That Serious Prosaic Way That Characterizes Americans~May 1864~20th to 22nd

That Serious Prosaic Way That Characterizes Americans~letter from a Union officer In Virginia and in Georgia soldiers write of battles, food or the lack of it and thoughts of loved ones at home.

soldiers rest when & where they can

soldiers rest when & where they can

May 20– Friday– near Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia– “A mail arrived today, the first in several days. I received eighteen letters as my share. We have finished our earthworks and now feel secure. . . . Let the Rebels try to take them if they want to.” ~ Diary of Union officer Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

May 20– Friday– near Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia– “To-day has been entirely quiet, our pickets deliberately exchanging papers, despite orders to the contrary. These men are incomprehensible now standing from daylight to dark killing and wounding each other by thousands, and now making jokes and exchanging newspapers! You see them lying side by side in the hospitals, talking together in that serious prosaic way that characterizes Americans. The great staples of conversation are the size and quality of rations, the marches they have made, and the regiments they have fought against. All sense of personal spite is sunk in the immensity of the contest.” ~ Letter from Union officer Theodore Lyman to his wife

Elizabeth. May 20– Friday– near Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia– “I wrote you a few lines from this place a few days ago, and since then we have been steadily gaining ground but there has been no very decisive battle fought yet, although I think so far, the fighting has decidedly been in our favor. . . . About One O’clock yesterday morning we were relieved in the rifle pits and withdrawn to the rear, where we are now, resting ourselves and having good times. Mother I suppose you know how we are getting along, better than we do ourselves, for I expect the newspaper correspondents keep you pretty well posted as to our movements, and here there are so many rumors flying around, that a fellow only knows, what he sees himself.” ~ Letter from Union soldier George Whitman to his mother Louisa.

Louisa Whitman

Louisa Whitman

May 20– Friday– Memphis, Tennessee– “About 8 o’clock this morning a terrible collision took place in the curve of the deep cut immediately south of Elk River Bridge, between a train from the south, loaded with prisoners and wounded from Resaca, and a train from the north, loaded with forage, and a portion of the 2nd Ohio. Three soldiers of Company I, Captain T. A. Stevenson, were killed outright, and nine or ten wounded. It is alleged that the accident was caused by the train from the south running out of time, and at the reckless speed of thirty or forty miles per hour, on this very dangerous part of the road. There is no doubt of the fact that the conductor and engineer both jumped from the train and skedaddled as soon as they discovered that a collision was inevitable and have not been heard of since. No blame is attached to the managers of the train from the north, who succeeded in bringing it to a stand before the blow was received. The two locomotives and tenders were badly smashed, the standing train, being knocked back fully fifty yards, and running one platform car completely on top of another, on which the soldiers were sleeping on sacks of corn. Between these cars were the killed and wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Ewing, Captain Stevenson, and Lieutenant Johnson, of the Heavy Artillery, were conspicuous in their exertions to extricate the sufferers from the wreck. By two o’clock, P. M., the road was clear, and the trains commenced running as usual.” ~ Memphis Bulletin

May 20– Friday– Kingston, Georgia– “I have daily telegraphed . . . our progress, and have no doubt you have kept pace with our movement. . . . I now have full possession of all the rich country of the Etowah. We occupy Home, Kingston, and Cassville. I have repaired the railroad to these points and now have ordered the essential supplies forward to replenish our wagons, when I will make for Atlanta, fifty-nine miles from here and about fifty from the advance. [Confederate General] Johnston has halted across the Etowah at a place called Allatoona, where the railroad and common road passes through a spur of the mountain, making one of those formidable passes which gives an army on the defensive so much advantage, but I propose to cross the Etowah here and to go for Marietta via Dallas. Look at your map and you will see the move. We expect to cross the Etowah on the 23rd, when we will move straight on fighting when opposed. Of course our laboring and difficulties increase as we progress, whereas our enemy gains strength by picking up his rear guard and detachments. Put forth the whole strength of the nation now, and if we can’t whip the South we must bow our necks in patient submission. A division of our territory by the old lines is impossible. Grant surely is fighting hard enough, and I think this army will make its mark.” ~ Letter from Union General William Tecumseh Sherman to his brother Senator John Sherman. battle-wilderness May 20– Friday– Kingston, Georgia– “We are to have one more opportunity to write, two days of rest, and then another campaign, apparently of extraordinary rigor. . . . We also have plenty of fresh meat now, and were so lucky as to get some dried apples and some corn meal. . . . The rations are reduced and the deficiency is to be supplied by foraging. As we are to go through a country where there is no lack of beef cattle, this doubtless means a move on a large scale and another march, probably a battle, and I hope a decisive victory. It is doubtful whether I will be able to send you a letter during these twenty days. The bugle is blowing for dress parade, and the mail is to be taken off.” ~ Letter from Union officer Fredrick C. Winkler to his wife.

May 20– Friday– Dooly County, Georgia– “We are awaiting with much anxiety and fear to hear the full results of the late engagement in Virginia. Not that we fear our army will be unable to cope with the enemy in his strategic movements, for we have already learned that in every effort so far he has been foiled and beaten back but the catalogue of our killed and wounded we fear will make us very sad to read over. We are grieved to hear that General Longstreet was wounded but hope he will recover, that his wound may not prove fatal as did General Jackson’s.” ~ Letter from Maggie Cone to her fiance Alva Benjamin Spencer.

May 20– Friday– Andersonville, Georgia– Local citizens express concern about the increasing number of Yankee prisoners in the prison camp so near their town and call for more Confederate soldiers to stand guard.

May 20– Friday– Etowah, Georgia; Ware Bottom Church, Virginia; Lamar, Missouri; Greenbrier River, West Virginia; Allatoona, Georgia; Mayfield, Kentucky; Greenville, Mississippi; Stony Point, Arkansas; Cartersville, Georgia– Skirmishes, raids, scraps and brawls.

May 20– Friday– Toronto, Ontario, Canada– John George Bowes, Irish-born businessman and political figure who served as mayor of Toronto from 1851 to 1853 and again from 1861 to 1863, dies at approximately 52 years of age. [His exact birth date is unknown.]

May 20– Friday– Northampton, England– The peasant poet John Clare dies at age 70 in the lunatic asylum where he has resided since 1841.

John Clare

John Clare

May 20– Friday– Koorawatha, New South Wales. Australia– Ben Hall, a notorious outlaw, age 27, and his gang escape from a shootout with police after attempting to rob the Bang Bang Hotel. [He will be killed in early May next year in a gun battle with police, 4 days before his 28th birthday.]

May 21– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– President Lincoln decides to lift publication ban on New York newspapers World and Journal of Commerce.

May 21– Saturday– Camden County, Georgia– “How rejoiced I am. Had a letter from Mary. I have held on to it nearly all day and read it I know not how many times– how can I stay here any longer? It is too irksome. If I could I would go today.” ~ Diary of Julia Johnson Fisher.

May 21– Saturday– Brussels, Belgium– Birth of Princess Stephanie. [Dies August 23, 1945.] Her first husband, Archduke Rudolph of Austria and heir to the throne, will commit suicide with his young mistress in 1889.

Princess Stephanie of Belgium

Princess Stephanie of Belgium

May 22– Sunday– White House Landing, Virginia– “One week ago yesterday I wrote you. . . . Our mail is still back. . . . But I still hope you are all well. We have not had any fighting the past week Today we came for rations & forage. It is Sabbath but all are in a hurry & bluster– marching, & hallooing making it quite different from the Sabbath at home. My health continues good as usual, except headaches these hot days. I have been living on corn cakes for nearly a week. . . . As I have no particular news I send you my love, remember me to the children & at the throne of grace.” ~ Letter from Union soldier Samuel M. Potter to his wife Cynthia.

May 22– Sunday– somewhere south of Guiney’s Station, Virginia– “I don’t know when I have felt so peaceful everything goes by contrast. We are camped, this lovely evening, in a great clover field, close to a large, old-fashioned house, built of bricks brought from England in ante-revolutionary times. The band is playing ‘Ever of Thee I’m Fondly Dreaming’– so true and appropriate and I have just returned from a long talk with two ultra-Secessionist ladies who live in the house. Don’t be horrified ! You would pity them to see them. One, an old lady, lost her only son at Antietam; the other, a comparatively young person, is plainly soon to augment the race of Rebels. Poor creature! Our cavalry raced through here yesterday and scared her almost to death. Her eyes were red with crying, and it was long before she fully appreciated the fact that General Meade would not order her to instant death. To-night she has two sentries over her property and is lost in surprise. Have I not thence obtained the following supplies: five eggs, a pitcher of milk, two loaves of corn bread, and a basket of lettuce all of which I duly paid for.” ~ Letter from Union officer Theodore Lyman to his wife Elizabeth.

Paris fashions, May, 1864

Paris fashions, May, 1864

May 22– Sunday– near Cassville, Georgia– “This is a much pleasanter Sunday morning than it was a week ago, not in point of weather alone, but it is more Sunday like. No booming of cannon, no rattling of musketry, no ordering voices harsh with excitement, no shrieks of wounded, no groans of dying, no confusion of battle disturbs the holy quiet of the Sabbath Day. A week ago the riot of human weakness, folly and passion seemed to contend with the goodness of God and for a time almost to gain mastery over it; Nature was calm and placid, the happy birds sung merrily in green boughs, the air was balmy and soft, all betokened the beneficence of the Ruler above, but man converted this scene of peaceful calm to a Pandemonium of terror and destruction until Night kindly threw its mantle over the scene and screened the combatants from each other’s view. Brave men may, but I believe there are very few, if any, who take delight in battle, and very few who in the heat of an engagement will not welcome the coming night as that of a friend who will stop the fierce wrangle and bring relief to the struggling men. There is something so providentially kind in it to those who have survived the dangers of the day, in the fall of night upon the battle field. It brings relief to the anxious heart and inspires it with gratitude to God for the favors shown during those hours of danger. . . . . It seems to me that Sherman has displayed the qualities of a very able and energetic general. We had a circular from him this morning, in which he said that all reports about his suppressing mail communications between soldiers and their friends at home were false; that, on the contrary, he encouraged such correspondence and wished all subordinate commanders to take measures to make the mall service in the field as efficient as possible; the only thing he discouraged was the idlers who traffic in news injurious to the army.” ~ Letter of Union officer Fredrick C. Winkler to his wife.

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