Camp of the 83rd P. V.,

Hall’s Hill, Va., Jan. 14, 1862.

Dear Friend P—s.:—

You inquire about our probable stay here in this camp. I suppose you know just as much as I do about it or at least I know nothing and I don’t believe you know any less.

We have orders to be in readiness to march at an hour’s notice and have had this two weeks. Everything that we did not absolutely need on a march has been packed in our old knapsacks and sent to Georgetown. We are all ready and some think we will leave soon, but I am so skeptical that I don’t believe it. I do not know as I told you that we had got our new rifles. They are the Minie, the best gun made, and our boys are very much pleased with them. We are practicing at five hundred yards almost every day and make some good shooting.

The Westfield cavalry is still on the other side of the river. I think they have not got their horses yet. Conway Ayres (you saw him at Ashville) has been over to see me. He is the adjutant. I had not heard much about their health. Since we got into our French tents we have not had much sickness. There is little sleeping on the ground, as all or nearly all have bunks made of pine poles.

We have the most changeable weather I ever saw. On Sunday the air was warm as summer, and to-day we have two inches of snow.

How am I enjoying myself? Well, as philosophically as I can. We have rather dull times, but evenings we write letters or sing, and we have started a debating society with considerable interest.

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January 14 — Snowed last night and this morning till ten o’clock, then cleared up with a very cold and unfriendly wind that swept fiercely over the bleak hills and mountains. We renewed our march, crossed Third Hill Mountain, the top of which was one vast stretch of pine thicket gracefully bowing under a crystal shroud of beautiful snow and glittering hoarfrost.

We reached Shanghai a little before sunset, and camped here for the night. Shanghai is a little hamlet on Back Creek, about twelve miles west of Martinsburg. That little old faded cap that General Jackson wears may shelter a brain that is filled with skeletons of strategic maneuvers, war maps, and battle-field plans, but if he thinks that we are India-rubber and can keep on courting Death with impunity, by marching in the snow with wet feet all day, and then be snowed under at night, he will find that by the time the robins sing again half of his command will be in the hospital or answering roll call in some other clime.

This morning when I got up I crawled from under four inches of snow on my blanket, and this was the third time we were snowed under in the last two weeks. We marched in the snow all day, and this evening I stood barefooted in the snow, on a little plank however, wringing the water not only out of my socks, but shoes too. My shoes are Confed. and the leather is only half tanned. I wrung them out this evening like an old heavy dish rag, and now they look like dog-feed. Looking at my dog-feed shoes sitting by the campfire is what causes the pessimistic reflections to troop through my brain.

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Tuesday, 14th—Lieutenant Compton with five men went out to capture the man who fired into a passenger train last summer and killed the conductor. When the man saw them approaching to surround his house, he started to run for the timber. He refused to surrender and the men fired on him, shooting him through the thigh, but upon seeing that the man was severely wounded, Lieutenant Compton gave the order to let the man remain at his home.

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January 14th 1862

This has been a wintry day, the ground covered with snow, air damp and chilly. M. about 27. Cameron, the Sec’y of War, has resigned. Edw’d M Stanton takes his place. Ostensibly he retires voluntarily, the Papers say so. But in reality the “outside pressure” forced it upon him. He was compelled to resign. Other changes in the Cabinet are expected and talked of. Nothing new stirring, but news expected of great moment from the West and south. The day has passed with me as usual in the office. I have spent the evening at home keeping as comfortable as I could. Ed Dickerson has spent an hour or two here, a great talker and not uninteresting. He was from the Camp of the 35th Regt yesterday. Nothing new over the River, “all quiet & comfortable.”

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The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.

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Jan. 14. This morning presents a scene of terror and wildest grandeur. The wrecked steamer has not broken up, but has settled down in the sand, the sea breaking over her, and her rigging is full of men. Boats that have been sent to her assistance are returning, having been unable to render any. We learn from the returning boats that she is the City of New York, loaded with stores. Another tug, with Gen. Burnside and a crew of picked men, has just gone to their assistance, and it is hoped will be able to take them off. The general is not one to see his men perish, and make no effort to rescue them. I reckon our friends at home, when they hear of the loss of this boat, will confound it with our own, and will experience the greatest anxiety until they get our letters, or get righted through the papers. The tug returned this afternoon, bringing off the officers and crew of the wrecked steamer, who report that she is breaking up, and will soon go to pieces.

 

At The Mercy of the Wind And Waves.

The wind is still blowing a gale. Many of our boats and vessels which have arrived are parting their cables and dragging their anchors, are being driven ashore, or sinking or fouling with each other. The saloon and upper works of our boat are stove in from gunboats and schooners fouling with us. One of our anchor cables has parted, and the engine is slowly working, helping the other one. Many of our vessels are still outside, and fears are entertained that some of them will be lost.

Capt. Clark says no boat can get in here today without the most skilful pilot, and then at great risk of being lost. The gunboat Zouave, with companies D and H of our regiment aboard, is in a sinking condition. Tugs are alongside of her, and the boys are scratching for their lives to get aboard of them. This is the kind of soldiering that makes the boys think of home and of their mothers. I cannot help laughing just a little when a boat or schooner fouls with us, and the timbers and planks begin to crack, to see the boys come out of their bunks, their eyes sticking out of their heads, and rush up stairs to see what the matter is. Well, it is not strange that these young boys should feel a little nervous, as it takes a man of pretty strong nerve to keep his fears down. We are here and have got to make the best of it. If we are to be lost, all our fears will avail us nothing; we must take things coolly, trusting in Providence, Mr. Mulligan and the good old steamer for safety.

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Mother to Georgeanna and Eliza.

8 Brevoort Place, Tuesday Eve.

My Dear Girls: The question of my going on to Washington has been agitated for some time past, yet I do not seem to come to any decision about it; not but that I would dearly love to look upon your faces again, and enjoy ever so much being with you, and seeing for myself all your goings and doings. Independent of all this, however, I confess I have no desire to visit Washington, and unless I could make myself useful there, and in every way a comfort to you, I think I am more in my place at home. Your uncle Edward was here this morning, and threw cold water on the movement, said it would be madness to run any such risk, as Washington was full of small-pox and typhoid fever. Now I write this evening to ask you what you think of our going on at present; whether there is really so much sickness as to cause any alarm. Do you want us? will it be a comfort to you to have a little visit from me? I do not ask these questions because I have any fears myself, but I am not willing, after your uncle’s remarks this morning, to run any risk in Charley’s or Hatty’s going. I feel now that it will all rest upon what you say about it. . . . The report here this morning said twenty-five hundred cases of small-pox in Washington! This evening it has come down to eighty. . . . My eyes failing last night, I left my scrawl to finish to you this morning. We have had our breakfast, cold turkey (not boned), hot biscuits, and fish-balls, and the girls are gathered round the front parlor fire with the newspapers, reading items, and discussing the times; Charley is directing Elizabeth about his cushions for the chair he has carved and made, and I am scribbling this in the dining-room, feeling an occasional pang when I look up and see a horrid stranger, John by name, in the pantry, instead of the old faithful servant, William. You don’t know how much I miss him in a thousand little things. This fellow is a perfect snail, never gets through with anything, and of course half is not done at all;—an Irish drone and tobacco chewer.

Poor William’s occasional spree was really preferable. . . . I have nothing to say to begin another sheet with, but to send you my love and a Mother’s blessing. Give Joe his share in both.

Yours lovingly.

Small pox was more or less prevalent about Washington at this time, and one of the sad cases, entirely characteristic of war, was that of G. R., a private in the 19th Indiana, cared for earlier by G. and E. in the Patent Office Hospital. He went safely through camp fever, measles and rheumatism, to die at last of small-pox in a lonely camp hospital in the outskirts of Washington, among strangers.
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January 14.—In the United States Senate a communication was received from the President, transmitting a copy of the instructions received by the Austrian Minister from his government relative to the Trent affair, and the reply of Mr. Seward thereto.

—Governor Tod, of Ohio, was inaugurated at Columbus, and delivered his message. He expressed the fullest confidence in the President of the United States, and commended his conduct of the war for the Union.

—The Seventh regiment New-Hampshire Volunteers, numbering one thousand and twenty men, rank and file, under the command of Colonel H. S. Putnam, left Manchester for the seat of war. This regiment, composed of intelligent, hardy men, was recruited by Lieutenant-Colonel Abbott, under direct authority from the United States Government.

Previous to their departure, the citizens turned out en masse and tendered the soldiers a fitting ovation, the Eighth regiment escorting them to the cars, where an appropriate address was delivered by N. S. Berry, Governor of the State.

—D. W. C. Bonham, Colonel commanding the Twenty-third regiment of Mississippi troops, died at Camp Beauregard, Kentucky.

—The gunboats Essex, St. Louis, and Tyler made a reconnoissance down the Mississippi river to-day. They approached within a mile and a half of Columbus, Ky., and fired several shots into the rebel camps. The rebels returned the fire from three or four guns without doing any damage. No obstruction in the river nor masked batteries on shore were discovered.

—General McClernand’s column moved in the direction of Blandville, Ky., to-day.—General Paine’s force moved forward this morning from Bird’s Point, Mo.

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Monday, January 13, 1862.— As commander of the post have charge of the pass business. Have deputized ––– to do the clerkly part, and private Gray, Company I, to do the orderly and department part, an erect, neat, fine old soldier; like him much. . . :,;

The Twenty-sixth preparing to leave. Will take William Smith, a crack shot and well known bushwhacker, to Charleston or Columbus. James Phillips the owner of this cottage was in the habit of going to Miller’s Ferry to shoot at our men. Mr. Mauser opposed it, said the town would be burned. To no purpose. Phillips kept at the business.

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Boston, January 13th.

Dear Girls: I dare say you will expect a letter from me while I am in Boston. . . . I find it exactly as I left it three years ago, only warmer. It used to be the coldest place imaginable, but the heated term seems to be on, so there is no skating and no talk of it. The Sanitary Commission occupies all the ladies, and in the spare time they work for the contrabands. Mrs. Huntington Wolcott is entirely devoted to it. She keeps thirty poor women in sewing and runs I don’t know how many machines. Mattie Parsons, too, has come out in an entirely new character and fairly slaves for the cause, besides taking care of two families of volunteers in Mr. Stackpole’s regiment, left destitute. They say she recruited a fourth of his company and knows every man in it. They are all devoted to the “Captain’s lady,” and swear to bring him safely home to her. . . . I went out to Cambridge on Saturday to review the scenes of my youth—three years ago—at the Prof. Agassiz’ School. Alas! the former familiar faces that were wont to flatten their noses against the law school windows no longer beam upon my path; they are married and gone, and I am sorry to say the best are in the rebel army. The undergraduates look very small and the college grounds don’t seem as classic as of yore.

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January 13 — This morning was rough and blustery. We left camp early, and marched through a hilly country in the direction of Romney. When we had proceeded about five miles Colonel Ashby met us and said, “Boys, you can go back to Martinsburg into winter quarters.” That was welcome news, and gladly received, for this is wretched weather for marching over these snow-clad hills and mountains and camping without tents. We counter-marched instantly, and are now on our way to Martinsburg.

We marched until after dark, and to-night we are camped in a deep ravine in a dense woods. I do not know how far we traveled to-day, nor where we are. I do not believe any one else knows, only that we are somewhere in the woods of Northern Virginia, west of the North Mountain.

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Monday Jan’y 13th 1862

Colder today. M. this morning down to 34, tonight at 28. Have been in the office all day, moved into another room today on the Land office. A Brother of Geo D Prentice of the Louisville Journal is at the next desk to mine. Mr Rickets & Mr Osgood are also in the same Room, no. 10. The Room I left, no. 9, contained Mr Swan, Mr Darnell, both of Indiana, Mr Georgii (a German, from Minesota), Mr Ostrander of N York City, Mr Barnes of Detroit, and Mr Wheelock of California. It is said tonight that Mr Cameron (the Sec’y of War) has resigned, hope it is true. I called at Mr Pecks this evening. They have a very sick boy, have been at home the rest of the time. It is my Birth day today, fifty six years old. What a rough, smooth, sorrifull, pleasant, up hill, and down hill, road I have trodden for forty years past, such is life. I bear my years extremely well being perfectly healthy and quite active and spicy and walk with as quick a step as I ever did and am usualy taken by strangers for a man of 45 years. My eyes are bright, teeth good and my hair (thanks to Prof Wood) is not much grey. We are living very quietly this Winter, Self, Wife, Julia & the three boys. H N Junior, about 15, rather pale and languid, not very robust, pretty good schollar. Halsey C., 12, all motion and activity, never idle, impatient of restraint, quick to learn when he tries, impetuous, all “go ahead.” Willie, 8, dark hair & eyes, a ceaseless talker, ambitious to know everything, always asking questions, always busy, never sitting still like “Bud.” “Willie” & “Holly” are much alike in their disposition. Julia, 17 in March, is willing to take things as they come, rather inactive, somewhat indolent in her habits, but growing fast, quite handsome, quick tempered naturaly, but kind hearted and governs her spirit quite well, does not like study much, reads & writes most of the time.

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The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.

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At Anchor.

Jan. 13. Going on deck this morning, I found we were riding at anchor in sight of Hatteras light. Not knowing the meaning of this, I inquired of Mr. Mulligan if people went out to sea and anchored nights? He laughed and said the shoals and the lights being down alongshore, made navigation in these waters rather dangerous, and they thought they had better anchor. I went forward to take in the situation. The wind was blowing fresh from the southeast, with heavy swells running. As they weighed anchor, the boat rose and fell with the swells. I rather enjoyed this and thought it very nice. After a few moments I began to experience a peculiar sensation around the waistbands; and it occurred to me that I had better go and lie down. After a half hour I was all right again, and went on deck. Mr. Mulligan said, “We are going to have a great storm and Hatteras is a bad place to be caught in a storm.” But by way of encouragement he tells us we are safer with him aboard the New York than we should be at home in bed.

The Storm at Hatteras Inlet.

At 1 p. m., we dropped anchor in front of the battery at Hatteras inlet, in the midst of a terrific southeast storm. Our fleet comprising nearly 100 sail are making the inlet as fast as possible; but it is feared that some of them will not be able to get in and will either be lost or have to put back. This is indeed the grandest, wildest scene I ever beheld! As far as the eye can reach, the water is rolling, foaming and dashing over the shoals, throwing its white spray far into the air, as though the sea and sky met. This is no time for man to war against man. The forces of Heaven are loose and in all their fury, the wind howls, the sea rages, the eternal is here in all his majesty. As one looks out on the grand yet terrible scene, he can but exclaim, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord, God Almighty!”

A Wreck.

A large steamer, attempting to run in this afternoon, run on the shoals and will probably prove a wreck. As she came in sight and attempted the passage of the inlet, we watched her with breathless anxiety, until she seemed to have passed her greatest danger and all were hopefully looking for her safe arrival, when suddenly she struck the shoal and turned broadside toward us, the sea breaking over her. A shudder ran through the crowd and disappointment was on every countenance. Tugs were immediately dispatched to her assistance, but returned unable to render her any. Capt. Clark thinks if she does not break up during the night, and the wind lulls, that perhaps in the morning she can be got off, or at least those on board of her can. It is not known whether she contains troops or stores. If she should go to pieces during the night, God help those on board of her, as there is no one here that can.

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Bird’s Point, Mo., January 13, 1862.

After all the excitement and promise we have had of a trip into Dixie, we are still here in our cabins, with the prospect of a move further off than ever. The 25,000 troops that are “on their way from St. Louis to Cairo” must have went up in a fog. General Grant must have credit for fooling everybody from the reporters up. He did it beautifully. We all here at this point kept our wagons loaded for two days with five days’ rations, expecting to start every hour. The troops have all left Cairo and gone down opposite Norfolk (where we were a month) and camped. It is cold as the devil, and they must suffer a good deal as none of them have ever been out of Cairo before, and hardly know what rough soldiering is. Charley Cooper’s company is with them. I believe that the whole object of the expedish is to keep the Columbians from sending reinforcements to the Bowling Green folks. The dispatches about the 25,000 forward movement, etc., all work to the same end. Some “damb’d” hounds shot four of our 7th cavalry boys dead a couple of mornings since. It was regular murder. They were on picket and in the evening they went out some seven miles from camp and got their supper and engaged breakfast in the morning. Just before daylight they started out for breakfast and when within two miles of the place three men that were concealed behind a log by the roadside shot them all dead. Their horses wheeled and trotted back to the infantry picket. The infantry sent word to camp and some cavalry went out and found them all dead. They could find tracks of but three men, and it is supposed that they ran as quick as they fired, for our boys’ bodies were not touched. They were only armed with sabers and the 7th refuse to go on any more picket duty untill they are better armed. One of the murdered was Dan Lare, a boy that was in Canton a good while, though I believe he did not belong to Nelson’s company. The others lived near Bushnell, their names I do not know. We have the chap they took supper with. The boys all think him guilty and have tried to get him away from the guard to kill him, but unsuccessfully so far. Last night Nelson’s company went up to old Bird’s and brought him, his three sons and five other men and all Bird’s buck niggers down to camp as prisoners. They also got 10 good guns. His (Bird’s) house is four miles from camp. Some of the boys noticed a long ladder leaning against the house and one of them climbed it and got on the housetop. There he found a splendid ship spy glass with which he could count the tents and see every move in both our camp and Cairo and Fort Holt. Old Bird is a perfect old pirate and a greater does not live.

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January 13.—The New-York State Senate today passed a resolution requesting President Lincoln to make arrangements for the immediate exchange of prisoners. Bills were introduced in the House appropriating twenty-five thousand dollars to furnish the prisoners of the State held by the rebels with provisions, etc., and to support the volunteers’ families by a State tax; also, a resolution asking Congress for an appropriation for harbor and border defences.

—Simon Cameron resigned his position as Secretary of War to-day.—Edwin M. Stanton, of Pennsylvania, was appointed to fill his place.— N. Y.. Tribune, January 14.

—The steamship Constitution with the Maine Twelfth and the Bay State regiments, sailed from Boston, Mass., at seven o’clock this morning for Fortress Monroe.

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Sunday, January 12, 1862.

Dear Joe : —. . . Generally healthy; less sickness than ever, but more fatal. Come as soon as you safely can. Jim or I will return as soon as you get here. Can’t come now.

Don’t think our position an insignificant one. We make more captures and do more than any regiment I have yet heard of in Kentucky. Worrying on such subjects is simply green. It makes me laugh.

I was much interested in your account of the boys; very glad to have such favorable stories of them all. Love to ’em.

Sincerely,

R. B. Hayes.

Dr. J. T. Webb.

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Fayetteville, Virginia, Sunday A. M., January 12, 1862.

Dearest Lucy : — I was made very happy by your letter of the 6th per Sergeant McKinley, and again this morning by a capital account of the boys — rose-colored by his affectionate partiality, but very enjoyable— from Dr. Joe. Such letters from home are next to meeting you all again. You speak of the fourth boy as “Joseph.” Well, “Joe” it shall be if you wish it. Indeed, I thought of suggesting that name but I didn’t know what you might have thought of, and one dislikes sometimes to disregard suggestions even on such subjects, and I thought to be, like Lincoln on the Mason and Slidell question, prudently silent. I hope you are not getting about the house so early as to put in hazard your health. Do be very careful.

We are letting a good many of our soldiers go home now that the snow, rain, and thaw have spoiled the roads. Joe seems worried that we are not holding somebody’s horses in the “grand army” (a foolish phrase) in Kentucky. We are, or rather, have been, having our share of enterprises towards the jugular vein of Rebeldom— the Southwestern Virginia Railroad, and have captured arms, etc., in quantity.

I was out beyond Raleigh (“Camp Hayes”) last week and returned the day before yesterday. Such consternation as spread among the Rebels on the advance of our troops was curious to behold. The advance party went fifty miles from here. People prepared to go as far up as Dublin Depot. Regiments were sent for to Richmond. Rumor said two bodies of Yankees, one thousand strong, were approaching, one on each bank of New River. The militia of five counties were called out, and a high time generally got up. There are many Union men south of here who kept us well posted of Rebel movements. Major Comly is left at Raleigh, and I feel somewhat apprehensive about him. Since the Twenty-sixth has been recalled, I am put in command of the post here.

I just stopped writing to give a pass to Ohio for a man belonging to the sutler department of the Thirtieth who turned out to be a Kinsell of Delaware. He promised to see mother.

I wrote a short note to you or Joe this morning, saying he had better come home (camp is always spoken of as home) if he can safely leave you. Colonel Scammon is really quite unwell, and while he likes Dr. Hayes as a gentleman, would prefer Dr. Joe as a physician. Dr. Jim or I can perhaps go to Cincinnati on his return. My going is rendered doubtful for the present by the departure of Colonel Eckley of the Twenty-sixth and the sickness of Colonel Scammon. Colonel Ewing of the Thirtieth will not return until the first week in February. I may possibly be obliged to await his return.

13th. — The newspapers from the Commercial office still get here three or four days in advance of other news, except dispatches. I shall send home a sabre captured by Company G on the late trip up New River towards the railroad. It is one of about a dozen taken, which belonged to a company of Richmond cavalry commanded by Captain Caskie. I send you the letter I got from Major Comly with the sabre.

You will send Joe off as soon as it is safe for him to go. I am always amused with his talk on one subject. He is resolved to consider our regiment as a much abused and neglected one. We were in about the only successful campaign made the past summer. We have the best winter quarters in the United States. He thinks we can’t be favorites of General Rosecrans because he don’t send us away to Kentucky or somewhere else! And so on. But old bachelors must grumble at something, and as he seems now to be enjoying everything else, it is perhaps right that he should be unhappy about the regiment. . . .

I feel a little embarrassed about Joe. He says, “Telegraph if you want me,” etc., etc. Now, the truth is, he ought not to be absent without or beyond his leave. I have constantly said that if it was not safe to leave you he ought to stay, and I would see it [made] all right. This I repeat. But what annoys me is, Joe seems to feel as if something was wrong about the regiment; as if he would like to leave it, etc., etc. Now, if he isn’t satisfied with it, I will do all I can to get him a place in another regiment. Don’t let him stay in this on my account. I am liable to leave it at any time, and I really don’t want anybody in high position in the regiment who is dissatisfied, and particularly if he is a friend or relative of mine. I feel a duty in this matter. The happiness of several hundred men is affected more or less if one of the prominent officers allows himself to be habitually out of sorts about things. You may show this to Joe. Don’t let there be any misunderstanding. I prefer greatly that Dr. Joe should be our surgeon, but if he feels that he can’t return to western Virginia, or go anywhere else that the chances of war may take us, without feeling injured and soured, then my preference is that he do not come. I will do all I can to get him another place, as I said before, but I don’t want to see him with us if he feels “snubbed” because we are not sent to Kentucky.

I ought not to trouble you with this, but it is written and you will not think me unkind, will you? Love to all the dear boys, little Joe and all. Very glad Mother Webb is so well. Affectionately, as ever your

R.

Mrs. Hayes.

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Unger’s Store, January 12, 1862.

Gov. John Letcher, Richmond, Va.

Dear Sir: My resignation, forwarded through the regular channel, will reach you in a few days. When it comes to hand you will treat it as withdrawn. I feel much aggrieved by my inability to get a furlough, and by an unjust discrimination made against me in withholding it, whilst granted to others. I have come to the conclusion that it is my duty as a citizen and a soldier to bear the grievance in patience, in the hope that hereafter I may be able to get such furlough as will save me the necessity of quitting the service.

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