With Union artillery shells passing overhead, James calmly writes to his wife from underneath a shade tree. Though the camp is unknown (located in Hanover County, Virginia), the shells are a constant reminder of the trouble that lies ahead.
In Camp, June 18, 1862
My Dear Wife,
I have not written sooner because I have been expecting to hear from you and because I have been moving about so much that I could scarcely find an opportunity. But I find that my anxiety to hear from you all is so great that I must write, though my letter must necessarily be brief. I am very anxious to hear how our little Nannie is. I hope she is better. Write me word as soon as you get this. I hope your health is improving also. I am very anxious about you all, especially as the government is so slow in paying us off. I do not know when they will. I have not heard anything of it yet. Since I saw you we have been almost constantly on the move. We have been in this neighborhood now nearly a week. On our down we passed nearly half round the city, in sight a great part of the time. Our most direct route would have been right through the city, but our General, I suppose, thought that if we passed through some of us would be left. So he ordered it otherwise. When we got down as far as Brooke Church21 we struck a cross road and camped that night at Mr. Grants house, which is a delightful place, but we did not stop but one night, and next morning took up the line of march for this place, crossing the Meadow Bridge Road, and also the Mechanicsville Turnpike. We are now right in the face of the enemy, see them everyday, and receive some tokens of their regard in the shape of bomb shell and round shot very often.Even while I write, about twelve o’clock, they are sending over some shell. We can hear them whizzing by us, but they have not come very near us yet. Our battery has not replied to them yet, but several in the neighborhood are paying their respects to them. This place is called Smith’s Farm,22 and is, I think about four or five miles from town by the Stony Run Road. There seems to be some movement among the Yankees today as we saw a long line, supposed to be at least 15,000 men, on the other side of the Chickahominy marching in the direction of the Turnpike. I do not know what their intention is but it does not seem to be the impression here that they intend to attack us. We are about two miles from the battle ground. We can see Gen. McClellan’s headquarters23 from our camp, which they say is at Dr. Gaines24 on the other side of the Creek. They are constantly sending up balloons from there, we can see very distinctly, and sometimes make them come down very hastily by firing at them. Our company seems to be improving in health, as most of the sick ones are mending, though the mosquitoes are pretty bad down here. So far, my health is excellent, and my greatest trouble is to get enough to satisfy my appetite which I cannot always do. Some people think the two armies will remain here for some time to come, watching each other and that there will be no regular pitched battle, which I hope will not be the case, as the longer they stay, the harder it will be for you all to get the necessaries of life. My dear wife, you must not take on so much trouble, if you can help it, but try and be cheerful and your health will surely be better. I hope you will do this for my sake, as I am sure that the chief pleasure of my life is to see you happy. I have a very pleasant seat out under the trees while I am writing. There is a delightful breeze blowing and I have a good shade. But every now and then a gun goes off, and I have to look up and see whether the shell is coming towards me. I should like very much to come in again, but they are so strict that I cannot come without a pass and there is no probability at present of getting one. Have you seen Willie? Let me know. I should like very much to see him, as I suppose he is in that expedition of Stuart’s. I see his Captain was killed. That was quite a brilliant exploit, and I hope will be followed by others of a similar character.
We have not had our tents up since we have been down here, as it is too near the enemy, so we have to sleep out of doors and sometimes it is quite cool. Write soon, and I will try to do better myself the next time. Kiss the children both Florence and Nannie, and remember me to them sometimes. Adieu, my dearest, for the present, as I have not time to write more.