Item Description: Letter, 2 May 1864 and continued 11 May 1864, from Jonathan Lewis Whitaker to his wife, Julia A. Wells Whitaker, updating her on the conditions in his camp his well-being. Whitaker was an Orange County, N.Y., physician serving as a United States Army surgeon at a hospital at Chester, Pa., and with the 26th United States Colored Troops near Beaufort, S.C.
[Item transcription available below images]
Ft. Duane, Near Beaufort, S.C.
May 2d 1864
My dearest wife,
It will be two weeks tomorrow, since we have had a mail from the North. Were we ourselves north, and compelled to go two weeks without seeing a newspaper, or hearing the least scraps of news, we would think ourselves as bad off as though we were in prison. The latest paper I have seen from the free states is dated Apr. 16th just 17 days old. I have delayed writing expecting to get another letter from you every day, until it is now two weeks since I wrote last. They have always been used to having a regular mail here once a week but the great change that has been made in the movements of our armies the last few weeks has taken off the regular boats to transport our troops. We hope soon however to have it all straight again. I cannot send this off now until a mail boat arrives, so I will undoubtedly hear from you yet before I post this. I received the letter you sent to Annapolis, several days after we arrived here, and was glad to find you reached home safe, & found May well, and of your safe arrival at Mothers. I dont remember whether I told you in my last that I had a letter from Dr. Mills. He has been on a boat ever since he left here, up & down the western rivers. Mrs. M & her boys are now out there & board near where he can see them every week or two. I have met Dr. Ramsey who was surgeon in charge at Chester, for such a short time last summer. Dr. Reber who was sent away at the same time is also here but I’ve not seen him. So you see since I left Annapolis I have stumbled across quite a number of old friends Sister Tyler, two old patients of Chester, two Port .. Doctors, & three Chester Doctors, eight in all. Another thing I have found out, Dr. Uglow used to go to school with Mr. Littell, so he tells me. The Dr. finds me work to do much after the old style, so that I am almost constantly busy, & perhaps that is better, because to be busy is about the only way to pass the time easy & keeps off homesickness. I have not been homesick yet, but I dreamed about you one night, which fact may recompense you for what I dreamed in my last letter. A pleasant ddream too, darling. I sent you some sweet Potatoes cuttings, but I’m afraid they’ll hardly keep in good condition till you get them. They are raising all around us here, cotton- sweet Potatoes Peanuts- melons of all kinds- corn & garden [truck?]. We have already had radishes, & the tenderest I ever ate, peas will soon be ready. We have to pay pretty well for what we buy outside of the commissary, Eggs 50 cts pr. Doz. Milk 10 cts pr Qt., Butter 60 cts pr. pound &c. The Dr. & I mess together, & he has to have 2 or 4 eggs every meal which at 5 cts a piece count up. My woman does our cooking. She turns out to be a first rate woman, while the one he had was perfectly worthless & has left him. My total expenses for April was $41.20, not so very bad, & I’ll try to make it no worse at any time. Our situation here is considered rather a strong one. Our troops have had possession about 2 1/2 years. There has been some fighting around here however, & although this place has not been molested since first taken, there is no telling how soon it may be. I hear cannon firing now as I write, about ten miles away, we suppose it is our gunboats shelling rebels pickets, who sometimes become bold & come in sight. I earnestly hope we may have a chance to fight, not only I trust for my own good & yours, but feeling for the other thousands of anguished hearts, which it must necessarily produce, & also the cherishing of those passions of hatred & revenge which it would promote & encourage. I am trying my dear to know & enjoy more of a Saviours love than I have done before, and I trust that I am already coming to obtain a better, if not a “full assurance of hope” which it is not only our privilege to enjoy, but our duty to strive for. O! in this world there is nothing half so comforting as a perfect trust & reliance on Gods unchanging love. The Dr. tells me I am homesick, & gloomy & that I must become sociable & enjoy myself with the other officers. But he does not think that I have company even when he thinks I am alone, that brings me more real enjoyment than all the sociabilities of the camp. Poor man- he is the one that really needs the comforting, & with all his sociabilities, his discontent is apparent by far the greater part of the time. We have very warm weather here already, very hard work to keep cool in the middle of the day. I have pulled off drawers & flannel shirts, & go without my coat part of the time.
I have been very well except one day. We all have more or less diarrhea from the bad quality of the water, which is the greatest disadvantage we have. We get it by digging holes in the sand about 6 or 8 feet deep & setting in a barrel or two, but in a warm day the water is just about such as you would get in any mudhole after a rain. One great pest when the sun dont shine is knats, flying insects not so large as a flea, & as thick all over as a swarm of bees, & bite most as bad as the flea.
Yesterday was sunday. I was somewhat exercised in my mind about some work he wanted me to do. I hardly knew whether to obey or not, as I was doubtful about its being necessary, He thought it was however, & I done it. After it was finished I went to my tent & with my thoughts on the subject, opened my testament. It was the 13th Chap. of Romans. I was led from it to believe that I done right in obeying him, & that such is my duty unless in plain opposition to His direct commands. What do you think dear? We have but little preaching here. We have no place for it yet except the Hospital, but the Chaplain is now having preaching or prayer meetings 2 or three times a week there. We have but few sick. We have had but two men die since we left the Island, & one of them was drowned last week while bathing. The other died at Annapolis. This is an Island about two miles across (a large river runs around us) but we are within the main land. Our camp is six miles from the rebel picket line. but there is another regiment on the front in advance of us. I will wait now until, a boat arrives with mail & see if I get what I expect, let me see, 1 letter from you- 1 from Mr. Littell,- perhaps one from Han- & the [Goshen?] paper- Quite a string- now wait & see how good I am at guessing.
Wednesday May 11th 1864
Well my dear, I really began to think I would never have a chance to finish this, & surely you will become tired of looking before you see it. Nine days since I wrote the last, & every day looking most anxiously for a mail. It is just 3 weeks to day since our last mail came. And this morning the long-looked-for, came. But there was such a pile of it, it is not all overhauled yet, and although I received your last letter & one from Mr. Littell, I am in hopes that there is another one from you as I know there is one from Mr. Littell which he says in this he sent to Annapolis. I am very well I got me a horse to day. A Government Horse- borrowed, until I can buy one. We had our first green peas May 4th. Mr. Littell says Mrs Gardner is dead, & Mr. Shymer back in town. Mr. L. is discontented, thinks of leaving. I havent seen any terrible news from the Army of the Potomac. God grant to guide the movement in such a way as shall soonest lead to peace & reconcilliation! Depend upon it I shall write every week if I can get a chance to send it. God bless you & the children, How I would like to see them! the darlings. But I cant, & so I might as well straighten my face. Remember me to my unseen friends & relations in your neighborhood. I wonder if I will ever get to see them?
And now my dearest wife- good bye-
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