In line of battle, North bank James river, near Chapin’s farm, Virginia
[5 August 1864]
My very dear mother,
Today is my thirty-first birthday and I do not know that I can better occupy it than by writing you a letter. Long months ago, I resolved that if God in His goodness and mercy should spare my unprofitable life until this hour, you should have a communication from me directed to you individually. My object in this is of a two-fold nature. First to acquaint you of my remarkably excellent health and good feelings and in the second place, should you never be permitted to see me again on earth, you may have some slight testimonial of my appreciation of your worth as a mother, and also that your many excellent qualities still occupy a place in my memory.
Since my last birthday, what a change has come over you and myself. Perhaps we were in each others presence speaking of bygones and things of yore, not dreaming that I would be arrayed in deadly conflict with my fellow. Then all was peace and quiet—no disturbance of either mind or body. Today you may be suffering intense anxiety as to my whereabouts and safety. Thank God, I am on this side of the grave with but little to annoy my composure of soul and no immediate indication of hurt to my body. I do not and I hope you do not complain to cause the authorities hard [feelings for taking] me into the service of my country. I conscientiously feel it to be my duty to striker a blow in this our just contest, and if I am spared in after years, the sweet reflection will occur to me that I discharged my duty in part. If I have at any time heretofore intimated that the duty was hard or rations scarce, you must remember that it was for a want of Christian resignation that induced me to complain. I do not remember to have had any duty to perform, any marching to do, but what it might all have been more [ ing] and fatiguing.
A spirit of determination and full reliance upon the upholding arm of our Heavenly Father will make the weakest of us to overcome apparent impossibilities. With much reverence I acknowledge the sustaining and supporting assistance of the God of our salvation, during my many hardships and toils. It would be a blessed hour in the history of my existence if the dark cloud of battle would be rolled away and I [ ] in our peaceful, quiet recount to you the many trying scenes through which I have been so kindly preserved and protected. But if it is the will of Heaven that I should be cut off, Oh! God may I not hope to be translated into Thy blissful presence where none but reverential thanks are due. Thy [ ] Mother repent not my many failings and short comings but give God the praise that amid my many misdeeds, I have enjoyed some refreshings from on high.
I have no positive assurance that I shall ever see you again in the flesh. Should the war close tomorrow and all of us be disbanded the next day, some unforseen disaster might befall me that would prevent our meeting. Our lives are not in our own hands, but belong to the God who gave them.
Three months ago today this campaign opened in bloody earnest. It is estimated and I imagine correctly that more lives have been sacrificed during these three months than was ever before recorded in the annals of time. It is a burning shame to the common sense of man that our enemy have not seen the impossibility of subjugating us and put a stop to this unholy strife. They, nor have our own people, seen the magnitude of this wholesale slaughter. It will not occur to us until we are released from the shackles of war and return to our home to miss the lives of those we destroy.