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

Post image for Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne.

Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne.

December 10, 2013

Letters and diary of Laura M. Towne

The Oaks, St. Helena, December 10,1863.

Dear Family All: — It is hard for me and for us all, I know, that this letter is all of me that comes by this steamer. I can’t bear to think of what you will say and how you will look when you get it. Don’t be very angry with me (as I think you must be at first), but consider that I am not disregarding all your requests by my free will, but by really cruel circumstances, and that I am bitterly disappointed myself.

I had made every arrangement to go with Rina and Captain Hooper, and was making plans day and night for getting to you and thinking of nothing but the pleasure we should have. But since Miss Ruggles’ death I never dared to dwell with too much certainty upon our meeting at any set time, and it fairly made me tremble to see by your letters how much you were all setting your minds upon it. Though Ellen was still very ill when I wrote last, we had good hopes that she would be well enough for me to leave her by Xmas, and, from General Saxton down to the negro boys in the yard, everybody was helping forward my going. But on the twenty-eighth day of the sickness, the quinine seemed to have lost its effect, or there was some unfavorable circumstance which brought on a relapse. I sent for Dr. Rogers. He thought she must have the wisest medical aid or there was little hope for her. I told him that she had no home at the North and was unwilling to go with me without, or even with, invitation from my friends. Then he said, “You must stay with her; she will die if you leave her.” I asked whether he thought it would be long before I could go, and he said hers must be a tedious convalescence — that the responsibility and risk of taking her North made it better for me not to urge her going, but that he must warn me not to go away till she was in a different state from now. So I have made up my mind to it, and I do not dare to think of Xmas at all. I hope she will get well sooner than he thinks, for she has gone on famously for the last four or five days. I shall set out as soon as she is well enough to go to her mother and do without medicine. Meanwhile I turn Kitty’s ring and say, “Patience! Patience!” . . .

General Saxton received Mr. Furness’ letter and came directly over to see me and order me home, but he went away convinced that there was but one thing to be done. Those who have been of the household know well enough that I did not want any order from General Saxton nor urging from Mr. Furness to take me to home and Christmas, but all agree that there is only one way for me now, and that is to put off going till I can do so without leaving Ellen so ill.

December 11, Friday.

There are some other reasons besides Ellen’s sickness which make it better for me to be here, though I should not have let them detain me. One is the sale of the furniture. I want to buy a cheap table, a chair, a bedstead; or, if I can, I want to claim these things as necessary to me as a teacher. If I am here I may get them granted to me, but if I am away, there is nothing to be done but to buy them when I come back, and I may not be able to do it. Then if the places are leased by January 1st, as is expected, the resident teachers will be able to claim a home, but there would be a small chance for absentees. Ellen will not be at “The Oaks,” nor well enough to attend to my interests. Still, though I should like to keep this home, I would not stop a day to do it, for there would surely be some place for me near the school. A little while ago Mr. Phillips spoke in a way that seemed to threaten our school. He said the church building[1] belonged to private parties, and he interfered with our school arrangements. Colonel Higginson was here at the time and he afterwards spoke to General Saxton about it. General S. said we should be unmolested as long as he was in the department, for that he had rather a hundred such churches as Mr. Phillips’ should be closed than one such school as ours. Harriet is going to open it as soon as we get the stove up. I shall not teach again before I go home, I think. Ellen is not well enough to leave, and I shall rest here and make a business of it, since I cannot go home to rest with you all; though I do not really need any rest, but freedom from anxiety. I suppose the school would add a little to that, and so I shall not begin till I am easy in mind and eager for work once more. We have been having a good deal of company, but I am not housekeeper and don’t care. Colonel Higginson’s nephew is here now, sick, and being cared for by Mr. Tomlinson. He has just sent Ellen and me a half pillowcase full of beautiful Spitzenberg apples from a box he has just received. He occupies Mr. Tomlinson’s room with him. Mr. T. is the kindest of nurses to these sick young officers. He talks of going to Morris Island with good things for the soldiers there for Christmas.

Saturday evening.

It is storming so that I am afraid the ferry will not cross to-morrow morning, and then this letter may be too late for the steamer. This worries me dreadfully, for I am sure that you all will fret if you do not hear from me. I can hardly bear your disappointment, and I feel as if I cannot bear your anxiety on my account. You need not worry about my health. It keeps good and I shall take care of it, for I know how much it is worth. I shall be glad to escape anxiety, but that I could not do by going home now — it would be an incessant care and fear and self-reproach.

I should really fear to leave in such a storm, or after it, my recollection of the one I came through to get here being still vivid.

I have read over my letter and see that it seems cold and heartless and does not let you know at all how I am grieved about disappointing you, and at being separated on this day when we hoped our circle would be complete once more. But I am troubled enough about it, and do all I can not to think or feel too much till I get to you once more. I am in a hard trial on my account and on yours.

Good night! A happy Christmas to you all, and a bright New Year. You must be merry and make believe I am there.

We shall have no Christmas for the school and no school probably. I am so sorry for that. I cannot bear to stop, but must, and so good-night again, and best love to all from far away,


[1] The brick church, in which Miss Towne and Miss Murray had opened their school.

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