Item description: Letter, 12 July 1862, from Benjamin Lewis Blackford, in camp near Chesterfield, Va., to his mother Mary B. Blackford. Blackford, an accomplished draftsman, was at this time employed as a topographical engineer in the Confederate army. This letter describes the carnage he observed in the wake of the Seven Days Battles around Richmond. The letter also comments on the Northern view of the war – information Blackford apparently gathered from reading letters left on the battlefield by Union soldiers.
More about Benjamin Lewis Blackford:
Benjamin Lewis Blackford was born 5 August 1835, and as a child, was called “Benny.” At some point, he began to be called Lewis. Lewis attended school at Mount Airy and at the University of Virginia. Before entering the Civil War as a private in Samuel Garland’s regiment, Eleventh Virginia Infantry, he had worked as a civil engineer. Later he was a lieutenant of engineers, stationed in Wilmington, N.C. After the war, Lewis went into the insurance business in Washington, D.C., and in 1869, married Nannie Steenberger (d. 1883). They had four daughters: Elizabeth Padelford “Lily”; Mary Berkeley “Daisy”; Alice Beirne; and Lucy Landon Carter. Lewis died in 1908.
Camp in Chesterfield
July 12 1862
My dearest Mother,
I could write you a very interesting letter if I was not so busy – in fact I have been storing up the incidents of the last two days with a special view of spinning them into a long yarn home, but this topographical business keeps me at work night & day, week days & Sundays. I was ordered from my original survey here to the otherside after the fighting commenced to map the country vacated by the enemy, & the battlefield consequently I followed close along in the wake of the carnage, & saw horrors enough for a century. I have seen blood enough in that time to swim in, and dead and dying enough to people a city. The Yankees left all their dead and vast numbers of their wounded all along – and many who were wounded in their fight and crept off in the woods died lingering deaths from starvation. I myself found a Yankee in a thicket on Friday who had been shot through the lungs the previous Monday & was still alive, lying as he had been shot without food or drink. I found a surgeon (Yankee, of whom numbers were around) for this poor fellow, but it was no use. the Dr. merely pulled open his shirt & said, “he’ll die, no use to move him” & went away & he did die while I was looking at him. The desperate courage of our men was beyond any precedent. I have never heard or read anything like it. Tuesday, Magruder ordered a charge on a collection of 36 guns, there was rather more than a mile of perfectly open ground to be gone over, our men were unsupported by artillery & entirely exposed to this awful fire. the charge of the [600?] was nothing to it. but they went at it with a yell. before they had gone 2/3 of the way a thousand men were stretched on that awful field & the increasing darkness was all that saved the rest. Eugene lost 13 of his 23 men in that charge and had his pistol shot away by a grape shot. But to think of McClelland’s report. Maj. Gen. Liar! A more utter & complete rout never disgraced a nation 25000 of their discarded muskets have been already turned over to our Gov. & not less than 60000 overcoats. he destroyed everything and fifty millions of dollars will not repay their losses in property and arms in nothing but the celerity with which his left wing took to flight before they were attached saved them. the centre & right of the Yankees fought well. One thing I want you to notice. During my survey I picked up and looked over at least 1000 letters. not one single one was correctly written or spelled, and they were rarely decent. They all instigated those they were written to murder & steal. they evinced neither love of this country nor sympathy for our slaves, indeed the working classes spoke of the negroes with murderous hate, as probable competitors to lower the price of labor. They hate us blindly & [?] they believe us to be an aristocracy (and so we are, thank God) and they hate us as the French canaille hated the noblesse in the revolution then.
I saw Lanty day before yesterday and Eugene yesterday. both well. I wish I could see you all. I sent Mary a relic from the battle field of Tuesday by Willy. If Charley M. is with you tell him I am anxious to have him. Please lay out [$3.00?] in [letter?] for Cousin May & send it by Expr. She is most kind and hospitable. I will send you the money in my next. Oh, please prepare me some rye for coffee, a good deal, there are six in my mess, I do so need something hot in the morning. I have not had coffee for months. Our breakfast this morning was baked bread and onions! I hear your rye is as good as other’s coffee. let me know the expense, you know it comes out of six pockets. Please send this at once and by Express care C.A. Gwa?. Thank you much for your letter & Belle for her P.S. Does the latter ever write [to people?]?
My best love to Sister Sue & Nannie.
I hope Pa is well again. How is Peggy. My love to her. I am important now & say unto people go and they goeth. Also my pay has been raised. that is I get $100 & my rations equal $125 or 130. Good bye. I so delight in C. Minor with me. I can & hope give him a much better pay that I promised him but I am not altogether certain.
B. Lewis Blackford