12 August 1861: “Nearly three hundred of our men are under the Surgeon’s charge. Most of these are down with the measles.”

Item description: Still convalescing after being wounded at the Battle of First Bull Run (First Manassas), Charles Woodward Hutson writes this letter to his sister to update her on the progress of his recovery and the general health of his fellow soldiers, noting specifically a rather serious outbreak of measles.

Item citation: From folder 3 of the Charles Woodward Hutson Papers, #362, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Twelfth August 1861

Army of the Potomac

Camp of Legion near Broad Run

Dear Sister,

You will have to be good-natured & excuse this rumpled paper. I am quite reduced in that article, by the bye, & if any package is about to be sent me by Adams’ Express, do not forget to enclose writing paper, the thicker the better. This morning I received your & Mother’s & Frances’s joint letter with the few lines added by Father at the Depot, announcing his safe arrival. The papers also came to hand. The cockade which you sent for Iredell Jones. I gave his brother Cadwallader to take charge of. He promises to send it on to him. Waddie is also a very clever fellow: & since my tent has been blown down, I have been staying with him & Ivy. Ivy was an old collegemate, whom I knew & liked before. We are at present in a state of some suspense, expecting to remove our camp soon to the region of the Occoquan, but ignorant as to the precise time of removal. What we are to do I hardly know as regards our sick. Nearly three hundred of our men are under the Surgeon’s charge. Most of these are down with the measles. I hope matters will be better in a better-selected camp. The country around here is beautiful only to the eye. The more I reflect upon it, the more am I dissatisfied that our boys should have engaged in this severe military life. They have volunteered in a fit of enthusiasm; & waiting inactively in camp, exposed to hardships, wanting occupation & eager to meet an enemy whom they may never see, the time will come when they will be heartily  sick of it. It has not been so with me, because I expected all this & worse, & enlisted in cold blood.

Anticipating hardships, I looked always for the bright side & found it. But I very much fear that they will be expecting nothing but a constant advance upon the enemy, accompanied by a succession of glorious victories. However they are all old friends together, & ought to manage to enjoy each other’s company even at the worst days. I am profoundly sorry that they have taken this step; but now it has been done, I suppose there is no help for it. Charley too – to put himself in such a position!

I want to smoke now, so must stop for awhile. You can pause here too, & go to dinner, where I will imagine you discussing ochre soup, rice & butter, good juicy beef, green corn, mealy red skin potatoes & other nice vegetables.   ___   Verdier & myself are both greatly improved in health, & are only enough of invalids now to feel that we do no hurt to our conscience in enjoying the benefit of a good rest. We have no idea of reporting for duty too soon & thereby incurring the risk of a relapse. I am sorry, however, to say that another tentmate, Arthur Beck, is still subject to fever; & our sympathies are transferred from each other to him. Mully takes good care of us all, & is very kind at all times. He still persists in sending me meals regularly, as he says the ordinary, unwholesome fare would throw me back again. He is a good fellow; you must all like him better than ever, when we get back to the dear old “Sovereignty” again. Remember we are true “knights of the Palmetto” now, even without the decoration. But Sir Charles will try to give his new cockade the honour of a little fresh blood & then treasure it up for the admiration of the princes & princesses of our lineage yet unborn. A half-century hence, while working quaint devices among a generation utterly ignorant of the needle you will be telling them perfectly incredible stories, connected with the said dingy & bloodstained decoration. Such as:”Your granduncle, Sir Charles, my dears, after running McClellan, Scott & several other generals through the body, deliberately sat upon a rifle-cannon & dabbed this emblem of his knighthood in the blood of the miscreants, after which he put his hat on again, lit a cigar & amused himself with firing upon the retreating enemy, while reclining at his ease upon that iron couch.” Whereupon all the little princes & princesses roll up their eyes in wonder: but princess Frances the thirteenth sucks her teeth in unbelief. Am I not idle to be writing such nonsense?  _  As to your project of going to New Orleans this winter, you forget that I am not my own master until the 12th June, 1862. But “& if,” the war should end sooner; leaving me my life, & the government has the sense to disband us before the regular term of enlistment is out, I would like the trip much; & we are good travelers together you know. Another thing though; as soon as I can get through with my soldiering, I ought to be busy at work studying law. I must get my profession as soon as possible, & make money enough to keep up my old bachelor establishment. What a splendid chance there will be for a would-be literary man! So many nice solitary hours with books for companions, & a little practical life to look back upon!

Hughes is a nice fellow. I do not know that I have ever written to you about him. He speaks in the warmest terms of Miss Martha McL. He is a correspondent of the Courier, &, I understand, writes poetry occasionally.

Tell Minnie, she will have to make a beau of Willy Hutson this summer & teach him the caprices, &c. How she can coquette, while the Lieut. is under the fire of the enemy is more than I can understand. Tell her, he has improved greatly & is universally admired & beloved.  Write to me whenever you hear from Cousin Janie. I am deeply grieved to hear that Cousin Edwards’ health is not improving. And we expected so much pleasure in having them with us.  You must write me what books you are reading & all your ways & doings.  I am glad to hear Mrs. Francees is in love with her books, & hope she is improving fast & will turn out a better student than her brother & sister. Poor dear Harry! I have been thinking of him very often lately. How strange it seems that all these things should happen & he have no share nor part in them! How much, important to our homes, has been crowded into scarce three months!  I am too slow a thinker for such rapid times; & while I muse, the world runs over me.

I have summoned up energy enough to write to Uncle Edward. How I wish I could see them all, sweet Aunt Annie particularly.

This evening by dint of extraordinary energy, Verdier, Douglas Walker & myself assisted by a friend put up our fallen tent, which any two of us might have done a day or so ago.

As the evening shades are falling, & I had best have my letters ready for the mail, I will close here, & commend me to your mercy.

Give my kindest love to all dear friends, particularly Mother & Father, & the folks at Jericho. Kiss Minnie for me with her head on your shoulder, as I used to kiss her; & salute also upon the lips the meek & placid Dora (please roll the R). Tell Frances I will try & send her a letter soon.

Your ever loving brother,

C. Woodward Hutson

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