These letters were written by James (“Jim”) Kipp Underhill (1837-1905), the son of Dr. Abraham K. Underhill (1800-1870) and Mary Cavert (1805-1888). He wrote all of these letters to Helen Augusta Barnard whom he called, “my own dear Nellie.” She was the daughter of Morgan L. Barnard (b. 1812) and Catharine E. Hermance (b. 1812) of Charlton, New York.
Jim first served in Co. E, 18th New York Volunteers, enlisting on 17 May 1861. He was discharged on 28 May 1863. Six months later, he re-enlisted (28 December 1863) at Charlton, Saratoga County, New York, as a private in Co. F, 13th New York Heavy Artillery. He was appointed sergeant in January 1864. According to his enlistment record, James stood 5’6″ tall, had black eyes and black hair. He gave his occupation as “farmer” at the time of his 1863 enlistment. He served with the regiment until they were discharged on 18 July 1865.
After the war, Jim married his “own dear Nellie” on 12 December 1866 in Schenectady, New York where he earned a living as a railroad conductor. Their son Frederick was born in September 1869. Jim died in August 1905 in Troy, Rensselaer County, New York.
We learn that most of Nellie’s letters to Jim written during the war were destroyed but there is one letter in this collection written by Nellie on April 23rd 1865 which survived.
Head Quarters Provost Guard
July 3d 1864
My own dear Nellie,
In accordance with my promise of yesterday, I write to you intending to better my yesterday’s scrawl if nothing hinders. Today is my birthday — 27 long years old. And I do believe that until the last year I have had no object in life. “Well,” I have something to live for now, haven’t I Nellie?
I am spending the day in perfect quiet. I am off duty and have not been out of quarters but have remained in thinking of home and the dear ones behind and making a mental, moral, review of my first 27 misspent years. I cannot say that the review is flattering. On the contrary, I find fault with the whole life to the last year and some parts of that I would blot out were I able. But what’s past is gone: never to return, and we can better avoid future evils and follies by bringing our past evils and follies to view or keeping them in mind.
It is a good thing to put a break on the whole of life occasionally and look back over the road you have passed. It keeps the train from running too fast, and it gives the machinery time to cool. You can also see the imperfection in a road much easier after you have passed them because you know nearly when to look. But it will not answer for me to bother you with my fancies. They are for me alone.
The weather has been very hot for some days past — so much so as to be extremely uncomfortable. But this afternoon it has clouded up and looks like showers. It is very pleasant and cool. Nearly everything in the shape of old soldiers have been sent away from here to the front. The place begins to get lonesome.
There has some Hundred Day’s Men come in to supply the place of those gone. We may go up before long. I almost hope we will. They send all the wounded Negro soldiers here. We have several hospitals full of them. There was a Secesh soldier brought home to be buried last week. The whole town turned out. Ladies thronged the street. It shewed up the Union sentiments in this place.
Walt has just returned from the post office. Says he received a letter from home which states that the Charlton ladies are hard at work making delicacies and necessaries for the sick and wounded soldiers. Bless the Ladies in Old Charlton. May they never know sorrow.
By the way, you will please tell Mary Ostrum that she had better not write to Harry again. This, remember, is friendly advice. Harry is not the man she was supposed to be. I am afraid his downfall will be rapid. You will remember why I do not explain matters perhaps, and some day I will do it, but I cannot at present.
I would like very much to be with you, Nellie, in Old Charlton to spend this Sunday and the 4th [of July] — not that I think I would care to celebrate much, but think of a whole day with Nellie. What I say or how I should act, I cannot tell, but I expect outrageous. When I do come back, you will have to scold me until you get me civilized once more.
Oh! Mary Ostrum says I forgot to bid her goodbye when I left home. I must have forgotten it. You ask Mary’s pardon for my neglect and tell her that I have deputed you to do it for me. Please kiss her twice at least, for I should have done so had I have bidden her farewell in person. Ask her if she would not like Jim back, just to bother her occasionally. That picture I am waiting for very patiently, don’t you think so?
And now, dear Nellie, remember that Jim is yours — better than when you first knew him, but not yet worthy of your love. yet he hopes in time, with your aid and the knowledge that you love him, to assist him, to render himself worthy. Bless you darling. May you never have cause to regret loving your own, devoted — Jim
January 7th 1865
My own dear Nellie,
Today I received two letters from you dated October 30th 1864 and the other the 3rd of January 1865. I assure you I was much pleased with the October letter but it came a little late. I think it has lain in this Portsmouth Office all the time. It it was not quite so late in the season, I would answer it. But as it is, I think I will answer the last one for both. First I intend to give you a short lecture for commencing your letter in the way you do by saying you hope I will not get tired of writing to poor, unworthy you. I hardly know which to censure you most for — the doubt 9of me) or the falsehood in regard to yourself. Please inform me of which you are unworthy and how long you have been so.
But enough of this. Mr. Tiffany is about to leave home and strive to save the soldiers from the wrath to come, is he? He might better remain in Charlton for he will surely get disgusted in a short time.
So all the Charlton young ladies are learning to skate? Well, it has got to be one of the accomplishments of these days and must be learned. Sate [Sadie] Dudly may be a good skater and a very interesting young lady beside, but I shall not get a furlough and come home on purpose to see her.
The manner in which yourself and Mary Ostrum served the Gentleman from West Charlton was decidedly mean — that not at home is worse than a decided cut at all times.
You wish to know what has become of all your old letters and appear fearful least they should fall into other hands than mine. I was fearful of that once myself bout the time Harry [Henry] R. Lucas was under arrest, so for fear he would profane them with his vulgar gaze, I destroyed them. Those I have received since I have been in Portsmouth on my own hook, I have preserved. They are safe in my possession and secure from the vulgar gaze of the multitude. Does that meet your approbation?
I have written to Mary Ostrum. There is no use to telling you what I have written for you will no doubt see it as soon as it is received. It will come by the same mail that brings this. Just let me know how you like it. You will see that she sends me her picture.
What you will do when Mary leaves Charlton, I don’t know. I think you will either have to go with her or send for me to console you on her or your loss. Would I answer? Could you afford to trade off Mary for Jim? If so, let me know and if she leaves, perhaps I may be induced to come back to help you while away the hours.
And now, Nellie, the next time you write, please don’t say you are unworthy [or] that you write a poor, unreadable letter because it pains me to read it, and is also untrue. First, because you are worthy of every blessing heaven could shower down upon you. And your letters (dear pledges of your pure and holy love) are all a critic could ask, and each one in itself a perfect treasure to a lover. Oh! Nellie, if you but knew how impatiently waited for, and how eagerly read and re-read your letters were, you would not think they were either dull or uninteresting.
It is always the fault of really good people to decry themselves — to make less of themselves than they really are. Well, we all know that brass has more glitter than pure gold, and it is very much with people of the world as with metals. The more alloy there is in them, the harder they get, and the more foolish you can get on them.
You asked me when I thought the war would close. I have told you before and now I will give you my humble opinion again. Just as soon as the rebels get out of men and material to carry on the war and not until then, unless by special inter position of Providence will we see the end of this war.
It has been warm and raining here for two days but tonight there is a change and it is freezing hard and blowing a perfect gale. We get the whole four seasons here in twelve hours occasionally. I have but one reason to find fault with it and that is it has kept a horrid cold on me for about two months.
And now, Nellie, write me soon for even if they are two months on the road, they are read with interest when they get here and remember that next to yourself, I prize your letters. And that heaven may bless and protect you is the earnest prayer of your own true and devoted, — Jim
Provost Marshal’s Office
March 8th 1865
My own dear Nellie,
Your kind letter of the 2d inst. was received today and I answer this soon knowing that you will be anxiously awaiting the answer. Co. F are again up at Suffolk. They may stay some time. I don’t know but they are just as well or even better off than if they were here.
Bother the boys – Sergt. Adams has got a violin which he is sawing to the best of his ability. Two more are having a fancy dance and the rest are allowing all sorts of discordant sounds to issue from their extended mouths. I do wish they would “dry up” for awhile. Oh! these Marshals offices are fine places after hours. Prof. Adams is just doing sweet Alice Ben Bolt for a change. Speaking of that reminds me of the wedding in clip — so Miss Belding that was is Mrs. Wicks? I hope her new name may suit her and also hope she may never regret changing it.
I had quite an adventure this afternoon. The Provost Marshal (Maj. [John L.] Cunningham) and myself went over to Newtown to inspect some buildings &c. and were coming back through Gosport when about one square from the Navy Yard gate, on turning a corner, we found ourselves in a desperate fight between a large party of drunken sailers. We pitched in to stop the row and the jacks pitched into us. I had just succeeded in pulling off two fellows who had the life about out of one poor fellow when I saw the Major down and the whole crowd on him. I yelled out that it was the Provost Marshal they were at which frightened such of them as were sober enough to think and after knocking over two or three of them, got the Major out. We then attempted to arrest the worst of them unassisted and alone but the crowd was too strong for us. So I kept them there while the Major went to the Navy Yard after guards and we bagged the whole of them. We got out all safe but concluded not to travel again without arms. It would have been a sorry party if we had have had a couple of revolvers with us.
Then you think there is no prospect of a close to the war? If there ever was a time since the commencement if it when it looked like a finish, that time is now. Early whipped by Sheridan [in the Valley], Lee kept in Richmond by Grant, and Sherman marching unopposed where ever he chooses with the rebels deserting at the rate of 800 a day will be apt to close the war after a time. So don’t get discouraged. But enough of war. It’s a poor subject at the best.
If you are able to read this letter, just send me word for I don’t believe I could unless I had written it myself.
So friend Marg is anxiously awaiting my answer. When you send me word to answer it, I will do so. I wish I was home on furlough just for her sake. Wouldn’t I have rare sport. I guess so. I presume that ‘ere this, you will have seen George Briggs and gotten all the information he could share about matters down here.
The weather is delightful. Spring is here in fact and everybody feels its influence and they all get out to enjoy it. I just wish you were here tonight to take a stroll about Portsmouth by moonlight, But pshaw! whats the use.
So good night, but remember that I am now and ever your own true and devoted, — Jim
Ferry House, Portsmouth [Virginia]
March 12th 1865
My own dear Nellie,
I was on the train for Suffolk yesterday when the boy handed me your kind letter of the 7th inst. You may be assured that it was not long before I was acquainted with the contents and pondering over the changes a short time effect.
You speak of leaving Charlton. How strange it seems to me. I can’t bring myself to think of it. Charlton was my birthplace and yet it seems as if I had known you as long. In fact, I can’t think of a Charlton without Nellie or Nellie without Charlton. I shall be sorry if you do leave, yet I know not why I should. It will be the severing of some (by me) dearly lov’d associations that memory is continually reverting to, but wherever you go, you will be ever remembered by Jim as his own, dearly loved Nellie, and his affection for you will never be less than when he left you in dear Old Charlton.
I must inform you of my visit to Suffolk. Yesterday was a beautiful spring day and “soon in the morning” (as we say in the South) I had a severe attack of spring fever that nothing but a ride in the sunshine would alleviate. So I started for the Office with a firm determination to state my case to the [Provost] Marshal and get his opinion on the case. He laughingly told me that as my company [Co. F] was out at Suffolk, he thought a few hours of Suffolk air and the genial companionship of old friends would set me all right again. So after getting my pass and transportation dinner &c., I got on the train at Suffolk. After I had got comfortably seated, the mail boy brought me your dear letter but I believe I have told you of that before.
The ride in itself was uninteresting as a ride on the cars could very well be. The country is flat, swampy, and woody. This is the poorest part of the State of Virginia. It is so near the Dismal Swamp that it all partakes of its character and is nearly as dismal as the swamp itself. After a ride of a little more than an hour, we found ourselves at Suffolk. The ground is some higher than at any other place about that I have visited. I expected to see something and I did — on stepping on the platform, I saw a rusty old place about the size of Scotia that looked as if both armies had quartered there during the four years of the war. And mud — well perhaps I had better say nothing about that article for fear you will discredit the statement. After putting my pants in my boot legs, I started to find the company.
The first man I enquired of told me that they were off on a raid but pointed out the place where they were quartered. Knowing I would find somebody there, I went down and found Sergt. [James W.] Finch and four sick men who were left behind. I stopped with them some time and before I left, some of the raiders had returned who reported that they had been entirely successful — burned up a large amount of cotton, a railroad depot &c. &c. I heard that one of Co. F was wounded but could not learn who. After stopping an hour or so, I started for the depot on my return home, perfectly satisfied that I would never buy Suffolk no matter how cheap it sold.
I arrived back again at sunset on the Norfolk R.R. seeing the only place of interest on the road — the Dismal Swamp Canal. So ended my trip to Suffolk.
We expect Co. F here tomorrow to do Provost duty again. I hope they will come. So the Ostrum family will remain in Charlton this summer? Well if they stay until fall, they will stay longer for some of the oil gentry will go to the shades before fall comes, and Pa Ostrum will return minus oil on the brain.
Question. Do you think Mary Ostrum would marry Billy Cavert were he to ask her? Please answer in your next and oblige.
Your affectionate and devoted, — Jim
April 9th 1865
My own dear Nellie,
Your kind letter of the 3rd inst. was received several days since but the startling events of the past week were too much for me so I have waited until I could collect my scattered faculties. Richmond has indeed fallen and great has been the fall thereof. I just stopped writing a moments to go up and see the train from Suffolk. It brought down the detachments of our company doing duty there. So Walt will be back in Portsmouth again. I opine you will see us all before fall. What is your impression.
Well I have, yes! indeed I have seen Him — not Jeff Davis by Frank Barnum. ¹ Last Tuesday night as I was coming out of the theatre, somebody slapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there stood Barnum looking first rate. He was very inquisitive about matters in Charlton. Told me he had not heard from there in months and did not even know that Billy Cavert had left. I posted him some of course, told him all the scandal. David Wicks’ case &c. &c. We discussed the Cavert & Ostrum case at length and Barnum gave the very wise decision that if Mary got the individual she has always been looking for — that gentleman with a great deal of style and the Million in bank stocks that that same individual would have some complaint equal at least to “Oil on the Brain.” I would not swear that he means to reflect on the soundness of the gentleman’s mind or the soundness of his judgement, but I hold my own opinion as to what he did mean. He says that he is going up there on furlough in a short time, but wished me to remember him to all his friends when I wrote. Please remember him to Mary for me &c.
I have been off for two days nearly hunting for two Negro deserters. I just galloped until I feel like one of Sheridan’s Cavalry. It was sport though. Beautiful weather and beautiful roads — green woods and green fields — a long road before you and a good horse under you and a man can’t help feeling elated. There is something about it exciting and invigorating and it only lacks one thing to make it perfect. That is, the company of the woman he loves. I thought of it and felt sad for a short time but soon banished it by thinking how soon I would be with Nellie. Please don’t tell her though, will you?
I met Vice President Johnson on my return today. We get all the notables down here. We expect the Congregation of Henry Ward Beecher here in a few days on an excursion. We gave Admiral Farragut a public reception in Glenn’s Theater on Monday night. It was a grand thing for this country. Farragut had to leave this place at the beginning of the war and now he comes back to thank them for driving him off.
Tomorrow evening there is a grand illumination and torch light procession in honor of the recent Union victories. Oh this place is on the improve but ain’t they bitter. I reckon a heap. All the loyalty there is in the Confederacy has been whipped in and if it remains then it will be fear that keeps it. But perhaps politics won’t interest you and as news of passing events are received by you as soon as by us, I could write nothing in that line to interest you.
And now, Nellie, do you think you will indeed be happy on the return of Jim? Does your heart ever think of the thought of his return? Will you be glad to pillow his head ever more on your breast and call him your own forever? Pardon me, Nellie, but I cannot help looking forward to the time when I will meet you once again, and the pleasure of the anticipation almost balances the pain of the separation. But goodnight, darling, and once again answering you that I love you with a pure and holy love, I remain, your own, — Jim
¹ Frank D. Barnum, 2d lieut., Co. I, 115th N.Y. Inf.; enl. Aug. 26, 1862; pro. to 1st lieut., and to capt., Co. I; detailed to serve on the staff of 2d Brig., 2d Div., of the 10th Army Corps; in June, 1865, was trans. to the 47th N.Y. Inf.; honorably disch., and living at Memphis, Tenn.
April 16th 1865
My own dear Nellie,
Never before since leaving home have I commenced to write under such desponding circumstances. After a week of rejoicing over our glorious victories, after building bright visions of a happy future for our country, and a speedy return to our homes and friends to be all dashed at one fell stroke by the sad intelligence of the cowardly murder of our President and part of his cabinet. What can a soldier write what but this war to the knife — aye, to the bloody death — even to the extermination of the whole race of cowardly assassins! Mercy is thrown away upon them and we must make even the innocent suffer for the guilty. I know not how this news was received at the North for we have no mail communication at present. Neither have we received the particulars of the sad event. Yet it is sufficient to know it is true without knowing the harrowing details. You at the North may take it as a matter of course and cooly discuss it as you would a battle lost or some other like event. But with us, it is different. We have lost our Commander in Chief — the President of the United States — not in battle but cowardly murdered by our foes and dearly — yes dearly, shall they rue it. The excitement here is intense. There is no noise, no outward demonstration, but that fearfully calm earnest determination you see in the faces of men about to engage in deadly battle is to be seen of face of every soldier you meet. Men talk in low and earnest tones and well they may, for one word would start the fire that now smolders into devastating flames, and woe — woe to the Secesh in the two cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth if it is once started.
I had hoped earnestly that this fratricidal war was about ended and that the angel of peace would soon visit our distracted land. but now the time seems far away again and like a “Will O the Wisp” it appears to recede as we advance drawing us deeper and deeper into the quagmire of political discord. I trust you will not think I am getting fanatical. You know, or ought to, that I am not so very excitable, and you may be assured that he whole army without a single exception feel as I do. They offer to re-enlist for life or anytime at all the government may name, but ask for revenge.
And now what must I say for myself? I might tell of the many happy anticipations I had found for the future with one I so truly love — my own Nellie. But what can I say today — alas, all has changed. But two days ago and how bright seemed life. The roseate hues from the rising sun of peace were gilding the morning clouds and hope, assisted by imagination, painted the bright landscape. How soon to fade. How soon to be covered by the black pall of death. But enough of this. You will begin to think I am becoming misanthropical. But one thing you may be assured of, the war which would have closed in a month or two is now prolonged indefinitely. The work of years (I may say) is undone in a moment and when we will get home is a question. Do you think you can wait until the war is over or until you can get to be an old maid for Jim to come home? If you cannot, please inform me and hereafter I won;t write more than three letters a week to your Ladyship — and then I think you will be sorry for having deserted me.
Haven’t I gotten from high tragedy to low comedy soon? You will excuse me though, won’t you?
I would like to be in Old Charlton this beautiful night in the society of the one who alone of all on earth I love most dearly — my own dear Nellie. I have so much to say that I cannot write — so much that my poor control of language will not permit me to — but it cannot be, so you must content yourself with this poor letter.
I do not suppose that Charlton will alter so much in a few short years, but that I will be able to recognize the place and people when I return. Yes, I presume they are all getting older, if not better. I shall expect to find our friend Mary [Ostrum] married and surrounded with a family of her own both numerous and happy (handsome also) on my return North. I expect I ought to write to her but you know how dilatory I am getting lately. You may (if you please) tell her that I still remember her. I have not seen Barnum since. How does Annie live now that L___ is gone. Does she feel as bad as Nellie did when someone else left Charlton? Tell her to keep up a stout heart for Dirup is only nine miles from Clip.
I understand that Dave Cain [Caw?] has returned home wounded but know not how bad. The Charlton Boys are all well. I know not when this will reach you for the mail boat has stopped running between this and Baltimore and there is no telling when it will resume its trips. We knew not the reason it stopped but understand it was on account of a riot in Baltimore.
But think that I have strung out this scrawl long enough for I know it has ceased to be interesting. So I will bid you farewell asking you to remember me always as your own devoted, — Jim
Charlton [Saratoga County, New York]
April 23rd 1865
My own dear Jim,
Your dear letter of the 16th was received last Thursday while preparing for the entertainment at the Academy. I had only time enough to glance it over to ascertain if you were well and then put it in a safe place until I had time to peruse it more carefully and I will now thank you for writing me such a dear, good, long letter — seven pages. Jim, if you only knew how well I love to read your long letters, I believe you would write a long letter every time. Your short ones are good and very welcome, but the long ones are perfectly splendid and most welcome.
The feelings you express in your letter with regard to the assassination of our Chief Magistrate are the same as animates the beast of every true and noble lover of his country and liberty. All such as have true and noble hearts are overwhelmed with sorrow at this great national bereavement. While in the midst of rejoicings, we were thus bereaved. God in his wise Providence saw fit to afflict us and we must bow in resignation. We will still hope for brighter days when our Nation will be restored to peace and unity and war and strife shall cease. God grant that it may be ‘ere long.
But it will not do to write in this somber strain. I will tell you of the Exhibition. Well, in the first place, it was a very rainy evening., but notwithstanding all this, the house was comfortably filled. We realized over twenty-three dollars after expenses were paid, and that was considerable. I have heard it remarked that this entertainment went ahead of anything ever known in Charlton.
The Indian scenes were great. Davis Millard was chief. The other Indians were Norman Smith, Tine Lansing, John Covert, & S. Belding. Kate & Em Raymond were squaws. They performed well. First came the snake dance, then the hunting scene, scalping scene, burial scene, Pocahontas saving the life of Captain John Smith. Medicine man &c. Zeus Waldron, George & John Alexander, Gus Curtiss took part and but for them we would have been short of male characters. The entertainment was a complete success and if this evening had been pleasant, the house would have been crowded. The people are very anxious that we should have the performance over again and if we can get the Academy, we will try it again next Friday evening.
You say that I may tell Mary O[strum] that you remember her &c. Well, I should be most happy to deliver your message if — But I must tell you all about it. Well, Mary & I have had a “falling out.” Now do not exclaim or hold up your hands in dismay. It is true and I will tell you how it came about.
The young people came to our house one afternoon to practice some music for exhibition. We were singing when we received the sad news that A. Lincoln was dead. Jane Sherman stood by and she said, “It can’t be true. It is too good to be true.” As soon as Emily heard it, she went out and told Pa. He was of course feeling very sad and when he heard what Jane said, he became very indignant and he came in the parlor and asked Jane if she meant what she said. She replied that she did. Pa then told her that any person who could utter such words or harbor such wishes against the President who had shown himself worthy of the love and honor of every true loyal citizen — such a person was not welcome in his house and the sooner they left the better. But Pa said if she did not mean what she said, he would recall all that he had said. She then said that she only said it to see if I would be angry. Shortly after, Mary O. came in and upon hearing the news said she was glad of it. Jane told her that she had just been lectured for saying the same thing. Mary says, “Well, let’s leave,” and they left.
In the evening we met at the Academy to rehearse and while I was trying to rehearse my part, they would do all they could to confuse and perplex me. Mary felt ashamed of uttering such words and I am of the opinion that a little jealousy was rankling in her breast towards me for various reasons and she took that opportunity to vent her spite. So I took no notice of her for a day or two and I thought she would come to her senses in a short time. The day before the Exhibition, she came to me and apologized for her rudeness. I told her she was forgiven but I think that henceforth, Mary & I will paddle our own canoe.
You think that is consequence of the great national calamity the war would be indefinitely prolonged. I hope it may not be so, You seem to think that you will not be home in some time and ask if I can wait until the war is over or until I am an old maid for Jim. Well, I do not think the war will last until I get to be an old maid and if such should be the case, I should still wait patiently until you desire me to no longer think of you as my own, dear Jim. Do you think that time will ever come? I shall ever love you and look forward with great pleasure to the time when we will be no more separated.
And now, that God will ever bless and protect you and speedily return you to home and friends, is the earnest prayer of your own true and loving, — Nellie
April 26th 1865
My own dear Nellie,
Your beautiful letter of the 23rd inst. was received this afternoon and having leisure at my command this evening, I hasten to answer.
There is more excitement here at present than for the whole past year. Those poor deluded and misguided fools who four years ago left here to fight against their flag and country, after suffering four years in the field, are now daily returning as paroled prisoners of war to reap the rest of the reward due them — to find their property gone or confiscated and to find themselves, once wealthy, now so poor, so destitute, that they envy the very slaves who once belonged to them. It is really pitiful to see them. The Black who was once the slave now meeting his old master on terms of equality. Their once proud spirits are now effectually broken and the insulting overbearing southern aristocracy is now gone forever.
Yet the mass appear to be cheerful and heartily glad the thing is over for virtually it is over, although it may be a year before the country becomes quiet again. The fighting between Grant and Joe Johnston will not amount to much and I doubt whether Johnston will fight at all. How very foolish a smart man can be. Gen. Sherman has proven himself as great a general as ever fought a battle, but the poorest statesman in the country. I feel sorry for him.
It appears from your letter that there are some young ladies in Charlton who would be much benefited by short sojourn to Dixie. One thing is certain, that is their political view would suffer a great change in an exceeding short time. If any woman in this place had have been heard to utter the same remark here on the night we heard of the murder [of our President] that Jane Sherman made in Charlton at your house, she would have had the house burned down over her head. They don’t utter treasonable sentiments here. We don’t allow it and they have to think it softly of they think it.
I am surprised that the young ladies themselves did not put her out of the house. I think if I had been in your father’s place, I would have made her unsay those words or leave on the instant. She presumes altogether too much on her sex but Jane is so ignorant that there is some excuse for her. But Mary Ostrum? What excuse can be offered for her? None. She not only insulted her country and its defenders, but the sacred rights of hospitality, your other guests and companions, and severed the ties of friendship which has so long united you. She must have done it coolly and deliberately. I would like to see her for a short time but perhaps it is better as it is. I cannot find words to express my scorn for such an action — and you forgave her! How I wish I could be as forgiving as you, Nellie. You will have to teach me and if ever I become possessed of any of the attributes of goodness you will have to implant them. I will accredit them to you.
The weather is indeed beautiful. The days warm and sunny and the nights just cool enough to sleep well. Everything has on its spring garments. The trees are in full leaf and the gardens literally teem with flowers. Bouquets are displayed for sale through the streets and in the markets. Negro girls are the flower girls here, yet they display great taste in the arrangement of flowers. I wish I could transport you a bouquet or two once in awhile. I know you are so fond of them. I get an arm full every day from some of the ladies (old ones always) as I am about town inspecting. It is a splendid job this of City Inspector — only you get more curses than thanks for your labor. I am glad that the job will not last me forever.
The two companies [Co.’ A & H] of our regiment that have been up to City Point for a year came down today and went up to Regimental Headquarters [at] Fort Hazlett [near Norfolk]. The Regiment is now nearly all together or at least more so than it ever was before and it gives rise to a great many rumors. Some of the boys have started for home already while others are on the road to Texas or Mexico or in fact, any place where Madame Rumor dare venture. For myself, I am not quite so excitable and have not packed up to start for any place as yet — yet I hope and trust that by fall, we will once again be with you and then we will try and leave it with you to drive us away again when you get tired of us.
You do not speak of Sam Callaghan anymore so I presume he has left Old Charlton? Oh! I just wish to ask you one question while I think of it. Do you know where Bill Covert is now? If you do, please inform me in your answer for I am anxious to learn.
I sit here thinking of the time when I will be again with Nellie. I am trying to imagine how I would look and act — foolish no doubt. Yet if no one saw it but her, I should not care for her forgiving nature would overlook and pardon all my faults. But I ought not to anticipate.
This poor letter has strung itself out to an incredible length but I trust you will forgive me for that for it is not often I sin the same way. And remember that in so doing, you will please, my dear dear Nellie, your own devoted, — Jim
April 30th 1865
My dear Nellie,
The expected letter of today came not but I will content myself with the belief that it will tomorrow and if it should not, I shall not despair for if fortune favors me, I shall be home once again in a short time, and then, much shall be said than cannot be written.
You like long letters — so do I, and I should be pleased to write them always (to you) if I had material to write on (I don’t mean paper) and was able to make them interesting but I cannot make one of them read to suit myself and consequently think they are equally as uninteresting to you.
I am well aware you paid me an undeserved compliment when you said I wrote splendid long letters. Yes, I am glad you think so. I know you think so or you would not have said it. But I think you have had no opportunity to compare my poor attempts at letters with those of others to find out how very inferior they really are. But I hope the necessity for improvement is over at last, and I assure you, I shall be happy to open communication verbally.
I have now begun to anticipate the pleasures in store for me when I return — the happy hours of undisturbed communion with my own Nellie to which the joys of Elysium are nothing in compare.
But I do not intend to write a long letter tonight. The weather is now settle and beautiful and with the prospect of a speedy peace, nature looks most charming. The sun appears to shine brighter, the sky to look clearer, and the verdure of the fields and woods to have put on a deeper green, and yet they have changed not. The change is in our hearts. But it is most apparent and let us hope it will be truly permanent.
The 13th think of getting to New York some time in May. I trust we shall. I presume you will pay us a visit if we go on duty in New York Harbor, will you not?
But I am writing too much of a short letter, and if I continue and the saying is true that “Brevity is the soul of evil,” I am certain that I shall spoil this gem of a scrawl. So with kind regards for friends, I close assuring you that you and you alone are fondly and devotedly loved by your own, — Jim
Sunday, May 21st 1865
My own dear Nellie,
Your eagerly expected letter dated the 17th inst. was received yesterday and quickly dispelled the apprehensions I had formed regarding you. I was happy indeed to learn you were all well for I had begun to think differently. I should have received a letter from Kate before this. She owes me three. I came very near writing to Mary Ostrum to find out what was the matter.
The question that agitates us soldiers just now is “when will we get mustered out?” But the answer does not appear to be forthcoming and I think it is hard to form an opinion. We may get out before fall but I doubt it. I had hoped to celebrate the Fourth of July at home but that I have given up.
It is hard now that the war is over to be obliged to stay in the service but soldiers have no right to complain. Their mouths are sworn shut and they must suffer on in silence. A great many are getting discharged from the hospitals and many from the field whose term of service expired before the first of October. But we are among the unfortunates. The “Colored Troops” are to be sent to Texas as soon as they can be reorganized.
The boys from Charlton are all well. I have got Jim Finch a clerkship in the Marshal’s Office. The Orderly H[enry] Robin Lucas is in hospital with a fever but will soon be out again.
The weather is excessively warm and very unhealthy.
Do you know that it is five long years since I have seen the trees blossom in my native town? Did you have any idea it was so long since I used to make people almost crazy with the noise I made about the old corner. I can hardly realize it myself. Oh how I wish I could be put back eight years of my life and live it over again. Then I was careless and happy, knowing and caring nothing for the responsibilities of life. Now all is changed. I have found something to live for and although I would make a future, I can only deal wit the present and with that only as the slave of others.
I do feel discouraged sometimes. Who would not? But hope (that sovereign balm for present ills) pictures out a bright and happy future, and again my despondent spirits will resume their wanted cheerful tone. I often think of the little catch: Trust to luck. Trust to Luck, For take life as you may, The darker the dawning, the brighter the day. Trust to luck, trust to luck. Stare fate in the face. Sure your heart will be easy, if it’s in the right place.
But I think I have inflicted enough of my fit of blues on you for once, even if you did cause it by writing me that the trees were all in blossom in Charlton and more. Yet I think you intended to make me believe that Mary Ostrum does not want to leave Charlton just because I am coming back. I know you did not write it in those words, but I think you intended to convey that idea. So I herewith charge you with trying to tickle my (already excessive) vanity and ask you to disapprove it if you can. It is a serious charge, Miss Nellie. I have your letter for evidence and unless you are able to refute it, this court will at once proceed to pronounce sentence upon you. I won’t write you what the sentence will be for fear you will tell Mary to induce her to commit some crime and get sentenced also.
I certainly feel grateful to think I am remembered by Cousin Allie. I wonder if she remembers that I owe her a letter. Please give her my kind regards when you write and ask her if she doesn’t think it about time she got married. Just tell her it will be of no use to wait for me as I am already engaged. If I had not written so much already, I would write Anna a short billet but perhaps Sam would be angry so I guess I’d better not. Just ask her for me if she is fond of potatoes as she used to be.
Well the “Cruel War is Over,” but “Johnny doesn’t come marching home” very muchly, does he? I think you young ladies ought to petition Unkle Sam to discharge us now. Just suppose you try it and see what effect it will have. I think he is gallant enough to accede to anything reasonable if the ladies ask it. One thing is certain, his nephews are gallant enough to attend to the ladies if he will only permit them and I have no doubt but that they will furnish him plenty of nieces in a short time if he gives them the opportunity. What is your opinion?
I heard indirectly that Bill Cavert was up to City Point yet. I hope he will have to stay as long as I do and if I get home with him, I have him marry Mary sure as fate. Won’t it be nice?
But I think I am stringing out this letter a little longer than is called for. Give my regards to your family and friends, and remember, darling, that you are my hearts idol — that I love you with a pure, holy, and unselfish love, and that I would have you think of me ever as your own true and devoted, — Jim
May 25th 1865
My dear Nellie,
I write you a few lines this morning just to inform you that I am well and received your dear letter of the 21st inst.
I shall write but little. In fact, I could not write much for nothing of moment transpires here and I have not the material to build a letter from.
You write that all the young people are awaiting our return with impatience and calculate on fine times when “Johnny comes home &c.” I for one am glad to be looked for and expected by some and the others I will be happy to see at home no doubt.
I saw Sam Osborn yesterday. This was Sam’s salutation: “How are you Sergt? You are looking well. But I saw her in Charlton and she is beautiful. She is too good looking for you.” I thanked him warmly, told him I admired his taste and judgement, but begged leave to differ with him in opinion. And now I wish to ask you, are you too good looking for me?
I will write you again on Sunday and until them, remember me, Nellie, as your own true and devoted, — Jim