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.

April 2, 2013

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

Stoneman, April 2, 1863.

Dear Cousin L.:—

You come out so hard on O. M. I’ve a good mind to side with him just because he is the weaker party. Perhaps, too, I did him injustice in representing that his opinions had changed. I supposed that, from his education, he would think very much as you do, but if he left home with such opinions I shouldn’t wonder if he came back with a couple of contraband servants, his own property, so much does contact with the system change northern minds. I am changed, too. I used to be quite an abolitionist, as you know, but see how hard-hearted I’ve become. I had been chopping wood enough to last me two or three days and left it to help the postmaster (my tent mate) tie up the letters for the mail. A great lazy nigger whom the general had sent to cut wood for his cook, took advantage of my absence, and instead of cutting any wood, carried all mine into the cook’s tent. Now I suppose you out of sympathy for the oppressed, would have said nothing about it, but cut some more wood. I couldn’t see it in that light. I persuaded the darkey to correct his mistake and pile the wood under my bed, and I fear I chuckled some over my good fortune in getting my wood in for nothing. If it had been a white man now, larger than myself, I should have forgiven him. but not a “nigger.”

The question for discussion at the club to-night is, “Which is the more consistent editor, Horace Greeley or James Gordon Bennett?” Which side do you think will (not should) gain the decision?

Nothing will do, I see, but to tell you all about my office. I haven’t got any office and don’t expect to have. The nearest approach to it is being my own hostler, for I have a horse, and my principal business now is petting and taking care of him. I wrote a pass once for Private Norton and took it to the general to sign. He wrote at the bottom with an “N. B.”. “Private Norton is my Brigade Bugler.” He seemed to think there might be a difference, but I am a color bearer, too. I carry the brigade colors on my horse with the staff in my stirrup, a la Lancers. Perhaps this is the change I may have hinted, for I’ve only had the colors since the battle of Fredericksburg. I have a splendid horse. His only fault is that he can only keep two feet on the ground at a time.

Don’t be in a hurry about our moving. We shall go when Joseph “gets a good ready.”

We had a snow storm on the 31st of March and it will take a few days to dry that off. To-day is a glorious day for that purpose, though, the wind blows almost a hurricane. It has taken half the roof off my house since I commenced writing. If such a thing should happen to your house, I suppose you wouldn’t write any more that day. However, it did not disturb me much. It only took about five minutes to fix it.

I’ve half a mind to denounce you as a dangerous person, and have you sent to Fort Lafayette. “You don’t want to see the Union on its old basis.” Well, I do; that’s just what I came here for. My word for it, you are quite a secessionist. You are very frank about it—why didn’t you “define your position” with an if some way? You don’t want the Union if slavery is not abolished. Candidly, now, I don’t like slavery a bit better than you do, but I think it is done for by this war, and I want the Union and the old Constitution.

Yesterday was “All Fools'” day, and it was generally observed in the army. Our camp was in a roar from sunrise till “tattoo” with the cracking of practical jokes. One of the tallest was perpetrated by our adjutant general. A captain in the Twelfth New York has been trying to secure the colonelcy of a negro regiment, and Captain Estes (adjutant aforesaid) made out an order purporting to come from the Secretary of War, discharging him from service and tendering him the commission. It was done up in good style, red inked in the right places and regularly signed, all right. He was overjoyed, bought several bottles “elixir vitae” to treat his brother officers and wet his promotion. He then went to Corps Headquarters to get his transportation ticket, and there the officers who had been posted by Captain Estes let grimalkin out of the reticule. Captain E. sent another order to a thick-headed lieutenant, the butt of the regiment, to report to Colonel Stockton as Aide-de-Camp in the absence of Lieutenant Jewett. He reported, and was coolly informed that Lieutenant J. was not absent, and when his services were required the colonel would send him a mule.

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