Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

Camp near Yorktown, Va.,
Monday, April 21, 1862.

Dear Sister L.:—

Father writes encouragingly about the war; thinks it is progressing rapidly and hopes I will soon be on my way home. Home! What will that be to me, do you think Mr. P., now that you have taken away its greatest attraction? There was always a blank there when she was gone and now she has gone to return no more except as a transient visitor. Henceforth, it will be a home to me no more. If I survive this war, do you know, C, that I’ve almost determined to quit roving, adopt farming as a business, and work steadily and perseveringly till I have a comfortable home for myself and the best woman I can find who will marry a soldier. I’m almost afraid that when we get home and the girls see what rough, sunburned and disgusting fellows we are—I’m afraid soldiers will be at a discount. Yes, my dreams of the pleasures of an exciting life are passing away and I have almost come to believe that the plain honest farmer who surrounds his home with comforts is the happiest man. How I wish I could live near you and that we could grow up into substantial, prosperous farmers together! But why be building castles in the air, when, perhaps, the bullet is even now rammed home to lay me under the sod on the field of Yorktown? I would not, if I could, unveil the future and see my fate. Still it has always seemed to me that I should escape death on the field. A wound has seemed more than probable. Indeed, I would not shun it, but it has ever seemed to me that I would not be called to sacrifice my life, yet such may be my fate. If so, I am content. Farewell, sweet dreams of life and love! Traitors are striking at the citadel of our beloved country. My life may check their murderous course and it must be given.

The papers are full of prophecies of the Waterloo that is to be fought here, the greatest battle of the war, and of course, a great Union victory. They don’t tell the date of the coming battle, however. Now, if you ask what I think of it, I should answer, “It isn’t coming off till after Richmond is taken.” And then it will not be the great affair the New York papers are making out. I will give my reasons for thinking so. I judge from the present state of things and from McClellan’s acknowledged skill in planning. He is a careful, cautious man and will not sacrifice lives in a fierce battle when time and skill will accomplish the same purpose. “Look at the situation,” as the papers say. McClellan lands 150,000 men at Fortress Monroe and sets out for Richmond. At Yorktown the rebels have fortifications extending across the Peninsula to the James. Here is the only place they can hope to hold against our forces. Here then they rally. All their forces are few enough to check such an army, and so they are all brought here. Manassas is deserted and now not 5,000 men are left between that and Richmond. All their army that lay along the Rappahannock was transferred to Yorktown, and they had scarcely gone when McDowell appeared at Fredericksburg with 40,000 men and Banks was following them down the Shenandoah valley with 70,000. An army of 100,000 is thus marching on Richmond, while we keep the rebel army here. It is, no doubt, repugnant to their feelings to see things go in this way, but what can they do? If they fall back to Richmond they will have a quarter of a million to fight without fortifications, for we shall certainly follow them up. If they grow desperate enough to come out from their forts and attack us, we outnumber them and they admit our courage, so they would inevitably be whipped at that. If they lie still awaiting an attack, they will lose Richmond, and wake some fine morning to find an army of 100,000 in their rear and McClellan at last ready to crush the rebellion.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton (Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers)

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