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.

March 3, 2013

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

Stoneman, March 3, 1863.

Dear Cousin L.:—

I can never forgive myself for writing such a letter to you as I did last week. How it must have jarred on your already overwrought feelings, but, L., I did not, I could not, have guessed that the reason I did not receive my usual letter was that your baby’s cradle was empty. It grieves me beyond measure to think that I should have written anything that would add a sorrow by my thoughtlessness, when you had already all you could bear. I can only ask you to forgive my haste. If I caused you pain, believe me it was unintentionally done. I have read your letter again and again, and every time I have laid it down feeling that I could not understand it. Something of that feeling of loneliness I can understand. I know how ten thousand times in the day something reminds you of the lost, and how, as you move about the house lost in thought, your mother’s chair might almost seem to be occupied again, or you would listen as though you heard the little cry that told you baby’s awake, and then, as you felt the delusion and knew it never more could be, it seems to me I know something of that desolation that would creep into your heart, but that does not seem to be the main thought in your letter. There is a sweet and quiet joy, I might almost say, that I cannot understand. I can sympathize with you in your double bereavement, but in that consolation so precious to you I have no share.

I have asked myself again and again what is this mysterious power of religion that so wonderfully supports its possessor in times like this? How can she, while the earth is yet fresh above the coffin of her only child, and before the first blade of grass has sprung on her mother’s grave, so far forget her own sorrow and bereavement as to feel such an interest in me, a person almost a stranger in comparison with these? Oh, L., I believe I need your sympathy more than you mine. I cannot tell you just how I feel. I would be a Christian but I cannot. I mean there is a vague longing for that happiness I know must be there, but an unwillingness to do my part to secure it. I cannot even yet desire to be a Christian so much that I am willing to try. I wonder at myself and you will wonder, too, but that is only too true.

You say “we all have idols.” What is mine? If God should take my sister or my brother or my father I could not bear it as you have borne your loss, but I do not think they are idols. I hope I shall not wait to be driven home, but I’m afraid I shall.

If you cannot understand this confusion of ideas, this mixture of regret and stubbornness, you are no worse off than myself. I cannot understand my own heart. Your letters have aroused some latent sparks of tenderness, but I cannot see that that stubborn unconcern is gone—I only wish I could.

As yet all is quiet here in the army. It is just one week earlier than the time we started last year, but I hardly think we can move so early this spring. In fact it has seemed to me that no attempt would be made to take Richmond with this army. Two of the six corps have been entirely removed, and what remains is not strong enough to gain much except by strategy. Ah, well, I cannot see what we are coming to. If I had your faith I should be a better soldier.

Remember me in kindness to your husband, and, if I did not know you would do so unasked, I would say—remember me in your prayers.

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