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Anthology of Louisiana Literature

E. John Ellis.
Edited by Steve G. Ellis.
Letter to his sister, May 25, 1862.

Camp Near Corinth, Miss. May 25th, 1862

My Dearest Sister,

Today is one of the few Sundays that since we have been here feels like a day of rest. Truly, a calm is resting on everything, no sound disturbs the stillness. I can't even hear the report of the picket firing that is constantly going on between our advanced guard and the enemy. How I wish I was at home today — How quiet it all is there, how still the little gathering at the village church and oh how still (the calm after the storm of grief) is all at home. I was out with my company & regiment drawn up in line of battle when Tom's letter came telling me of our little girls death. We were expecting an attack from the Yankees any moment. I am glad they did not come. I was no longer a man. Completely unnerved, I was a child, yes almost an infant in feeling and there I feared I could not have done my duty. When I saw her last, how bright how beautiful she was, and it is impossible now for me to realize that she is dead. I cannot realize it, but yet it is so. Her frame is cold, her bright eye no luster, the dimpled cheek is now pale and cold but thank God our little pet is not dead. Thank God that our Lord when upon Earth on one occasion said to those around him, "suffer little children to come unto me & forbid them not." How fortunate was our little darling May Queen. She never knew aught of trouble or care, all the tenderness and care which innocence & beauty can inspire, all the love that parents know & relatives can feel was lavished upon her & she died before she felt a single care. I mistake, she did not die, she only burst the shackles of mortality and entered a higher state of existence and it is sweet to imagine that her sealed lips & mute tongue are unloosed, that her eye is no longer expressionless, that her soul realizes joys immortal & that her baby voice has found a song that thrills all heaven & such as Earth has never, can never hear.

But oh! How bitter was the blow. How crushed the hearts of all. May God strengthen you all & especially her parents to bear it cheerfully & resignedly, Go to see them often now. Stay with them as much as possible; try by every means to assuage their grief, to make them cease to think of their loss.

But I would not have them forget her, oh! No, but that is impossible. There will be a thousand things that will call her to mind, in the silence of their home, in the void which she alone could fill, in her baby clothes, her little play things and in the deep unchangeable love which follows ever yet, idol to the grave.

Tom's letter was the 1st intelligence from home since Stewart got here. I often get uneasy and anxious and would that communication were more practicable with home. Letters from you and the others at home are the only real pleasures that I ever enjoy now. As to news I have none. Affairs are at a standstill. We are awaiting the Yankees and they are slowly coming ahead like snails. The distance from here to Pittsburgh landing from which the enemy started is about 22 miles and the Yankees have been on the way nearly seven weeks. Four days ago we went out and on the next day, the 22nd, we offered battle in a fair field but they would not accept the wager.

Yesterday they advanced near our works and there was a brief skirmish in which cannon were used. Some of the shells fell quite near our works and I could plainly hear their rush through the air, the whizzing terrible noise and the explosion. Those shells are terrible scarecrows but there is very little danger in them. Today an order was issued to again reduce our baggage. I have now one carpetbag & two blankets. My bed I have sent off and nearly all my clothes. Truly I am in light marching order. Don't be astonished at the evacuation of this place, I don't know anything certain and do not wish to raise any rumors or reports, and there is no evacuation going on as yet, but I would not be astonished at a movement of that kind at anytime. Things look that way now to say the least of it. If it is done, I will be perfectly satisfied that Gen. Beauregard knows best — and is working for the best. You had better say but little about this outside of the home circle. It might cause needless alarm, suspense, & etc. which is all useless. Wait patiently & see. This war will close before long. By the 1st of August next we will be a free people and at peace. Oh! How many hearts will rejoice if this should be. How much joy will be kindled in almost every Southern home, and in each Southern soldier's breast. God only knows what misery the war is inflicting. Sons, brothers, fathers are killed and wounded but this though bad enough is not all — as the Yankees advance through the country families are driven from their homes and these homes, Great-God! What a wreck they become — I have seen helpless women peeping through our camp, with helpless babes in their arms and four or five little children following along behind, hurrying forward to seek charity — beyond Corinth away from the scene of strife. The last time we were out, yes, the very spot where I read Tom's letter ( the one above referred to ) was a beautiful place once and only two weeks ago its owner was compelled to leave by the Yankees. The house and outhouses had been burned by them, the stock all killed, the fences burned and all a wreck. And there was a beautiful orchard with the trees all green and loaded with their crop of young apples but some of them were born by cannon shot and musket balls, and cavalry horses had torn the bark and trampled around and bruised the roots. This war will cease and Spring will come again and the hapless owner may come back to the spot he called home but what a wreck will meet his eyes, The house he reared & consecrated as home, endeared by hallowed memories, all a heap of ashes. The fields that year by year under his labor had grown with its load of wheat & corn all grown up in weeds and briers, the garden all trampled with the hoof of the war horse, and no sweet scent of apple blossoms or sound of busy humming bees will greet his senses or call back a ringing memory of things that were.

And these people were not secessionists originally. They did not rush to precipitate a war they knew would be fought at the threshold of their homes. Oh! Lo what a terrible responsibility will those men be held whose line of conduct produced this revolution. And those men are not of the North alone. Do not misunderstand me. This contest on our part is just, and I am willing for me to wear out in the service or to die in the field before submitting to Yankee rule. Rather than this, I would be willing to live on the mud of the lake swamp, to pillow my head upon the Cypress Knee, to sleep with the dull eye of the alligator glaring on me & the slimy hissing moccasin coiled over my heart. But the time was when all of this might have been avoided. That time is passed however & it now is Freedom or the grave. Many, very many, will have found the latter but thank God, the survivors will realize the former. The infamous proclamation of that coward Yankee Butler about the ladies of New Orleans has aroused the army to a state of frenzy. Beauregard has had it read to all the troops and the clinched hand, the scowling brow, the muttered imprecation told how terribly the demon of revenge was gnawing in each breast.

God help the Yankees if our men get to close quarters with them. Many are in favor of hoisting the black flag and I honestly believe that if the General were to order us to battle under it, it would be hailed with cheers of joy & shouts of gratification.

Your Loving Brother, John


Ellis, E. John. "Letter to his sister, May 25, 1862." Ed. Steve G. Ellis.

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Anthology of Louisiana Literature