Bermuda Hundred, Virginia
July 11th 1864
My dear Kate,
Out of sympathy probably with your indisposition, I have been out of sorts for some days and still continue off duty, partly because there is little that I can do with my regiment proper and the doctor recommends quiet. So for the first time in months, I am daily reported sick not so much so but that if there were any prospect of a fight, I should endeavor to be in it.
I think I must repeat back your cynical remark, what’s the use of boring people at home with letters from the army when there is nothing to write about and when they have operas and concerts, and presentation parties & White Mountains and such more interesting things to think of. Suppose I reduced my letters to the laconic style as follows. “No fighting for 24 hours. Thermometer 90° in shade. Health of subscriber improving. Yours, — A. P. R.” Would not that rather suit you? How much valuable time saved both in writing and reading? Then think of the enormous reduction in baggage I shall be able to make when I have so much less stationery to transport. Then to save labor, I might have blanks printed to be filled out as circumstances required. If there were only a newspaper here we might correspond by advertisements and make it still simpler.
But seriously, you must never let your desponding soul get the better of you. If you don’t like writing, I can wait till you do, only please bear in mind that my thoughts follow you everywhere and that I am interested in all that interests you.
I should have enjoyed your visit to Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe’s. I have read with so much interest her papers in the [January 1864] Atlantic, “House & Home Papers” and have heard of her house so that I am curious to see if she practices what she preaches so well. Home has a most agreeable sound to me. One of my own & I occasionally indulge in dreams of how it shall be built and arranged and furnished, &c. Not the log cabin exactly in Minnesota, but something more civilized. I am not sure but I have had my fill of wandering and when my wars are over, shall be entirely ready to settle down contented. How is it, do you wish again to see Italy with all its attractions? I often think of my European life and am half disposed to have another look at the old fields again (when Exchange falls). Don’t you think that Central Africa would be rather an interesting place to travel in? I consider I am in training now for almost anything of that sort. But Switzerland just now strikes my fancy and when it’s a little cooler, my imagination will try Italy. Florence—yes, I think I would like to connect some impressions of that lovely spot. But I have forgotten none of the pleasant memories of it.
That ball at Mrs. Kinny’s of course I remember it & dancing the German and a great deal more beside, which we will talk over some day, and then I must tell you something about Mrs. Kinney. It’s too long a story to put on paper.
Affairs here remain apparently as they have done. Everything is quiet in our immediate front, but Grant is constantly pressing the enemy on the other side the Appomattox and more or less fighting is going on constantly in front of Petersburg. Still I am tired of asking, “What news?” and must wait in patient ignorance till the time comes—as surely as it must—when Lee must leave or come out and fight us. Deserters come daily into our lines in very considerable numbers. It is said that “Pickett’s Division” (rebel) has lost 800 by desertion within a comparatively short time, many of the men having gone to their homes in despair. Lee’s army seems to have lost its morale if we may believe the reports. Our position now is such that if men are furnished as we can certainly compel the enemy to leave this part of Virginia.
Now you can read all this in the papers and more at length than I can give it you and yet it is all we have to think of here and to write about. Would you rather I be laconic on war matters?
Your letter of the 8th I have just finished reading and am put into a most agreeable state of mind, ready to sit out and enjoy the moon which shines in pleasantly through the branches of the arbor that completely envelopes and surrounds my tent, or as more becomes my advanced years to retire and indulge in all the delightful dreams which I should doubtless have, only I don’t dream.
I should have sent off this letter today only it was too close and sultry to think or do anything and now I do not see when you will get it, for we hear that communication is cut between Philadelphia & Washington by the rebel raiders. Our mails will probably be sent direct to Fortress Monroe by water from New York in a few days if the interruption os permanent.
The invasion I am inclined to regard with satisfaction—only expecting that they will not penetrate far enough into the prosperous North. It would serve to open the eyes of the people at home as to the possibilities and probabilities that would result if the North fails to succeed in crushing the enemy. They will learn a little something of what is devastation and misery of war and appreciate the necessity of keeping the armies full. I am in hopes, however, that our forces may cut off the enemy and bring the end nearer. I wait for news anxiously.
All is so quiet about me that the sound of sharp picket firing comes distinctly to my ear from before Petersburg—perhaps an attack on one or other side. I almost wish you could pay us a visit here and gratify your wish to see something of LaGrande Armie but ladies never have been seen here, though there are some at the hospitals at the rear. But it certainly is a pity you have not had a chance. We must manage it somehow before the war is over. I fear something of the glory and pomp of war would be wanting if you could see my rough and shabby veterans now. They would make a sorry figure marching up Broadway but they do picket duty admirably and when nearly a year ago this regiment went to the assault on [Fort] Wagner, they marched steadily forward, closing up the terrible gaps in their ranks without a word. And when they came back repulsed, one half of the regiment was killed, wounded, or prisoners. Would ever the famous 7th New York which would outshine us on Broadway do half as well? Your cousin Charley may well speak of the “glorious” Army of the Potomac, and now I wish you might see something of it. Well, I suppose this campaign ends it. You may see it marching home perhaps.
Your cousin’s letter did not make me feel blue exactly, but it has set me to contrasting our own uncertain fortunes with his bright prospects. It is hard for you, my dearest Kate, as well as for me, but there is a good time coming. I know there is and you must believe so [too].
The box as I have already written arrived safely and nothing broken. The packing was highly creditable. I concluded it had been done by a professional.
I am gaining strength daily and in two days shall go on duty. The claret I find excellent and I fancy I know what good claret is—not a wine-bibber I would have you believe. What a comment on my photog.! Mint julep! but I believe you are right. I did take just one with General [Israel] Vogdes.
The Surgeon ordered me to bed an hour ago but he is under my orders and I disobeyed in order to tell you how acceptable your letter was and now I must say good night. By the way, I met the other day Charley Tomlinson, so called, Assistant Surgeon to the 14th Connecticut. He spent some hours in my tent. He was well but looked rough as we all do.
Yours ever, — Alfred