Letter No. XXII.
Camp Near Chattanooga,
October 31st, 1863.
To Mrs. James D. Blair, Austin, Texas.
My Dear Sister:
Your surprise of August the 6th reached me ten days ago. I call it a surprise because I thought that you trans-Mississippians were so crest-fallen at the Vicksburg catastrophe as to regard yourselves as entirely cut off from friends on this side of the river, and so would cease all effort at correspondence. My wife writes me in the most gloomy and desponding strain, while my letters to her are full of hope and encouragement. The army here, that is, the Virginia army, simply looked upon the fall of Vicksburg as to be expected, and have never ceased to find opportunities to send letters home at a dollar per letter, and most of us have received as many as before, and now since the post master general has arranged for a regular mail, I trust you will all write me more frequently, for you have no idea what a comfort it is to stand in mud to the ankle, on an empty stomach, and read a line of comfort from sympathizers at home. Newspapers may exhaust their stereotyped phrases, and correspendents may discourse eloquently about the sufferings of the “poor soldier” until the phrase becomes a by -word and fails to excite an emotion of pity, much less a tear, but I will say now (for perhaps I may not live to say it face to face in the better day to come), that the sacrifice made and the toils endured by the private soldier in the service of the Confederate States cannot be appreciated or expressed in words, nor will they ever be known except to those who have shared them. Not even the officers of infantry, whose duties are almost as arduous, can tell the tale of hardships which fall to the lot of the man in the ranks. He is the lowest mud sill in this structure which is being reared, and when the edifice totters all the props and braces must be placed upon his shoulders. My thoughts are all the news I have—we seldom get a paper here. We have been in the mud for over a month in an almost continuous rain, and are not allowed to send to Richmond for blankets and overcoats, which many of us have there, because it will not be thought of until the hospitals are filled with pneumonia and pleurisy.
When some sagacious surgeon, who has been in a comfortable tent, with plenty of blankets, will suddenly discover that a barefooted man cannot well keep warm under one blanket, which has not been thoroughly dry for three weeks. I have been quite blessed. I was barefooted about a week ago, but then the water was too deep for shoes, so it made very little difference. It has never been necessary for me to take a dose of medicine yet, so you may know that I stand it pretty well, never having missed a roll call or a duty of any kind. I will write to Brother Charles in a day or two, and give him my thoughts on heroes and stragglers. The former race is not extinct, but dying out rapidly. The latter is increasing alarmingly. You observe that we have a good deal of time to think while in camp, and not on active service, and some time to read, too. I have read lately, “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” “Aurora Leigh,” “Davenport Dunn,” “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, and innumerable articles in magazines, which I have picked up in waste places. I now have on hand “Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered,” which belongs to our quartermaster. I have carried a Bible and Milton in my knapsack all the time, so you see we are not absolutely illiterate. Your brother, truly,
John C. West.