Civil War Love Letters: September 16–26, 1862
After ending his last letter on September 11, 1862, James marched 66 miles to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and through the course of writing this letter, he marched over 100 more miles. Union major general Don Carlos Buell’s army continued its pursuit of Confederate general Braxton Bragg, often marching without food or rest, and fighting to keep control over the parts of Tennessee and Kentucky that the Federal troops had won during the spring campaigns. On September 17, 1862, the Federal troops surrendered the Union garrison at Munfordville, Kentucky. Since Munfordville and the railroad bridge over the Green River were key parts of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the loss affected the movements and supplies of Buell’s army. On September 19, Buell and his men heard that Bragg was near Munfordville, 17 miles away. Continuing his slow pace, Buell moved his men only four miles, then halted for two days, allowing Bragg’s forces to escape. While James marched throughout the Western Theater of the war, he heard news from the Eastern Theater. He briefly states, “Jackson is already in Pennsylvania marching on Baltimore and Philadelphia,” a reference to the movements of Confederate major general Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson during the Maryland, or Antietam, Campaign. This campaign led to the Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg, on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in the Civil War. While in Bowling Green, Kentucky, James stopped at the Lost River and Cave, where he saw an old mill that produced flour and Kentucky jeans, a coarse woven fabric made of cotton and wool.
Camp at Bowling Green, Ky.
Sept. 16th 62
My Dear Molly
When last I wrote I told you we were to defend Nashville, but necessity has no law and here we are at Bowling Green & with a probability of going further ere we stop, for Bragg & Co. are still North of us and on our railroad too, and if we dont drive them off soon, we will have nothing to eat. There has two more divisions of the Army of the Mississippi come to the relief of Nashville from the south since we left.
We get no news, or newspapers. Our last mail came in a month ago now.
I can scarcely expect that you will get my letters but I will keep on trying & hope you may soon - if lost I scarce know how I can replace them, for time was so scant & I was so tired generally, that I kept but little other record. Of course you will get all the Ky news from your papers, but we do not. We have heard however that there has been a fight at or near Lebanon & also at or near Mumfordsville, so I guess thats our route next.
I cant imagine what is the state of affairs North in St. Louis. I am afraid you are despondent. It is not time to despond however. We must all be desperately determined or soon be destroyed.
It is said here I dont know how truly, that Jackson is already in Pennsylvania marching on Baltimore & Philadelphia. I hope not though if he is, I expect to hear he is caught soon. We must do it.
We all look for & wish for a desperate fight here. I dont say that I do, but that is the prevailing thought & I suppose it must come unless Bragg & Smith run which I dont expect.
Truth to tell we must fight or starve, for we have been on half rations for some time & soon will have none as far as the government is concerned. We get enough so far from the enemy but we soon eat up everything where ever we go. An army of 50 or 60,000 men marching requires more eatables than all the inhabitants of St. Louis.
Rumors have just come to camp that Nashville has been evacuated for want of provisions, & that all the troops will be here tomorrow. If that is so, & I believe it, we will all soon be up to the Ohio River.
But I need fill my paper no more with what the Newspapers will tell you far better, so now to things more personal. I hope my dearest girl you are in good health & keep in good spirits, dont borrow care - "hope on hope ever" - "The darkest hour &c." Think of that & dont fear for me. I have got a charm at my heart, in the shape of your last letter (rec'd) & your photograph, besides your ring on my finger. Think you that harm can come nigh me. I dont, but you will tell me that is only my superstition and that you wonder at me professing to be such an unbeliever in Dreams for instance - but has it not been so. I have been in much danger, but thank the Lord am safe - from bullets fevers or colds so far & from all this fatigue I come fresh as from a long snooze in your old arm chair of a Sunday night of Old - if such things could be. What w’d I not give for only one Sunday night with you. Well most anything I value. A thousand kisses for instance. W’d you value them much. Perhaps not.
Well what shall it be then, but dont be worse than Laban to Jacob, when he worked for Rachel, neither when I work for Rachel, can I afford to be fooled & take to her not by any means. I am too old you know & getting very gray - while Jacob could double his Threescore years & ten. I cant expect too. All this means that I am coming home from the War, sound in mind. Though perhaps wanting a limb or two in something less than seven years & that I expect to do something desperate about or before that time if I can! Soothsayer say shall it be so or not? Look at the bright side! It is so much more pleasant & conducive to long life & even prosperity.
I grant that I have looked much at the Dark side, but I grow more hopeful daily as times grow more unkind & was I to marry as Paddy does, without a cent to pay the priest, I believe it w’d be a bright day for me & still more so - even a year or two stolen from heaven if with Molly!!
Now nuff-sed, or you will chide me again for flattery. But I dont wish to try any such experiment. I wish for my Molly's sake $20,000 & a Colonel’s Commission – that’s all! Unless you make me ambitious in the future! But my Molly must keep her spirits up & so secure as good lungs as mine at least & as robust as possible under such circumstances. Will she try this for me - Pray do!! & believe me that I try to do as near as you w’d wish me to as circumstances ever changing will allow
Well to change the subject again I will take up the thread of travel where I last left off that was at Nashville. Well next day I went to town again on leave, & there posted that missive containing a long palaver or three days gossip & much also that I overlooked previously. Also as to my arrest & Buell’s treason. I went with the same companion as before & had such a pleasant time shopping and visiting. I like shopping about as well as ladies are said to do. Well at 4 o’clock before we were quite ready to return we heard our Brigade had got marching orders so we hurried to camp & found all gone but the rear guard & sick. We went town again with some of the sick in an ambulance & could not return without new passes & so we went to the Provost Marshall - thence to the governor - thence to General Thomas - & ere this it was pitch dark & raining a torrent such as I’ve not seen for years. So General Thomas ordered us to remain & he would send an escort of Cavalry & dispatch tomorrow. We did so & had a pleasant night with our friends & at the Hotel. While the Brigade stood up in the road in the dark in the rain - no shelter & when the worst was over lay down in the wet & drizzle & slept. Next day Friday 12th at noon we started & found our friends 10 miles out, just ready to start again. We marched 12 miles & camped at 10 at night. Started again at six in the morning (Saturday) & got along quickly 14 miles when we turned back two miles & camped in the afternoon under orders we supposed for Nashville but not so. At 10 P.M. we started again & marched all night through Mitchellville & Franklin Kentucky, orders met us at 8 in the morning to camp awhile. We did so & slept all day & remained until 2 o’clock Monday morning when we made another start to Bowling Green where we now are making 30 miles more - had they not stopd us we would have made 75 miles in about 3 days or 48 miles almost without sleep or camping. We halted of course to water & cook some coffee, nothing more - many slept at every halt - I did at most. On the way we had some fine views, & mostly good road. Some curiosities in the shape of caves & springs & a pretty country well settled all the way. We passed up through a gap in one of the ranges some miles before we left Tennessee - near Bowling Green we stopd a while at the Lost River, a spring quite a River boils up runs 300 yards, turns a mill, now partly ruined, & then enters a cave, & has been traced it is said under ground from 3 to 7 miles but never comes to the surface. Imagine one of those large hollows or sink holes 100 yards wide 100 yards deep & 400 yards long. This spring boils up at one end runs the whole length & then runs in a cave with a mouth as wide & as high as one side of the courthouse in your town, sides all around nearly perpendicular & the ruined mill I spoke of just at the mouth of the cave. This mill used to make Kentucky Jeans, flour & corn meal & was run by this Spring (River?)
Bowling Green is well located in a Big Bend of the Big Barron River very suitable for defense & hard to attack, it will be such a pity to evacuate it quite as much so as Nashville. I dont know what the poor Union people of both places will do. Their lives & property are in much danger. Probably they will lose or both - unless they go in the Southern Army or run away as thousands are doing - poor Refugees & join ours.
Good by - More anon - ere the mail closes. Love to you & all. This is my only pleasure now - let me make the most of it.
On Tuesday we remained in camp all day but were distracted with contradictory orders. We started next morning Wednesday the 17th & went 7 miles down the river to a ford & crossed, while other divisions were crossing at different points above us, besides the Bridge in town. It blew a hurricane all day & raised more dust than I ever saw out of Australia - this wound up with a thunderstorm & so we got in camp wet & as our wagons did not come up, we remained wet & hungry too & had to sleep as best we could in the rain. This we did & started at daylight again in the same way. We had only gone a few miles on Wednesday when we turned off to the East towards Glasgow & made 17 miles on our devious way ere we camped. We had been often & cruelly detained by the long wagon trains of Divisions ahead & behind us & so it was late & so we lost our wagons. Well as I said we started hungry & still bound to Glasgow but in a few miles we turned N. West again & camped on the Northern road again making about 18 miles more. It was late ere our teams came, but meantime we raised a lunch by various means, & so the day closed after various alarms & expected skirmishes which did not come off, with a good supper and the news that the secesh had retreated from Glasgow & left us some prisoners that is the Division in advance of us. Slept sound & arose refreshed this morning at 4 o’clock to renew our march, but we soon found the enemy in force in front of us & can now hear occasional skirmishing. We made but 5 miles & then took the open field batteries & all in position - before this we met 4 or 5 Regiments of our Troops returning with drooping heads - reporting that after a siege of a week and a hard fight of three days they had surrendered to superior numbers at Mumfordsville, and been paroled until exchanged - & so our worst fears were confirmed. Mumfordsville & the Bridge is taken, our supplies cut off by from 50 to 75,000 Secesh under Bragg, Kirby Smith, Morgan, Forrest & others. All the Guerilla Bands united for one more grand struggle. We have been waiting since morning movements ahead & hear occasional skirmishing in which it is reported we have the advantage & have driven in their pickets several miles, but that is of no importance. Our loss at Mumfordsville was very small - only 13 killed & 18 wounded. The enemies over 800 killed & wounded but our men fought behind a good stockade & entrenchments -
Camp at Pilot Knob Kentucky
Sept 20th 1862
My Dearest Molly
When I closed my crowded paper last night I did not expect to be here in quietness still but so it is. It is a lovely September day & to live & love & camp out even as we are doing would be the height of human felicity if the one you love was nigh, as it is I assure you we enjoy it & all the more because it is spiced by the belief that ere tomorrows sunset, many a poor fellow in either Army will fall to pass below the sod of some of the beautiful prairies or groves around.
It is a solemn thought on the eve of a battle such as we expect, as Bragg with 30,000 is reported behind the entrenchments that we must take or die dishonored and this beautiful Kentucky, the dark & bloody ground as it has been, be lost to our beloved Union forever - forever. We all stand on the boundaries of forever - or Eternity - who can say which of us shall first cross the to us gloomy portals for earth will remain, and is very dear to all at least to me. I have got many castles built I know. They are in a ruined state just now, & I may never rebuilt, but I pray fervently that I may be allowed to try with "Molly" for a mentor & helper.
So I go tomorrow under the hope of a charmed life - to live & love on future Sept. days when the sun shines as bright as now & the air is as mellow as pure & as calm when I can recall my wigwam of boughs & blankets hung around with my opposum skin carpet on which I am seated a la Grand Turk. We are in a classic land - beautiful mountains, prairies & groves, wonderful caves, & a proud people with brave liberty loving sons & daughters graceful as princesses & lovely as the queen of the morning. The Mammoth Cave is Nine miles off near the scene of strife - a little down the Green River, for the possession of the bridge over which we fight & gaining which we gain Ky & something to eat, which is of much present importance to us. 3 miles from here is Cave City - near which is a dry tunnel or cave, at the bottom of which is a roaring river cold & pure & of large volume - in which is placed an undershot wheel which pumps up all the water needed for town & country - while the river that comes from darkness, rushes on to the same coming none know whither going none knows where.
But we cannot see as yet even these wonders. It is not safe, until after the battle - & then? What then? Even if successful & alive, the pursuit may hurry us on God knows where. But we have plenty of men & I fear not, but rest confident of victory if Buell's allows us to do our duty
Well that is talking of the future, but the present is ours, see how I improve it. After we camped yesterday the prisoners on parole spoken of passed back again towards the enemy, reason unknown- a mournful procession & a hungry one & we lay in expectancy just by Buell’s head quarters on Pilot Knob - watching all day the telegraping by flags from point to point, from the general to the pickets & other Generals. After night this still continued with lights & so we slept. Troops moving forward all the day & all the night & we in reserve. This morning we got up early & still no move, but as I was released from arrest yesterday, I was made "Off. of the Day" & so busied about camp. We waited, men cooking three days rations to carry with them as no wagons go with us tomorrow, only ambulance & now my Dear Molly, I will leave this in such a way that at any time if any thing should happen to me you will get it all safe, also my trunk, the contents of which you can dispose of as you please. There are your letters & other matters you would wish to have I know, but on this I will not dwell. There is also a deed in it for you. Of course as long as I live, I will add P.S. until the way is cleared -
God bless you
Sept. 25, 1862
After writing last we started on Sunday morning & made 4 miles. We were there drawn up in line of battle by the cave I have spoken of I went down. We lay on our arms all day skirmishing going on in front & at night made a forced march of 12 miles over a country road up & down mountains & got to Munfordsville or Green River just in time to find that our cavalry & artillery had driven Bragg across. We camped very tired & disappointed & passed Monday morning walking over the different battlefields - very interesting they were, & the stories of the different eye witness. Four fights or more have occured here & I saw many of the bloody memorials. I had to return to dinner tired and at once marched down to the river 3 miles & forded it. It took us a long time & was near dark. When we again started we marched in hot pursuit along the Railroad track 12 miles & then camped in an open plain en masse.
The sight of so many forces was glorious but we could get no supper on account of the delay of our provision wagon. We slept by the fire on the grass & it being midnight some rested ere we marched again without breakfast. We hurried along all day over a hot & dusty road & still could not catch the runaways, although we marched 26 miles ere dark into Elizabethtown and all the way through intensely Union settlements.
West Point, Ky.
We left Elizabethtown yesterday at Daylight & marched to this place 24 miles got in here at 9 o’clock having travelled all day over a hard & dusty road with only one halt at 2 o’clock, long enough to make coffee. We found at Elizabethtown that Bragg had taken the Lebanon road & our advance went after him, our center kept along the Louisville road while some 25,000 men comprising the left wing turned off this way in order to flank Bragg. We all felt tired but marched very well, singing all the way after dark & feeling quite elated at the prospect of seeing the Ohio River & getting once more in communication with the North where we would have a chance to get a mail. I wonder if you will ever get my former letters since we left Eastport on the 20th of last month. I wrote most every day & as I was in better spirits then & not so tired I wrote a better Letter. I am in robust health now however, a little footsore from old & new Shoes & from half cooked food & alternate starvation & repletion, but one days rest & a good dinner will improve all that. My wound left only a scar on my back & no effects remaining, though I had a very narrow escape from paralysis & lockjaw.
We expect to get to day or tomorrow to Louisville & the prospects for a fight are very good as Bragg seems still driving that way but of that hereafter. Pray write me to Louisville as if you hadn't written for a month, & I do hope to hear good news of all, & especially of yourself.
Sept 26th 1862
Left West Point yesterday morning & had a hard & dusty march to this place, a great deal of obstruction on the Louisville Road & scanty water as it has not rained for near two months & so after trying hard all day we turned off here to the river to rest & water. We got plenty of water & a good swim, but little or nothing to eat, & no rest as we had several alarms during the night & had to fall in line without any cause that we could afterwards ascertain. So yesterday was our hardest days work - although we only marched
16 miles, today I suppose we will go a little nearer Louisville & then get supplies of clothing & rations. We are camped in a splendid Beechwood Forest. I cannot say grove because it extends for miles & we have for several days passed through a beautiful but rather mountain country over a finely graded road. As long as we stopped on the main pike - we passed thus through long gorges in the hills getting fine views of the dark & bloody grounds - scenes of old Indian fights - also some of the French skirmishes before the revolution, now a finely settled country though the hardy sons of the soil are mostly gone to the war but its daughters turned out at nearly every house to do us honor & invited the soldiers in to eat cooking day & night.
I am Love
in much haste
James E. Love
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