Life, Love and the American Civil War - Part IV
One-hundred-fifty-three years ago, just after the Thanksgiving holiday, Jasper Newton Smith sat to write a letter to his beloved, Elizabeth Lee. When we last heard from him, Jasper was in Bolivar, Tennessee following the Battle of Hatchie's Bridge. He, along with the other members of the 53rd Regiment of the Indiana Infantry, were taking part in General Grant's Central Mississippi campaign. It was Grant's long term goal to take over the city of Vicksburg, a Confederate strong point just east of the Mississippi River. The campaign had reached Holly Springs and Jasper's company was performing operations on the Mississippi Central Railroad.
As an interesting side-note, Jasper mentions one general by name in his letter: Burnside. A little research revealed that General Burnside was a brigadier general during the war, later promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and then major general of volunteers. Aside from his war involvement, Burnside was also a railroad executive, inventor, industrialist and politician, serving as a governor and US senator. He was also the first president of the National Rifle Association. Most importantly, Burnside's distinctive style of facial hair prompted the creation of the word "sideburns".
Seriously, look at that! See the original image, "Ambrose Burnside2" by Mathew Brady, and more here.
Picture of General Burnside in the Wikipedia article, found here
My transcription of this letter will contain a few small corrections, making it easier for readers to follow. I will leave most misspellings for your entertainment.
Dearest Beloved Elizabeth,
After my best respects and well wishes, I embrace the presant opportunity of writing you a fiew lines to let you know of my health. Through the kind blessing of god our heavenly father this leaves me in the best of health, and my sincere hope is that when those fiew lines come to hand thay may find you well. I received your kind and welcome letter yesterday evening which gave me great pleasure for to hear from you and to hear that you was well. I havent any thing of very much importance for to rite to you at this time or that wold be interesting to you. We are encamped about eight miles South of Holly Springs. I cant say how long that we will stay here, but it is my opinion that when we leave here that we will go to Jackson, Mississippi. When we first come here we thought that we wold get to have a little fight with the rebels but they all skedaddled and left.
On the 30th of November and on the 2nd of December very heavy cannonading (to discharge heavy guns continuously) was kept up all day in front of us. The heavy cannonaiding was at the Tally Hatchey river. Betty, tell mother that I seen Brother John and Daniel Gross last night and they was both well. I went over to where they are encamped last night and we had a big oyster supper. It is only about a mile from here to where are encamped.
My Dearest Love, I long to see the time come when peace will be made and we will all get to return to our homes in piece and quietude. I think that the time is a coming near to hand when I will get to come home. I don’t think that this war will last longer than till next Spring.
I will come to a close for this time. I remain your most sincere and beloved friend until death. Rite Soon.
Jasper N Smith To Elizabeth Lee
Direct to Lagrange Tennessee Company K 53 Regt in Care of Lieutenant McDonald
Japser then closed his letter with a poem. The last few verses of the poem were torn down the middle, so a word in each line became difficult to make out. We filled in any missing pieces, confident in our knowledge of Jasper and his word usage. God bless the noble general now The army he commandsFor he will lead our soldier onWith willing hearts and handsWith hearty cheers and brave resolvesIn battles stern arrayThe will march for victoryAnd end it in a dayNo longer will they stand and waitIn idleness and rustBut they will onward though they fallAnd perish if they mustBetter to keep their swords and gunsIn action clear and brightThey were not made for mere paradeBut persistence in a fightCamp life is not a life for menWho long to do or dieAnd see the banners of the causeCareering in the skyThey wish to grapple with the foeAnd put his ranks to routeNot calmly sit as in a seizeAnd wear his patience outThank God the longed for prayed for hourHas come for us at lengthIn which the soldiers of the north May prove there nerve and strengthNot waste away with hope defered In most inglorious easeOr meet within there winter tents Home sickness and diseaseThe general who commands the ranksWill spend not in delayThe golden hours that once unfurledForever pass awayBut he will grasp the present hourand wield it while he can For distant from the Southern frontWill be the northern vanBurnside will rush upon the southIn battle or retreatAnd you shall hear with joy untoldHis drums victorious beat His banner shall not folded stayFor long and weary daysBut like a comets dazzling beforeAdvancing soar and blazeJasper Smith
My previous three blog posts shared the contents of our collection of 116 Civil War letters. My first post gave the background story of the letters themselves, and of the people who's stories are contained within the letters. If you missed it, you can still read it here.
My second blog post dug deep inside of on particular letter written on April 6th, 1862 from the fields of war during the Battle of Shiloh. You can read more of Jasper's recollection of the iconic battle here.
In part three, I shared excerpts from 14 letters written by Jasper Newton Smith between May 8th, 1862 and October 26th, 1862. Read that content here.
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