Bermuda Hundred, Virginia
July 21st 1864
My dear Kate,
I am distressed to think that I have in any degree alarmed you by reporting myself on the sick list. There is or was no occasion for anxiety as my indisposition was but temporary and the effect of what we call malaria. Very few escape it entirely. I think I have been about as fortunate as any of us and am now steadily improving and have been on duty since Sunday. I tell you honestly and truly for I do not believe in deceiving one’s friends. I had myself far rather know an unpleasant truth than be deceived. I am not quite as strong as before but am picking up and shall soon be perfectly well. So do not be anxious anymore.
You shall surely be informed if I am really ill. If I were only fortunate enough to be ill enough I might get away on sick leave but no Medical Board would pass me home in my present sound condition.
Thank you, I don’t think of anything I can ask you for unless—let me see—a tender broiled chicken or a good thick mutton chop by way of substantials and a variety of palatable dishes which have existed so long in my imagination that I begin to doubt their existence. One day in New Haven would do me more good than all put together. The picture you draw is too inviting.
The action of malaria is chiefly on the nervous system and is excessively depressing of the spirits. One loses heart and courage and energy and by yielding to its influence becomes really ill. The best and only antidotes are quinine and a resolute will to resist the depressing influences. My South Carolina experience helps me now. When my letters take on a blue tinge, attribute it to malarial influence.
I am indulging in the merest shadow of a hope that about the 1st of August I may get a ten days leave. If everything remains as quiet as now, it is just possible I may get it, but I don’t wish you to expect it for it is only a chance which any day may vanish. There is one Colonel from our Brigade absent now. On his return, I shall make a try. It so happens that Col. Hawley & myself are the only colonels left here in the Brigade. Col. Hawley commands it, but is half sick with rheumatism. In the event of his being wholly sick, the command would devolve upon poor me. Think of that—the responsibility of a general’s command so near?! I don’t want it yet awhile. I hope to know in a few days what decision will be come to in regard to those old regiments. After the call for 500,000 men, there is little chance that officers will be mustered out for the present at least.
By the middle of September, Atlanta may be ours and affairs wear a different aspect. Malarial influences took away my sanguine spirit but with determined propensity, I hold into my faith in the successful issue of the present campaign. The success may not be a brilliant victory but a substantial gain in forcing Lee to evacuate. I send enclosed a recent Richmond paper that came into our lines. An appeal to the “People of the Confederate States,” which I mark tells the story, I think. As I read it, money cannot purchase the plainest food in sufficient quantity. The army ration is reduced, we know, to the lowest figure. If this is so now in the harvest season, how will it be in a few months when green food cannot be had. I mean fresh vegetables?
If Grant can but keep the railways cut, starvation will stare Lee’s army and the people of Richmond in the face. I think these are grounds for hope. Grant has probably full information of the state of affairs within the enemy’s lines and knows he can bide his time. You at home do not and I suppose cannot have that feeling which is part of a soldier, of trust and faith in one’s commander. It’s his business to know everything and be prepared for every contingency and until he shows incompetency, we believe in him. This may in part account for the good and sanguine spirits of the army when there is depression and despondency at home.
I am glad you had an agreeable visit and are feeling better. Now don’t be anxious on my account at least till there is more cause for it than at present.
I feel the death of Wheeler more than most of my acquaintances who have fallen thus far in the war. If life is but a course of discipline, we ought not to mourn too much when a friend has finished his course and done his work. This war has cost us many valuable lives, but it has developed and perfected very many noble characters and made heroes in the highest sense of men of principle, and among these my old friend will deservedly rank.
Part of the Nineteenth Corps landed here today and come up to the front tomorrow, one Brigade under General [Henry Warner] Birge of Norwich.
Some private business matters at home demand my attention and make it almost necessary for me to get a day or two at this time. Of course something will intervene to prevent, as it always does, and I don’t think I would have alluded to the possibility of getting away only for fear you might ny chance be absent at the time.
The very idea of a leave give me new life at once. I will know more in a few days. A month in September would be better but a “bird in the hand is worth two…” &c. Good night, my dear Kate.
Very affectionately, — Alfred
I hear a band now playing “Auld Lang Syne” and have just struck into “Home, Sweet Home!” Such things ought not to be tolerated. I am growing homesick. Please sing me that “song of the olden time.” I am listening now. — A. P. R.