During the majority of the war I was functionally illiterate. I knew how to figure the maths rather well and knew how to identify my name on a roster. I even learned how to record inventory in my own way though I doubt greatly anyone else could have deciphered my scratches. Several of my men and my wife spent the best part of 1863-64 teaching me my letters. By the summer of 1864 I could read rather well. Though I was careful to have my Mrs. Mina check any of my writing. Through the entire war I received but one letter and that had to be read to me.
But others received letters regularly and cherished what they received. Mail call was a popular formation and rarely would a man shirk from that formation. Though letters of tragedy and sadness happened frequently any news from home was welcome. I will admit I rarely attended the mail call as I expected no letters or packages but I was a rarity.
Those letters and packages from home were welcome all out of proportion to their size. News from home was priceless and packages that might contain food or new socks and shirts along with other sundry luxuries were greatly prized. It was not uncommon for a box to have been pilfered by dishonest hands along the way. But the mail was actually rather good in that those who worked it were rather honest in their dealings.
Recently, while thumbing through a well used copy of Kant lent me by my young friend Seth I found a letter tucked within the pages. I believe that I recall Seth reading this letter out loud to us during the Siege of Vicksburg, he did not need to share his tidings from home but he did and it was appreciated by the men around him. After the war Seth returned home and made a name for himself in the raising of horses but has never married. His lovely sister has also done well raising a fine family. I almost felt guilty reading the letter, almost. But it brought old memories to the front of my mind and I daresay I thought of young men and women I had not thought of for quite some time. I carefully refolded the letter as I had found it and placed it back book where Seth had left it.
I am pleased to have received your letter; you are well and only injured in a minor way. Of that I am heart fully glad. The papers say the most terrible things of our fortunes in the war as of yet; your letters revealing the truth of matters are most welcome and I make a point to show them to the men who are too old and too young to serve their country. The waste abouts who are too cowardly or have decided that they are too important to serve the Union I shun. Cousin Celia snubbed the bankers son, I’m certain you remember him as he was the first to call for the crushing of the Rebellion but was noticeably absent when it came time to join the call to arms.
You must tell us more stories of Sergeant Steele and his antics as they amuse us immensely. Is it true that all of the families of the South own slaves? I doubt it can be so, but Aunt Rosemary insists it is so.
As you know we are hard set at home to make all of the bills since father died of the palsy. The monies that we receive from you are a gift as if from god. Your cousins have all left for the War in the last month and their wives and daughters have come from the city to our home in the country. They have helped much with the work about the farm. One of the oxen stepped into a gopher hole and broke a leg, we had no choice but to butcher it. I think I can say without boasting that cousin Celia and I did a good job butchering it ourselves. The butcher has joined the cavalry and his wife is a poor substitute so we did the work ourselves. Alicia and Sarah are quite helpful about the farm. Young Alicia has more enthusiasm around the stock, but she makes every effort to earn her keep. Sarah has been sewing and knitting nearly the day long, she insists that we sell her labor to the drygoods store so that she may earn her keep. It is a pity that her husband died of the fever at Island Number Ten, she mourns constantly. But she is making do for her children; I have told her she can stay with her boys as long as she wishes, the children take great joy in feeding the cattle and helping about the farm. They are to young to understand that they will not again see their father.
However, Aunt Rosemary is another matter entirely. She is not suitably attired for the farm and all but refuses to do anything but act ladylike, she insists on wearing hoops around the house and believes the latest New York fashion must be worn in the country; the mud and manure have done a splendid job of conspiring against her. She refuses to help in the kitchen as she believes such work is beneath her. Mother and her have twice had terrible rows, I believe she will drive mother mad before the month ends.
On Saturday we sit about the stove rolling bandages and knitting socks. We do what we can for the cause and the men in the field who are suffering so; but I fear that working the farm and attempting to keep the farm from the debtors has prevented us from doing all that we might like.
Your sister and mother depend upon the monies you send to us. Despite this we unanimously entreat you to do your duty, do not shirk danger on our account. I know some of the local Copperheads have been writing poisoned letters to the men who are braver than they, trust that letters you receive from me are true and question the honesty of any that bring sad tidings. Your family is healthy and loves you for your sacrifice.
I shall close this short letter with hope and a prayer.
God bless you and keep you safe.
Your sister Carlie.