Here we find James writing during a break in the fighting at Spotsylvania Court House. In this letter James vividly describes scenes from the battlefield, including long marches, troop losses, General U.S. Grant’s shrewd trick upon Lee, and proud stands only which Southern troops could make.
Battlefield, Spottsylvania C.H., May 13, 1864
My Dear Wife,
As today is a day of comparative quiet after such terrible scenes of bloodshed as we have had here for the past ten days, I will try and write you a letter, though I know not how I am going to get it to you. Both armies seem to be resting after the desperate struggles they have been putting forth—at least so far, though I know not how the day may close. We have repulsed the enemy at all points, thanks to a kind Providence, with terrible loss to them, as they have been literally piled up. Their losses since the fight began have been enormous—estimated at between fifty and sixty thousand in killed, wounded and prisoners. Yesterday was said to have been the bloodiest day of the fight, so far. Grant attempted to play a very shrewd Yankee trick upon Lee, but found him ready to meet him. The evening before he withdrew nearly his whole force from our front before night, as though he intended to retreat, at the same time moving his wagon trains to the rear. He marched his army about five miles towards the river, and then massed all his troops and commenced an attack upon the centre of our lines at day-break yesterday morning. For eight mortal hours he poured column after column against our devoted troops, who stood the shock as only Southern troops, and those whose cause is just can; never once flinching, and at the close of the day, occupied the same positions that they did in the morning. Never was the old adage more impressively brought to my mind—“Thrice armed is he whose cause is just.” Our battery was not in the fight until last Monday, having been detained near Gordonsville for the want of horses. We started from camp last Sunday morning about ten o’clock, and arrived here Monday about the same hour, having marched a distance of forty-two in twenty-four hours, a march, I believe which surpasses any that Napoleon’s troops ever made. I marched most of the way on foot, with a heavy knapsack, and when I reached here I was nearer exhausted that ever I was in my life, but I did not like to have it said that I reported sick at such a time, so I continued with the battery, which has been in the every day since. We have had six men wounded in the battery so far, among them who I am sorry to say, is my friend and old mess mate, Wm. E. Jones51 (not Wm. G.) who was shot through the foot by a stray bullet from the Yankee sharp shooters. The doctors at first advised him to have it cut off, but now they seem to think that his foot can be saved, which I hope will be the case. He received his wound heroically though it was a very painful one. And now, my dearest, you know not how anxious I am to hear from you all in these terrible times. Every little while I hear the report that the Yankees are between you and Richmond, but I will hope for the best until I hear something to the contrary. I have heard since I commenced this letter of a way of getting it to Richmond, so I will send it and run the risk of getting it to you. I received a letter from you a short time before leaving camp, dated the 23rd, but which I did not have time to answer before leaving. I have not time to write much more now, as I shall have to send this by a gentleman who expects to leave here very early in the morning. I suppose by this time you have Florrie with you again. If not, and it is not convenient for you to go over, you had better try and get some of the neighbors going over to bring her. I wrote you in my last to send those shirts to Richmond if you had them ready, so that I could get them. Although we have repulsed Grant’s army in every attack, he still keeps a bold front, and I fear we have not men enough to attack him. The accounts from other quarters are very encouraging, and I am beginning to imagine almost that I see daylight coming. I saw Willie Waring a day or two ago, who told me that Willie was still sick at home, and I also saw Bob Ware.52 The men who were wounded were mostly from Spottsylvania, and were none dangerously, I believe. I have a wretched cold, my dearest, which I attribute to sleeping on the ground as I have not gotten quite used to it again. Remember me to Columbia, and all at Mr. G’s and write just as soon as you can after receiving this. Kiss dear little Nan many times for me, and let me know about Florence, if you can get her home. God bless you.
Your devoted husband