Folly Island, S. C.
February 12th 1864
My dear Kate,
I have just returned from my trip to Hilton Head having been pretty actively employed in one way or another the whole time. Indeed, you must know that such a trip to us in the quiet retirement of of Folly, is very much like the visits that quiet country people pay semi annually to a great metropolis. It marks an era in their life. Mine must afford the material for this week’s letter.
I reached the Head Sunday afternoon just in season to catch the boat for St. Helena, and transferring my men to it and in an hours’ time had turned my men over to the Invalid Corps and disposed of that business. I spent the evening with Mrs. Hawley who was still remaining at the 7th Connecticut Camp. She is awaiting transportation to St. Augustine.
The next morning I sent to the Head and in the afternoon took the boat for Beaufort. It seemed pleasant to get into the region of houses again and sleep under a roof, though i was really no more comfortable than I am now in my own tent. The next day I was out at the “Plantation” (“Button Hill“) to say goodbye to my sable retainers and see them paid for their share of the cotton crop. They really seemed glad to see me and sorry to know that they were to lose “Massa Rockwell.” They will doubtless transfer like a dog their affection to the new owner if he treats them kindly. They were as much pleased at the roll of “greenbacks” as a child with a new toy. Those who had been industrious had quite a little sum of money due them—one or two as much as $50 apiece. This in addition to the corn, potatoes, &c. &c. which they raised wholly for themselves. I think there are not many plantations where the negroes have done so well. My experiment has succeeded tolerably well and satisfied me that under favorable circumstances with such a man as my Tony to direct them, they can take better care of themselves than the government overseers can of them. I must confess I had become attached myself to them and felt some regret at parting.
The next morning I returned to the Head. I had hoped to have caught General Gillmore but he had gone on the Expedition and was still absent. So the question of the pass remains for the present in status quo, I find that the hotel which has been very far from comfortable is being enlarged and made quite habitable even for ladies. I mention this that you may know of some resting place as a dernier resort, now that Mrs. Hawley’s house is broken up and she going to St. Augustine. I am the more desirous that your visit, if made at all, be made soon as my stay in my present camp seems less permanent than it did and I may be ordered in the course of a month or two to some other post. General Turner, Chief of Artillery, has promised me something to do in the Spring. We will get the pass if we can and then see what is best to be done.
I remained over till the next day in order to attend a dance, such as they have every Wednesday there. I send the card enclosed. You will see what desperate efforts I made to revive the “lost art” and I may say they were crowned with tolerable success. You will observe that the 13th round was an abominable failure.
Yesterday morning I started on my return to Folly, but before soing so called in at the office of the Christian Commission and there found awaiting me the valuable box. It had acquired an odor of sanctity exteriorly, if its interior did have a different odor. The agent mentioned incidentally that he “guessed it contained something good.” I said, probably, I hoped it would do good. And now to report on its contents. I have smoked two of the cigars and find them excellent, tasted the brandy and pronounce it superior and possessing medicinal properties, tried the preserved fruit and find it goes well after the cigar, The Eau-de-Cologne has the veritable odor, preferable on the whole to the smoke of powder—the cigar case just fills a spare pocket and is most serviceable as well as pleasant work of Mrs. Perkin’s thoughtfulness. The candlesticks, so neat & compact, are usefully employed in holding the light by which I write, and the wedding cake should inspire pleasant dreams tonight. All together they are pleasant reminders of the kindness of friends so far away and the little seal stamped on the several packages reminds me of one who fills so large a space in my heart, and to whom I am indebted for these kind friends. Please give all my best thanks.
The steamer did not reach here till this morning, having rolled about in a rough sea nearly twenty-four hours, much to my discomfort. I came back the earlier as I heard accidentally at the Head that my battery had been suddenly ordered upon a short expedition. I found them just returning. One section (two guns) had been sent as part of a force of some 3,000 men to John’s Island to create a diversion. They had some skirmishing and one sharp artillery duel with the enemy. Our whole loss was very small although the fire was heavy for a time. My section suffered no loss. The 3rd New York Battery lost two horses & one man wounded. Their escape is quite remarkable as shells struck and exploded all about them. The enemy’s loss I do not learn, but presume it could not have been very heavy. It is rather provoking to have been absent at the only time when my battery has been called into action in six months.
Mail just in bringing me your nice long letter of the 3rd to 6th. I am glad you are enjoying yourself. Society always had great attractions for me and I rather think that even now the old fancy could be easily revived. If I had given a little more time & thought at college to my studies and less to amusement, I might perhaps have accomplished more since graduating. We’ll see what the future can do for me. I am sorry that any productions of your pen should have been consigned to the flames. If they must be burned, send them to me. I can put the reflections in my pipe and smoke them.
With regard to your visit here, you know I wish it exceedingly in view of the uncertainty of the time when I may get a leave of absence. This is selfish, purely so, then on your account I would like you should visit the battle grounds of the region, which will become historic, and see something of war, but now that Mrs. Hawley has gone or is going to St. Augustine, the need of a proper matron, such as Fanny (will she pardon so venerable a word? I meant only to convey the idea of matronizing) and a gentleman escort becomes more apparent. At the same time, the visit under such auspices is quite practicable and its effect would I am sure be very beneficial to your health. Valuable as “Plantation Bitters” may be, plantation air taken from the saddle would be quite as efficacious as a tonic. I write by this mail to General Gillmore to make application.
And so the marriage ceremony was rather appalling, was it? I suppose it was rather a grand affair, I should be quite content with a quiet wedding. By the way, why did you not let the photographer perpetuate the fair vision, after art had exhausted itself in trying to assist nature? I am sorry that you should have been annoyed by the impertinence of that conceited puppy and that I could not have been there to resent it. A few short months and then you shall have one defender nearer home. It is the greatest misfortune in the world that all such fellows are not drafted and made to serve.
You ask the relation of Mrs. Hoppin & Miss Perkins. I don’t know that I can tell it straight as my memory is not very good on such matters. I believe that my mother and Mrs. Hoppin are second cousins. My mother’s name was Perkins and her father & Mrs. Hoppin’s father were own cousins. Don’t promulgate this as I may be all wrong. These two gentlemen had business relations together and at one time lived in Norwich. Various circumstances have conspired to make our families intimate. The relationship was near enough to be improved upon, if agreeable, as it was, or ignored in part if disagreeable. I was quite content to have some pleasant cousins, having so few nearer relations, without dipping too deeply into genealogies.
I think I mentioned once to you that the line of the Rockwells was for five generations a single one having no branches till it came to my father & Uncle Charles (Anna’s father). Shall I go further back into the uncertain annals of the past and tell you that one original ancestor came over in 1640 from England and settled in Windsor, that the name still exists in England, & that the English family claim descent from one Sir Ralph de Rocheville, who came over from France with the Empress Mand, I forget when, and acquired an estate in Yorkshire perhaps in the same manner that I did one in South Carolina. However that all may be, the foreign sounding name has long since disappeared and become plebeanized. It only remains for us who now bear it to make it more honored and distinguished than ever. I never heard of anyone of the name having been hung, though you remember “Save” says,
“Rest assured my honest friend,
Your family thread you can’t ascend,
Without good reason to apprehend,
You’ll find it waxed at the farther end.
By dour plebian vocation
Or e’en perchance your boasted line
May end in a loop of stronger twine
That plagued some worthy relation.”
I am really quite sorry that I cannot be present at the wedding in Hartford. I hope you will go and enjoy it. The cards came by this mail. It has just occurred to me that I might have commissioned you to buy for me some suitable present for Miss Lilly. Perhaps it is not too late now, if I may trouble you. I have not the remotest idea of what would be most acceptable and as to the price should fancy something could be got for between $25 and $50, which would be useful to a young couple. If that amount seems too small, please increase it. Now if this is going to give you too much trouble, it can rest till some future day, but people like to receive on such occasions some reminder of friendly regard and I would like to show it.
That poem by Holmes to which you allude I have never read and should be greatly pleased to receive it. You have excited my curiosity to an extraordinary degree in regard to that character of Bulwer’s you fancy I resemble, and what you did on discovering that you cared for me. I await your revelations with the most respectful and patient attention. Please don’t keep us long in suspense.
I may have some revelations and confessions to make some of these days.
I doubt if you like gay life more than I do or enjoy the pleasures and luxuries of it more, but my training has been always to make them subordinate to duty and the useful—not that I have always done so, far from it, but I never was happy or satisfied with myself when I pursued pleasure to the neglect of duty.
Now I trust that we shall neither have to make any very serious sacrifices but life’s pathway cannot be always strewed with roses, and it gives me greater happiness than I can tell you to feel that you are willing cheerfully to share with me life’s cares and duties, as well as its pleasures. Indeed, I never did you the injustice to think that you could be satisfied with a life of gaiety alone, that most unsatisfying of all things.
Your happiness, my dearest Kate, must always be my first care, which you know without my telling you. I am afraid in political life I should hardly succeed. I cannot flatter the masses enough to secure their votes. Power is very agreeable to have as I know but to secure political power it is hard to preserve one’s independence. My father lived for many years in the midst of political life, though not much in politics, and was as little affected by it as any man could be, and he often said that he hoped no son of his would ever chase a political career. It is possible that this war may tend to reform politics and that military service may be the strongest recommendation for political preferment. Then there may be some chance for us soldiers.
I am sorry Mr. Dixon has come to grief—that is one of the pleasures of political life.
My friend Rand has, I hear, received another promotion, to the Colonelcy of the 4th Massachusetts. Cavalry. I think he will do well but it is a great responsibility for a young man. I console myself with the reflection that great and sudden success early in life is seldom desirable. The Colonel may have to come down to the level of ordinary mortals when the war is over. There is practical philosophy for you.
What a sensible young lady Miss Forbes must be, though I had quite as leave that she should have seen my photograph for I don’t think it flatters and it is rather satisfactory on the whole to have it said, “Really, it don’t do him justice.” I don’t know however but you think it does in this case. Now, I don’t think yours does.
My black contingent leaves us today, having been ordered to embark with their regiment for Florida, My own men return next steamer with some twenty recruits and for the next month I shall be busy drilling and getting ready for active service.
Col. [James C.] Beecher’s regiment leaves today also for Jacksonville, the point of destination, as you have already learned by the papers, of the Expedition. The Expedition promises to be more of an affair than I at first supposed and am now rather sorry that my battery was in no condition to take the field, even if ordered. You will get the news of its operations in New York before I do here.
I send this off at once as the mails are very irregular between here & the Head. I had hoped to have enclosed a note for Mrs. Perkins but am now quite too busy. I have a pile of business letters yet to be answered by this mail.
I don’t know but I am asking too much in the matter of that purchase for Miss Lilly Parsons, as it is always difficult to select just the thing and it is the last request I wish anyone to make of me. However, if you buy anything, please let me know the amount that I may at once remit it.
And now my love, goodbye. The Orderly waits for this letter and the bugle has just sounded for the morning inspection. I hope you have as bright a sun and soft an air as we his beautiful Sunday morning. Kind remembrances to all.
Yours always, — Alfred