Folly Island, S. C.
February 21st 1864
My dear Kate,
I am feeling in rather somber mood tonight & am afraid my letter may be dull and heavy but I must not defer writing till the mail arrives, for we on Folly Island are now only a kind of outpost and have but a few hours after getting our letters before the mail must go back for the steamer and in that short time our pens must fly rapidly over the paper, but a quiet Sunday evening always puts me in a rather meditative frame of mind—particularly when everything about is so still as tonight. Lights out in camp and not a sound to break the perfect stillness except the constant but not heavy roar of the ocean. Not even the distant gun such as we usually hear. One might almost imagine he was home again “on Old Long Island’s seashore” only that the curfew bell id replaced by the martial notes of the bugle. Though there is little to remind us of our quiet home Sabbaths except a rest from all unnecessary labor. I try to remind myself that we must not become heathen altogether so far as a short service can have any effect on them. I cannot preach to them. Indeed, I am of opinion that words are of little account if one’s actions do not exemplify them and that one’s course of life is the strongest argument one can make for the truth. I sincerely hope none may be lead astray by any word or deed of mine.
I remember a remark of a clergyman I heard in London. The words I have forgotten but the idea was that a man’s religion should not be like a Sunday garment, to be worn only to church and carefully laid away for the rest of the week but like his more homely but useful coat be worn in the common intercourse of every day life. The idea is nothing very new, but he put it eloquently and forcibly and I remembered it. If one could but do it. You don’t know of course how selfish a man becomes and forgetful of the higher and nobler aims in all this struggle for power and advancement. It is so difficult always to keep duty before interest, especially when one remembers that more than half of what the world calls success is attained by unworthy means. I am quite sure that my Kate would never wish for my success at such a cost.
In spite of all my philosophy and the reflection that a soldier has nothing to do but with the present, the future will come up before me uncertain but bright. I long to look ahead if only for a few months, but must content myself with making and unmaking practicable and impracticable pland and schemes which it will be time enough to discuss by and bye. They all seem to revolve like planets about a certain central object. Of course you don’t want to know who the object is.
Washington’s Birthday, but celebrated by me only by the return of my veterans and by receiving your letter. The time to answer is so short that tonight must be devoted to writing. My first thought is to finish this and then for less important matters. Happy as I otherwise should be, I am feeling must depressed by the news just received of a reverse to our troops in Florida. I will not thoroughly credit the first reports that came to us, for the names of some good friends of mine are said to be among those killed and wounded. The first reports are always the worst, However, such are the fortunes of war and we must not dwell too much on what would unfit us for duty.
The news also comes of the escape from Libby Prison of a large number of officers. I have no doubt that my brother is one of them and look with the greatest anxiety to hear of his reaching our lines or of his recapture. I hope and pray he may not be retaken and lodged in prison. It will be almost intolerable after having tasted of liberty. I do not like to think of their treatment if the rebels again get him into their power. Poor fellow! How easy my lot seems compared with his.
The absence of my men did prevent my going on this expedition [to Florida]. Really I was not very sorry at the time for I did not anticipate much good from the movement. I only hope it may not lead to any disaster. Now that my men are back, I feel strong again but expect to remain here still as there is but one other battery on the island. It is a great comfort to be ordered about and thus relieved of the responsibility of deciding what is best.
I am rejoiced to know of your returning appetite for I was beginning to feel anxious about your health. Do not, I pray you, neglect anything that will tend to improve it. Your mental, moral and physical well being are my daily prayer. No, I beg you to understand that this sort of thing is not my idea of an engagement. I know it was very selfish in me but I could not help it. You are a brave dear girl, Kate, to help me bear my exile by your happy, cheerful letters, instead of filling them with useless repinings of what cannot be helped. I think of it often and the thought makes me more patient to endure the separation. I know it is far easier to go and face any danger myself than to allow any dear one to do so. You are home, my love. I know it and feel it. The courage shown by our women at home is of a higher order than we soldiers show. Believe me, motives of personal ambition should not keep me here if I could get away. The months cannot pass quickly enough between now and the time when I can properly ask for a leave of absence, and then business shall not engross all my time.
It gives me pleasure to know that you are enjoying yourself, If I thought otherwise, I should be miserable. Do not allow yourself to be anxious and depressed on my account. Let the future take care of itself and believe all will come out right at last.
What a pity that my plain account of the visit of the ladies here should have had such a fearful effect upon you! Like the funny man Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote so funny a piece of poetry with such disastrous effects, “I shall never dare again to write as funny as I can.”
I have not yet received any answer to the application for your pass, and am fearing that before it will be granted and approved by the Secretary of War and reach you, it will be too late in the season to make it pleasant or advisable for you to attempt the visit. I am sorry if I have excited your hopes of pleasure only to be disappointed, but after the season of active operations commences here, I cannot advise your coming.
Even if it were entirely easy and practicable for you to come now, do not think of it unless it would add to your health or pleasure. I should reject if the gratifying of any wish of mine should cause your discomfort or annoyance. I hope your mother may find the movement cure beneficial. I don’t know that I quite understand what it is but if exercise is one of the doses, am inclined to think well of it for half the ills of life. I notice the cotton extracts. There is another side to that question which I cannot enlarge on now, but I have no fancy for this speculation and am quite content to have done as much as I have. I have made enough to build that log cabin, which causes you so much grief.
I think I should like to know that widower who has such a fancy for blue eyes & plain furniture. He must be an original character.
Pray tell me, is the enclosed a correct fashion plate? If it is, I am just such another “wretch.” Do relieve my suspense! If I must expect such head gear when I go North, I must hang the picture up in my tent to accustom my eyes to the “horrid things.”
The past week has been quiet enough. The most exciting thing was waking up one morning to find ¼ of an inch of solid ice in my pail. Does that cool your enthusiasm for the soft sea breezes of the Sunny South?
“Titcomb’s Letters” have furnished me reading for a few leisure hours, but beyond this, I have nothing to tell of. I think his views very sensible. He gives young men some pretty decided caps.
That two dollars you may dispose of as you please. If you are in New York at the time, buy me some trifle at the Sanitary Commission Fair, or give it to some charitable object. It is little enough to devote one tenth of my expenditure for luxuries to some useful object.
Please tell me frankly if I was imposing on your good nature in asking you to get that present for Lillie Parsons. I should like it of course but don’t let it give you too much trouble. I am glad your brother Harry had the good sense to give in on the wine question.
John writes me from Cleveland full of business but always enquires if all is well with you. Goodnight my dear Kate. May God watch over and protect you.
Ever yours, — Alfred