In the field near Curtis, VA.
June 5th 1864
My dear Kate,
Am I not a happy man? One letter last night and one the day before and to provoke you to repeat it, I answer so promptly although it is only two days, I think, since my last.
There is nothing special to communicate of army news. Since I last wrote the enemy has let us remain quiet—that is, made no attack or demonstration. True the rattle of musketry along the picket lines turns us out nearly every night, but it generally amounts to little more than an alarm. We are not anxious to have them attack us just at present. I think we can hold our own but the troops are beginning to show the effects of extraordinary fatigue.
Yes, as you so earnestly wish, I am left behind here but how long this position is to be held, I can form no opinion. As I have said before, everything must depend on Grant’s success and the rapidity of his movements. You must not expect that he is going to march straight into Richmond, nor on the other hand be unduly discouraged by the impossible delay. It is is not impossible that Richmond may prove to be another Sevastopol [Crimea] and like that act as a drain upon the South. When the exhausting process is completed, it will fall and the war end. This certainly would be better that to have Lee fall back and force us to follow him up before the decisive battle had been fought. We must be satisfied with a slow and gradual advance of our armies and moderate successes gained over the enemy. God only knows when this sort of work will stop, but I really believe we shall succeed in the end.
You allude to our operations here. I have expressed no opinion I know and written little of military news, but there is always a chance of our letters falling into the hands of the enemy and giving them sometimes valuable information. It is not because I would not talk freely with you on the subject.
Knowing as I did our strength when we landed here, I never expected so much as you at home seemed to from the move. Butler never had men enough to get to Richmond. It was simply impossible and I think was never intended by Grant. But what seems to have been the object was to effectually cut and keep closed the line of communication between Richmond and Petersburg. This Butler failed to do, but apparently deceived by his success at the outset undertook to do too much and failed to do anything of value. In my humble opinion, he might have accomplished what seems to have been the original intention had he been satisfied with so moderate a part in the grand game,
Now it is the same old story—over rated at the outset and under rated because he failed to do what he never could reasonably have expected to accomplish. He is justly to blame for not being content with moderate success. Still I am not in possession of all the whys & wherefores and may be in error as to the end to be accomplished. There is no use in “crying for spilled milk,” you know. We have to do with the present, not the past.
The article from the “Times” which you enclosed is sound in principle and expresses views I have always held to. In a small way I tried to carry out my principle and went to school in a regular battery at Washington before aspiring to a commission. Two years and more of active service has confirmed and strengthened my preference for trained and educated Generals, not necessarily West Pointers. A man may have made arms his study without going there. Even if such a thing were within the range of possibility, whichit is not, I could not consistently wear a star on my shoulder. Still General Terry has done exceedingly well always and I feel quite satisfied to be under him, but he had always read up well in military matters.
Thank you for the offer to send a box. If I find the cigars come safely and in good order, I shall be very glad to receive it, now that there seems a possibility of our remaining in status quo a while longer. I would have written to Mr. Godkin direct but I supposed him to be in New Haven with you.
I have nothing to ass on the subject of the Colonelcy. It rests now, I presume, with the Governor and what he may decide to do. I ought to know in a few days. I sometimes think when I see what men get to be Colonels that the best men don’t rise in the rolling on of the wheel of fortune. Still I consider the care of a thousand men a grave responsibility when their lives depend so much upon the coolness and judgement of the commander. But please don’t be awe-stricken. Externally the only change will be a double breasted coat with two rows of buttons and silver eagles on the shoulders. By the way (provided I get the Colonelcy) do you want to know what I should prize? The knights of old you know received their spurs from their fair lady loves. Nowadays the shoulder strap is the mark of honor and rank and if you think I shall not dishonor them—why I should be pleased to have such a reminder always near me of one who has the true soldierly qualities, courage and endurance. Allow me to suggest that the straps be strictly “regulation”—that is, with only one row of embroidery around the edge thus [sketch], eagle upon light blue ground. Ha! Supposing I should not get to be Col.!
And so John P. think we in the army have the best of it, does he? He may have my place if he likes. I think I could enjoy myself sitting, smoking in the cool, breeze hall, and eat strawberries and go on picnics and ride horseback and such like, quite as well as turning out dark rainy nights with a fair prospect of stopping some stray rifle ball. Don’t you think so? My turn for such civilized luxuries will come by and bye “when Johnnie comes marching home.” I do not agree with you, I think this summer will be the hardest of our fighting over. I cannot give all my reasons for feeling so, yet such is my feeling perhaps because I am well bodily and disposed to look upon the brighter side of things in general.
Weather is variable, at times quite hot, but as yet it is an improvement on S. Carolina and I suffer but little from it. On the whole you see things go well with me at present.
Thank Clare for her note. You might have read it if you had chosen. Tell her I have little time for correspondence, and yet here I am writing on in my old way, volume after volume.
I remain still Chief of Artillery momentarily expecting to fall back to the command of my Lt. Brigade, because the old Chief has been released from arrest. “Now we go up, up, up, and now we go down, down, down.”
We were surprised to hear night before last the roar of Grant’s cannon so near and also what seemed to be the roll of musketry. The bursting of shells was distinctly seen and yet they must have been at least 15 miles distant. Today, a quiet Sunday, everything has been still enough—a day of rest must come or human nature will give out.
I have just read a Richmond paper of yesterday morning. The [report] victories and successes and yet there is an evident tone of great anxiety as to the result—less of that boasting which generally fills their papers. I see our own papers have some strange stories. The Herald of the 3rd makes great account of an ironclad engagement in James River. Now it may be so, but the ironclads lie within a quarter of a mile of my tent and I have heard nothing of any fight. When it does come off, I shall sit on the bank and look on. I would like to be a spectator of a fight in which I was not a participant. Goodbye. Kind regards to Fanny and a kiss for little Lawrence.
Yours affectionately, — Alfred
I send a piece of mine used to explode the rebel torpedoes. Is it Mrs. Col. Howland who has died? I knew her as a very charming, pleasant person, It is quite sad. Just a month since we landed here.