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 26, 2013

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

Beverly Ford, Va.,
Aug. 26, 1863.

Dear Sister L.:—

My memory for dates is not very good, but it seems to me the 26th of August must be your birthday. Twenty-two years old to-day, and married almost a year and a half, and when I left home you were only my sister of twenty with the alliance in prospect. How the time rolls away! Why, I begin to look for twenty-four. I have thought every day lately that I would write to you, but then I thought if I did that the mail at night would bring me your letter to answer, so I have waited, but to-day being your birthday, I must write a little at all events. I wish I had some present to send you, but I cannot think of anything now. Stay —I will send you my “Maltese cross.” It is a very simple thing, only a red cloth badge, but it may interest you from its associations, especially if anything should happen to me. I have seen letters addressed to our own boys begging them to send a badge that they had worn in some battle, and perhaps you may value even such a trifle, as something. I have worn mine through Chancellorsville, Loudon Valley and Gettysburg. It has lain between my head and a stone many a night since March. If it seems to you too trivial, you may give it to Sereno and tell him to put it on his cap. He don’t write any more. I don’t know what has “riled” him. Give him this secesh envelope and tell him I took it out of the pocket of a dead rebel away up on the top of a Blue Ridge mountain in Manassas Gap. He has been teasing me for something secesh this long time, and that is the “genewine article.”

We are living “just old gay” now. The commissary issues soft bread enough to keep us all the time, and potatoes, turnips, onions, beets and dried apples often enough to have something good every meal. He has some tomatoes to issue, so report says, this morning. We buy condensed milk of the sutlers and have milk in our tea and coffee all the time and it don’t get sour in hot weather, either. I have bought dried apples and just lived lately. The men in the regiments never had such fare as they have had since the close of the summer campaign.

And yesterday came the most glorious news of the war. The identical flag that the gallant Anderson and his seventy-three brought safely away from Fort Sumter, again floats proudly over its battered walls.[1] The fort is a ruin, but the Union is not. And better than all, fifteen great guns are throwing their shells over all the hostile works into Charleston itself. Their boasted “street by street and house by house,” “last ditch” defense is played out. If they don’t surrender or evacuate, the city will be battered down about their ears by men so far away they can’t see them. Oh, but I feel jubilant! I hope they will fight till the “last ditch” is taken and nothing is left of Charleston but a grease spot. How are you, copperhead? How does that news suit you? Abolitionists are at work down there. They are “good looking” and they will “come in.”

Captain Judson arrived some days ago with two hundred conscripts for the Eighty-third. He has gone back for more and soon the Eighty-third will be a full regiment again. The old army of the Potomac is filling up fast, but these new men desert awfully. I think they will quit that after a hundred or so have been shot. Three are to be shot in our division next Saturday. They were to be shot yesterday, but it was postponed. I think it will not be put off again. The whole division will be paraded at the execution. The men belong to the One hundred and nineteenth Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Corn Exchange), First Brigade.

Colonel Rice, who has commanded the brigade since Colonel Vincent fell, is appointed Brigadier General and assigned the command of First Division, First Corps. Our new commander is Colonel Chamberlain of the Twentieth Maine, a very fine man (formerly professor in college), but not much of a military man.

I still keep my position through the changes in the administration, and I have not much fear of losing it now.

E. writes quite often. Seems to like his place first rate. He has been home once on a visit.

I am most ready to send you my little diary, if you want it. I have sent to New York for a new one. Expect it Saturday or Sunday. When it comes I can send the old one. You won’t find it a very nice book. It is worn and discolored by sweat and rain and it is very brief. Much of it is no more than a record of the weather and of my correspondence, written in haste with a pencil after a long day’s march, but it will be a good reference if I ever get home, and I may write a more extended narrative from it. I am writing what I can in just such a book as this now and I am going to send it to E.

Now do write as soon as you can. That your life may be happy, with many returns of your birthday, is the fervent wish of your brother.

[1] Note. —Error: Probably a newspaper rumor. Sumter was not captured until 1865.

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