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Comments on “A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .”

I recently received an e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi that included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States. Click here to read that soldier’s final written words, beautifully written in a fashion that is largely lost to us in this day and age. My posting of the letter garnered a comment from a reader, a comment to which I responded at some length.

This is the reader’s comment:

I was educated in the British system and for a long time, the Civil war meant either the War of the Roses or Cromwell’s war. It was as an adult that I started to understand our own Civil War. It is a sad thing the young man did not survive, consigning his small children to the very horrors of an orphaned existence. That said, I have always been struck by how beautifully young men wrote 150 years ago.

My response to that comment follows:

Thanks for visiting and thanks for the comment. Your observation that the written word was beautifully constructed 150 years ago necessarily invites comparison with today’s pitifully penned letters. Cursive writing is a lost art, soon to be consigned to the graves of history, along with Egyptian hieroglyphics and prehistoric cave drawings.

Our children are not learning penmanship. At best, they learn the art of printing letters, then graduate from there to thumbing letters and numbers on digital devices and clicking on an infinitesimally huge host of pictorial characters that represent thoughts, locations, ideas and emotions, expressing themselves silently without leaving any sort of footprints for the future, other than those captured and held in digital form.

Should the unthinkable occur—nuclear war with the resulting loss worldwide of the atomic movement of electrons, neutrons and protons through electrical circuits, whether land based or hand held—without access to that method of communication mankind will eventually regress to its original system of grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions to communicate, and millenniums later will probably advance from there to crudely drawn pictorial representations on rocks and on cliff sides and in various caves around the globe—that is, of course, if anyone remains after the holocaust of nuclear war. Civilization is by far the worst for the deficiency in communication wrought by binary bits.

And finally, just to wrap up this response to your comment, I will quote an unknown contributor to our language:

What goes around, comes around.

That astute observation, obscured in the ancient mists of time, may be reversed without any loss of its meaning, namely, What comes around, goes around, a truism equal to another obscure saying:

There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s useless to Google that affirmation—there are endless variations that effectively say the same thing, whether or not shown on the Internet. Somewhere on our planet, probably penned on a cave wall or on a stone buried in the rubble of some ancient civilization, there is undoubtedly a series of identical crude pictures or symbols. That series ends and continues with unrelated pictures or symbols, and then centuries later, perhaps millenniums later, the original series is repeated.

And even that is not the origin of that contribution to our language. It was undoubtedly expressed in the grunts, groans, hand signals and facial contortions that were used to communicate with others of the human species, and even before humans appeared was expressed by the physical appearance and the sounds and poses adopted by non-humans, the so-called lower orders of animals.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in civil war, death, Family

 

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A letter from a Union soldier, 1861 . . .

I received the following e-mail from my nephew in Mississippi, the nephew that toils lovingly and highly successfully in his chosen profession of designing and renovating churches of various denominations. The e-mail included a copy of a letter written by a Union soldier on the eve of a battle early in the War Between the States—I refuse to refer to it as a civil war—there was not a trace of civility in that bitter conflict. The letter was untitled and is reproduced in its entirety following my nephew’s e-mail, exactly as I received it.

Note: Letters to and about Janie can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here. My not-so-humble opinion is that all are worthy of being read—I wrote them and published them to commemorate Janie’s life and to serve as a reminder to all that life is fleeting—in the words of British poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. Click on that excerpt to read the entire poem and more about Janie.

This is the e-mail I received from my nephew:

Uncle Mike,

Your most recent posts, your letters to Janie, have reminded me of a letter I learned about from a public television series done by Ken Burns. The series documented some of the history of the American Civil War. Specifically, the program included parts of a letter written by a Union soldier who later became a casualty of that war. Although the letter was written before his death, the spirit of the letter, for me, transcends life and death. I believe your letters do the same. A copy of the text of the letter is attached.

Larry

This is the Union soldier’s letter to his wife, written on the eve of battle:

July the 14th, 1861
Washington DC

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death—and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles have often advocated before the people and “the name of honor that I love more than I fear death” have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar —-that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

A special note: The soldier, Sullivan, did not survive the battle—he died, but his letter and his spirit live on.

That’s the story of my nephew’s e-mail and the letter written by a Union soldier, and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2011 in civil war, death, Family, marriage, Military

 

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A third letter to my wife in el cielo . .

Dear Janie,

This afternoon I dozed off while watching television in our den and I awoke with a start, looked around the room and said in a loud voice, “Where did you go? It was just like all the many times over the years when I would become preoccupied in reading or I would be snoozing and when I noticed your absence, whether by awakening abruptly or looking up from my reading, I would shout, “Where are you?” and you would answer that you were in the kitchen or that you were going to the bathroom or just returning from the bathroom, or something on the order of “I can’t do anything without you wondering where I am!”

The feeling of your presence in the den this afternoon was so strong, so powerful that it took me several seconds to realize that I had awakened to my new world, a world without you, the world that was created when you left me.

Perhaps I dreamed that you were here, but I have no recollection of dreaming. I have prayed every day since you left for you to come to me in a dream. I’ve prayed to Jesus and Mary and God and to all the apostles that I could remember, and to the gods of other religions—except to the god of those that would seek to destroy us and our nation.

In the thirty days since you left me I can recall dreaming only twice. Once I dreamed that Cindy and I were on a trip out to the southwest, shooting photography in every direction, and the other time involved a cat. I remember no details other than that there was a cat in my dream.

I want to dream. I need to dream. I need to see you in my dreams, to see that everything is all right with you and that you are safe and happy in your new world. I pray every night for you to come to me. I pray for other things and for other people, of course, but my thoughts of you and my longing for you are always uppermost in my mind, in my thoughts and in my prayers in all my waking hours.

Yes, I know that’s selfish. I probably should be praying for miraculous findings in the search for curing the diseases that shorten our lives, and for world peace and for the abolishment of hunger and suffering among third-world countries. I suppose I’ll get around to that when my prayers for you to come to me in my dreams are answered.

As for my awakening from sleep this afternoon and calling  for you, this is what I believe—I believe that you were in the den, that your spirit, your immortal soul, was there and in my dream, and although I was nestled deeply in the arms of Morpheus—asleep—I was aware in my subconscious mind that you were there, and that’s why I called out for you when I awoke.

I realize that all my erudite readers are familiar with the fact that Morpheus is the god of dreams in Greek mythology, a benevolent supernatural being between mortals and gods, a being that can take any human form and appear in dreams. Armed with that knowledge I do not find it necessary to explain the term, but a treatise and a painting of Morpheus may be found  here. The 1811 painting is Morpheus, Phantasos and Iris (Morpheus is the one reclining).

I did find it necessary to write and tell you that I was aware of your presence this afternoon. I thank you and I love you for being there for me, and I welcome you back whether I am awake, snoozing in the recliner or deep asleep in our bedroom.

I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2010 in education, funeral, Humor, marriage

 

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A second letter to Janie in el cielo. . .

This is the second letter I’ve written to my wife Janie since she left this realm for another, a realm on a much higher plane, the highest level of existence, and I intend to write more similar letters from time to time. Click here to read the first letter I wrote to Janie in el cielo.

In reference to the method of correspondence I have initiated between me and my wife, I realize and acknowledge that it strains credulity, but a significant number of this nation’s population and the population of the world routinely talk to a celestial being—God—and all believe that their prayers are heard. Given that followers of every religion that exists now and that has ever existed features prayer, and that prayer is fervently practiced by those followers, I feel that the strain on credulity is considerably lessened. Such followers routinely call on their God to comfort those that have passed on to a higher realm as well as those that remain on this level—in effect, in using this medium to communicate with my wife I’m simply bypassing the Middle Man—the envelope is open and can be read by all, just as you are doing now.

My second letter to my wife Janie follows:

Hi, sweetheart,

This letter will be brief because there’s not very much new to talk about. Our daughter returned to her home in Dallas today with our grandson and granddaughter. They arrived in San Antonio early in the evening three days ago on Monday, and we have been pretty busy over the past three days. We packed a lot into that time, including dinner at our San Antonio daughter’s home—lots of great leftovers from her Christmas dinner with several new items added. We also managed a trip to the Ninety-nine Cents store across from HEB. Oh, and we also took in the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Wednesday—slim pickings but our daughter found some novels that she liked, and also a large book that claims to make learning to play the piano easy—I doubt whether the family dog will appreciate the sounds that the book will generate.

Over the past several days we had the requisite tacos and fried chicken baskets from Bill Miller’s Barbeque, and MacDonald’s pancake/egg/sausage/potato/biscuit breakfasts today. On Tuesday morning I served the kids thick-sliced bacon and soft-scrambled eggs for breakfast, and as usual they made quick work of making it disappear. Yesterday we had lunch at Jason’s Deli near Costco. Our daughter had a salad, the children had pizza and as you might guess, I had a bowl of chicken noodle soup—extra hot, and I managed to sneak out two cups of ice cream to bring to our daughter that lives near us. She has been under the weather for several days with allergies brought on by the norther that swept into San Antonio recently, bringing cedar mold and other pesky airborne afflictions down from our vaunted hill country.

We visited you at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery yesterday. Your community is really busy—we estimated that at least one hundred more residents have been moved in since you’ve been there, just in the past thirty days. I read that an average of 13 burials are made daily, usually Monday through Friday. With few exceptions, Saturdays and Sundays are down days for interments.

We stopped at HEB’s supermarket, the one near our home, and the four of us selected sprays of flowers for you. The only flowers I can identify with any assurance are roses, poppies and tulips. I brought you tulips on your birthday last Sunday, but I don’t know what the sprays were that we brought yesterday—whatever species they were, they were fresh and bright and beautiful.

Workmen were busy in your community, placing floral pieces on recent arrivals and seeding and leveling the ground in the newly created area. Underground irrigation is already in place and by midsummer your community should be up to par with older established communities, with headstones in place. Creating and placing those simple marble monuments usually takes six weeks or so following interment. That should give you an idea of how busy the National Cemetery is, and that’s all year long except for holidays and weekends.

After we placed the flowers near your temporary marker and returned to the street, I told our daughter that I would like to tell the children what some people believe, and tell them that they could talk to you if they liked, but that you would not respond in any way.  Their mother seemed to have no problem with that and agreed to it.

I told our grandchildren that lots of people believe that persons that have ascended to a higher plane than on earth are still present in spirit, and can hear comments directed to them, and I told them that if they wished they could go back and talk to you. Both of the children decided they would do that, and spent some time kneeling near you. We don’t know what they said, but I’m sure you were listening.

I made several phone snapshots of the children and their mother placing the flowers, and of the children talking with you, but I won’t make them part of this letter. I’ll just keep them in the phone and let you look over my shoulder to see them.

That’s all for now, but I’ll get back to you with more news as it happens.

I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2010 in death, education, funeral, Military

 

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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Cemetery scene: Having lovingly placed a bouquet of roses at the head of a grave, the visitor to the cemetery watched smilingly as an elderly Oriental man lovingly placed a steaming bowl of rice and chopsticks at the head of a nearby grave, and then asked him at what time he figured his friend would come up to eat the rice. The other man replied, “He will come up at the same time your friend comes up to smell the roses.”

Having set the scene, I will continue with this posting. On this cold blustery day in San Antonio, Texas I traveled twelve miles from my home to Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I placed fresh flowers on the grave of a great lady that was transported from this earthly realm to her just reward in God’s heavenly realm on the evening of Thursday, November 18, 2010 just one month and eight days before her seventy-ninth birthday. Our three daughters were present at her death, at her memorial and her interment, but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from being with me to visit her on this day.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She was born December 26, 1931 on an icy Saturday in a small south Georgia town. We met in 1952 and were married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December in 1952, and we completed fifty-eight years of marriage thirteen days ago on the thirteenth of this month, December of the year 2010.

To complete the fifty-eight years of marriage I included the days between her death on 18 November and our wedding anniversary date of 13 December. I included those days because we remain married and will always remain married, albeit on a spiritual level rather than on a physical level.

We are separated physically but our spirits are intertwined, an inextricable unity that will never be separated. I refuse to allow our marriage to dissolve simply because we exist in separate realms. Her spirit—her soul—has returned to God from whence it came. She is in heaven with Him and I remain on earth. I am well aware that adherence to our marriage vows will be more difficult for me than for her, but I readily accept the challenge and I will not falter.

I still wear my wedding ring on the ring finger of my left hand, and when I join my wife in the grave that contains her earthly remains—the same grave that will contain mine throughout eternity—that ring will still be in place.  If it should be lost I will replace it, and if that replacement is lost I will purchase another, as many times as necessary. I also wear my wife’s 1949 high school graduation ring on the little finger of my right hand. That one will be a bit more difficult to replace, but I will make the effort should it happen.

Yes, in the same grave—with space at a premium in our national military cemeteries, husbands and wives share the same burial plot. I have no problem with that procedure, nor does my wife. We have discussed it at length over the past several years, and we agreed with the premise that the closer, the better. And on the subject of matter, the contents of our grave constitute mortal material matter only, as do the contents of every grave.

The immortal essence of that matter—the soul, given by the grace of God—was never there, having already gone to its promised reward before the remains were placed beneath the sod—its direction dependent, of course, on certain requirements having been met, a point that should be foremost in how we decide to live our lives.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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