|Written to Miss Clara L Streby
Council Grove, Morris County, Kansas
Postmarked Nashville, Tn
August 5, 1862
Yours of July 11th was received the other day and you may rest assured that it was perused with much interest. For a long while we had been—as it were—shut out from the balance of the world without either a mail, newspaper, or any news whatever save camp rumors which are as a general thing very ridiculous and not much to be depended upon. But the other day a train did finally get through from Nashville and the glad tidings was revealed to us that this railroad was open through from Nashville to Stephenson—a distance of 120 miles. But this was not all the joy. A large mail for Company I produced some smiling countenances and your humble servant was the recipient of no less than four letters and several papers, one of which was from your good self. So you may judge that I felt right good and that night I slept sound and had pleasant dreams of friends in the far distant west & of dear ones at home—a sister whom I so dearly love and who expected or hoped that the war would be over before this, was disappointed in not having me home by the 4th of July. Why Clara, if I get home by the next fourth of July, I shall feel thankful. I do not see as there is any prospect of the war ending yet. Indeed, things look more gloomy to me now than they did 10 months ago. We have gained a great amount of territory, but we have got as much or more than we can hold.
The rebels are now all around us and if they should make a dash into our camp today, I would not be a bit surprised. We are looking for them and more than half of our regiment are now out building fortifications. If they do come, we will give them a warm reception and they will get the best we have got in our cartridge boxes. We are encamped in a very pleasant grove near Boiling Fork—a small creek which supplies our camp with an abundance of the best of water. We are guarding a bridge which we have rebuilt across the creek since we came here. We arrived here on the 8th of July. Came by way of railroad from Huntsville. Our train was the first one on the road for over 5 miles as the rebels destroyed all the bridges on the road last spring when they retreated from Nashville. We have now go the road in running order.
We are distant from Nashville about 87 miles south and 30 north of Stephenson and about 35 or 40 from Chattanooga. We are only a few miles north of the line between Alabama and Tennessee. There is a range of the Cumberland Mountains here through which the railroad crosses by way of a long tunnel. We are encamped at the foot of the mountain about 2 miles from the tunnel.
When I last wrote you we were at Florence which is over 150 miles from here. We had some hard marches after that beneath the rays of a hot Alabama sun. And you better believe we felt glad when we arrived at Huntsville and were favored with a ride on the cars. The balance of the division were not thus favored as they had to walk through to Stephenson. Since we have been here, we have been rather short of rations for a long while. We were one-fourth rations and some of the time without any at all from Uncle Sam. But we made it a point to visit some of the neighborhood plantations very frequently and the potato patches, hen roosts, orchards and such like had to yield to our wants.
I have been in the service over one year but I have never taken anything of much importance without paying for it—till of late. But lately since the rebs have been playing the mischief so and trying to cut off our supplies, I have just come to the conclusion there is no harm in making the prominent secessionist in the neighborhood respond to our wants. This rather a rich part of the country and there are quite a number of very good plantations near our camp. I have been out several times after provisions. I first go and ask for what I want and if they do not give it, I sometimes take it anyhow. We were out of bread for several days and we were bound to have something to eat or else starve so 8 of our mess went out after potatoes. We found an old planter who gave us enough to fill our haversacks and while 6 of us were in the garden digging, then two others of our mess were skylarking around the premises to see if they could find another patch and they engaged the old planter in conversation while the other two boys filled a 2-bushel bag.
Since our arrival here I have had several tramps up on the mountains and have visited quite a number of very wild and dangerous places. But I am always in my element while clambering over rocks, penetrating caverns, and visiting such wild places. But I must now tell you about what a beautiful cave there is on the mountain side about 1½ miles from our camp. We heard of this cave shortly after our arrival here. Also heard that there was a band of bushwhackers concealed in the cave. So our captain with our entire company went out on a scout to the cave. After a long search, we found it but would not if we had not went and got a negro slave to show us the place. There is no road or even a path leading to it. The entrance of the cave is very small—not more than large enough to crawl in at. We did not see any outward signs of rebels so we had no fears on entering. We left a strong guard on the outside while about 20 of us provided ourselves with hickory torches and entered. After crawling on our hands and knees for several hundred feet, we came out into a large room which was at least 60 feet from floor to ceiling and several hundred feet in length and width. I was perfectly enraptured with awe at its beauty and grandeur. The ceiling and walls resembled the most magnificent fresco painting, which reminded me of the audience room of the M. E. Church in Salem—only it was far more grand. The ceiling was covered with formations which resembled icicles in shape. Those were of various sizes from 3 inches to 3 and 4 feet in length—the points of which are covered with a white substance resembling snow. This reflecting in the torchlight was magnificently grand. We found several springs of the purest crystal water. There were many side caverns that we did not enter but doubtless the cave is miles in extent. I have made two visits to the cave and am now ready for the third visit. I was there one day with our chaplain. He says it exceeds the Mammoth Cath in beauty.
We have captured several bushwhackers since we have been here. One boy belonging to our company was shot at the other day while on picket. I like our present camp very much, it being so near the mountains. The weather as a general thing is very pleasant. There is an abundance of apples & peaches which are now ripe. The health of our regiment is remarkably good. Two of our company there were wounded at Shiloh have again rejoined us in camp nearly as sound as ever. One of them will be a little lame probably for life yet he is of the right grit and he wants to get a chance at them again. Steph. Talcott has again rejoined us after being home on furlough about 3 months. My right hand man, Joe T., is all right. Him and I have got us a very nice bough house made with a good bed in it and everything fixed to suit our fancy. Call around and see us.
Well, Car, I have not told you half as much as I thought I would when I commenced but I will have to close. We are all enjoying camp life hugely. My health was never better. Soldiering is a luxury while we are laying in camp as we are at present.
So it is the white Injins you are afraid of now? I should judge from what you say that they need civilizing—a portion of them at least. Your letter was full of interest and just such a one as a soldier loves to receive. You need have no fears about not interesting me. I remember our friend Alex Taylor. I trust he is not badly wounded.
The late call for 300,000 more troops [Lincoln’s Proclamation July 1, 1862] will either bring out a good many cowards or else they will be drafted. There is considerable of talk about drafting now about home. I have not seen or heard from Br. Hale since I wrote you before but I learn that Woods’ Division is on the railroad between us and Nashville. Talcott saw Br. Hudson on the train the other day as the cars passed but he did not get to speak to him. We still have some very spiritual prayer meetings. I could appreciate a good class meeting once more. I trust that my heart will remain fixed and that my faith may never waiver.
Write me soon as you can. I remain as ever your friend truly, — G. W. Fawcett
Stephen sends his respects & says he is a going to emigrate to Kansas after the war is over and Fawcett is a going along.
[This letter transcript is from the WordPress site: Billy Yank & Johnny Reb Letters. Transcribed by Will Griffing, in the Ohio letters section]
1) In his letter’s first paragraph explore why his unit might be very glad to get “mail from home”. Explain to them what “letters” and “newspapers” are. Maybe show them some of your artifacts if you still have them. And remind them that this letter they are reading was written in 1862 and has survived over 150 years. He wrote this letter on Aug. 5th. The cancelation date on the envelope in Nashville is Aug. 9th. And it looks like someone wrote on the envelope that the letter was "received" on Aug. 15th. So it appears that sometimes mail delivery was good and sometimes not so good, which makes sense in a war situation. Staying connected with loved ones back home was always something the men looked forward to, both to get news from home and as Fawcett shows here to share perspectives from the field about what's going on in his life.
2) Supplementing short rations means taking what's needed: Explore his attitude change about getting food needed to survive. They are now in “enemy” territory and sometimes are not getting the supplies needed from the army quartermaster. Initially Union commanders tried to uphold Lincoln’s policy of not pillaging from the locals as the armies moved through secessionist territory. The hope was to avoid pushing locals toward loyalty of the Southern cause. But as the Union troops began pushing into the South in 1862, attitudes began to change as it became evident that Southern loyalty was indeed generally stronger than national loyalty. Attitudes from the men in the ranks on up to higher commanders became “we must conquer” by punishing the disloyal and gaining supplies for our conquest. Fawcett is reflecting this shift in this letter as he describes the reaction to how his unit is supplementing their shortages of army rations. For a more detailed summary of this shift of attitude check out Nothing But Victory – The Army of the Tennessee by S.E Woodworth p.210-13.
3) Trace through the letter his comments that point to a shift in his understanding that this will not be a “short war” as he had once hoped in early 1861. Remember he had signed up for the first call to action of 3 months. Now reality is setting in. Discuss if his attitude is one of defeat or determination.