James writes after the Second Battle of Fredericksburg (also known a the Battle of Marye’s Heights) on May 3, 1863.
Near Fredericksburg-Thursday June 11, 1863
My Dear Wife,
I received your precious letter postmarked the 1st on the day before yesterday, and was delighted to hear from you, the more so because I was fearful that the last raid of the Yankees up the Mattaponi would stop the stage from running, or in some way interfere with our correspondence. But it seems your letter was sent a day or two previous to that event, and I am not altogether satisfied about it yet, as I have not heard anything about it except what was published in the papers, and they seem to intimate that they did a good deal of damage in burning and destroying houses and mills and carrying off negroes. It is a disgraceful business that the scoundrels should thus be allowed to go through our whole country with impunity, when it might be so easily prevented. Every time they come they get bolder and bolder until there is no telling to what lengths they will go. I heard that a whole division had been sent down towards Tappahannock, and I hope they will be all captured or killed the next time they come up that way. Write me word whether they did any damage in that neighborhood. We are here again on the same old battle ground of Fredericksburg, in sight of the steeples of the town, and about two miles off, where we have been in line of battle now nearly six days and nights. We, that is, the Crenshaw Battery occupy a slight elevation overlooking the town and the whole intervening plain between us and the river, which is comparatively level, which is the same place where the first battle was fought, and if a fight should take place while we are here, which may occur at any moment, we could see the whole field. We are tolerably safe distance now from the Yankee batteries, but when the fight begins, I suppose we should have to go down on the plain also. Our forces occupy the town, and the river above and below the Yankees. We can see the Yankees very distinctly from our position. They are some on this side of the river who are as busy as bees, and last night and yesterday threw up some very formidable breastworks for artillery on this side of the river. I do not know what their intention is, but from their entrenching themselves, they must intend to establish themselves on this side, but not to attack us. But if they don’t look sharp they will have to “come out of them breastworks” before long. If there are any Yankees on this side of the river, they are mostly under the bank of the river, as they do not come out into the open plain much except the working party. We can also see the Stafford Heights from here, but they do not look anything like they did a month ago, as the whole country along the river for four or five miles was then covered with tents, which is now not the case, there not being apparently one-fourth the number. I think most of our army has gone up the river, leaving only two or three divisions, but whether we will follow or not I of course cannot tell. But I do think we will leave here while the Yankees are on this side of the river.
I received a message from a very old friend of mine today, whom I have not seen for ten years, that he was coming to see me. He was formerly a beau of Caroline Valentine’s42 by the name of Nicholson. I have had some very gay times with him and should like to see him very much. I saw Johnny Laughton, a brother of Lyman’s yesterday. He says Lyman has got detailed in a hospital at Howard’s Grove. I expect he likes it better than active service, as he was never fond of fighting, I believe. The Richmond Greys43 are in the trenches on the left of our lines, but it was nothing like the Company it once was, as there are only about forty members now, I understand, and most of them are new. But Sam Smith and Jas. Hankins are still with them, two of my older brother chips.44 I shall go and see them if we stay here tomorrow. This is a very disagreeable place where we are staying, and the ground is so uneven that we cannot find a level place to lie down, and the whole place is covered with rocks of various sizes, so that you can imagine it to be rather uncomfortable sleeping. But not far off is a delightful spring, where I am now writing, and where we get good water and a delightful shade. It is a beautiful country place, occupied by one Dr. Reynolds, a very cross old customer, and very unkind too, as he will not permit us to have any of his cherries, of which he has a good many, for love or many and has a guard over them all the time. But the boys out-general him sometimes for all that, and perhaps you would be amused at some of the tricks the boys resort to get his cherries. One of them will go up to him and engage his attention by entering into a long argument with him on some subject, while the other one goes up the tree and they will exchange places. I hope Columbia has gotten by this time, and am very sorry that you were all so much disappointed. But such things will happen, and there is no way of alternating them, but you can tell her she has your sympathies, and wish her better luck next time. My health is as good as usual, and I am eating all the rations I get, which have been improved a little, and wishing for more. We will have to make another requisition on Gen. Hooker’s Commissary for more rations soon, as we never get coffee now unless we capture it in a fight. But for my part, I would be perfectly willing to dispense with all the coffee, and everything else they have, if they will only let us alone. We have just heard today of another cavalry fight in Culpepper, in which the Yanks took us at a disadvantage, but finally got the worst of it, from accounts that have been received so far. But they took some prisoners and were driven back. I don’t think the 9th Regiment was engaged. I have not received a letter from Willie at all, and was surprised to hear that he had written. I am very glad to see that he has been taken notice of by his Col. and hope it will result in his promotion, which I think he was deserving. I hope you are getting along comfortably, my dearest, and that you will not be visited again by the Yankees. There is another letter due from me, which I suppose you have received before this, and probably answered. Write as often as you can, at least once a week, as it is about the only consolation I have for your absence, in being able to hear from you sometimes. I do want to see you so much. It has now been about four months since I saw you, I think, the longest time we ever separated except I was in the Valley, and still do not see any prospect of seeing you again, soon, but it is probable we will go further off. But do not despair, my own wife, I trust the time will soon come when this horrible war will cease, and we may be together in peace as we once were.
Your devoted husband
I did not leave myself room to say anything about our dear little ones, but remember me to them, and kiss them for me, and tell them not to forget me. I wish I could send you some paper.