Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers (Laundress, North)

(This is part of a series of historical fiction letters relating what life was like during the Civil War. For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

From a Laundress (North):

My dear Abigail,

My certificate of good moral standing in hand, I have acquired a place in Minnesota’s 2nd company sharpshooters where Henry has been posted. After so many battles we have lost so many men and Henry prays for their souls every night. Though I hardly think that can help, as God must have left this business of atrocity a long time ago. We suffered a monumental loss at Fredericksburg and our men will surely be missed.

Camp life seems much changed every day with the losses. So many men come to “suds row,” as they call it, to bring us their washing and perhaps bring some extra work for us such as mending or some such injury they wish us to tend. It helps in the way of earning a little extra money so I’ve begun taking on more and more of these small requests.

I think, perhaps, it cheers the men to see us and talk with us the times they are allowed to enter suds row. I think it is more that we remind them of home and a time and place beyond this space of death and sadness.

The men’s spirits are tired and homesick and the weather here is so foreign to us that are used to snow in winter that we don’t quite know how to reconcile it within ourselves. We press onward, to the end ... the end of battle … the end of life … the end of war … we know not what our end is yet to be, but after Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, we can’t forget the fragile hold mortality has upon us.

Having come along for war, I had expected battle–but nothing like what we’ve seen. The horrors are such that I cannot begin to describe them and I have not the stomach to do so without dissolving into a fit of nerves for my dear Henry, the weary man I love and the soldier whom our children idolize for his bravery and courage. I pray for his safety with my every waking minute.

Sending you all my love,
Mary Johnson

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