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

Post image for John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

June 8, 2013

John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.


Camp Near Culpepper,
June 8th, 1863.

My Precious Wife:

I have determined to write you another letter, although I cannot do so with the satisfaction it usually affords me, for I feel so uncertain whether you will ever read what I write.

In this I shall attempt a hurried sketch of the past ten days, unless I am interrupted by an order to leave before I get through. Already, since I have commenced this, we have received notice to be ready to march at the sound of the bugle, which may mean in ten minutes, or ten hours, so you see under what difficulties I write to my sweetheart. On yesterday week we left our camp on the Rapidan, from which I last wrote you, and took a hot and dusty march of sixteen miles towards Fredericksburg, and on the next morning were ordered to retrace our steps and took the same wearisome march and camped near our old ground, where we remained until Thursday morning at daylight, and then proceeded to this place, making another hot and toilsome march of sixteen miles. We remained here until Saturday at 12 o’clock m., when we started and marched towards the Rappahannock until 10 o’clock at night. This was a severe march. It rained for two hours in the afternoon and I was completely soaked. It kept drizzling on until daylight. About 10 o’clock at night we were ordered to halt and camp, “without fires,” as the Yanks were not far off. It was a novel sight to me to see or rather to hear 20,000 or 30,000 men rushing into the woods on the side of the road to (here comes orders to march at 12 o’clock) secure a place to lie down. We all laid down on “the cold ground” like tired hounds after a chase.

Jim Manahan, Tom Selman and myself laid down together. I was very wet, but very weary.

I spent a few minutes listening to the hum of 10,000 tongues cursing the Yankees, talking of home and thinking of how pleasant it would be to take a bath and a toddy, and how sad my wife would feel if she knew all that I was undergoing. I was glad that she did not know it for I did not suffer when I called to mind that these hardships were for the good of my country and the cause of liberty. Amid all this I could not suppress a laugh to hear the expressions of some way-worn chap as a straggler would creep into the bushes and grope about for a place to spread his blanket. I could hear, “get off my hand,” “now you are on my foot,” “for heaven’s sake,” (or something worse), “keep your feet out of my face,” “Oh, my back, you are right on top of me,” “you weigh six hundred pounds,” etc., etc.

In the course of an hour all was quiet save the riding back and forth of couriers, which I could hear all night as our “bed” was not more than a foot from the ruts in the road. I could put my hand out in the mud three or four inches deep, but I slept pretty well, and waked at daylight well and heard the order to retrace our steps to our camp near Culpepper. We formed and started back. It was my turn to stand guard, so I was put as part of the rear guard for our regiment, and marched back to this place, which we reached about 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon. I remained on guard until 8 o’clock this morning. I got by the fire a while last night and looked at your daguerreotype by the light of it, and felt happy in the thought of once more meeting you and talking over the dangers which I am now passing through. I feel sure that we shall meet the Yanks in the course of three weeks, but cannot tell when.

All of our movements are inexplicable to me. We never know anything. Even a colonel cannot tell until he starts from camp in which direction he is going, whether North or South. This secrecy is the secret of the success of this army. I forgot to say above, that, as a matter of amusement, and to keep us from getting stiff, we were marched on last Friday six miles off to witness a review of Stuart’s cavalry; it was a grand display; 10,000 or 12,000 mounted men is more than I expected to see at one sight. I saw Wat Taylor, but Lamar Stark was off on duty across the river. We returned to camp at night, making twelve miles “for fun” and left the next day at 1 o’clock, as I stated above, so you will see that we have been on the wing for nearly ten days. This marching and countermarching is what they call “Demonstrations,” and if they accomplish the objects for which I left my friends I am perfectly satisfied. The marching is no great trouble to me, but twenty or thirty pounds of baggage gets heavy before night, especially in wet weather, on a slippery hillside—when one is so much fatigued that to sneeze or blow his nose jostles him from one side of the road to the other. I saw a great many poor fellows barefooted in the marches of which I have written, but we got some shoes this morning, and I hope we will get on better. Don’t forget Stark’s lessons and Mary’s letters. Kiss them for me and tell the servants howdy. I must stop now and get ready to leave. I hope to hear from you some of these days. I have not received a line yet.

Your husband, faithfully ever,
John C. West.

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