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

Post image for Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

August 11, 2012

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

Harrison’s Landing, James River, Va.,

Monday, August 11, 1862.

Dear Brother and Sister:—

I received your letters of the 1st and 4th last night. I do not know how long I shall be permitted to write, as everything is packed up and we have marching orders. As usual, we know nothing about our destination, but I think a general movement of the army is contemplated.

Last week we spent over the river. We crossed Tuesday morning and we had a splendid time. I was mistaken in the ownership of the house that was burnt over there, of which I spoke in my last letter. It was not Edmund Ruffin’s, but belonged to another man. Ruffin’s plantation is next above the burned house. We spent most of the week on it or in the vicinity. He had a beautiful situation and an excellent farm. There are acres of corn there eighteen feet high—the largest corn I ever saw. Apple and peach orchards breaking down with their loads of fruit stand ripening in the southern sun, and southern sun means something, too. The thermometer was up to 109 last Friday, and Thursday was hotter still. We lived while we were over there. Guarding secesh property is played out and we had full liberty to “acquire” anything we could find to eat. Pigs and poultry were plenty and we could have lived on them if we had taken salt with us, but salt could not be found. Flour and meal were found, though, and if we didn’t have pancakes and hoecakes and apple sass, peaches and plums, and new potatoes and green corn, it was because we were too lazy to get them. We slept in the woods. It would have been a novel sight to you to have passed through the woods at midnight and to have seen how soldiers sleep. Lying on the ground with no covering, heads pillowed on the roots of oaks and beeches, faces upturned in the moonlight, they might have looked like inanimate objects, but the sharp note of a bugle, or the “Fall in Eighty-third” would have started them to their feet in an instant.

I wish I had the ability to describe the home of the Ruffins to you. It is the only place I have yet seen that gave much evidence that the owner is anything more than in name and pretension an F. F. V. The house itself is not very large or pretentious, but it shows that it was the abode of wealth and taste. There is an air of aristocracy and luxury about these old southern mansions that time alone can give. We never see it in the north. The grounds about this place are the most beautifully laid out of any I have ever seen. It is the realization of the imaginary residences of the heroines we read of in romance. Before the house is a beautiful clean-swept lawn, shaded by magnificent oaks and tulip trees that look as though they had seen a century’s growth at least. And then, the winding walks and avenues, shady bowers and summer houses covered with roses and drooping with graceful festoons of flowers, whose names are unknown to me, but whose beauty and fragrance I can appreciate you must see them to know their beauty. The “servants’ quarters” are not the miserable log huts with mud floors like those at the White House, but clean painted frame buildings tastefully arranged in the shade of those old trees. A little apart from the main building is a smaller one, where I imagine the master spent much of his time. It was his library, study and office. He is evidently a scholar and a writer of no mean ability. He was the editor of an agricultural periodical and had held many offices of public trust and confidence. His library was very large and valuable, mostly of agricultural works, but containing a great number of scientific and classical books. Thousands of books were carried off by our men.

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