21 December 1862: “Next week will be Christmas, and I hope a happy one to the loved wife and children of my own home.”

Item description: Published letter, dated 21 December 1862, as collected and published in Memoir and Memorials (The Neale Publishing Co., 1907), a memoir of Elisha Franklin Paxton.

Elisha Franklin Paxton was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1828. He studied at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) and Yale before entering law school at the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1849 and practiced law in Ohio and Lexington, Virginia. In 1860, when failing eyesight forced him to give up the law profession, he became a farmer. In April 1861, Paxton joined the Confederate army as a first lieutenant with the Rockbridge Rifles. He fought at the 1st Battle of Bull Run and was elected major of the 27th Virginia regiment in October 1861. Continuing to climb through the ranks, Paxton was promoted to brigadier general in February 1862. He led the Stonewall Brigade at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, where he was killed in May 1863.

John G. Paxton, one of Elisha Paxton’s four children, collected his father’s letters and printed them under the title Memoir and Memorials: Elisha Franklin Paxton, Brigadier-General, C.S.A. (1905). Paxton’s weekly letters written to his young wife describe the Civil War from the perspective of a Confederate soldier and officer. Covering a span of two years, the letters begin in April 1861 and continue until April 27, 1863, just six days before he was killed. John G. Paxton also includes a series of letters and telegrams written during the war, among them a telegram from General Robert E. Lee expressing his sincere regrets over Paxton’s death at Chancellorsville. Letters from friends to the Paxton family offer similar condolences. The collection also contains official Union and Confederate army records documenting Paxton’s military accomplishments, and extracts from the journal of Margaret J. Preston, a neighbor of the Paxtons and the author of Beechenbrook; A Rhyme of the War (1865).

[Biographical information courtesy of DocSouth.]

Item citation: Paxton, Elisha Franklin. Memoir and memorials: Elisha Franklin Paxton, Brigadier-General, C.S.A. ; composed of his letters from camp and field while an officer in the Confederate Army, with an introductory and connecting narrative collected and arranged by his son, John Gallatin Paxton. New York: The Neale Publishing Co., 1907.

Item transcription:

Camp near Port Royal, December 21, 1862.

I wrote to you some days since, informing you that I had passed through the battle at Fredericksburg without damage. The loss in my brigade was seventy-six. We reached the battle-ground on Friday morning, the 12th inst., when everything indicated that we should have a battle that day. We took first one position and then another, all the while expecting the fight to open; but the day passed off quietly, excepting some artillery firing, and some skirmishing. That night we slept in our places. The next morning all was quiet as on the day before for a while, but then the artillery and musketry became more rapid in firing, and continued to increase until for more than a mile along the line there seemed a continuous roar of musketry. We were soon ordered forward, and then I made sure we should be in the battle; but when we reached the position occupied by our second line, we were halted, and there one of my regiments became engaged with a body of the enemy which had advanced within our lines. It lasted a very little while, however. The enemy were driven back along our whole line, and not renewing it, the battle closed. That night we slept on the field, among the dead and wounded. The next morning we occupied our first line. We supposed, of course, that the battle would be renewed, but the day passed off quietly the next day it was the same case, and the next morning it was found that the enemy had left the field and crossed over the river. We then moved down to our present camp some fifteen miles below Fredericksburg. I hear nothing from the enemy. Their pickets are on the other side of the river, and ours are on this. When do you think we will have another battle? Where will it be? Such questions puzzle the minds of a great many people, and yours too, I doubt not. It may be to-morrow; it may not be for months. I hope the Yankees, having practice enough for the year, will conclude to go into winter quarters and let us do the same. Next week will be Christmas, and I hope a happy one to the loved wife and children of my own home. To many, in summing up and looking over their bereavements for the year, it will be sad enough. We have been more blessed, and should feel grateful for it. To the future I look, not in gloom and despondency, but with the calmness and composure of one who feels that his own destiny in a sea of troubles like this is not in any way under his control. The cloud will pass away when God in his righteous judgment wills it, and it becomes us all to bear it in patience. May the prayers which ascend to heaven from so many supplicants, with such earnestness and fervor as they never knew before, soon be answered. They will be when we deserve it.

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