November 12, 1861
Know that we are in receipt of your letter from October 30th and were relieved to hear you remain in good health. I am grateful, you addressed the letter to me and not your mother. Some of the details you shared within those pages would’ve alarmed both her and your sister to no end. I’m pleased to see that all my years of lecturing you about the wisdom of foresight were not wasted.
Word of illness spreading among regiments and even within forts have reached our ears, so I was very glad to hear you have been fairing better than some of your fellow soldiers, was welcome news indeed. In sharing your letter with your mother and sister, I left out many of the details of your last encounter with the rebels. Although I suspect, you had already not shared all that you could even with me.
I pause for a moment as I stare at those words. He knew me so well. Often people told me how much I was like him, but in this case it was my mother who taught me to hold certain facts back from him. As proud and firm a man as he was, my father could be very sensitive. I see this in the next paragraph when he speaks of Roger, my best friend since childhood.
Allow me to express my deepest sympathies for young Roger’s passing. Yes, word reached us about what happened. You may receive a letter from his family expressing their gratitude for your staying at his side, while under fire until the end. I will never forget all the time you spent with him as children, fishing, playing, getting underfoot. The two of you were inseparable. Pray take heart that a part of him will always be with you, and will hopefully be watching over you in the days to come.
See what I mean? He didn’t always express himself so warmly, but I always knew it was there. Perhaps, it was concern for my sister that had put him in an especially sensitive mood when he wrote me on this occasion.
The effects of your sister’s illness still plague her. I regret not telling you sooner, but shortly after you left her condition worsened. She had contracted the Scarlet Fever which had claimed so many children in the past two months. Luckily, she survived, but is still very weak. Not an uncommon thing for a child after suffering such a dangerous illness. The doctor says there may have been damage to her heart, but time will tell.
God how I wish the man had been wrong.
Know that she continues to ask about you and looks forward to all your letters with great anticipation. She maintains high hopes that you will indeed be back next month in time to share Christmas. In spite of all that I’ve been hearing, I share that hope as well. Your mother and I pray this conflict will end as abruptly as it started and we can be a family once more.
Until that time comes, do take care of yourself my son. Your mother will be sending a package of food, blankets and more clothing shortly. Do not bother sending your pay home to us, for you know very are quite well off. Spend some of it on your fellow soldiers who are not as fortunate. Remember the teachings of our Lord and may he bless and keep you safe.
Write again soon.
Even after all these years, the mention of my sister’s bout with Scarlet Fever still hits me hard. I remember using some of the pay I had on me at the time to buy my sister a new doll and some pretty things. At the time of her illness, the first antibiotics were still another decade or two away. Burning the patients clothing, blankets and any personal items they kept near them was the standard practice at the time. Although I also knew my parents would’ve replaced a number of items for her, she favorite doll and stuffed toys that I had given her would’ve been thrown into the blaze.
I’m glad I acted so quickly. For just two weeks later I received a letter from her…
A hand falls on my shoulder. “Uncle Nate? I think you’ve done enough for tonight,” Brian tells me. “Why don’t we go to ‘The Crypt’ for a drink or two.”
I catch the tone in his voice that says ‘You need it!’
He’s right. I do.