hundred and thirtieth Ohio—hundred days’ men.” “The Norton” which was heard might have been imaginary. I may see him yet before he goes.

I am glad to report that I am getting better. I was out yesterday, went down to the fort in the horse car, weighed myself and found my “mortal remains” to be just 109 pounds avoirdupois.

We had a change of surgeons a few days ago, and the new one said my liver was out of order and gave me calomel, salts, quinine, whisky, fever pills, sulphuric acid, etc., enough to kill a man with a less vigorous constitution, but I really believe it did me good. He has stopped all but the quinine and whisky now, and I feel a great deal better. I have gone to the “full diet” table now, with an appetite like a horse.

I am very glad to hear that you have succeeded in getting a roof between yourselves and “the starry decked heavens above you.” Father was quite anxious about that when he wrote, and I cannot see how you do manage to live on his slender salary. I can’t support myself in my present position on that. My full pay is about $100 a month; $11 of that is allowance for a servant, which I get if I have the servant. If I get a boy he will eat more than he earns and in the first battle throw away my overcoat and blankets. If I get a man over sixteen, Butler or some other man will take him away for a teamster or soldier. If I employ a soldier, I must pay $25.50 per month, or just what it costs the United States. $13 wages. $9 subsistence and $3.50 clothing.

Since January 1, Captain Dickey has employed one of the company as servant and the amount was stopped from his pay. Lieutenant Thompson and I had the benefit of his services and shared the expense till June. Since then, Thompson has been detached and the captain and I have stood the whole.

We have not settled for July and August yet, but we cannot employ a soldier any more. It is the general custom in the army for officers to employ soldiers and then certify on their payrolls that they have not done so and draw their full pay. It is done in every regiment and has been ever since I’ve been in the service. In that way some officers send home an immense amount of wages.

It costs me $1 a day for board, saying nothing of clothes or servant. If I want a coat, it costs from $25 to $30, pants $15, boots $12 or $15, hat $10, shirts $10 a pair.


Chesapeake Hospital,
Sunday, August 28, 1864.

My Dear Sister L.:—

I have passed the week mostly on my bed—been out of the house but once. That was yesterday, when I went down to the fort (in the cars) and that little exertion was almost too much for me. I am very comfortably sick— have no pain except an occasional headache, but spend most of my time quietly, feeling a great aversion to the least exertion.

My bed is a little iron cot with a mattress on it, my table a light stand. I draw it up beside the bed and write my letters and then lie back and read or sleep. Three times a day my tormentor comes with quinine and whisky disguised as “tonic solution,” and soon after come preparations for a meal from the “low diet kitchen.” This is managed in a way called in military parlance “by detail,” e. g., first installment for dinner (after the “tonic solution”) 10 a. m., nurse with cup and saucer. Then at intervals of half an hour the following articles—10:30, knife, fork and spoon; 11, milk, cup and mug, with one spoonful of sugar; 11:30, teapot and plate of corn starch (good); 12 m., plate with leathery toast, dab of butter, boiled beef and a slice of beet or dried sweet potato. Regularity and system are indispensable in hospitals, so this routine is never departed from, and it is just two hours every time from the arrival of the cup and saucer to “Ready. Sir,” the signal to fall to. I assure you there is no waste of food among the low diet patients. I always take all the sugar to make out. I do not seem to gain strength at all. In fact, I lose strength every day, but I hope to improve soon.

We have a new surgeon—came this morning. The one that left yesterday was a very nice man, and this one seems a good man too, as well as I could judge by ten minutes’ talk.

I used to say that if I ever got in a hospital I should want to get home. So I do now, and I expect—to want. No use in trying that here. But as soon as I am able to travel, I mean to apply to be sent to Annapolis on light duty and from there I think I can get home. I have lost twenty pounds of flesh and I do not intend to go to the field again till I regain that and my full strength. It would be useless and might result in a more serious fit of sickness.

E. had not got home when Father wrote, and I have not heard a word from him since he passed me on his way north. I am not uneasy about him though.

I had a letter from D. F. a day or two since. He said nothing about Etta, but Lizzie and the baby had gone to Maine, so I have strong doubts about your seeing anything of Etta this summer. I wrote to D. to send you “Very Hard Cash” as my birthday present. If you have read it, it will be rather mal apropos, won’t it? I do not think you have, as it has not been out long and novelties don’t find their way out there very fast. You will, if I am not mistaken, find it one of the most absorbing stories you ever read. It is made up almost wholly of impossibles. For instance, his heroine, Julia, is one never seen except in a novel, but she is only an exaggeration of many sweet and lovely women. His best character, I think, is David Dodd, the nearest approach to a possible. Dr. Sampson is well drawn and an original person. I could not succeed in appreciating the saintliness with which he finished Jane Hardie. Her brother’s comments on her diary seemed to me too just, and his motto for the diary might as well apply to her life; “Ego et Deus meus,” or I and my God.

But the lesson of the story is a good one, and the consummate skill with which it is wrought out makes one jealous of the author for being an Englishman. Why have we no one on this side the water to write an American story like that? In one thing he fails. In impossibles he is better than Dickens, but when he caricatures Yankees and negroes, he shows an ignorance of the originals. Vespasian is his poorest impossible, and Fullalove is not much better. But enough of this. When you have read it, tell me how you like it and how you like my comments.

From the front the news is always encouraging. Lee has been making desperate efforts to regain the Weldon railroad and so far without success, and every day lessens his prospects of success. He is reported to have said he must have it if it took every rebel soldier. He is welcome to it at that price. Sherman is waiting for Farragut to take Mobile or draw off a part of Hood’s force to defend it, and things seem to be almost at a deadlock all round.


Chesapeake Hospital,
August 26, 1864.

Dear Father:—

This letter of yours has been to Hilton Head I suppose, and then to the Army of the Potomac, and next day, by the kindness of Captain Dickey, to me here. He is a captain, that same Dickey. His good qualities wear like steel.

Twenty days old this letter is. In that time you must have received several from me, not all addressed to you, but to the family, some of them, papers for the boys, and one I sent to Mother with a little note about the picture. I don’t believe they can all have miscarried. Well, one thing is certain, it won’t take a month for letters to pass now, and I comfort myself by thinking that you will be reading this about Monday or Tuesday next, and by and by all this arriere will be straightened up.

After hearing what you have had to occupy you lately, I recall my impatient remarks about your want of interest, etc. Indeed, they were not leveled at you. Though you give every other reason I know that you do not like to write letters. You sit down to it as to a job that must be done and I do not expect you to write often.

I had an idea that I had a sister out there who (if she follows the track of young persons of her sex) must be quite a young lady by this time. Young ladies are supposed to wield a ready pen, to be familiar with the state of the family and to love to gossip about it. They generally have time enough, but despite all my ideas, hypotheses, etc., I find a married sister with a husband to take care of, a house to sweep, the stockings to darn, and the slight care of a dairy—I find her writing to me every week, while this young lady finds time about once in six months. E. is a “brick.” He writes as often as he can, and, though I haven’t received any from him of very late date, I lay it to the bags. I hope soon to hear from him that he is back in the hardware in Toledo. “What would you think,” he says in his last, “if I should get as large a salary as Father’s?” He got a stomach-full of the army in one hundred days. If he goes again, it will be with a strong impression that he can’t help it. I wrote to him, directing to Brooklyn, thinking of course he would be at home a few days, or at least you would know where he is. He said Mr. P. was very anxious he should come back to his store, but he himself did not seem very anxious to accept so advantageous a situation.

I am very sorry to hear of your trouble about the house; however I suppose it is all over now. I hope so at least. I should think with such a scarcity of dwellings some Yankee would be putting up houses to rent. I had very much such a time as yours approached, just before coming here. Getting sick in camp, I was left behind unable to march. “In camp” in the Army of the Potomac now is a pleasant fiction, meaning any place a regiment bivouacs on over night. So they moved away and left me, our efficient medical staff making no provision for sick. Two days I stayed there, living on the kindness of some sick men from Maine. Then our adjutant came and mounted me on his own horse, like a good Samaritan, and took me to the corps hospital. The medical director wanted to see my papers. I must be committed like a pauper to the poorhouse. I was “liable to be arrested” for absence from my regiment without authority. You may understand it was trying to my temper to be called a skulk the first time I came near a hospital in more than three years. I turned away from him in disgust and lay down under a tree on the bank of the river. The adjutant left me there and said he would not rest till he had got the order sending me to the hospital. So there I lay and my thoughts were not pleasant. By and by I heard a rattle of musketry and knew my regiment was “in.” Then it blew and began to rain. I curled myself up in my gum blanket and felt miserable enough, sick, weak, and no place to shelter my head.

The next afternoon a doctor came and asked me who I was and how I came there. I told him my story and he had the kindness to be shocked—”didn’t see into it—anyone could see I was sick—didn’t need any papers” and he immediately wrote the papers I enclose and sent me on the boat. I feel very weak, have only been out doors once. If it were any use I would apply for leave of absence as soon as I am able to travel, but it is not. I would be ordered to Annapolis and put on court-martial or some other light duty. It is next to impossible to get leave of absence.

The Eighth has redeemed any reputation it lost at Olustee. It was the Eighth before which “eighty-two dead rebels were counted after the battle,” according to Birney’s dispatch.


Chesapeake Hospital, Fortress Monroe, Va.,
Monday, August 22, 1864.

Dear Sister L.:—

You will no doubt be somewhat surprised to receive a letter from me dated at a hospital. It is a novelty for me, but the proverb says, “every dog has his day,” and mine has come now.

I wrote you a line from Bermuda Hundred saying that we had arrived in the old Army of the Potomac and that I was ready for what might come. I thought I was. I have been trying this long time to deceive myself into the idea that I was well enough, but I had to give it up. I have a fancy that my night duty along the marshes of the St. Johns affected me more than I knew at the time. It first showed itself in that attack of sunstroke, and ever since that time any exertion of consequence has found me wanting. I am weak and enervated, unable to endure fatigue as I used to in the old campaigns. I was taken sick on a night march, Saturday night a week ago, and though I kept up a while I was forced at last to lie down under a tree. Sunday morning I went on from the bridge over the James, where I had slept, to the front where they were having a brisk little skirmish, but learning that our regiment was in reserve, I came back and found them near the river. On Tuesday they marched again, and I was left in camp too weak to go. Wednesday I stayed there, and on Thursday the adjutant came back and put me on his horse and took me to the Tenth Corps hospital. On Friday I was put on a boat and sent down here, landing on Saturday. The Chesapeake is a large hospital exclusively for officers. The building was formerly a large seaside hotel overlooking Hampton Roads and is admirably adapted to hospital purposes. There is plenty of pure sea breeze and good food. Officers are charged $1 a day for board and attendance. In the card at the head of my bed my diagnosis (or symptoms) is set down as “General Debility,” so I suppose that’s what’s the matter with me.

We had a lovely passage up from the Head. The Collins is not a passenger boat, but the weather was fair and the officers slept on deck in comfort. Her little table would seat just ten, so we had first, second and third tables, but plenty of good food, for which Mr. Steward charged us fifty cents a meal, or $1.50 a day. We were four days coming, and to while away the tedious hours we had whist parties and story clubs, and in the evening our band discoursed sweet music. We would have been selfish to have wished a better time.

Well, I’m too weak to write much and must close. We are much nearer together now than when I was in Florida, and I hope to hear from you often. I want to hear how you get along on the farm, and the thousand and one things you know will interest me. Give my love to C, and write as soon as you can after receiving this. Direct to Lieutenant O. W. N., Chesapeake Hospital, Ward 1, Fortress Monroe, Va., exactly. Don’t put on my regiment.


Bermuda Hundred, Va..
August 13, 1864.

Dear Father:—

I’ve just time to drop you a line in great haste.

We left Florida on the 5th. arrived at Hilton Head on the 7th. Left there on the 8th, arrived at Fortress Monroe, after a lovely passage, on the nth. Anchored off the mouth of the James that night. While there the One hundred and thirtieth Ohio National Guard passed on their way home. E. or somebody else called my name as they faded away in the distance.

Yesterday, the 12th, we landed at Bermuda Hundred and marched to the front on the right of Butler’s line. This morning the rebels opened a heavy fire on us and after a time we were withdrawn. Our sergeant major and some others were wounded—none killed in the Eighth, some in the Seventh. To-day our baggage came up and we sent ten wagon loads up to be stored at Norfolk or “else whair.” I sent my valise to New York by express.

We are under orders now to be ready to march at a moment’s notice and are ready. My foot is sore yet, but I march if there is any fighting to be done. I’ve cut my finger, which rather injures my penmanship, in my haste, but I guess you can read it. Grant has “several” reinforcements, and orders look like work. Good news from Mobile. The rebels got the worst of the shelling this morning.


Jacksonville, Fla.,
August 4, 1864.

Dear Sister L.:—

I wrote you a few days ago, but important items occurring and having occurred, I embrace the opportunity to drop you a line.

I think I wrote on the first that we were ordered on an expedition into the interior. That night I cut my foot badly with a broken tumbler, which little interruption will no doubt lay me on the shelf for some time. The regiment started next morning but I remained behind.

Now the camp is full of rumors. General Birney is reported to be relieved by General Hatch and ordered to the Army of the Potomac and that two regiments are to go with him. She points her shaky finger at the Seventh and Eighth as the two regiments. The Eighth is still at Palatka, though expected down to-day. Some say the Seventh and Ninth, the regiments Birney organized, are the ones to go, but the Ninth is at Beaufort out of his district, and unless he can take us there and exchange us for the Ninth, they are not apt to go. Of course, I like the prospect of going Grant, Glory and Richmond—I’ve fought and stumbled around there too long not to wish to be in at the death when the death is in prospect. I may meet E. too. Hurrah, for the Army of the Potomac! Still, I’m whistling before issuing from the sylvan shades. We are not certain to go after all.


Jacksonville, Fla.,
August 1, 1864.

Dear Sister L.:—

My last was written on the 23d, and in that I told you that the regiment had gone on another expedition and that I, being unwell, had been left behind in command of camp. I am much better now, so you may dispense with any extra anxiety you may have felt on my account.

The expedition did not go to Indian River as we expected, but went up the St. Johns thirty miles, landed and struck across the country to Darby, on this railroad and seven miles west of Baldwin. It then turned and came back this way. The rebs had quite a little force behind three miles of intrenchments at Baldwin, and if Birney had moved right on he might have captured the whole of them, but he waited while they got ready to move, and only captured a dozen or so, and three officers. The regiment came back on the 28th, Thursday, and next day we were ordered to embark on the Cosmopolitan at 11 o’clock.

We have the only band in this district, and under the leadership of the colored Professor Anderson, it has got to be a good band. The officers pay the professor $100 a month to lead and instruct the band, and they take some pride in it. We found that we were going to Hilton Head to stay, and just as the regiment embarked he ordered the band ashore. Being enlisted men they were subject to his orders, but their instruments were the property of the regiment and the officers piled them up on deck. General Birney said they might be our instruments, but they could not go on a government boat. We told Professor Anderson to come with us, as he was not a soldier. General Birney ordered him off the boat as he was a citizen, and so it went, but the general finally beat us and we left the band.

He was determined that the regiment should not stay at Hilton Head, so he did all he could to make us appear to disadvantage, and immediately on landing he attacked General Foster and kept at him till he succeeded in getting us sent back, and here we are again. While he was gone, Colonel Noble in command here did something. He captured a locomotive and a train of cars on the Cedar Keys railroad which crosses this railroad at Baldwin. We expect to start on another expedition to-morrow. Our trip to the Head was a nice little excursion, take it all round, especially for those who did not get seasick. There are but few more troops there than here, but it is headquarters of the department and a busy place. I was much amused while I was there at seeing the contrabands. It was market day (and is every day) and they were coming to sell the melons and other vegetables. They all came in boats, and the beach is so very flat that their boats cannot come near the shore. The men come in every day costume, but the women put on their brightest bandanas and calicoes. Arrived at the end of their voyage, they run their boats up as far as they can, and then the men get out in the water and shoulder the women and carry them ashore and return for their cargoes. The process of transportation affords excellent opportunities for taking photographs of “black-legs,” etc., for the Rogues’ Gallery. I saw one of “de pretty yaller gals” dressed in the extreme of fashion, silk dress, white skirt, gaiters, etc., standing on a board on the beach surrounded by a group of lesser lights (or shades) who paid their homage by respectful “how dye’s.” She had evidently donned some of her “missis’” garments and I but do her justice in saying she looked well in them.

My! But I did lay in the ice creams, soda waters and melons up at the Head, like a fellow who hadn’t had any in some time.

E. says his time is half out (more too, now) and if anybody gets him out in the infantry again, he’ll be a smart man. Oh, ho, ho, I told you so, but don’t tell him I told you so. His patriotism is not much less, but the poetry of war sounds better at a distance.

Its “Hottentotissimus” down here now. Thermometer past 100 degrees—a heap. I stand it much better than I expected and so does everyone else. I wear woolen clothes —woolen shirt and drawers all the time, too.


Jacksonville, Fla.,
July 23, 1864.

Dear Sister L.:—

The “District of Florida” is cursed by a commander called Brigadier General Birney.[1] It seems to be a sort of dunce block for the government—a place where they send men good for nothing in any other place. They began with Seymour—his performances you have heard of. Then they sent Hatch. He couldn’t hatch up any disaster and they sent him somewhere else. Next came Foster. He was a pretty sensible man, so he did not stay a week. Then at last came Birney, the summum malum, a man afflicted with the St. Vitus’ dance, in a military point of view. He is utterly unable to be quiet or let anybody else be. He came early in June about the time most of the troops were sent away, and immediately began to stir up things. He thought there was not much force near Charleston and he would make a reconnoissance. He took the splendid steamer Boston, put a regiment of infantry and two pieces of artillery on her and started up one of the small rivers near Charleston. He ran aground, the rebels fired into the boat, he set fire to her, and the regiment jumped overboard and took to the woods. The steamer was lost with the two guns, all the arms of the regiment, and stores, in all $100,000 of property. By and by he started again, went up to James Island and—came back again. Didn’t lose much that time but a great deal of patience among his officers and men. On the Fourth of July there was some difficulty between the Third and Thirty-fifth Colored Troops in town here. He would punish the Third. He didn’t like the Eighth very well. He would punish the Eighth. The Third was in the forts here and had been drilling all summer in heavy artillery and understood it pretty well. He ordered the Third to Yellow Bluff and the Eighth to the forts at Jacksonville. Next day he ordered a raid. There was a steam sawmill belonging to a rebel on the Nassau River about twenty-five miles from here, and he started nearly all the force in the district to capture that sawmill. Three steamers loaded with troops left here a week ago to-day, landed the troops at Trout Creek above Yellow Bluff, and they marched across the country while the Alice Price, one of the most valuable steamers in the department, went round to go up the Nassau. He marched one day’s march into the wilderness and concluded he didn’t need so large a force, so he sent them all back but one hundred men. The Price struck a snag in the Nassau and went to pieces, a total loss of $40,000 and he hasn’t got the sawmill yet. He came back and ordered the Eighth out of the forts and the Third back again. He ordered us to camp on a place that was an equine cemetery, and didn’t see the joke till he had been told half a dozen times, and then he ordered us to change again over by Fort Hatch where we were last spring. We had not got tents pitched before the order came to “Prepare to march immediately. Six days’ rations, etc.” The regiment stood in a pelting rain for two hours on the wharf and then were ordered back to camp. This morning they started again, and after waiting two hours again in the rain, at last got on board and started. They are off on a cow-hunting expedition to Indian River, a hundred miles down the coast. You will ask why I am not with them. I was not able to march and am left in charge of the camps. I gave out on the sawmill expedition. We marched eight miles through the pine woods (which keep off the wind but give no shade) without a halt, with the mercury above 100 in the shade. At the end of that time I fell in the road, sun-struck, and I haven’t been worth much since. It was terrible. Twenty-five men and three officers had given out, and we all came back together towards night. So my boast of never being excused from duty is done. I was not well when I started and went further than I should have done, but for my pride in never “falling out.” There is a limit to human endurance and I found mine there. I can stand any reasonable hardship and I believe little things do not daunt me, but that was altogether too much. I never heard of such a thing before as marching men in such weather. Why, they do not allow a sentry to stand without a shelter, but men can march and carry six days’ rations on wild goose hunts well enough. There is no pretense of an enemy. There are not seven hundred rebels in the state of Florida.

General Rimey seems to consider the Eighth as a sick child that requires nursing, and block and tackle by which to hoist his favorites into place and power.

Major Burritt was badly wounded at Olustee and has not been able to be with the regiment since (Colonel Fribley is dead and Lieutenant Colonel Bartram promoted to another regiment); he is the true commander of the regiment. Captain Bailey commanded in his absence for a long time, but the general had one friend (only) in the district, a South American major, ambitious and unprincipled, and he wants to make him colonel, so he sends him to command the regiment, on the ground that Captain Bailey is not competent. Then he proposes to have Major Burritt (who has appointment as Lieutenant Colonel, but cannot be mustered till he takes command) mustered out of the service, Major Mayer promoted to Colonel, and a Captain Hart to Lieutenant Colonel of the Eighth. Major Mayer has already made recommendations of officers to be promoted who are entirely out of the line of promotion, and, to cap the climax, the general yesterday sent Captain Hart to command the regiment, which stirred up such a breeze that he had to send him back. You do not understand why, I presume. Suppose the captain of my company to resign, or be promoted, or die, or get out of the way in any other way. Of course, I would expect to be promoted to fill his place, the second lieutenant to take my place. That is, if I were senior first lieutenant (having appointment of earliest date). Now, if an officer from another regiment is made the captain, that throws me and every officer out of promotion. Of course, that does not work smoothly, being opposed to the regulations, and such performances are demoralizing the Eighth very fast.

I have wished many times this summer that I was back in the Army of the Potomac. We would probably knock about more there than here, but it would be to some apparent purpose and we would have the satisfaction of trying to do some good.

I expect before Birney gets back there will be another steamer blown up by torpedoes and we will be hurried down to Yellow Bluff again to guard the river.

[1] Note—Not the General Birney of the Third Corps.


Yellow Bluff, Fla.,
June 30, 1864.

Dear Sister L.:—

I know something how near to you the death of Almon comes. He was a comparative stranger to me. I had seen him but twice, once at home and once at Jacksonville, and of course I could not know him very intimately. His comrades spoke well of him and esteemed him highly, and he seemed to me like an excellent soldier and a good young man. I sympathize with you in your sorrow. Your grief is mine and your joy also.

My last letter from E. gives the intelligence that he too is among the host pressing on to Richmond, and I tremble lest in these days of terrible slaughter the next one may bring the news of a fearful wound, or some strange hand may tell me of his death in the field. I feel more anxious for him than I ever did for myself. You know how I have always felt about his going out and I have expressed my views freely to him, but now he is there, he shall hear no discouraging word from me. I have written to him to do his duty fearlessly and faithfully, and if he falls, to die with his face to the foe. He will do it. You will never blush for the cowardice of your brother, and my only fear is that he will be too rash. I glory in his spirit, while I tremble for his danger. Oh, I could hardly bear to give him up now, and yet I suppose his life and his proud young spirit are no more precious, no more dear to me or to you than thousands of others who have fallen and are to fall are to their friends. But I will not look forward to coming sorrow, but hope for the best.

This is the last night in June and very swiftly the month has passed away. The weather has been delightful, not near so warm as May. Almost every day we have had a refreshing shower.

We are in hopes to be ordered to Virginia, or we should not be disappointed if we were ordered there. The Seventh U. S. C. T. started day before yesterday and the Thirty-fifth went by to-day. It does seem hard that I should be lying here in idleness while my old comrades are marching on to victory or death. Perhaps it is for the best.

I have just been looking with pride at E.’s picture. Why cannot I look at yours? Isn’t it worth while to take a little trouble to send it to me? There must be a photographer in Panama.