Milo Grow’s Letters from the Battle of Fredericksburg
|Their batteries are visible over the river about a mile and a half away with their guns yawning at us waiting to belch their thunders forth.
[Nov. 25, 1862]
My Dear Wife
I will now commence on this sheet to give you an extract from a little blank book that I carry in my pocket [Note: This book has never been found.] which will give a better idea of our method of life here than you could get from any other source. It was a long time before I could get a blank book, although I tried often in bookstores and every where. The one I have is home made and is not a nice one, but it holds my ideas as well as a better one. So here is the extract.
|Oh my Sally was such a maiden fair,
Singin’ Polly Wolly Doodle all the day,
With her curly eyes and her laughing hair.
Sing Polly Wolly Doodle all the day.
–This Civil War Marching Song
On this 25th day of November 1862, I made this book as a make shift for a better one after having tried for several months to get a pocket diary without success. I have tried many bookstores and a variety of other sources for a book more to my taste, but have at last come to the conclusion to yield to stern necessity and make this. The object of the book is to write at leisure hours such thoughts as the scenes recurring before me in which I am engaged suggest and to chronicle such facts as my feelings may prompt me to write or as I may think worth remembering.
On the 25th day of November 1862, we are encamped don the Rappahannock River within a mile of Fredericksburg Va., in a valley or ravine in which we are surrounded by a thicket of small oaks and ivy bushes with a small rivulet running at the bottom. The ravine is one of the many such among the pleasant hills which line the beautiful valley of the Rappahannock on each side.
On the hill tops we can see the enemy encamped on the range of hills beyond the valley with the smoke of their camp fires overtopping the trees for miles on our right and left. Their batteries are visible over the river about a mile and a half away with their guns yawning at us waiting to belch their thunders forth.
Between us lies the beautiful and cultivated valley of the Rappahannock, which takes its course towards the southeast. The river enlivens a scene of rich cultivation and beautiful residences which contrast strangely with the rough and stern aspect of the hostility which surrounds them. On the left towards the west lies the pleasant city of Fredericksburg, about a mile away. A city of about 16,000 inhabitants, most of whom have now left to avoid the fearful terrors of a bombardment which is now imminently threatened.
Three towering spires are visible and a large expanse of residences, fruit trees, and so forth. The streets cannot be seen from here. The scene from the hill one hundred yards in front of our camp is one pleasure, but like John Bunyan’s Grim Monster which haunts his path when in full view of the gates of the Celestial City stand the waving flags and gleaming tents and flickering camp fires of the enemy, with their rattling artillery and almost endless trains of wagons casting gloom upon the scene and filling the mind with stern realities, rather than imaginative pleasures.
Our camp at nightfall is a busy place, echoing with the fall of axes and the hum of men bringing their wood for their night fire in preparation against damps and colds. The nights are cold and often our blankets are covered at dawn with frost as we lie around our fires. We have no tents and our couch is the bare face of mother earth with perhaps a blanket spread upon it.
At night innumerable fires blaze in every direction, our camp fires, around each of which from 7 to 10 men are gathered, cooking their evening repast of fresh beef and flour bread, and then darkling forms in the glimmering light give an air of ghostly life to our ravine. In a long line in each direction our camp fires appear as an offset to the long row of fires beyond the river. Later in the night our ravine seems to be a forest of smoldering fires surrounded by bundles of inanimate life as we lie wrapped in our blankets around them. Here and there stands one by a blaze to warm and drive away the damps and chill of earth and air.
So the dawn finds us.
Monday Dec. 15th  2 o’clock evening.
We moved in our position last night. Are in line of battle today in full view of town with one of our best batteries about one hundred yards in our rear. The fight has not been general today. Shell pass over us quite often to and from the enemy.
Sixteen hundred dead Yankees lie in and around the town. The enemy bursts have now opened in good earnest while I write. I believe the battle has been warm on our left today several miles away. One man in our regiment has been wounded by a shell. His right arm was cut entirely off by a fragment.
|This letter takes place immediately after one of the war’s catastrophic days. Union soldiers had been ordered to march over open ground to attack a heavily defended Southern position–the sunken road at Fredericksburg.It was a slaughter that was repeated the following July, when Lee used the same tactic at Gettysburg, with the same catastrophic results to his side. Milo was not in Picket’s Charge at Gettysburg, having been injured the day before, apparently near the Wheat Field.Notice that Milo mentions Aurora Borealis, something he would be familiar with from growing up in Vermont. Other histories record this sight as well.
Directly in front of us in full view lies a wounded enemy. He has lain there two days and nights. In vain he struggles to get away towards his friends. He gets up and down again. Then he wraps himself in his blanket and rests after a while to struggle again. It is pleasing to hear our boys commiserate him. Some of them would go to his relief if allowed. By going one would expose himself to the sharpshooters. One cannot get to him from either side without great peril.
We are expecting an attack every hour. Long blue columns approach and cross the river. The signal flags are waving, speaking in a language like the “handwriting on the wall.” The pickets are after firing and their bullets pass us. We have not been out of line of battle for the last 26 hours. We have not had opportunity to wash and are as [covered] with dirt and mud as it is possible to be.
The wind blows hard and cold and we lie in a ditch. The dust and dirt have almost buried us. We have not been to a fire in 26 hours. The most partial eyes at home could hardly find a lineament of beauty in the regiment now. Friends and lovers now bear the mein of ditches and brigands.
There was a brilliant exhibition of Aurora Borealis soon after dark list night. For half an hour it shows very brilliantly reaching to the mid heavens in colors of yellow and red.
|I have just read a very affectionate letter picked up on the field from a Northern lady to her husband. It is dated Nov 20. This battle will cost a world of pangs and sorrow. She will never receive an answer to her affectionate epistle.
Tuesday Dec. 16th .
The enemy evacuated Fredericksburg during last night. They have pulled over their bridge. They have left this side of the river. They continue however to harass us with their shells which are flying quite briskly about us this morning, some in very unpleasant proximity. It rained last night and filled our ditch with mud and wet us a good deal. We are as uncomfortable as possible.
The men seem to mind the shells but little as they have got accustomed to them. When they hear one coming, they all run and fall into the ditch like a flock of partridges. When it has passed they go out and laugh and chat as though all was right. “Look, here comes another straight here,” they say, and here they all come into the ditch. Some explode almost at our heads.
I have just read a very affectionate letter picked up on the field from a Northern lady to her husband. It is dated Nov 20. This battle will cost a world of pangs and sorrow. She will never receive an answer to her affectionate epistle.
The battlefield is a scene of horror. It is destruction personified and beyond description. I have stolen away late in the evening, contrary to orders, and visited it. It is strewn with dead and every kind of material of war. It is gratifying to us to observe that few of our men are mingled with the dead on the field. We lost comparatively few here, having fought under cover of ditches and stone fences.
|The balloons arose in fine view yesterday. They call in every appurtenance of ingenuity to their help.
[Dec. 14 or 16, 1862]
(First part missing)
When their column begins to advance upon us the men will arise fresh for the contest.
Now the tide of battle wanes as the enemy amass their column for another attack. We expect them at this point. The opposite heights are studded with batteries and blue with the long lines of men. Their white signal flags are waving and serve to arouse us by their curious and unintelligible [signs?].
Last night I with two other men went far out on the flats of the river near the enemy picket lines. Their signal fires were curious indeed. One seemed constructed by two bright lights, each at the end of a long pole. By the variety of motions given the pole, signals were communicated.
The balloons arose in fine view yesterday. They call in every appurtenance of ingenuity to their help. Science assists them, wealth supports them, and genius aids, yet all cannot win in their unrighteous cause.
Now the fierce bursting of shells has commenced a hundred yards to my right. None can tell the singular [ ] which these bursting missiles produce [in those who have] witnessed them.
After sunset Sunday evening the 16th, [14th?] the battle has ceased for the day. Our position was not attacked. The enemy seems to be engaged in the humane business of carrying away their dead and wounded. Except the firing of an occasional gun in the distance, silence reigns.
|We were relieved last night, the enemy having withdrawn. So the battle of the Rappahannock is ended, not to be renewed soon again here I think.
Dec. 17th 
In camp this morning. We were relieved last night, the enemy having withdrawn. So the battle of the Rappahannock is ended, not to renewed soon again here I think. The enemy are satisfied that they cannot force a passage and have retired. We have been triumphant at every point. They have retired without one achievement to cheer them or one hope.
One nation is now shaded with disappointment and one is closed with garments of joy. One new-made general now begins to totter in his place. He looks to a speedy fall and none will pity. A proud and haughty people are humbled and brought to a stand. A reckless politician and statesman has received another intimation of speedy ruin which will come embittered by the curses of two nations.
|Crockery glassware, cooking utensils, children’s and women’s clothing were scattered and heaped in fragments about the floor. Every thing of value had been carried away.
Dec. 18th 
I stole away to the city about two miles, guards not having been put out since the battle. The city has been given up to pillage. The destruction is perfect.
In the houses that I visited the whole outfit of furniture was broken in fragments. Crockery glassware, cooking utensils, children’s and women’s clothing were scattered and heaped in fragments about the floor. Every thing of value had been carried away.
One house I think belonged to a clergyman. His library of rare books was scattered and torn, and his elegant furniture broken and thrown about. Every article of food has disappeared. Store houses were rifled and lawyers offices striped. Millions of property is left without a writing to tell its ownership. The soldiers said this was done by order. Quite a number of houses were burned by the bombardment.
Dec. 19th 
In camp today. The usual routine of camp duties. Late in the evening we received orders to go on picket and we expect to start about dark.
|We are held in the reserve today which gives us little opportunity to look about the city. There is a guard out which would arrest me if they catch me, but I do not mind such guards much in my curiosity to see the bombarded place. I frequently avoid and neglect these foolish and discriminating orders, though I may some times be put under arrest.
Dec. 20th 
On picket in the city. The Picket Guard is one that goes out on the outermost posts nearest the enemy and is intended for the protection of the Army. It frequently goes almost to the enemy camps. The enemy pickets are sometimes in gun shot of ours and at times quite severe battles take place between them.
The picket force is usually divided into to parts. One is held as a reserve and kept the distance of half a mile, more or less, in the rear of the advance pickets. This is for the support of the advance pickets.
Those who go on the advance picket have posts or stands where they stay and watch the movements of the enemy. These posts are frequently in full view of the enemies pickets and firing frequently takes place between them. The posts are hidden if possible.
Those who stand on posts are usually relieved every two hours by others who remain a short distance away, and in this way they have opportunity to [rest] and warm and eat. In case of an attack the pickets hold their position and keep the enemy at bay if possible. If the attack force is too large the pickets fall back upon the main body of the army for support. In many cases the pickets do not fire on each other by mutual consent.
We are held in the reserve today which gives us little opportunity to look about the city. There is a guard out which would arrest me if they catch me, but I do not mind such guards much in my curiosity to see the bombarded place. I frequently avoid and neglect these foolish and discriminating orders, though I may some times be put under arrest.
Twelve holes of balls from cannon appear through the steeple of one elegant church, and bomb shells have burst in it, defacing its elegant furniture and interior. Almost all the houses have ball holes through them and present the same devastation which I have noticed before.
The enemy have their guns planted so as to rake every principle street in the city and could [ ] throw a storm of shot and shell through them at any moment. They are in plain view about 1/2 mile away. We pass around the city as though all was peace. The artillery men stand at their guns as though ready to fire but their successes [?] do not deter us.
Dec. 21st 
We are on post today, and those on post yesterday are held in reserve today. Our posts are on the bank of the river about 100 yards wide and the enemy’s pickets are on the other bank. No pickets firing has taken place yet. We can almost see the muzzle of the enemy’s guns about a quarter of a mile off.
The small house of two rooms where we stay in when off post has 4 canon ball holes through it, with signs of shell bursting inside. We build signal fires on the bank of the river hidden by a screen to keep us from suffering. The screens are placed so that the enemies pickets could not draw sight on us if so disposed.
Dec. 22 .
We were relieved last night and are in camp today.
I here cease my extracts as I think you will be worried with reading what I have already written. The style is confused and given to repetition. It is written amid confusion, and clearness of mind is not incident to camps.
Your loving —
Our army is stationed along the heights on the right bank of the river for miles above and below Fredericksburg. The enemy were allowed to build their pontoon bridges and cross the river almost without molestation as our position is so good that we have nothing to fear from them when crossed. They occupy the flats.
Their numerous attempts to carry our position by storm have signally failed in every instance. Unless they can carry our position, their passage of the river is of no avail.
I now lie in line of battle awaiting an attack. Many pieces of canon are just in our rear and utter their thunder over our heads. (These belong to us of course) Their shells sound like the rushing of a tropical storm as they pass over us. Ever and anon the distant sound of a canon brings the sharp fierce burst of an enemy’s shell directly over our heads. Even now while I write the sound of musketry is incessant on our right and left– the roar of canon is all around. We are expecting an attack at this point before long.
Our boys have no doubt of success and will engage with confidence. We are sure of victory. We are very much worn out with four days and nights of watching and fatigue and cold. We have been almost constantly on duty ever since the battle opened. Many of the men now lie asleep around me yet we are expecting an attack with the enemy in full view.
The three principal players: Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.
March 11, 1863
My Own Dear Lyra
I write you by Mr. Pate, who starts tomorrow, as I did by Mr. Cheshire the other day. It is now 22 days since my first two letters started from here and I have received no reply as yet. I felt confident I should get a letter today though it did not come.
I am sitting by the fire cooking some peas in my little tin boiler which holds a quart. I am a little frustrated because it takes them so long to cook.
Buly is lying on the blanket with a chill which he has been having for several days. He has not taken any medicine and though he got some quinine from the surgeon today he did not take it. Billy is out on the street and seems to be in better health and spirits this spring than last fall.
The weather is now fine and warm. Every day is warmer than the preceding one. We have seen no army movements yet though we have heard firing over the river for two days past at intervals. It is said they are rejoicing over the fall of Charleston, as they are informed it has been taken. They tell our pickets so.
Yesterday Lincoln reviewed them in person, I suppose which caused a good deal of firing a salute. I think the spring is very pleasant here though there is a good deal of wind. I like the cool weather; it makes me feel strong and healthy. Today is Saturday and we have had no drill. We drill every day very steadily now. We do not anticipate that the enemy will attempt to cross at Fredericksburg again. Bully and Billy both sent money by Mr. Cheshire Buly 70 dollars I think. Buly did not write as he did not have time. I do not know how much Billy sent.
My Dear, I am so anxious to get one of your sweet letters and hear about your health. I know I shall get one in two or three days though I do not like to wait so long. This is the eighth letter I have written to you since I have been here. You do not know how anxious I am that you should be happy and in good spirits.
How is little son coming on? Kiss him for his Pa. I have no news to write. Give my love to all the family and receive this from your devoted —
March 28th 1863
My Dearest Wife,
The day is dark and rainy and everything looks gloomy without, and we have no duty to perform, as I seize this opportunity to write to you.
Yesterday was fast day and a Beautiful bright day it was. It was the only bright day we have had since my return. It seems significant that the sky should be so unclouded on the day set apart for fasting for the only one in several weeks.
I wandered away from camp in the morning and wrote a little in my pocket book which I will send to you if I have time to write it. I have sent three letters to you since my return which I think you have just received. I am very sorry they could not leave camp before– by some carelessness they were delayed. Ten dollars was sent in one of them.
I am very anxious to hear from you and to know all your successes and disappointments. You are my treasure and my pleasure and a letter from you is received with delight. I am glad to know that you are not trifling away your life but are engaged in something useful. I wish you could be here. Your health would be so much better and you would possess so much more vigor of body and mind. The climate there is debilitating.
I have the [shirt?] you made me– very comforting, it is so warm and pleasant to wear this cold weather. I have not suffered from cold since I returned. I’ll say that I have improved in looks and appearance very much since I left for Georgia. I weighed yesterday and the scales stood at 168 pounds with my coat on. I think they cannot be correct. My weight used to be 140. We are getting now plenty of flour a little meat and sometimes a little sugar rice and syrup.
Buly is anxious to send some money home if he had the opportunity. I think I shall send 50 or 100 home sometime in May if I have opportunity. I could get my likeness taken by walking 5 miles in the mud twice and paying 6 dollars for a common case. I will have it taken the first opportunity that presents.
My love, I will only fill out this side, as I have no news to write and a man is waiting here for me to write an affidavit for him in a case in the Court Martial which he has paid me to attend to. I delight to write to you tho I have nothing especial to write. Every little incident that occurs brings you to my mind. I wish you would send me the volume of Hardee’s Tactics that I left at home by John Sheffield by the first opportunity.
Receive this from your devoted —
|My love, I almost always feel under constraint when I write to you thinking that perhaps others may see my letters. To them our warm and heartfelt words might seem foolishness and rather the romance of a boyish lover than the words of matrimony of more than two years standing. I do not think that many know or feel the warm sympathy that exists between us, and it gives me pain to fear that ours may be subjected to their scrutiny or doubts.
April 3, 1863
My Own Dear One
I hold the letter that you sent by Mr. Boykin in my hand. I have read it over and over and it has made me sad. Your sickness and grief touched me deeply. The sad tone of your letter which shows that you are suffering much for want of the loving words which for a brief space you loved to hear.
My Darling I beg your pardon for a letter that I wrote you two days ago. I take back all I said about your “capricious note.” I thought you would not write me because you had not received a letter from me, but here I have a letter of the same date as the note. The absolute want of that “capriciousness” which I spoke of as shown by this letter and the confidence and love which it expresses so different from what I tho’t the note contained, is pleasant indeed. You can not tell how much I long to express those sweet words and call you by those many loving names which you so much love to hear and to witness the thrill of pleasure with which you hear them.
I miss your company sadly. My time at home with you seems like a beam of sunshine that came upon me and passed suddenly away. I hope you are not desponding now since you have received some of my five letters that I have sent you.
Do not be disappointed about your school. It is a thing of no consequences whether the people send to you or not. I am glad you are not dependent upon them.
My love, I almost always feel under constraint when I write to you thinking that perhaps others may see my letters. To them our warm and heartfelt words might seem foolishness and rather the romance of a boyish lover than the words of matrimony of more than two years standing. I do not think that many know or feel the warm sympathy that exists between us, and it gives me pain to fear that ours may be subjected to their scrutiny or doubts. But I will trust this to you discretion as I have all others and tell as well as I can find words to do my feelings.
I will now tell you that I have made an attempt to get your father appointed “Collector of the Confederate Tax”. I think there is some chance that he may get it for Miller County. I got Lieut. Chapman to write to Heard and throw out such inducements as may influence him if he does not want it himself.
I have made application to Gen. McLaws to go into the Engineering Corps now about to be formed here, and my application has been very favorably endorsed by Col. Slaughter. I think there is some chance of success, though I am not confident.
My love, cheer up now and not fail to be happy and cheerful. You have strength of character to overcome your griefs, and besides you have a never failing source to apply to by prayer. Lyra, do not forget what I said to you about coming near to God and being a trusting loving child of his.
I go away often in the clear mornings and pray for you and our little son, as well as those who are with me in the war and the others. Don’t forget my love. I must close. The order comes “fall in for drill.”
April 8, 1863
My Own dear Lyra,
I have an opportunity of sending this to you by Mr. Pate who goes in a day or two, so take pleasure in writing you. I have written six letters to you since I returned and am now looking every day for an answer to some of them. In anxiously expect one, and not a mail comes that I do not go up and see if it brings news from you.
It is very cold here yet, and day before yesterday the ground was covered 8 or 10 inches deep with snow. My coat is a great friend. We have been ordered to send off all our baggage that we could not carry all summer. I did not send it because I need it yet and shall trust to chance to get it carried on a wagon. I received the book and testament which you sent by Mr. Boykin and was very glad to get them.
My dear, I hope this will find you in good spirits and health. It was truly pleasing to see how heroic you was last year and how you overcame every difficulty. I hope your health will be good and you will be as happy as possible. I have to repeat the same old thing: “keep employed”.
I am under many obligations to your kind friends for their kindness and considerate love towards you. They have won my love by their kindness towards us both. Give my kindest regards to your mother in particular. She is every way worthy of the love you bear her. She shall ever be my mother as well as yours. Give my love to all the family.
|Milo had good reason to be thankful for the friends who assisted Kate in his absence.Many of the women living alone in this region — their husbands away at war — experienced dire hardships. As reported by Williams in Rich Man’s War, by late 1863, thousands of such women wandered the South begging for food for themselves and their children. Food riots broke out in major Southern cities.Their husbands could not get leave from the war to come home and plant crops.In Kate’s home town of Colquitt, Georgia, “a group of about fifty soldiers’ wives raided the government depot…and took a hundred bushels of corn.” Similar attacks took place in nearby Columbus and Thomasville.
These destitute women appear to have found little sympathy from those who continued to be well-to-do during the war. (Williams, 114-5)
The boys are well. Billy is writing and said he is going to send some money home. Buly is in Fredericksburg, or I expect he would do the same. He does not know of the opportunity. I send this by Mr. Cheshire instead of Mr. Pate. This is some of the ink I made of the copperas you gave me. I wish you would tell me when your father gets the money from Mr. Solomon from George Collier’s Estate. You must excuse this bad piece of paper as when I commenced this I had no better. I bought half a quire of paper yesterday for two dollars.
They are preparing for inspection which will come on in a few minutes and I must close. Write immediately and receive this from
I could send you ten dollars but think I will send it all together in May. Tell me whether you get your money from Mr. Vann. Milo
April 25th 
On picket post [sentry duty] on the bank of the river. The river is about two hundred yards wide here. Opposite me is a gorge or gully which comes down to the river through the bluff where runs a small stream. In and about this gorge the enemy keep their reserve picket. They are lying about on the gravely bank looking like blue streaks or spots of indigo. Now an officer passes down the road. I could hail him but have no cause to do so. The sentinel over there comes to a shoulder arms and the officer salutes him. It is military etiquette. Now a sentinel goes with glistening gun to relieve another who is on post. On my left high above me is a powerful battery.
Just in that direction now comes a long line of cavalry. They are at the bluff right between me and the sky. I hear their hello but do not reply. They make a sweep around the bluff in slow gait looking quite imposing. Their horses look no better than ours. Now faster than I can write, a company of infantry have come out of the gorge and formed distinctly opposite me. I do not know what they intend doing. I suppose it is a relief picket.
On the battery a few minutes ago I saw thirty or forty men standing as if watching us. Now two field officers on their horses gallop up the opposite bank. They have got their glasses and stare looking at us. There are five of them. They have scattered about and are pointing this way. I see their shining bridle bits and sword hilts.
Now the bugle sounds its signal tones. I suppose it is a water call for the cavalry. We are instructed to watch and see if they mount any guns on their batteries. It is reported that they are crossing at Port Royal about 25 miles below here and it is thought they may attempt it here. I think we shall be the last of the division that will leave here, as a picket is obliged to be kept up here.
|…Last night the stars stood forth in bright array. They seemed like golden jewelry set upon a vestment of deep purpose. Lyra rode green while Venus coyly played hide and seek over the western horizon.
April 26 
Stood picket last night between nine and eleven o’clock and between two and four. The wind blew cold and chilly. I wore my [coat] and blanket and then could not keep warm. During the last part the stars were revelling in their glory.
The nights here are not by far so brilliant as in climes further South, though last night the stars stood forth in bright array. They seemed like golden jewelry set upon a vestment of deep purpose. Lyra rode green while Venus coyly played hide and seek over the western horizon. The Dolphin and the Eagle were there. The Bull shone conspicuously, as well as Scorpio, the tail of which is hardly visible in this latitude.
The enemy drums beat long and in every direction this morning. Their beat sounds familiar to me and awakens old memories. It reminds me of the time when a boy I went to the muster and, animated by the music I walked proudly and felt myself capable of heroic deeds
|Lyra, the constellation that represented Orpheus’ lyre, and thus the mystical source of inspiration, was one of Milo’s pet names for Kate.
Fredericksburg April 27th 1863
My Beloved Wife
I received your charming letter of the 11th just two days ago. I was delighted with it and it afforded me much pleasure. I delayed answering it to take a little time to write out parts of my journals to send along with it. They will both go by the same mail.
Your letter pleased me very much. Its words touched my heart on its tender points. Your love and tenderness is the oasis of my life and its expression is always gratifying to me. The witches are not bold enough to try to persuade me that you do not love me enough. I know your heart too well and it was this knowledge that caused me to strive so hard to win it. I then saw in it these treasures of love that were locked up there in store for him to whom you would entrust the key. You gave the key to me, and my dear, not one doubt has since crossed my mind. My confidence has no alloy. You love is the anchor of your heart that holds it fast to the rock it attaches to.
I had many anxieties and fears that you guarded the key to that heart of treasures with too jealous an eye to entrust it to my keeping, but when you did freely give it into my hands, it was a moment of joy, and you knew not what resolves I made to cherish it and to make you aware that it was not unworthily bestowed.
Your love is a plant that I most carefully nourish. I delight to see its tendrils entwine around me and I know they cannot bind me too tightly, and most gladly do I yield myself to their embrace. Your love ennobles me and your admiration I strive to gain.
My dear we have postponed writing our love epistles until after marriage and after we have one son. Our correspondence is more in the style of lovers than that of matrimony. But to me it has this advantage. We now know that our words have a deep meaning and that they are now free from any pretension.
Lovers only are not always so well assured on these points, and besides such devotedness at such a time ensures a life of happiness. It puts to flight the assertations of some who say that love only exists between lovers. The theory of my life has been “once a lover always one.” You can know this from the fact that I lived to be 35 years old without paying addresses to any lady. I believe in the correctness of my theory quite as much now as formally.
I suppose you have received several letters from me before this time. This is the eleventh one that I have sent since my return. I count every envelope I sent. The one containing the history of my journey here. If I sent this separate from the journal, I count them two, which will make twelve.
I love to write to you and to hear from you. Your letters are very gratifying to me and it only gives me pain at times to see a vein of sadness in them. If you write to me at all, you cannot conceal this if it exists. I could never conceal from my mother when I wrote to her. She would detect it if I felt it. There is less of it however in your last than in your first letters. Be cheerful, my Lyra, as possible.
May 23rd 1863
Ever Dear One
I have waited with much patience for several days to receive a letter from you but it has not yet come. I wrote a few days since by Standford but am anxious to write again.
We are now encamped in a beautiful oak forest on a ridge with water running on each side of us. The weather is now warm and beautiful and our pleasant oak leak shades are very pleasant. The leaves have come out from the buds to full leaf in the last two weeks. Vegetation springs forth with astonishing rapidity when it commences here.
The warm weather makes me feel somewhat puny and less vigorous than I was in the early spring. Our regiment is in good health though and fit for service. My little flower wants me to always write after the style of “Rose Leal.” How delighted I would be if I could sit with you and talk under some of our oak leaf shades at the roots of a wide spreading tree and tell you all the events of the passing hours, show you the clouds that overshadow me and the bright skys that illumine. Your sympathizing heart would dispel all clouds and brighten every hope. Our words would be of love and its delights, of the bright array of nature, of a glorious one above, then of the thrilling events of war and of the unspeakable hours on the battlefield. We would gain some forest crowned eminence and look over the checkered landscape for miles around interspersed with creek and hill, villa and grove. Then my little flower could be no longer a flower, only beautiful and fragrant to the sense, but a large hearted and sympathizing woman with that flower her warm heart in full bloom– one whose gushing instincts could comfort and cheer and whose [—] words would stimulate. She would be one the charm of whose warm nature we could feel.
The oak leaves are around and above me, everywhere their rustling green sides greet me. It is nature’s bower, a place for her free children to rejoice in.
I am weary of war and long for a place of repose and a quiet time of sympathizing rest. Have you got the journal I sent from Fredericksburg. I though I would write you a description of the last battle [Editor’s Note: Chancellorsville — see sidebar] but have not had time when I felt like writing.
I hope you are in good health and little Lee is well by this time I hope. From your last letter I expect you are teaching with Mr. Anthony. I am anxious to hear about it. Don’t teach at all unless you want to. I expect it is good if you stay all the time in Colquitt.
I said in my last letter [this letter has not been found] that I wished you would go to Judge Allen’s and spend a few days. I wish you could and would do so. I think the change would benefit you. Buly has entered upon his duties as Lieut. I loaned him forty dollars this morning to buy a sword. He will make a fine officer.
Capt. H. [Hopkins] went home very much exasperated with me. He laid John’s defeat entirely to me and I understood made several threats about me, telling what he would say about me at home. He is very unpopular with the company. I heard no one say they were sorry he was going to leave. He is a man full of deceit. Neither he nor John went through the last battle. Both left us under color of [darkness?].
Give little Lee a warm kiss from his Pa, and give my love to all the family. Receive this my dear as an oak leaf from the bowers of the Rappahannock–by and plucked from the branches around me– from your
|When you piece together what was happening, it’s no wonder Milo is tired, tired of war, and trying to think of rest and nature, and not the many dead of his regiment. It’s no wonder he had not had time when he felt like writing–to describe “the last battle.”The 51st Georgia fought in Semme’s Brigade, McLaw’s Division, in the First Corps, and they had just played a major role in the battle of Chancellorsville, adjacent to Fredericksburg. Confederate Military History, VI, relates:”Semmes’ brigade…fought on the line confronting the forward movement of [Northern General] Hooker from Chancellorsville. It was the chief participant in the defeat of Sykes’ division of the United States regulars on May 1st, the Fifty-first Georgia [Milo’s regiment] bearing the brunt of the fight. Col. W. M. Slaughter, ‘the gallant leader of the Fifty-first,’ [Milo’s commanding officer] received his death-wound early in the action, and a little later Lieut.-Col. Edward Ball was wounded in the head. As the Federal lines gave way on Sunday morning, McLaws and Anderson pressed forward to a union with Jackson’s corps…. The brigade now received orders to move down the turnpike in the direction of Fredericksburg to meet the enemy under Sedgwick [at Salem Church], pushing forward they came under severe fire…General Semmes said:’ This battle was one of the most severely contested of the war…The brunt of the battle fell upon this brigade….’ The brigade during the three days’ battles captured 595 prisoners and nearly 1,500 small-arms, and inflicted terrible casualties upon the enemy. Its own loss was very heavy, 577 killed and wounded.” (CMH VI, p. 215-6)
On the margins of the letter dated May 23, 1863:
I send you the account of the Collier’s estate. You can give it to your father and he will know what to do with it. Find out if your father […] before you give it to him. It is difficult to get stamps in camp. I sent enough for three letters by Stanford.
This is the […] letter I have sent since my return. Do not omit to send envelopes they are 1.00 a bunch here and some paper in every letter. It all helps– and a few wafers.
I have got a little portfolio that I found on the battle field. It is very convenient for me here. I carry it in my knapsack.
|The following letter, with its accompanying note to Little Lee, is presented out of the chronological sequence of the other letters, because it seems like the right one to end with.It is possible that Milo returned home during the winter of Fredericksburg, though there is no evidence except the unexplained date on this letter. Milo mentions that he will leave this letter “in the office” for her. Saturday evening Nov. 10th [1862?–on leave during the winter of Fredericksburg
My Dear Lyra,
You asked me today if I would write to you during the week that is to come. After reflection I have recollected that I had something in particular to say to you but forgot to say it today, and so will write to you now and leave it in the office for you.
I accidentally took part in a discussion last week with an Englishman (a teacher) in which conversation turned upon the poems of Gupper. I charged the poet with tameness and triteness, and the teacher in order to rebut my charge wrote out for me a passage from him, which I had in my pocket today to show you but forgot. Its truth, beauty, and genuine poetry are the points to be considered. Here it is.
“If the love of the heart is blighted it buddeth not again.
“If that pleasant song is forgotten it is to be learnt no more.
“Yet often will the thought look back and weep o’er early affection
And the dim note of that pleasant song will be heard as a reproachful spirit.
Moaning in the Eolian strains over the desert of the heart
“When the hot siroccoes of the world have withered its one oasis.”
When we meet again we will talk about it.
Mr. Holmes says he does not expect to be in this vicinity again after next week. I intend to speak more particularly with him about it tomorrow.
Beta is lying very contentedly purring on my bed. I love her on your account. She has not shown any great diligence in ferreting out the rat holes as yet. I suppose she has laid out that for her day’s work tomorrow.
After leaving you today I rode quite abstractedly with sister Mary and drove very fast. I left her at Masons. I expect she will tell you that I did not talk much. She thought my buggy must be very strong not to break down with the rough treatment I gave it. I wish you a very pleasant ride to Cuthbert and a pleasant visit.
|If evil befall us let us be prepared to meet it, if the summer of prosperity attend us may we know how to grace it but above all may the consciousness of confidence and love exist between us which will ensure for us a gushing spring of happiness that the world cannot dry. May the hot and wild siroccoes of the world never wither the green oases of our hearts.
I look forward with the most delightful anticipations to the future and am delighted to know that come weal or woe our lot is one: that in sickness and health in obscurity or prosperity we walk hand in hand. If evil befall us let us be prepared to meet it, if the summer of prosperity attend us may we know how to grace it but above all may the consciousness of confidence and love exist between us which will ensure for us a gushing spring of happiness that the world cannot dry. May the hot and wild siroccoes of the world never wither the green oases of our hearts.
I am writing by dim light in a cold room but could not refrain from saying this much. Your happy face and parting salute are still fresh and I could say much more but have extended this so much beyond its intended limits that I refrain and say that I entrust this with pleasure to your keeping.
Your friend and lover
[a note to his infant son–Roy Walbridge Grow, aka LeRoy or “Lee”–part of the previous letter?]
My dear little Lee
I received your little letter which you wrote me. Pa wants to see his little son very much. He must be a good boy till Pa gets home again and not give Ma and the others much trouble. He must keep his chickens and raise more so he will have a great many when Pa gets back.
Pa will be back again when the war is over and peace is made. You must not forget him as you are his only little boy. You must learn to talk before Pa comes back so as to talk to him. You must love Ma and Grand Ma and Grand Pa and your aunts, they are so kind to you.
From your loving father
|Fare thee well, fare thee well, fare thee well my fairy Fay,
For I’m off to Lou’siana for to see my Susy Anna
Singin’ Polly Wolly Doodle all the day.Oh my Sally was such a maiden fair,
Singin’ Polly Wolly Doodle all the day,
With her curly eyes and her laughing hair.
Sing Polly Wolly Doodle all the day.
Milo Grow’s Letters from the Civil War
Gerald Grow’s Home Page