In this letter we find James struggling with missing his family, and the possible punishments he could face by deserting or going awol. James even shows his Virginia pride and stubbornness when it comes to saving face before his own company, by refusing to leave in the presence of the enemy.
Camp Near Orange C.H., Sept. 20, 1863
My Dear Wife,
I have received both your letters, one dated the 15th and the other the 10th of September, the first one of which I received about a week ago, and the other day before yesterday. Just as I was getting ready to answer your first letter I received the last one. After staying at my quarters at Miss Cowherds’s nearly four weeks, I was very unexpectedly called on last Sunday night about midnight to prepare immediately to follow the battery, which was then on the march. You can imagine that was rather unpleasant news after being in comfortable quarters so long. But nevertheless it has to be obeyed. So I got up and started and overtook the company a little after daylight next morning, and have been either on the march or under marching orders ever since, which accounts for my not being able to write any sooner. Your two letters gave me a great deal of pleasure, I do assure you. But my leaving that place and coming back to the company destroys what little hope or prospect I had of coming to see you shortly. I am sorry to say I do not now see the slightest prospect of coming soon. They commenced giving furloughs a short time ago, but so far only one has been given in our company, and it has been stopped, I suppose in view of the expectation of another fight somewhere near this point. I did think at one time that there would probably be no more fighting before next spring but that they would await the issue of events in Charleston and the Southwest, but it seems the two armies are about to come together again and that very soon. Oh how can you talk of my being cool towards you, as you seem to intimate, when I would give almost anything in the world, even run the risk of life itself, to be with you for a short time. But they are getting very strict in the army now, and it might be the case that I would pay the penalty of my life if I came away without leave, as they are trying to make absence without leave and desertion the same thing, and make it punishable with death. I know it must be a great disappointment to you, as it is to me, but what would you have me do? I am sure you would not have me leave without some reasonable pretext or excuse, so that I might avoid being punished severely. But however much I might wish to come home, it would look very badly to leave in the face of the foe, or when they are expecting a fight. As I told you before, I shall leave no means untried to come home. For I want to see you and the children beyond all else on earth. I got a letter from Bet yesterday, which I was very proud of, as it is the first one she has ever written to me. She says she has not heard from you for some time, and wants to see you much. She also says Fanny and the children are well. She seemed to be very glad to hear from me, and said she only heard through you, and that was but seldom. She talks of being very busy, as an excuse why she had not answered by letter sooner. I have not heard from Mr. Ellyson yet about my watch; possibly he did not get my letter. I should not have thought of selling it now, knowing that you opposed it once before when I spoke of it, but I did not know of any other way to raise money which I wanted to raise on your account, as I knew you wanted some to get your mourning. If he got my letter I suppose he has sold it by this time, or at any rate before I can get another letter to him. I have gotten a plenty of shirts now of all kinds, and do not think I shall want any for some time, as I could not carry them if I had them. I sent both my Crenshaw shirts down to Richmond last spring, one to Mr. Jones (father of Wm. E. ) and the other to Mrs. Morriss. I sent for the one Mr. Jones had, and he was kind enough to send me an extra pair of socks along with it. I shall send for the other one as soon as it gets cool enough. I shall not be likely to want anything this winter except socks. I have been afraid that the children would forget me, as it is such a long time I am compelled to stay away. But I am satisfied if all else forget me, you will not, my dear. But I’ll try and not let your doubts disturb me. I hope to prove to you, some time, and that I hope not too far distant, that you are dearer to me than you seem inclined to think. Although the excitement and frivolities in camp keep my mind employed most of the time, yet there are times, yes, morning, noon, and night, when I think of you and wish that it were possible for me to have your company sometimes. I never could get reconciled to camp like in preference to the sweet influence and pleasant association of home. But I always try to keep from brooding over those things that cannot be avoided.
Lieut. Johnston has been fortunate enough to have his wife up here at Orange C.H. for the last three or four weeks tho I have not seen her, as I have not had an opportunity to visit the place lately. O how I would liked to have dropped in on you while the family were away. Never mind, I hope to have that pleasure before long, if I am spared, and then I’ll pay you for what you wrote me in your letter, if in no other way, by a good, healthy hug. Will that pay you? If not, what will. I will get even with you someday, depend upon it. Here I am, on a beautiful bright Sunday morning, sitting here in the woods, writing my thoughts to my loved ones at home, instead of being with them as I might be, and without any detriment to the service either. At least half a dozen men might be let off from our company at a time and not be missed, even if there was a fight. But so it is, and we poor privates who are the sufferers cannot alter it. But you are very much mistaken, my dear, if you think your long letters tire me, as the longer they are, the better I like them. Next to the pleasure of being at home, it is the greatest gratification to me to hear from you. And you cannot write too much. I like to read long letters better than I like to write them. So I will have to conclude this one, as my paper is getting short, and hope you will write very soon and very often. Remember me to all our friends and relations who inquire after me. I have been separated from Charles, as he is in a different Corps, and I think gone down towards Fredericksburg. And now adieu for the present, my own loving wife, and write as often as you can. Kiss both the children for me.
Believe me always.
Your affectionate and loving husband,