(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 Southern Officer's Wife:
My darling Emily,
Things seem quite bleak on the front. The men are always struggling to keep dry and fed, though weapon supplies seem to be of no shortage. After the last battle in Gettysburg, I was frantic in my panic to find if my son and husband were still alive; I finally reconciled myself to visiting the farm house which had been converted into a hospital.
Oh, Emily! Such a sight met my eyes as one who was sane surely could not imagine! There was no inch of space unoccupied with dirt-spattered, bloodied men – most missing limbs from their various persons. I find myself paling at the memory even now, so awful was it – I fear the image has been engraved into my mind forever more and I shall take it to my grave still wailing and bemoaning the horrors of war.
I steeled myself to enter, all the while thinking to myself – By God! If these boys can march into the mouth of death and back, I most certainly will enter this hospital and find my boy and husband! Looking at face after face, my heart sunk with the hopelessness of the place – would no end to this dreadful war ever come?
After hours of searching with no luck of finding either of my brave, foolish men, I passed by the cot of a young boy who couldn’t have reached his seventeenth year yet. He reached out and captured my hand in a grip that defied death itself. His hold on me was so tight I feared that I might not be able to use it again and I felt all feeling swiftly retreating from my hand almost immediately. His blood stained my skin and his mouth moved as if he wanted to say something to me. I leaned down real close, but as I did so, he suddenly choked on death and it conquered him, leaving him staring up at me with big glass eyes filled with a terror so acute I scarce could move for a long while afterwards. It took two nurses to help me pry away his cold fingers from my hand and the regaining of feeling in that part of my body only served to remind me that he would never feel anything again. I wonder who he was and if his family will ever know of his death.
With tears in my eyes, I returned to camp to find my husband there, a weary and heart-sore general that mourned for all his lost men as if they were his own boys. His eyes met mine and I saw a greater horror in them than such as were surely in mine. And I knew, without him speaking of it ... I knew that my boy would not return to me just as that young boy in the hospital would never return to his mother.
With love in these darkest of days,