Civil War Love Letters: May 4–7, 1862
James remained in Kansas on border patrol, primarily dealing with guerrillas—groups of independent men not affiliated with a regiment—who stole horses, food, and other supplies. As quartermaster, it was James’s responsibility to return items stolen, or left behind, to the owner or sell them for the army. On a personal note, James encourages Molly to visit her brother, R.B.M. Wilson, in Illinois, and tells her about the newspapers he has received, including Harper’s Weekly, the Missouri Democrat, the Illustrated London News, and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. James mentions that he heard about several Union victories: New Orleans (April 25, 1862), Fort Macon, North Carolina (April 26, 1862), and Yorktown, Virginia (May 4, 1862). James attributes these victories to foreign soldiers and “western mudsill,” a term of pride used by Northern soldiers fighting in the western theater of the war. His references to England, or Johnny Bull, a popular personification of England at that time, are unclear. However, the ruling class in England sympathized with the Confederacy, so relations between England and the United States were strained.
May 4th 1862
My Dearest Molly
When last I wrote twas May Day & a fine day it was. I took the ride I spoke of & enjoyed it much. We extended it to Olathe say 12 or 14 miles & found that the entire village had been a Maying & were all preparing for a ball, then & there to come of. We at once concluded to stay, & so we danced all night & enjoyed ourselves very much. There were some very fine Young Ladies, & a very designing widow &c, & so forth & we came home rejoicing next morning - with fine weather then & since. Today we had camp meeting & a very good sermon, for the first time here in a year, that being one of the fruits of secession, as prior to that time there had been preaching weekly in the school house which Yankee like you find in every settlement here. But we were interrupted in the midst of the sermon, by a report that 5 or 6 Secesh were within a couple of miles driving some ponies mules & colts - everyone who had a horse at command at once started in pursuit. Six of us, of which I was one, & soon overtook them or rather the stock, for they ran at sight & we came home rejoicing, with what is probably some Indian property which they had just stolen (or jayhawked). We have them safely corralled, for the owners if they are Union & call for them, if not for Uncle Sam. And this brings me to the secondly. Your long lost letter of the 9th April, has just arrived (from Fort Kearney) & in it I find the scolding you speak of. Well now I'll tell you two truths, & the first is, I like to hear you scold either Viva voce, or by letter. The second is that I never have or never would profit by any of these things. I don’t know what I might be tempted to do in the dark but (Love of approbation large) I could never look anybody in the face, that knew of me owning such ill gotten gains, & I would fancy everybody knew. So I acted in Mo. last year. So I act here, & those motives are sufficient with me I assure you to withstand any temptation, leaving all higher ones out of the question. I write this not because I fear for one moment that you have really accused me or suspected me, but because I fear I have written between jest & earnest what would seem like self accusation & I may do so in future, So I put this on record.
There is much taken from Rebels here daily, & we also take some rebels as well but it is all done under cover of civil as well as military law & our Regiment is specially stationed on the border to stop jayhawking either in Mo. or Kan. We caught six jayhawkers three nights since & they are by this time in the Fort. So whatever we do is done according to order, generally property going to ruin on deserted farms, that Uncle Sam will have for sale to or settlement by Union men as soon as the war is over. It is done under my signature, & when stock, forage or ought else is taken it lays in my charge; but I have no responsibility in the matter, more than safe keeping until the owner calls & proves himself to have been a Union man, or until I can advertise it & sell by auction for cash to the highest bidder, which cash goes directly into the public treasury & helps to pay the expense of the war, besides do I not know how strictly conscientious you are, and also what would please you. And at present need I say that to please you is my pleasure!
And now Molly dear I thirdly must answer all these letters, four of them, for though I wrote weekly, yet it so happened that I just posted mine ere yours arrive. So imprimis, I all the time take very good care of myself, though of course I can’t tell you about it all the time, & it is only when I do a little out of the every day routine as today or once before that you hear of it & for the future I intend riding a little daily, so as to counteract the confinement I have been condemned to so far. I guessed you would be going to the farm & so forth now that the flowers have come. I do wish I was there. Glad to hear of all your pleasures, I hope you wont stint them - & also of the Morgan St. folks & the other news all of which is like food to a starving man, greedily devoured.
By the bye, what could you expect of Miss Annie, but such gossip as you speak of, fortunately everybody knows what a tease she is, so her tongue's no scandal.
I hope you will go up to Illinois & see them all. I'm sure it would do you a world of good, more than you will admit of - & then you know you can tease her in turn, & tell her how I think of her all the time. And then there’s that dear little Minx Sallie. I don’t mind her hard words a bit; prefer them in fact to compliments. I don’t know how to thank her for her kind care of me present & absent; I think I ought to have one of those pretty photographs. If she don’t give me or send one - I'm afraid I'll steal one the next time I see her. The temptation is so great you see. I can’t withstand it. She feels you know much more like young America & wouldn't mind it as you would. I wish particularly to be remembered with love to her, your Aunt & Mother &c &c
I have just seen the Harper you spoke of containing that Poem & the uprising of the North &c. I get the Democrat regularly or rather irregularly at last, (like the letters) some in five days some in 15 days, & I do expect another letter and a I.L.N. tomorrow from you until which time I will detain this missive
I sent my last by an express we sent to Leavenworth - so you ought to get it much sooner than usual & so I come in course to peruse your letter of the 23d which left you all in dirt & confusion. Well that’s all over long ago I suppose & I intend to thank you trebly for the letter notwithstanding your disclaimer, but as I can’t come paddling in, I wish to do it now - so I make my best bow.
I gathered a boquet just before church. It looked pretty & does now on the table at my side, but there’s not much variety principally wild violets. I expect if this weather continues & gets warmer that we will move our camp very soon out of town to a creek. I go prospecting a good place tomorrow probably. Our P.O. will be the same "Olathe" & in fact "Aubrey" might be left out in the address altogether
May 7th 1862
And so we have taken Yorktown & New Orleans & Fort Macon &c &c &c too numerous to mention? Is it not glorious & do not the Yankees, the western mudsill, aye & even the poor Celts & d---d Dutch fight well & worthy of a good cause. Verily I fear after all history will record that the poor foreigners - who fled from oppression at home - also saved Liberty in America. That they valued the blessings they enjoyed here more than the native born. Oh I have had such a surfeit of news - such an avalanche of papers came to camp at once - that for the first time in life, I wish a day to digest what is past, ere I get any more. Among the rest that Leslie of yours (half a dozen more kisses) & then the I.L.N. & such a good No. of both. Have not the English got a big scare at last! IO! Triompe!! Johnny Bull. The day of reckoning is at handand America will yet knock you off your pedestal, & possibly without striking you a blow - step Father though you are. Poor John. No Nary left, & your adored Armstrongs mere pop guns after all. Vide Harper 3d May - & the I.L.N. This is the same John who four short months ago was going to wipe us out as a nation from the Earth and yet he talks of our Braggadocia. After all, Providence rules this earth for good - for if Jonathan & John had fought both would have been ruined - but John would seen by what passes now have been like ancient Carthage & Liberty for a reason w'd have fled the earth affrighted - excuse this rhapsody - put in you will say to fill up -
Well my Dear Molly - its ever of thee &c - & if you never have a chance to be proud of the "ne’er do weel", I will at least try to manage that you shant be ashamed of him
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