A Soldier's Letter


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, April 19, 1862

This WEB site features online versions of all the Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War. This archive is an invaluable tool in better understanding this historical conflict.

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Civil War Soldier's letter

Soldier's Letter

Albuquerque, Santa Fe

Albuquerque, Santa Fe

Virginia Map

Virginia Map

Approaches to Savannah

William Brownlow

Parson Brownlow

Burnside Expedition

Army in Virginia

Army in Virginia


Alexandria, Virginia


Hampton, Virginia


Newbern in the Civil War

Steinway Piano

Steinway Piano Ad


Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter Bombardment Anniversary










[APRIL 19, 1862.



HOSPITAL, April —.

I WRITE with a great deal of pain, dear girl—

I've not been able before since the fight—

And my brain is still so much in a whirl,

That I can tell you but little tonight.

I'm wounded!—don't start—'tis not very bad,

Or at least it might be worse; so I said,

When I thought of you, "I'm sure she'll be glad

To know that I'm only wounded—not dead,"

I've lost my left arm—there! now you know all!

A Minie ball shattered it, and I fell;

The last that I heard was our Captain's call,

Until—the rest is too painful to tell.

I've had throughout the most excellent care,

And am doing finely, the surgeon says;

So well, indeed, that the prospect is fair

For a homeward trip before many days.

But I've something else, dear Mary, to say,

And I'd say it if it cost me my life;

I've thought of it well—there's no other way—

You're released from your promise to be my wife! You'll think me foolish at first; then you'll think

Of the loose, armless coat-sleeve at my side; And your proud and sensitive heart will shrink

From the thought of being a cripple's bride.

'Tis a bitter struggle to give you up,

For I've loved you more than ever of late;

But down to its dregs I've drained the cup,

And I'm calm, though my heart is desolate.

I'm coming home, and of course we must meet;

My darling, this once, one boon I implore—

Let us still be friends—for that will be sweet,

Since now, alas! we can be nothing more.

SWEET HOME, April —.

My Robert, how brave and noble you are!

Too brave and too noble, I know, for me;

But you've too little faith in me by far

If you believe that I want to be free.

I'm not released from my promise—no, no!

'Twas never so sacred to me before;

If you could but know how I've longed to go

And watch by your side, you'd doubt me no more.

I read your name in the terrible list,

But the tears froze back that sprang to my eye; And a fearful pain, that I could not resist,

Crushed my heart till I only longed to die.

The blessed tears, by-and-by, came again,

And I felt, as you in your letter said,
A feeling of gladness, 'mid all my pain, .

That Robert was only wounded—not dead.


Oh, darling! to think you have suffered so,

And I all these long, weary miles away;

You've needed me very often, I know,

While I could do nothing but hope and pray.

But hardest of all is the bitter thought

That you have been suffering so much for me; Poor Robert! your manly letter has brought

A strange melange of joy and misery.

But you're coming home to my arms and heart:

You're right—I am proud and sensitive too;

But I'm only so when we are apart,

And now—I shall only be proud of you! You're coming home to happiness and rest,

And I wait the moment of blissful calm, When I shall be held to a Soldier's breast

By a Patriot-Hero's one strong arm!

BLACKSTONE, MASS., April, 1862. 



IT is at last safe to say in print what every one has been whispering to his neighbor for some days past—that McClellan has started on his march to Richmond. The military censor at Washington permits us to publish the fact that Major-General M'Clellan started from Old Point Comfort at the head of his army on 4th, and that on 7th he was before Yorktown. By the time this paper reaches the public eye he may be nearer the rebel capital than will be pleasant for the traitors. There is no force in the insurgent States which can delay his progress more than a few hours.

The keys of the so-called Confederate States are Richmond and New Orleans. When we have taken these our task will be done. It is idle to suppose, as some weak-minded or evil-intentioned persons do, that the rebels will go on forever resisting after the struggle has become hopeless. Four millions of white people, holding three millions of slaves, can not live in mountain fastnesses, eating sweet potatoes. They will want boots and breeches by-and-by, and if they can not get them except by submitting, they will submit. If Marion had had a hundred thousand men, besides women and children, to take care of, he never could have lived in the swamps and harassed the British. There will be Marions now—Captain John Morgan, for instance—who will flourish as partisan leaders, slave-holding Robin Hoods, until they are hunted down. But the rank and file of the Southern people will submit and become loyal as soon as we make it perfectly apparent to them that the struggle is hopeless, and that they must choose between starvation, with the dangers of servile insurrections, on the one side, and plenty with loyalty on the other. There always comes

a period when the argumentum ad ventrem is irresistible even with the most obstinate and pugnacious animals.  


WE publish on pages 248 and 249 a large allegorical picture representing the UPRISING OF THE NORTH, after the Bombardment of Fort Sumter. Thus we commemorate the anniversary of that momentous and fatal day. The artist writes us the following note explanatory of his picture:

To the Editor of Harper's Weekly:

DEAR SIR,—In my design of the "UPRISING OF THE NORTH" I have endeavored to illustrate the Union sentiment and love of country developed throughout the Free States immediately after the first shot at Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter is seen in flames, the fire of smoke and battle rises and partly obscures the "Capitol," symbolizing the dark days just one year ago; the farmer leaves the plow in the furrow, the blacksmith his anvil. On the hills eastward rises Bunker Hill Monument, linking the patriotism of our fathers with that of the sons; the coming sunlight dissipates the mists of compromise; and the cheerful light contrasts with the portentous darkness on the Southern horizon.

The hardy sons of New England swarm over the hills, joining their brothers of the Middle States—swelling, as they meet, the mighty current setting in from the far-off States of the Pacific and glorious West—bearing aloft in irrepressible might the Stars and Stripes in defense of Liberty and the Union' etc., etc.   Very truly yours,

      C. PARSONS.



EIGHTY-SEVEN years ago this morning General Warren sent Paul Revere to rouse the towns about Boston with the news that the British were moving. The patriots in Boston hung lanterns upon the old north spire, and the country people who saw the dim steady light knew what it meant, and the farmers took down their muskets. The British soldiers marched steadily out, but the news flew before them through the darkness, and Middlesex County lay awake that night. At early dawn the file of troops reached the village of Lexington. The church bell rang a strange, untimely peal. Drums were beaten and alarm guns fired. The citizens assembled upon the green. In the gray morning light they nerved each other and stood together in sight of their homes. The red coats came running at the double-quick and halted. Pitcairn fiercely summoned the citizens to disperse. They stood fast. He threatened them. They did not falter. The officer fired his pistol at them and gave the loud order, "Fire!" There was a rattling response, then a steady, deadly volley. Resistance was useless. A few shots were fired by the citizens, then they retired. Seven of them were killed, nine wounded. It was all over by sunrise, and the huzzaing British troops pushed on toward Concord.

Already the news that had flown before the march had reached and roused the town of Acton, near Concord. The minute-men marched at day-break, led by Isaac Davis, thirty years old, the father of four children, who kissed his wife gravely, and said, "Take good care of them!" At seven o'clock the British arrived and searched for military stores to destroy. Between nine and ten there were four or five hundred countrymen near the bridge. They had orders to advance, but not to fire unless attacked. They entered the narrow way that led to the bridge. The British began to take up the planks. The Americans advanced running. The British fired. Isaac Davis and a friend fell dead. It was three hours since he had left his wife. "That afternoon he was carried home and laid in her bedroom. His countenance was little altered, and pleasant in death." Buttrick (it is still the honored name of living men in Concord) cried, "Fire, fellow-soldiers, for God's sake fire!" Two of the British fell, and several were wounded. In two minutes the battle of Concord was over, and, as the inscription upon the monument records, "the first of the enemy fell in the war of that Revolution which gave independence to these United States."

It was eighty-seven years ago. Eighty-six years afterward the sons and grandsons of the men of Acton, who had been roused by the ringing bell, as their fathers were, in the dusk of morning—who had gathered upon the village green, and by seven o'clock of the same day were in Boston, marched on the 19th of April through the streets of Baltimore, hastening from their quiet homes and fields to defend the Government which had been secured by that earlier bloodshed. With their friends and neighbors from other towns they were beset in the gloomy streets. Like their fathers, and for the same sacred cause, they stood fast. The pitiless stones around them were not more pitiless than the stony hearts of the foe they fronted. Once more in dire extremity they fired, and two of the heroic band fell, as in the earlier day. The pavement of the city, like the green sod of the Concord valley, was consecrated by their blood. They died, but love, and honor, and deathless renown follow them. Wantonly slain, the fruitful blood of those heroes sprang from the ground in seven hundred thousand armed men, who stand today from the Chesapeake to the prairies, from the dark city of death to the utmost point of the Gulf, their or embattled brows bright with the light of the good old cause of peaceful liberty, for which brave mere gladly die.

History and the love of a nation blend the two centuries in their remembrance of this day. The one the spring-day of our independence, the other of our assured liberty. The first nineteenth of April showed that we could be a nation: the last proved that we are so. For martyr blood is not shed in vain. Justice does not falter, nor the world turn back: and the cause that all Americans naturally

love was never so lovely as to-day when this anniversary returns.


HOT weather and hot work are coming. The time in which not only the strategy of Generals and the bravery of soldiers, but the health of all our men in the field is to be tested, is at hand. The time also in which our faith at home, our patient endurance of the necessity of labor and sacrifice, must be practically shown, has also arrived. The sanitary care which, by the constant benevolence of all patriotic families throughout the country, administered by the unwearying attention of the Sanitary Commission, has followed our soldiers to the camp, received them from disaster, and soothed them in the final hour, all this must now continue with unrelaxed energy, although the first gush of feeling is gone.

During the last nine months the Commission has spent more than fifty thousand dollars, and has distributed half a million dollars' worth of hospital stores. It has interested the medical profession, has marshaled bands of nurses, has erected an invalid soldiers' home in Washington, has inspired three hundred of the most faithful, intelligent, and practical men in all the States as advisers, has collected statistics of the most valuable character, has organized depots of supplies and methods of swift succor—and all this, the most arduous and engrossing work, without pay, subject to jealous criticism, and employing agents at its own expense.

Finis coronat opus. The results it has achieved are its justification. And now it appeals again to the public sympathy and co-operation upon the eve of the great and decisive movements. Its funds are nearly exhausted. Shall its work be relinquished? The Government can not and will not do the work of the Sanitary Commission. It gives it all its sympathy and what aid it may render by the way, but the Government functions are precise, and they can not include this careful regard of the soldiers. We all know what official sympathy is; what, possibly, it must be. We do not quarrel or complain, but we had all rather know that our wounded friends had some other than the merely official care. Besides, upon the health and general well-being, upon the morale of the troops depends their efficiency; and the Commission has doubtless preserved thousands of brave men to fight for themselves and for us all.

Shall this essential work languish or fail? The appeal is to every man and to every woman in the land. Surely the same spirit which has marshaled a volunteer force larger than the great standing armies of the world, and has followed them with thoughtful care to the beginning of the actual struggle of arms, will not falter in the moment of extreme trial, but will triumphantly accomplish the task it has so nobly begun.


THE appeal to the prejudice of one part of the population of this country against any other is so directly destructive of social order that the attempt should every where be marked. When a candidate for the Mayoralty appealed, last autumn, to the lowest passions of the unhappy men who haunt grog-shops and live by infamy, he revealed at once his own despair of his cause and the true character of the man whom some respectable citizens, a few years since, publicly besought by letter to stand for Mayor. No sensible man who read those speeches but felt that no civil right whatsoever could be safe in the hands of such a magistrate. He rested his hopes of political success not upon the intelligence of the people, but upon the blind devotion of a crowd of partisans whose passions he sought to inflame. The result of the election showed the popular estimate of the man, and the general appreciation of his course in the canvass.

There are newspapers which are trying the same method in regard to the question of the slaves who are freed by the advance of the army. They strive to excite the meanest hatreds in order to produce anarchy, in which not one class only must inevitably be involved. They represent the free colored people as an utterly idle, worthless, thieving mass of persons. The falsehood of these statements it is useless to controvert, because truth is not the object for which they are urged.

It is instructive, nevertheless, to know, as Senator Wilson said in reply to Senator Davis, of Kentucky, who had condescended to repeat the stories which should only be found in base mouths and treacherous newspapers, that in the District of Columbia the free colored people, although under the hopeless ban of belonging to a hated and enslaved race, support themselves, as a class, by their own thrift, support their churches and schools, care for their sick and dying, bury their dead, and help support schools for the education of white children whence their own are excluded. Could there be a more pitiful spectacle for God and history than a party of intelligent men belonging to a powerful, prosperous, proud nation, of thirty millions of people trying to keep their heel upon four millions of an unfortunate race, and using every kind of mean subterfuge to insure success, instead of considering by what means every man can wisely be lifted into the enjoyment of the rights with which God endowed all men?

Especially in this country, where, if any thing is settled beyond dispute, it is that freedom and not slavery is to be the national policy, and consequently that slavery is to be ended, lawfully and peacefully as all good citizens hope, whoever by venomous appeals seeks to avert the inevitable development of our civilization and common sense, is the enemy of every decent man and honest citizen.


THE historian Bancroft was once asked to what period he proposed to continue his history. His reply was, "Our history is complete down to the formation of the Constitution. Since then our story is that of a political system which is yet in

course of experiment." The profound sagacity of the reply is shown by the experience of last year. We are now in the very crisis of the experiment. For our system could not be said to be permanently established until it had suffered the shock of civil war. That shock it is now sustaining, and every sign indicates that the event will prove the intrinsic superiority of the system.

But the London Times is of another opinion. The English Foreign Secretary already speaks of us as two Powers; and the Times follows his lead by the assertion that the present condition of' this country shows that the Union itself is impossible. Such a statement is of course only twaddle, for it is a simple begging of the question. But the Times proceeds to some remarkable political generalization, which is as false as it is feeble.

"This is an age of reaction," it says, "for which democracy has to thank itself." And it then illustrates the assertion by the empire in France and the kingdom of Italy, and the offer of a crown to Mexico. But if any fact is established and illustrated by current political history, it is that the consent of the nation is the only sure foundation of the Government. Not only is Louis Napoleon the elected Emperor of the French, but his whole policy shows his deference to the rights and the powers of nationality. Cavour, the great Italian of our day, was not fifty years old when he died, but he had already seen close at hand the unity of Italy. The despotic alien hand of Austria has been lifted, by the will of the Italian people and the aid of the French Emperor, wisely obedient to a national instinct, from Tuscany, Parma, Modena, a great part of Lombardy, and Naples; while Rome is not yet nominally, as it is really, part of the Italian kingdom, only because the political is entangled with the ecclesiastical question. In other words, the separate Austrian provinces of Italy have cast off their foreign master, and are united under their own constitutional king.

Instead of an age of reaction, it is emphatically an age of confirmation of the doctrine of constitutional liberty and national unity as the cardinal conditions of peaceful civilization and progress. And our own struggle is the final proof that a truly popular system is the strongest possible, since it can victoriously cope not only with a more formidable domestic rebellion than any other contemporary government could withstand, but with the covert hostility of every rival power in the world.


THE late debate upon the District emancipation bill suggests once more the reflection that the political patrimony of St. Peter, or the states of the church, and our District of Columbia are equally anomalous and foolish political communities. For as there is no valid reason why the chief Bishop of a church should have a province specially subject to his temporal sway, so there is none why the national Government of a republic should he seated in a little territory of which the inhabitants are virtually disfranchised.

The necessities of the situation and of the case make the national metropolis an unhealthy village, crowded for a part of the year with the officers of Government, with the throngs of official dependents, and inhabited by the diplomatic body. In every other part of the civilized world a diplomatic position carries with it the refinements and delights of the chief city of the country. It is no wonder that Washington, one of the meanest of cities, should be a synonym of dreary exile for a foreigner. To come to America is heard, but to live in Washington—hoc opus.

The inevitable consequence is, not only that the District suffers for proper legislative care—for what is the business of all the States is in that direction the interest of none—but the National Government is surrounded by belittling influences. Instead of contact with the great centres of national interest and feeling, such as could be found in the natural capitals—such as the French Government finds in Paris and the English in London—it breathes the air of a village, and talks with the great centres by the telegraph, or the mail, or through committees. The people of other nations might justly fear consolidation and centralization when the seat of government is an immense city—an overshadowing power like that of Paris over France; but the nature of our system obviates such a fear with us. On the other hand, it might be feared that jealousy would arise among the chief cities of the various States; but however large any country may be, and however divided, there will be always a chief city, and that is the natural capital.

It would certainly be difficult to give any better original reason why the capital of the United States should be in a village upon the Potomac, than why the seat of the French Government should be at Pau in the Pyrenees. Tradition, time, and the heavy expense of the establishment in the District are secondary, but influential, considerations now. The costly Capitol, at once a satire and a shame, the other huge and necessary buildings, the political habit of the world which typifies our Government as the Cabinet of Washington, and the national association of the capital with the District, all these are reasons for the present situation.

But when the war is over, and the causes of alienation are removed, and there is national peace in fact as well as in form, let its hope that something may be done to emancipate the Government from the District of Columbia.


IT may be hardly necessary to warn any person who reads the papers that he must not rely too implicitly upon the report of what happened yesterday, not because of any intention to misrepresent, but of the general difficulty of knowing exactly the facts. But when the report is of something that happened in another country many years ago, when the object of the representation is the gratification of a malignant purpose, and when the vehicle in which it is made is notoriously mercenary and untrustworthy, every reader ought to (Next Page)




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