I hadn't thought of the symbolic echoes when I decided to use the Wednesday blog slot to return to a project I keep meaning to get back to. How could I? I didn't expect the context for those echoes to be so bad.
My Great-Great-Grandfather, Abiel Teple LaForge (1842-1878) left a large collection of correspondence and diary entries from his time serving in the Union army during the U.S. Civil War. My mother transcribed and edited that material and produced a photocopied book that was circulated to family members. I got copies of the text files she'd used for the purpose of putting the material up on the web, but as the project involved a fair amount of tedious formatting, after an initial binge of work, I drifted away from the project.
The introductory apparatus and the material for the years 1861 to 1863 are up on my website. (Not this site, my personal one at heatherrosejones.com.) So as I was finishing up my series on A Little Princess, I thought about taking this project up in that timeslot. Each week, I'll process a certain amount of material and post it here, then eventually it will go up on the main website. (I'm thinking of making some structural change there first.) As some added value, the text I post here will be cleaned up to modern spelling and formatted with more paragraph breaks and punctuation for easier reading. The text on the main webpages for the diaries has the original version and eventually I'll make both available there. I add occasional clarifying comments in square brackets.
So with no other ado, and with the understanding that we're coming in on the middle of the story at this point, here we begin the year 1864 with two letters sent in January. Abiel originally joined a local regiment from upstate New York, but due to a serious bout with dysentary, he ended up in "Convalescent Camp" where we find him now.
* * *
It is now 10 o'clock P.M. but I find in looking over my letters that somehow I have made a miscalculation and owe you one. And as I have just written to father I will make myslf even with my sister too, and after that I will probably sleep better.
I am almost inclined to think I am not so much in your debt after all, for since you wrote me I have sent you Henry Graves to give you the news by word of mouth, and have also written to my sister-in-law Sally. So you are posted on what is going on here, and I also am posted in Andover news by receiving a letter from Mrs Perry Potter [note: Abiel's sister Susan married a Potter] and one from Mr. Sherman Crandall. So you see we are both pretty well informed persons, at least in my opinion we are.
Oscar Remington has written to his people about being detailed in the kitchen has he not? I was going to get him detailed as carpenter--had every thing arranged, when he informed me that some men had been around to get men to wait on the tables in the dining rooms, and he had made up his mind to try that and see how it went. So that is all right.
I took a squad of men down to Annapolis Maryland the other day just to see the place. I will describe it to you. It is the capitol of Maryland, situated on an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay and a very uninteresting place. About half as large as New Burgh, very old looking. The only places worth visiting are the U.S. Naval Academy and the State House. The latter is built on the highest ground in the city: square in form. The material used in its construction is brick. From the center of the building rises the steeple to the height of 60 or 65 feet. The view from the top is very nice would be considered splendid by any person who had never been on the Capitol Dome or the Bunker Hill Monument or Washington's Monument at Baltimore. The country arround is very uninteresting, nothing but those short white pines that tell but too truthfully of the sterility of the soil. I believe the State House is, next to Faneuil Hall, the oldest state building in the country. And I am glad I have visited it.
We have been enjoying for the past week (not counting yesterday and today) what has not before [been] enjoyed in this country for several years. That is: seven consecutive days sleighing. And I assure you it has been enjoyed, too, in a manner that we Northerners--who have months of good slipping every year--would not think of. Why, you would laugh to see the cousarns [Note: "cousarns" seems to be something of a slang term but I haven't had a chance to look it up.]--I can't call them anything else--that they get up over in the city to sleigh ride in any thing that has runners. Two boards bent up at the ends with a box on and a horse hitched to it, or two saplings bent like a runner with boards on. In fact anything, only so that they can call it riding in a sleigh. Still, for this very reason, they take more pleasure than we do as it is more dificult to be obtained.
The Potomac has been frozen over for 6 days also so you must know it is rather cold.
Yesterday the snow began to go and today but little is left. Lots of mud in its place though.
General Hentzelman has been assigned to the command of the Department of the North. His Head Quarters will be at Columbus Ohio. Lt. Colonel McKelvy belongs to his staff and I suppose will, of course, go with him to his new command. Who will command this post I do not know. Brigadier General Abercrombie, I suppose. I wish I could go with the Colonel out West, but I cannot.
You must be having very cold weather up your way now too. I pity brother Joseph's straight finger. He will want to slap it prety often, I think. I should think he would be afraid to go near a horse, he has met so many misfortunes from them. However his motto is "persevere" I guess, for he seems bound to do so in regard to horse flesh.
How does mother stand this cold weather? [Note: "mother" is most likely his sister Susan's mother-in-law.] She is getting to be quite old now and needs to have all the love of her children to keep her warm. Dear old lady, I send her mine to help. And Janey--how is she? No danger of her getting cold if she is as fleshy as when her likeness was taken, and you too my sister. I look at that likeness very often and wish I was sitting between you two. Ah! If you were only down here this evening and could go back as soon as you got sleepy (for there is no place for you to sleep here) how I should like it! If I were up there you would hardly send me back if I got sleepy would you?
Susan, I believe from the tone of your last letter you are getting melancholy. Do not let it grow on you, for it is as fatal a desease as the consumption. I say this because I can see you do not know it yourself. With this happy advice I will close, subscribing myself,
Ever Your loving brother
I hasten to answer yours of the 23rd for several reasons. Firstly, to inform you that father is prety well. His last letter to me was dated Dec 28th. He had then just returned from getting "ex'd" from the "draught" as the old soldiers say. it cost him $80 he says, for he had to pay for his papers, and his board cost him two dollars a day while he was absent. He was also suffering under an attack of the "neuralgia." He was getting better when he wrote he was expecting to go on his place in the spring.
Secondly, To congratulate you on overcoming your fit of meloncholy, of which I accused you in my last. I humbly beg pardon if I made a mistake. I hope Joseph will make it all right for me by a kiss or two, won't you Josey? By the way, my brother-in-law is the most unlucky fellow with horses I ever saw. I should think they would get tired of hurting him after a while, he takes it so confoundedly cool. Now if it were me, I would half kill them to see if I could not make them more careful how they handle themselves arround me. I shall have no brother in a little while if he allows them to go on at this rate, killing him a little at a time.
"Thirdly" I wish to inquire if Janey received a little note, not worth noticing, which I sent up about a week ago, asking her to be so kind as to engineer sending Oscar a box of goodies. Oscar said he would write to his people to send [it] and we would have things for both of us come in the same box. What we principly need is butter. Oh! you dont know how fine that butter tasted that Henry Graves brought down with him! Eating it was almost as good [as] making a visit to Allegany. At least Oscar and myself had an argument to that effect. Now if you could send us such a box, and not prepay the Express Agent but wait until it gets here and I will pay, it would do just as well.
"Fourthly" General news. The name of this camp is changed to Rendezvous of Distribution, as you have probably noticed from the heading of this interesting epistle. The nature of the camp is changed, as well as the name. Hereafter none but men fit for duty in the field will be sent to this place. Therefore no more discharging will have to be done here. No more men transferred to the Invalid Corps, after the men now in the camp have been thoroughly sifted. Distribution camp, which has always been attached to the command, will be broken up and all the men brought into the Barracks. So the command will hereafter consist of Rendezvous of Distribution, which is our present Barracks, which will contain 5000 men, and the Invalid Corps Barracks which will contain 1000 men. The Invalid Corps is to do the guard duty of the command, and clerks and orderlies will be detailed from it for the officers and offices. So you see there is quite a change. You might as well change the address of your letters, so as to suit the other changes.
I have got Frank Basset detailed as clerk of the Invalid Corps examining board. It is a good position. I hope he will like it. Frank is a "bully fellow." I should have thought I [note: Abiel probably meant "he"] would have got a commission and not come out as a private. However perhaps he is not ambitious for rank. I believe it is not always the best men [that] gets the best positions, though I have done prety well.
Has "Tim Green" went back to the 85th yet? It seems strange he should be sick. He was such a large healthy fine looking man, but I tell you soldiering breaks a man down wonderfully. The Government makes us comfortable as it is possible for soldiers to be, but the change is nevertheless very great from our comfortable Northern homes, to the exposure incidental to an active campaign through the low swampy lands of the Slave states. Not one in one hundred of those hardy men who went forth by thousands at their country's call will return without being broken down. I assure you, after my sickness on the Peninsula, I feel five years older. I have had more opportunaties of gaining experience since I have been in the army than most privates have. I have did my best to improve them also. Perhaps that may account in part for my feeling so old.
You have not got over that habit of dreaming about me yet? Well I hope they do not alarm you as much as they used to. Is it not strange? I have only dreamt of home two or three times since I was up there. I don't think I ever before had such dreamless sleep as I have now. My mind is so much occupied in the day time that it is glad to rest at night. You may believe that if you ..... Give my love to Mother. Tell her to beware of that cold. Tell Janey I have not forgotten this is leap year. Tell the rest a lot of good things and among the rest that I love them all more than ever.
Your loving brother
P.S. I send a letter to father in this same mail. Your's Bijou [note: "Bijou" was Abiel's nickname]