In this letter James vividly describes a battle fought at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Note his description of Robert E. Lee as “Matchless” Lee, and the “patching” of Union goods left on the field of battle.
Camp near Bethel Church-Caroline Co., May 14, 1863
My Dear Wife:
I wrote a short letter last week, which I directed to Stevensville, as you wrote me that you expected to go back to King and Queen by that time. I wrote from our camp near Fredericksburg, which we went to after the fight, and where I supposed we would stay until I could hear from you, or at least until we expected to have another fight. But we moved our camp down here in Caroline again but not so low down towards King and Queen as we were before. This camp is nearly halfway between Milford and Guinea’s Depot, about eight miles from the latter, and five from the former. I wrote word for Bet to send my hat up by Blakely, the agent on the road, but the depot is so far that I don’t know whether I would get it. John Callahan39 camp up to his company a day or two ago, and he told me that your ma wanted him to bring a hat up to me, but as he did not know exactly what day he was coming up, he did not call to get it. Callahan has been in the Yankee lines, and when on his way to Washington see his parents, was arrested by the enemy, and kept in Fort McHenry, until he was exchanged as a prisoner of war. He saw his father, but not under very favorable circumstances. We had a very hard march yesterday; about eighteen miles. It was very hot indeed. And as we all have to carry our knapsacks and blankets now, it gets very hard indeed with me. Indeed, it is rather more than I bargained for when I entered the service. I am getting disgusted with it, and everything connected with it. Oh how sorry I was to hear that you were suffering so much. I fear you could not enjoy your trip to Essex much. I sincerely hope you have gotten over the effects of it by this time, and are enjoying your usual health. I know the dear children must have enjoyed the trip amazingly as they are just at the age now when the know nothing and careless about the troubles which beset us. I ardently hope that the war may close long before they are old enough to know what war is. Bless them, I wish I could see them now. It always seems to me that I want to see you all worse after I have been in a battle than any other time. I never have suffered so much from fatigue and other causes since I have been in service than I have before and since the late battle. While it lasted, which was four or five days, we could scarcely get any rest at all at night, for were within a few hundred yards of the enemy, and sometimes we would be called up three or four times during the night. We shelled the Yankees out of the woods on Saturday night, as soon as we got in position. We had the prettiest nights I ever saw, and I believe if it had not been that the woods were so thick and impenetrable, we would have captured nearly the whole Yankee army. The night before the Yankees evacuated their last line of entrenchments, a great many of us, infantry and artillery, were crowded behind our breastworks; it was a terrible night, and one which I shall never forget, a terrible rain storm come up, and the air being very chilly, made it very uncomfortable. Long before night my blanket become thoroughly saturated with water and three of us, Lieut. Johnston, W.G. Jones, and myself had to lie down in one of these little Yankee tents, perfectly wet all over, and as may be supposed, we did not sleep much that night. My blankets did not get dry for several days. The next day when we expected to have the bloodiest of the whole series, we heard, as we were anxiously awaiting for the coming struggle, to open, that the cowardly Yankees had taken advantage of the darkness and the storm to escape back across the Rappahannock. But they were not all to escape so easily for no sooner did our matchless Lee that they had commenced an ignominious retreat than he gave orders for a pursuit which was followed up until the scoundrels had all recrossed and many of them did not live to effect a landing on the north banks. The weather being such as to render a further pursuit impossible, we were ordered back to camp. But not withstanding we were fatigued and worn down by our several days march and fighting, we should have joyfully hailed the prospect of continuing the fight until we followed the Yankees clear into their gunboats onto the Potomac, which we could easily have done. My dear, I never saw the like or the spoils which the Yankees left on the field in my life. I thought I saw something at the fight around Richmond, but as the boys say, it wasn’t a patching to this; for the enemy left in such haste that they threw away thousands of wagon loads of blankets, knapsacks, muskets, and all their rations, and numberless other things. I picked up a blanket and a excellent oil cloth which I carried along as they were better than mine, which were about all the spoils I got, as I could not carry any more, except a very good tent, large enough for two of us, and which we carry between us, it being in two pieces. Every man in the army that wanted it, got one of those. John Turner40 came up to his company since the fight, which he has been absent from about nine months, nearly all the time sick. He says his sister Lou has been very low, but is now in very good health. The rest are well. He is now under guard though, as his captain did not consider his excuse sufficient, and expects to be court-martialed. He is very uneasy about it, but I do not think they will do anything with him except keep him under guard for some time. I suppose you will have to go back to Richmond if you cannot get board in the country. I don’t know what else to tell you. And if you are pushed, we will have to sell Fanny and her two children. That is the only way I can see how you can manage to live. That will manage to keep you going for some time to come. I should like to know how you are off for funds now. I have some little money which I have no use for. I have not seen or heard anything of Willie yet. I don’t know what has become of him. But I hope he will turn up somewhere soon. That was a very humiliating thing for us of the Yankee cavalry raid near Richmond, and the whole party might have been captured very easily if the proper vigilance had been used. It cast a sort of a damper over our spirits after the recent brilliant victory we achieved up here. But they did not do anything like the damage they might have done. I hope our cavalry will be on the lookout hereafter. I received your second letter from Essex just after I had written my last, and was very much pleased at the length of it. You need not fear that the length of your letters will tire me, as I am always very glad and proud to get a long letter, and especially from you. I heard the other day by one of our men who had been to Richmond that Tom Burroughs41 was getting along very well, but I do not see how he can live unless the balls are extracted as he has three in his body. I saw a good many of the committee from Richmond who came up to look after the wounded, who otherwise would have died for want of assistance. Well, I must close now, my dearest, and hope you will write very often, and write me word whether you have recovered from your indisposition, and how the dear children are getting on, and whether they are growing any. I would not be surprised to hear that your conjectures were right about Ellen going to Richmond to be married, and will expect that such is when I hear from you again. Did you hear anything of that nature about Willie while you were in Essex? If such is the case, I would give something to know. I think you had not direct your letters to any particular place, but just direct them to A.P. Hill Division, Walker’s Artillery Battalion, Crenshaw Battery, as I don’t know long we will stay here.
Your devoted and loving husband,
J. Harvey Campbell