These letters were written by Oswald Jackson (1838-1891) who entered the service as a 1st Lieutenant in Co. F, 17th Pennsylvania Infantry but transferred to Co. I, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry [“Rush’s Regiment of Lancers”] where he was promoted to captain in August 1862. While serving in this capacity, he was detailed as an aide-de-camp to Major Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes with whom he served until August 1863 when he resigned his commission as a major. Keyes commanded the Fourth Army Corps headquartered at Yorktown.
Oswald (or “Ossie”) was the son of Isaac Rand Jackson (1806-1842) and Louisa Catherine Carroll (1809-1869) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ossie wrote the letter to Ella Moore Willing (1838-1923) whom he later married.
An obituary notice for Oswald Jackson, published on 9 December 1891 in the New York Tribune, states that he “was the head of the firm of Oswald Jackson & Brother, wine importers of No. 21 South William Street” and that he was “lost overboard from the North German Lloyd steamship Fulda on November 30 .” Oswald’s education began in Brussels where his father “was at one time Unites States Minister to Brussels. He subsequently was graduated from Burlington University, Burlington, Iowa. On his mother’s side he was descended from the Carroll family of Maryland. In the Civil War, Mr. Jackson was aide-de-camp on the staff of General Keyes and rose to the rank of major. He began business first in Philadelphia but of late the headquarters of his firm have been in this city [New York]. Mr. Jackson was well known in yachting circles and had owned the Mistral, Iola, and Fenela. He leaves a widow and two children.” A day earlier, the Herald reported that it was assumed Jackson was swept overboard during inclement weather on board ship.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
October 21st 1862
Again at the same old place, writing to you from the same desk, but not in the same old way—not to my dear Miss Ella, with the “Miss” ever so small even, but with a right to a dearer title, one which looks so cold when I contrast it with the time when I could whisper it in your ear—so close, so close, that I feel almost inclined to blot it out & leave to your memory my store of names. I had the same feeling this morning when I wrote from Ft. Monroe & could look with no satisfaction whatever upon any letter as it commenced; it seemed to me them & does still that you had been with me all the time since I left you, and that our conversation but continued where it then broke off.
Do you remember how in the absence of great events I used to tell you of each little thing that occurred at home? I was thinking about it as I sat on the boat at the wharf after finishing my letter this morning & the train of thought was suggested by an unusual sight there—a lady strolling along the beach under the walls of the Fort with some happy man. I began immediately to envy him & to wish for you there so much that I determined to write you this, even should my letters overflow with such “little things.”
I wrote to you of my happy escape from the woman who would inflict herself upon me. Alas, it was but temporary for upon going on board the boat for York, there she was & twice, three times, did she seize me before I could escape, which I finally did by the sacrifice of the latest Herald & cautious afterwards in avoiding appearing in the cabin without first reconnoitering the ground. I wish you could have seen her when finally (this quite overcame me) she discovered a tender likeness to one of her own sons (he must have been a mighty good-looking fellow) and proceeded to scrutinize my features one by one. I am sure she would been a solemn warning to you & have cured you forever of any language of that very firm resolve to become a nurse for soldiers. Do you remember, darling, how you argued so foolishly about it when you went with me to drive—not the long drive Frank Wells found we had taken but before that? You shall only nurse one soldier now & I hope for your sake, you may never have him on your hands for he is a poor patient, I fear. So I got rid of the —– well, poor creature, & finished my journey, & Lucille together alone.
What a sad story it is but full to my mind of beautiful passages as my copy shows by this time. I had never before read it through but only in a fugitive sort of a way & was very glad of the opportunity for it changed my idea of the book entirely. How can anyone say Lucille is a coquette?—a woman as magnanimous as someone I know wanted to be, who could sacrifice her life to her love, pure enough to include those who would have been her enemies. But everyone seems to think different about this work & if we don’t agree, we must read it together & I will point out upon what I ground my views.
The General [Erasmus Keyes] & Howard were very glad to see me & I found them all alone, Suydam having gone on Monday to Norfolk. Everything is as usual except that we have moved into the house from our tents & Charlie & I occupy a sumptuous chamber looking out over the river & land beyond; a jolly room into which I am soon going to dream myself with you once more. There seems to be no prospect of anything occurring to prevent my coming home in November.
“Corbie” is well & full of life with a long winter coat on him like a Maltese cat & we have had, I hear, a frost already so that your mind may be at ease as to my happiness (comparative, of course) & health.
Good night, darling. May your dreams be as pleasant as I hope mine to be. Ever yours, — Ossie
Give my regards to Richard
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
November 12th 1862
I was very much disappointed, dearest, in not seeing you on Monday when I paid such an unseasonable visit but more sorry for the cause than disappointed that my wishes were not justified.
I thought you had entirely got rid of those tiresome headaches but I’m afraid you haven’t followed my instructions strictly in taking sufficient care of yourself.
I would not send you word that I had so short a time to stay for I knew it would be most prudent for you to keep still and I take to myself great credit for my self denial, which not even the chain & novelty of my wedding experience could altogether atone for.
The snow storm which raged a perfect gale at Yorktown prevented my leaving there on Friday & spending Saturday & Sunday with you as I had hoped & gave me so little time that Chetwood had almost given me up.
However, I got there in time to pay a visit to my fair & lovely bridesmaid & to join the groom at a supper at Delmonico’s—the last of his tributes to the honorable fraternity of bachelors.
I’d rather describe the minutia of the ceremony yesterday to you on Saturday when I shall see you at home, if you can wait so long; suffice it now to say that all went merry as the merriest marriage bell you can imagine, & that, having launched the fair couple into the rosy tide of their future, & seen Miss Hattie once more in the bosom of her family, I returned to my solitary magnificence at the Brevoort, dined (oh! what a jolly dinner they give you), & found myself at 8 P.M. seated in the New Haven cars for Yankeedom. But not before I had as usual indeed got in some of my day dreams for as I sat alone at my table and saw one after another around me filling up with parties who seemed to be a great deal to each other—some as young and almost as happy as one I dreamed of might be, I couldn’t restrain the fancies that would come into my head & I thought that when we came to New York, we might stay at that, my favorite house, & hoped my dream might soon come true.
After riding all night in the cars, got here this morning at 6 A.M. & most dutifully & pleasantly sit down to write you this note to carry you my truest love & to let you know when I will be with you. I shall leave here either this afternoon or tomorrow but I must stop & pay my long defered visit to Elizabeth N. J. on my way back so that I shall not see you until Saturday evening when I sincerely hope you will be well and strong. Do take are of yourself & try to get rid of those headaches of yours. With my best love to you, darling. Ever yours, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Wednesday December 17, 1862
My Darling Ella,
I am writing to you once more from Voorhee’s hospitable counting room & cannot help recalling that first letter when all that I could say seemed so cold—so inadequate to convey what I felt. The feelings & thoughts which were warm then, dearest, have grown warmer & more mature, but I know now that you understand & believe in them & do not dread that my poor language will allow you room for dount.
I can hardly tell you how dear the recollection of the happy evenings spent with you at home was to me as I sat dreaming them over last night in the cabin, trying to fancy you still by me, with the pressure of your arm still around my neck & that soft little velvet cheek so close to mine. But my dreams all lacked the charm of reality, & made me sigh to think how long they must compensate me for my loss—a loss far greater did I not have ever with me the remembrance of your love, never to be taken away by my absence or by any time.
I have not said much about this to you, darling, perhaps not as much as I should have said while I was with you, but it is not because I have not felt it; it is my one great comfort—the thought of which consoles me always—that I shall some day, not very far off I hope, return to the presence of that love that I trust so much. God grant when that day comes that it may find you well & strong again, & free from those wretched headaches & attacks of weakness! Do take good care of yourself, my darling, & remember my many injunctions; I always dread when I am away lest, by some imprudence you will bring back that weakness which gives me so much anxiety. Do not forget to send me a true bulletin of your health & let me trust you in this as I do in all else.
Henry Jarvis Ryymond, Editor of the New York Times
It is always my luck in traveling to stumble over something amusing, or to meet some old acquaintance, either of the good old times of yore, or of these latter days, & so, on this journey, I did both. I had no sooner secured my seat in the cars that the next one was occupied by a very original ‘native’ from Vermont—a counterpart of the American cousin, who shortly opened the conversation by asking me about a dozen questions concerning matters generally esteemed, rather personal, & then giving me a detailed account of himself & family & of the business which took him to Baltimore. His unfeigned delight at meeting some acquaintances among the pickets guarding the road at Havre de Grace & Perryville, his rushing out to embrace them & his amusement at the way in which the people in “these parts” farm & care for their orchards were delightful; & he & Orley Farm carried me through to Baltimore without the usual ennui of that most stupid journey. I forgot to say that just behind me sat Mr. [Henry Jarvis] Raymond, the editor of the New York Times whom I met first at Williamsburg & afterwards saw frequently at Seven Pines.
After securing my stateroom on the boat (the right one, bye the bye), I found the Mr. Kent who was engaged to Miss Mary Cash, on board, going down with a detachment of heavy artillery for Fort Monroe, and afterwards in the cabin a very pretty little face with I discovered belonged to Mrs. Pease—the wife of one of the Quartermasters at Yorktown. Her husband presented me (she was considerably more interesting that he) & she told me she was going to dare the hardships of a soldier’s quarters in camp, so I shall see her again—not quite in our theatrical sense, however, of the phrase.
On my journey I have nothing more to tell except of the sound sleep which precluded even a dream, but I begin to suspect from what I hear, that the General has not yet returned to Yorktown. I am be mistaken & find him there when I land this afternoon but I can’t learn any certain mews of him. At all events, however disagreeable it may be, I shall have the consolation of having done my duty, and feel that it is better I should be here now altho’ inclination would have kept me, as you well know, by your side. When will this duty to which I have bound myself permit me to enjoy the fulfillment of my (may I say our?) hopes? I often wonder but cannot yet see clearly when I can. You, darling, shall be the first to know of it.
Give my love to Mother & all at home & tell the Cadwalader & Mrs. Camac that I was summoned away so hurriedly that I had not time to see them. And may I trouble you with a commission? I forgot to get one of those pocket combs for the mustache like the one you sent me from Newport. Will you send me one when you write which I need not say I hope may be very soon. With regards to Richard, I am always your own, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Sunday, December 21st 1862
My Daring Ella,
How can your letters ever be otherwise than dear to me? I always fancy I can see that sweet, quiet little face that I love so much peeping over my shoulder as I read them over & try to fit their words to the lips that would speak them were my dream but real.
I am very glad you went to the opera & hope you never will let any ugly thoughts of this remote & desolate spot—desolate because remote—come between you & your enjoyment, for remember darling, that your pleasure is always reflected to me, & makes your letters always so looked for, doubly acceptable. I don’t mean that I want you to banish me at all from your thoughts. It is far too sweet to me to know I am there, but don’t let me think I ever prevent one moment’s pleasure to you.
I read Miss Kilgore’s letter through very attentively, altho’ I can’t say the young lady’s style does justice to your description of her attractive self, nor would I greatly fear to expose myself to her jealous rage. I send you back her epistle as you may perhaps need it.
If the Post did its duty, your wish for a letter from me the next day could not have been in vain, for I wrote telling you that the General, etc., had really returned, so he will be spared the dread effects of your displeasure. I told you too that Whitehead & I were comfortably established ‘chez nous,’ in quarters most jolly. We were, for a night, the only occupants, but now the whole mansion is inhabited by Howard (who has gone to Baltimore today with Suydam & Chetwood to bring his wife down), Dr. Getty, Farnsworth, & Benson, and I send you a ground plant of the edifice. We were going to style it the “Bachelor’s Mansion of Happiness” until we found that a lady was coming to live in it which of course destroys the gracefulness of the allusion that you may know exactly how we are quartered.
Burnsides repulse was indeed a blow to our hopes but I cannot look upon in by any means as serious a light as the alarmists at home seem to have done. In my estimation, it was a military necessity. The troops could not remain where they were nor engage the enemy again without the probability of terrible loss—perhaps defeat—and all that was left was to withdraw back to the other side which was successfully done, the heavy loss being in the previous day’s engagements. I sincerely hope the Cadwaladers will hear no bad news from Charles. My invariable tendency is to believe all well until I hear something positive to the contrary. I know this is poor consolation to offer to anyone, but where the mails are so irregular as they must be from an army in their position, I can see no cause for real alarms at not hearing for some time.
We are so quiet here & seem to be so distant from any chance of action that the rumors of these far off battles seems fainter even than to you at home.
The expected Christmas Party has somewhat dwindled down since I wrote last. Miss Halsey & Miss Chetwood have “gin [ ]” & can’t come, & Miss Bowie’s advent is very uncertain upon which, between you & I, my room mate seems greatly to felicitate himself. So our party has resolved itself into Mrs. Suydam, Mrs. Howard, & Mrs. Chetwood, with the trifling addition of Suydam’s baby & nurse, & Mrs. Keyes own two small babies (brats), & ditto. The number, however, necessitates a division of the mess, & so Whitehead, Getty, Farnsworth, Benson, & I have formed a new mess to go into operation on Tuesday morning, entirely separate from the others & to be conducted on principles of thorough comfort & good living regardless of expense.
To say the truth, I am very glad of this arrangement for Mrs. Suydam is the only lady whom I care to see among those who are coming & I can manage to be with her just as much, and the mess was too large to be comfortable so we don’t mean to blush for our table before any in this whole country. So much for the change; may it equal our expectations.
Thank you, darling, for speaking of it as our home. Your presence there makes it home, for you know you are to make my home in the future.
I wish, darling, you would send me a good likeness of yourself; that little picture we had taken together—the only one I have—does you such injustice that I would not care to look at it had it not been so long in your possession before you gave it to me.
As far as our knowledge of the future goes, we seem to be located here for the winter but if any change should occur, I shall not hesitate to write & tell you. You know how I trust & I have no secrets from you for I know well that you can keep them if I should have any to write. I trust it may be one that will allow us to look forward to meeting again soon.
I found a letter from Mother awaiting me on the desk after dinner but it was written the same day. I’m sure Mother loves you as a daughter & as yours, & she had not got the letter I wrote to her. I shall write again tonight & hope to find time to send you a few lines tomorrow so that they too may reach you before Christmas. But if they do not, this must carry my dearest love & wishes for a happy, happy Christmas—a different Christmas from any you have yet spent in that you have one who can share with you every feeling, even to that of regret at our separation at this time most particularly.
How little we thought last Christmas that this would find us so near! Would that I could be with you as I shall be in my feelings & thoughts: to hold you close to my side as I whispered my good wishes in your ear & to tell you over & over again how much I love you & how dear you always are to me. Give my best wishes & regards to Richard & to Mr. Haines & “The Faithful One” & with one last wish for yourself, darling, believe me ever your own, — Ossie
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Envelope and Cabinet Card Image of Oswald Jackson (ca. 1885)
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Addressed to Miss Ella M. Willing, No. 1123 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Penna.
Postmarked Old Point Comfort, Virginia
January 16, 1863
Only to say goodnight to you, my darling, & to show you that we have been repeating our “lark” of yesterday, [Charles Crooke] Suydam, [Thomas Murray] Getty, ¹ Howard & myself visiting again the artist on [ ] & with as great success as before.
I sent my share of the result home to Mother in a letter which I wrote Charlie this evening, & think it quite as good, if not better than the one I had taken yesterday. If you prefer it, you can trade with her. Dr. Getty presented me with his which I send you thinking it may interest you to know some of the strange faces by which I am surrounded here—especially so important as one as that of the workshipful [cat___], the [ ] man of our mess, in whose good pleasure we grow fat or lean. It is an excellent likeness of him—pipe & all—as Hattie can tell you. We also had a group taken but it was not very favorable & we propose to renew the attempt next week when the “melainotypist” tells me he expects to have a “sharper” camera. It has need to be a very sharp one indeed, I think, to get a head of us (joke).
Maj. Gen. Erasmus D. Keyes
We all went over to Capt. [James] McKnight’s ² quarters on the other side of the parade ground last night after I had written to you to test the quality of some lager (not intoxicating you know) which he had just received & to “warm” a new chimney for him. The wind was blowing so tremendously as I went over that it almost took me off my feet & I thought how lucky it was that I was going instead of returning for in the latter case the symptoms might have been suspicious. The lager, however, when at last I got there proved most fine & we enjoyed ourselves hugely for about half an hour when Suydam spared me the trouble of wrestling against the elements by carrying me home on his back all the way to Headquarters where I finished the evening by beating Mrs. Chetwood three or four games of backgammon. Lager beer, in truth, is an excellent beverage & always carries me back to my old days of boating on the Schuylkill where it proved so refreshing after a long pull, and to those later days of recruiting for our regiment when our stations were so often & judiciously selected at one of those temperate saloons.
Today has been the ditho. of yesterday & nothing whatever has transpired—nothing of moment even from the advancing enemy whose movements I promise to chronicle. Their pickets are reported to have made their appearance at Burnt Ordinary [now Toano, Va.] about 12 miles beyond Williamsburg—the same place where we bivouacked one night going up the Peninsula.
The peculiar formation of the Peninsula makes it a matter of very little moment to us whether the enemy come down to Williamsburg. We have only one regiment of cavalry—the 5th Pennsylvania—beyond Yorktown, & they occupy an old rebel earthwork called Ft. Magruder situated at a point which commands the only road leading from Williamsburg to Yorktown, for the country is so cut up by creeks & marches that there is only one road. A stout resistance could be made here against a strong force & if they were drawn in, the gunboats from the two rivers could make the place rather too hot for its rebel occupants. So we down here are very tranquil & composed is spite of these terrible reports.
My few words have drawn out into quite a long letter, darling, but I must break it off here that I may get the modicum of slumber Morpheus demands of us in this lazy spot. So, once more, goodnight dearest. May God bless & preserve you. Ever your own, – Ossie
¹ Surgeon Thomas Murray Getty (18xx-1867) was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1848 and served his medical career in the US Regular Army. He arrived at Yorktown, Va., in August 1862 and assumed the duties of Medical Director of the 2d AC, Army of the Potomac. He was formerly in charge of the General Hospital at Annapolis.
² Capt. James McKnight commanded Battery M, 5th US Regular Artillery. His battery was transferred from Yorktown to the Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac, in late July 1863.
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Addressed to Miss Ella M. Willing, No. 1123 Walnut St., Philadelphia, Penn.
Postmarked Old Point Comfort, Va.
January 19th 1863
Thank you, cara mia [my darling], for the promised obedience! You may be well assured I shall not tax it greatly, or bear too heavily on the “docility” of mind. Indeed, it is only on this one subject which concerns your own happiness, dearest, as well as mine that I have ever asked for change, and on this you know so well what I wish, what ought to be, that I feel there can be no more need of words. As for your deceiving me, I smile at the very idea, for such a thought cannot dwell in my mind with thoughts of you.
I hardly know how to account for the eccentric arrival of my letters to you except on the ground that the efforts of genius are proverbially so. As for the one which you tell me bore the appearance of having been tampered with, I am entirely at a loss to imagine who could have done it; but should the culprit ever be found. You will have no cause to complain of the leniency of his punishment. I could thrash such a man within an inch of his life without mercy.
How pleasant it must be to have the Opera in Philadelphia! I would give anything to be at home with you now, & to take you every night, but such good fortune does not seem to be in store for me for sometime at all events. And since I cannot allow much space in my letters for lamentation, I may as well state here that all present prospects of the Major’s shoulder straps have faded and gone “like a leaf on a tree,” for Lieut. Col. [Richard Irving] Dodge, U. S. A., has been assigned as Inspector General of the 4th Corps & this precludes my chance. But I don’t feel much agitated for I only looked upon it as a possibility, not by any means probable, & I, who am so rich otherwise, can well afford this trifling disappointment. So darling, pray restrain those restive passions until they are well won.
In all due deference to your opinion, I suppress my natural curiosity as to Richard’s movements until you see fit to communicate their object, but I cannot help wondering what in the world can have produced such an unwanted condition of things for I remember it is not yet February.
Poor dear Mother! She did not write me anything about her not being well in her last letter. I hope she is quite well long before this reaches you. Ask her what she means by such conduct & tell her I positively prohibit it in the future under pain of the severest penalties all kinds of long walks & constant exercise, my universal panacea for her ailments, to be inflicted on my return home.
And now for my journal for innumerable things have happened since I wrote to you last Saturday night. First & foremost, our house has been on fire! Just before going to bed that night, I thought I perceived a smell as if something burning different from the smoke which might have issued from the chimney, but it was very slight, & not being able to trace it to anything, I thought I must be mistaken & composed myself quietly to slumber. At daylight the next morning, I awoke & found the room full of smoke, so I called to an intelligent contraband whitehead & I employ named “Samuel Henry Harrison Hall” to investigate & report. At first I supposed that the soot in the chimney had caught fire, but Samuel etc. reported smoke issuing from under the hearth which caused rapid donning of garments immediately on the part of whitehead & myself. We found his report true & on tearing up the hearth discovered that a heavy beam under a double thickness of brick & mortar had caught fire from the heat of our tremendous fire above it & was burnt literally in half. As soon as the air reached it, it began to blaze but we easily put it out after about an hour’s work & the transformation of our room into anything but a cleanly abode. However, we managed to cover the absence of hearth by some boards & got a stove in position to last until today when we had masons & carpenters at work on it & took the obnoxious beam entirely out of future danger, building the hearth down to the solid ground & now our chimney glows again with its usual roaring blaze. It was a lucky escape, but its “right all right” again now.
Yesterday, Sunday, we crossed over [the York river] to Gloucester [Point] with the General accompanied by Mrs. Keyes & Mrs. Suydam, to review the troops stationed there. We had a jolly gallop after the review which was enlivened by the running away of Mrs. Chetwood’s pony—a most diminutive animal—which, however, had a strong head of its own, & was only caught by Farnsworth after a long run. We returned just about dinner time, hungry as lions, & did justice both to it & to a terrapin supper provided for us later in the evening.
Today was such a beautiful day that I determined to take my long promised ride to Warwick, so Benson & I started off about 11 o’clock taking a roundabout back road used by our army to transport stores, etc., across from Cheeseman’s Creek Landing. Parts of the road, where the long stretches of corduroy led through vistas of tall, straight pines, over the green moss-covered swamps, were [on] my way to Headquarters at Wormley’s Creek & where I could remember every tree & root & every bad place in the road. I hope to be able soon again to go over when I shall have time to visit all our old haunts.
The Court House is unoccupied & going to ruin, scored all over its walls with the names of men of our old corps, many a one of whom, poor fellow, has been left on the battlefields of the Peninsula or in its more destructive swamps. It was quite sad to think over so many things connected with those old times when we had a campaign before us, for the first times, & our men, full of hope & energy, only chafed at the delay they could not understand.
I had to give up going to Young’s house—it was too late. So we came back over an old wood road which I used to travel on—very beautiful & so familiar, altho’ it is nearly a years since I have seen them, that all the scenes of those old times seemed to people the road again, & I could almost fancy the parties of workmen or see the pickets marching out to their posts & looked out at many a turn for the coming team that used to block the road & give us a break neck jump over the ditch into the swamp alongside. But none came & the occasional trace of a horse’s hoof was all that showed the road was ever travelled over.
How strangely I felt as I galloped over the road near to Warwick, every spot of which I remembered, even the officer who had charge of the details I could recall, & when I got in light of the old place which sheltered us so long. My very horse seemed to remember it too for he picked up his ears & trotted round to his old place in the yard behind the house as naturally as though he had been there yesterday. The house we inhabited is occupied by Ethiopians who I must say keep it in order which puts us to shame, but we wandered over it looking at the old rooms where we used to sleep before we emigrated into tents, a carte de chasse disagreeables, & tried to people the several corners with their former occupants (officers, I mean), for each corner had its name. There was Lawrence’s. I wonder what he is doing now, far off in Florence. Blanchard’s, Suydam’s, & mine, & Villareau’s; how well I remember the letter I got from you in answer to my description of Mons. Achsle M. B. Comte ¹ etc. & its hope that I would improve my knowledge of French! I didn’t have much time for you remember he was so frightened at the Battle of Seven Pines that he left us soon afterwards & has not been seen since. The County Clerk’s Office is occupied by a sable family & the papers which were left by our men are scattered about on the ground. I picked up one—the oldest I could find—which I send you as a relic & memento of the day.
And now, darling, before I finish my letter, I must tell you once again that I always look for your letter as eagerly as you can for mine, & next to seeing you love to hear from you, so do not ever think that you can write too often.
I suppose you must have received my many letters since the 11th, your last when you wrote; I am particularly anxious to hear of the arrival of those containing my own & Dr. [Thomas M.] Getty’s phz. [pictures], & of that which commenced my numbered series. Have you received them all?
Give my love to all at home & regards to the busy Richard, & believe me with dearest love, ever your own, — Ossie
¹ I have not been able to identify this person but assume he was one of several French Observers who attached themselves to McClellan’s staff during the Peninsula Campaign.
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
February 16th 1863
I more than kept my promise to you, darling, in writing twice yesterday, but I trust you may be induced to look leniently upon that my transgression as it was occasioned by the most pardonable desire that you might not have in your calendar a blank letter day, and so I am writing again to you this evening because I love to—to tell you what you know—that I have been thinking of you all day.
Somehow everything seems different to me now from what it was ever before. I am far happier, indeed I have that same feeling which I described to you last Friday (do you remember?), of “good will to all mankind” but I cannot feel as I told you yesterday, the same military enthusiasm that I once had. It seems as though something far more to be desired had opened itself to my gaze and I long for it more & more as it seems to draw nearer to my grasp.
I don’t know what difficulties might present themselves to my resigning from service, but I think they may be overcome if I fully make up my mind to it.
Of course I have not spoken to the General about it. These thoughts are a secret to all but you, from whom I have no secrets, and I write them to show you how nearly determined I am to make the trial. If the General should object, I may be able to arrange what I decide upon by returning to my regiment & resigning from there, but this I had rather not do if I can avoid it. My mind is this far made up—that if the opportunity was offered to me of resigning, I should do it today. But the subject is a difficult one to broach & I want to know what you think. Will you tell me?
You must not suppose, my darling, that this is a mere momentary fancy, or that if I so decided, I should regret the change & sigh for my active life again. I have grown very tired of this phase of military life which keeps us tied to this stupid place where I feel we are of no earthly use & where I am ashamed sometimes to think I am spending my life. If we were in active service, the case would be very different. I might think it my duty to remain. But here it seems only a base scheme to keep me away from you & from those who want me to be at home with them; & there I could do my country quite as much service as I can here, wasting my days in idleness or riding furiously around the country with the General without any object but mere physical exercise so to study. It’s next to impossible to keep any regularity of hours while liable to constant interruption. I’ve tried it & failed in the attempt most egregiously. Besides, I have nothing to study—nothing that I ought to study if I was going to remain in the service but tactics & military works, & they fail to absorb & rivet my attention as perhaps works of their interest & importance should.
The fact is I am, as you see, somewhat disgusted from our long idleness and to rejoin my regiment with the rank of 1st Lieutenant, after holding a Captaincy which I think I earned, & see many of those who were junior to me, senior now, would not be the very pleasantest thing in the world.
And then on the other hand is the happiness which I always think of at home, & Mother’s earnest wish that I should come back to her. She never could give her consent to my leaving at any time, and the only thing that which Mother smoothes over so readily at the depot when I spoke about it that makes me hesitate to charge a life I don’t like, for one O love, is the uncertainty of something to do. If I could settle this, my course would be easy.
This is a very egotistical letter, dearest, but I want you to know all that I think about tis matter, & I couldn’t well separate “poor I” from his history. Will you forgive the egotism for you, darling, are part of all those thoughts?
Today has been a bright, pleasant one, and I have as proposed, ridden both my horses, walked a little way (I don’t walk much), read Newcomes & subsided into our great life again & almost, not quite, for I can’t altogether subside as this letter tells you. I haven’t seen the ladies except Mrs. Howard whom I paid a visit to last evening & found ‘toute en blanc.’ I can’t say they seem to suffer more than myself which is little enough & care— like a worm in the bud—has not commenced to prey upon their damaged cheek.
Tell Mother I haven’t had a chance to try her recipes yet for domestic reasons but tomorrow morning Whitehead & I propose to attempt an omelette soufflé. May the fates smile propitious upon this our virgin trial, for upon it hangs the expectations of our future success as matters de cuisine.
And now, I come to a part of my letter which I can’t make up my mind to trust to this crossed page, full of other things. It may be an absurd fancy, but I must give it a page unwritten to itself.
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT
Addressed to Miss Ella M. Willing, No. 1123 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Penn.
March 8th 1863
How differently today has passed with us! I think I can see you, my darling, sitting quietly in your parlor at home with Mr. Harris. It’s too early yet for Mr. Welsh after your well spent day; you’ve been to church; converted Heaven knows how many little heathen souls from a moral complexion equal to the color of their skins to the bright knowledge of truth; and unconsciously led, perhaps, many of higher rank, by your good example. While I, in this far off, benighted land have been as great a sinner as any; have had no church to go to & little to distinguish this beautiful, bright, day, from any other.
It was ushered in by a rain & as I turned over, on making that discovery, to enjoy a second nap this morning (we only sleep twelve hours out of the twenty-four) congratulated myself that the General [Erasmus D. Keyes] would not, as usual, sally forth accompanied by his staff at the unsociable able hour. Then it cleared off, however, during breakfast, and the gents organized a party for West Point from which I escaped by the simple process if keeping out of the way for I don’t like the constituent elements of these parties of pleasure.
They all went from the other house except Mrs. S[uydam], & her husband, and they only got back to a later dinner. In the meantime, I had spent a quiet lazy sort of a day, taken a ride on horseback, had a little soufflé poached in my room, nearly knocking my chimney down & laid violent hands upon a little sail boat which I’m going to have brought up, expect an order tomorrow morning. An awful way of spending Sunday, I know.
Darling, I can see your little hands held up in holy horror at such conduct & hear the prayer that my sins may be forgiven. You’ll have to take me in hand & convert me from the error of my ways when I come home to you.
There seems to have been a jolly rant over yonder during the past four days (Mr. S[uydam] is said to have behaved very unpleasantly towards Mrs. S. during her sickness, in so much that Suydam has determined to move into another house with Farnsworth—his inseparable companion & bosom friend, who has written for his family to come down.
So there is dissension in the camp of the allies & it is being broken up. I thank Heaven an uninterested spectator congratulating myself on my fortunate & timely withdrawal from their midst, a feeling which only grows more strong each day.
And so with this little piece of scandal, I close my worthy letter. I had no mail tonight to have nothing to answer. Good night my own darling Ella,
Ever yours, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER NINE
March 12, 1863
My darling Ella,
I pursued my program for today as laid down in my prospectus of last night, manfully facing the ordeal of early rising & only detaining the boat some five or ten minutes. We are nabobs here, you must know, & when we propose to visit Fort Monroe, an orderly is sent down to inform the captain of the boat that such is the case and that he will not leave until we arrive.
The trip down there & back is generally very tiresome but Benson & Gammol went down with me today, & we beguiled the hours by the elegant pastime of watching pennies, an undertaking in which I’m generally very unsuccessful; but this time fortune befriended me & I won every penny that any of my friends on board possessed.
When we reached the Fort, I went first to the Paymaster’s to get get some money for the General & his poor staff & to have a mistake corrected which he had made in cashing my accounts.
I was successful in every point & went away towards the Post Office with greenbacks & checks enough to keep me afloat for a long time. I found two letters from you, darling, so sweet & loving to me that that I love you if possible more than ever & I pitied poor Gammol who got no letter & stood watching me devour mine.
I’m glad, dearest, that you appreciate my feelings about the step I have taken & agree with you thoroughly in saying that I cannot do too much for so dear & kind a Mother; she is one to you too, darling, & loves you dearly as well. You will know by this time that I din’t go to West Point [Va.] but not for the reasons you beg me to consider for I’m afraid the knowledge of any such fun would be an irresistible attraction. I have been within 50 yards of a masked battery on horseback & the article has lost its novelty although I can’t say the reminiscence is a very agreeable one.
I have just been i to pay a flying visit to Mrs. Chetwood who is as pleasant & bright as ever, but the dignity I have assumed does not allow me to frequent the other house & experience has taught me the advantages of maintaining my independent position of outsider. I don’t want to be connected with any fraction of that distracted household in any way whatever.
Would it be very strange, darling, if Mrs. Frazer proved right in her conjecture? I would willingly oblige the world in a matter which chimes so admirably with my own dearest wishes. I long for that day when I can call you by that sweetest of names, my darling wife.
What relation is General Meredith to Wm. Meredith? I can’t remember anything about other people’s relations & often forget—a dangerous habit sometimes. And do tell me how Miss Cassie is. Is the dear girl well & happy? And what does your [ ] think now of the affair with C. C. Is it or is it not?
Charles Hacker is a very nice fellow & I’m sure you’ll like him. He was a good friend to me in business matters as well as otherwise when I needed one & I know that you have determination enough, darling, to detect sterling qualities beneath an exterior possibly not as graceful as some society [ ] can boast of but covering a better heart that nine tenths of these can’t dream of.
I can’t emulate my interminable letter of last night for I feel a little tired tonight but I must before I bid you goodnight disagree with Aunt Matilda’s postscript. Please don’t alter your hand writing. I love that delicate little hand & shall miss it so much if you do. The only thing I would suggest would be as I said last night, a thicker envelope for I’m so jealous of your letters that I wouldn’t have the shadow of a word be seen.
Good night, my own darling. God bless & keep you well. Ever yours, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TEN
March 15th 1863
I was thinking, darling, this afternoon how very differently Sunday passes away with you at home where you are surrounded by everything that makes the day the universal quiet and rest from work, and the voice of the church bells which seems to tell those who might forget what day it is.
And I couldn’t help wondering whether I should relapse into civilized usage (again) or whether the barbarities of our nomadic life would cling too strongly to be quite shaken off.
I suppose when the time comes for me to be with you again, a happier time, dearest, that brightens as it seems to draw nearer, I shall wonder that I ever lived differently for I have often noticed how readily we accommodate ourselves to any changes but it seems strange to look forward to. Sometimes I’m afraid you’ll have terrible times eradicating the moral [ ] which this “evicted” life has resisted. I do hope you think you’ll have courage for the undertaking, my darling.
You must transfer your culture of the Ethiopian mind & teach me to forget our savage disregard of Sunday duties. The principal difference here consists in the fact that the contrabands are not put to work & the labor on the fortifications is stopped; beyond this & the decrease of drill, the day is the same as any other.
We are always summoned to attend the General on his morning rides as today, for instance, when he either makes a circuit of the works & neighboring camps criticizing the police which department I have the honor of superintending, or crossing over to Gloucester for a st____ ride of ravines.
It was a very raw, disagreeable Sunday this, and must have pinched the noses of the good church-goers at home until they blushed at such week day liberties. I know it pinches ours as we rode against it and made us glad to spend the rest of the day before a comfortable fire until dinner time when Capt. [Johnston B.] Creighton of the Mahaska came to dinner with us. He has just met with quite a loss—not from his own vessel but from the [USS] Crusader, one of his fleet cruising off Mob Jack’s Bay. Captain Andrews went up the Piankatank river with 36 men, two officers & a howitzer in, I believe, three boats & must have been gobbled up by the Rebel cavalry for nothing has been heard of them since. This was yesterday afternoon at three o’clock & the Crusader waited until this evening for them but they didn’t return. It was an unfortunate affair but the captain had often had no reason to anticipate anything of the kind. This bad news was somewhat relieved by the news of the capture by Grant of 5,000 men, boats & stores at Yazoo City which I hope may prove true but we have to receive these newspaper accounts with many grains of allowance, and I wait to hear it confirmed before placing much faith is such a rumor.
Goodnight my own darling. Give my love to Mother & all at home & my regards to Richard & your kind friends,
Ever yours, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ELEVEN
March 16, 1863
The melancholy capture of the officers & crew of the Crusader proved to be no capture at all, for they made their appearance late last evening, safe & sound on board the Sam Roton—one of the blockading fleet, relieving our minds of all anxiety on their behalf. I understand the captain is exceedingly irate at being left & reported captured, and I should think he had good cause to be although there may be extenuating circumstances which I don’t know that explain the conduct of the officer left in charge of the vessel.
I give you this finish, darling, because it is our only item of news. I have no letters to answer; both yesterday & today were blank days, & if tomorrow don’t redeem them (as I’m sure it will though), I believe I’ll suspend my journal and tat would be a terrible calamity. It would upset all my numbers & drop a day from my calendar. I know you don’t wish these horrible things to befall.
I spoke to the General today about the delay in answering my tender of resignation & he promised to write to General Thomas. Adj. General, if nothing was heard of it by Thursday. There are apt to be so many delays in matters of this kind that I am not much surprised at it in my case, but the uncertainty is very annoying. I feel like a sort of hybrid creation—neither soldier nor civilian—& live as it were, mentally from hand to mouth.
I hope you have better day to boast of at home than these unbearable, raw, chilly ones; not a real, honest cold, but an insidious pretense of something milder, chilling the credulity that tries to image it spring.
You don’t know how I love to hear all about you, darling. Every little thing that you do or feel & how very often I try to imagine what that may be. Everything seems to shake itself into something that reminds me of you & your dear face is near me in all work, on all my rides, in my heart always. When that day comes when all these thoughts become real & we are together never to part any more, how pleasant it will be to talk over all these long days with my darling always near me.
I hope it may come very soon for I grudge the hours that keep me away now & long for the time when I can call you really my own. Goodnight darling. With my dearest love. Ever yours, — Ossie
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March 27, 1863
I can readily imagine the grin of intelligence which pervaded [ ] countenance as she struggled upstairs weary under the load of that ponderous mail. After missing her charge for so many days, it must have been a great relieve to her doubting mind to find that they ought to have come.
Some of them came very near meeting their fate as they lay dormant during the day of the storm & became supplanted in their news by others of later date, but I concluded at last to let them all go as the nest witnesses to themselves.
I got a letter from Mother too, darling, containing a long extract from the one she had just received from Hattie who must be delighted to be with her husband & to find him so deservedly popular with his officers. Frank Suydam brought me over a New York Times of the 25th which contains the account I send you of a reconnaissance made by him. It seems to have been a very creditable affair and I am glad to see that it has found its way into print for now-a-days newspapers seem almost to make and unmake public men, and everything appears to depend upon their favorable notice.
Currie [?] a broad fellow & a god soldier, I know, & I think he stands a good chance for promotion.
When I read of these exploits of my friends & old companions, it reawakens my military ambition and I can’t guarantee that some sudden fit may not bring me back at some future day into the tented field. Do you think, my darling, you would let me come? Mother declares that she never could, but if I do ever again entertain the idea, my ambition would lead me to aspire to a much higher than my present humble position. I think I could get the command of a regiment & I should try for that. Don’t think, dearest, that I by any means intend to leave you again unless in the event of some unforeseen emergency & you too would think it my duty to go.
I must come home now for several reasons which you know, my darling, and before I can go away again, I shall have two hearts to consult & to think whether I should be as fortunate as Currie in in having Hattie with him.
About the buttons, I’m sorry to say that both those coats have gone, first to Tom & then to the dogs. Not placing any particular value upon them & not dreaming at that time that I should ever have such a call for them, I uncontinently threw them away when the coats were worn out but I have plenty on a coat which was in my possession but not on my way back at those times, and if that won’t do, I can bring you home the saddle I rode & which came so near not bringing me off the Battle of Seven Pines. I’m sorry, darling, but when I bring my traps home, we’ll hunt up relics enough.
What a ridiculous child you are with your pretended whims & extraordinary ideas of your sphere of usefulness! You—a missionary indeed! I’d just like to catch you at it. Why the council of savage chiefs in their hooped skirts would fight among themselves for the honor of being the first convert until, like the Kilkenny cats, there would be nothing but hooped skirts left. Is it really impossible to find anything at home to occupy the charitable mind without turning your attention to Boreeoboolagah & making a [ ] of [ ] was right. She had found comfortable quarters—ones that I enjoy her much and her good tastes as a cat in unquestionable & does her credit.
Goodnight dearest. No news yet from Washington but I hope for some every day. Ever your own, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THIRTEEN
March 30th 1863
I’m so sleepy tonight, my darling, that I can hardly see to write, but I cannot forego the pleasure of writing the few lines that will serve to record the proceedings of the day.
It passed quietly, without incident of any kind, until this evening when a telegram from Williamsburg informed us that the enemy had moved down in force to within three miles of that place. So a battery of artillery & 1,000 infantry have been ordered to hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment’s notice. This order sounds so familiar that it carries me back to the days of our active service but I have no idea that anything will occur to call for their movement and look for another dispatch tomorrow saying that the enemy had retired.
At all events, we are ready for them here & only wish they would come down within reach of our guns. We expect the General [Keyes] back tomorrow & I think I shall go down to Fort Monroe to meet him. He may have some good news for me from Washington.
I must beg you, darling, to excuse this scrawl; I’m fully sensible of its shortcomings, but to save my life, I cannot write intelligently tonight & would not have attempted it at all had it not been for my reluctance to let a day pass without writing to my darling.
Good night, dearest, with my fondest love. Ever your own, — Ossie
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TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOURTEEN
April 30th 1863
Back at Old Yorktown, darling, and seated at the same old table, writing home once more; but not as I used to write, for I am happier than ever before in all my life, except when I was with you, my love.
Everything I look upon glows in the colour de rose that my happy anticipations shed upon it and I catch myself judging all by the standard, “How will Ella like this?” [or] “I wonder if my darling will be please with it?”
I do hope she will and that when she comes to brighten my house & all my life with her sweet presence, I shall be able to make her comfortable and very happy too.
I have too much to tell you, dearest, that I hardly know where to begin, but it must be on commencement for my little note from Baltimore—that shabby looking little one—whose speedy arrival only could apologize for its appearance, told you nothing but that I was there.
Well, I searched the train there, but no Chetwood was to be found anywhere, so I subsided into a seat by a stout party whose smiling countenance prepossessed me in his favor, and I found him a most pleasant companion. You know my luck in always meeting some one I know, or who knows some of my friends in these journeys, and this was no exception to my custom for the stout party proved to be a Mr. Wright—a large “iron man” and I found that Capt. Biddle, formerly on McClellan’s staff, was connected in business with him. He was an old school mate of mine and I found my companion had been much at Harrisburg at the commencement of the war & knew all about our regiment and the Old “Grays” and many of my friends. And so the time passed quite pleasantly until we reached Baltimore when we parted at Barnum’s mutually (I think) pleased with each other.
I like to make these chance acquaintances. One seldom fails to derive some benefit from a man who is at all worth talking to & very often they prove useful afterwards.
We reached Baltimore early & I had time to get a little dinner at Barnum’s and found Col. Taylor of Gen’l Dix’s staff going down on the same boat. He came up with me, you may remember, and also a surgeon who was going down there to relieve Dr. Huntingdon, one of Charlie Lee’s friends.
I was desperately sleepy after our late hours at home and lay down about eight o’clock intending to take a little nap and then go down to rejoin my friends below, but Morpheus held me too firmly in his embrace and I slept soundly in perfect oblivion of friend or foe until just before the boat touched the wharf at Fort Monroe.
Taylor invited us to breakfast with him at his quarters, after which I strolled about, paid a visit to the Paymaster whom I found in funds, and mulcted for my April accounts and managed to pass the time until the Yorktown boat was ready to start.
I did not write to you from Voorhees as usual, my darling, because they were busy in the counting room, and I didn’t want to distract them, so you will forgive the day that will pass with no letter for you, and not the postman, won’t you?
They all seemed very glad to see me back here—especially “Old Getty” who I feared would leave before I saw him again. He said he was very sorry he should not be the expected inmate of my new house, and I told him of his picture that was framed & well known at home. Whitehead has been pushing the work along as fast as the rain would allow, and the roof is all in and many of the logs ready.
This evening we went off together and received a quantity of furniture, etc., and windows enough and glass doors too! to answer for the whole building. Isn’t that jolly? We have hearty laughs ourselves over the odd way in which my house is being brought together, and the discussion of the details of its plan is a matter of unfailing interest & delight which will only reach its climax when you, my darling, come to inhabit it.
The General [Keyes] was very cordial & polite in his welcome and Whitehead says he thinks he has nominated me for the majority, which Chetwood’s promotion to the Assistant Adj. Gen. a fait accompli, has left vacant. It may be so. I hope it is, but I have learnt to put not my faith in princes, and it may not be true. At all events, I decline to receive congratulations until I am officially informed.
The ladies are all well and blooming as the rose, and extended their most bewitching smiles but I have only as yet obtained a mere glance at their fair faces for I meant to spend his evening with you, dearest, and couldn’t possibly give any of it to them. I longed, darling, to ask you to send that “B_____” back to Miss Whitehead, will you please do it for me?
Don’t forget in making your preparations to arrange about the servants and to let me know whether you will bring both the cook & Hannah for if I have to find a cook here I ought to have time enough to look out for a good one. I will let you know when the mansion is sufficiently advanced for their reception and then everything which can be sent down such as the curtains—I’ll let you know the size of the windows, the table clothes, and whatever you would like sent in advance of your coming to give an aspect of home to our humble cot. Charlie will lend me some of his pictures to adorn our walls and whatever you send before (do not let it be too much). Will save so much trouble in bringing when we come ourselves.
I’m going to look out for a house for you, dearest, and mean to get one. A lamb for docility, a rocking chair for comfort, which two traits I hope to invite in some one fortunate beast & then reward him by allowing him to carry you. Goodnight ,y darling. How I wish I could say it as I did night before last. With my dearest love. Ever your own, — Ossie
Please send this enclose note to Charlie.
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