1862 November 2: “I have not time to tell you all the misteries of soldiering”
At the very end of this letter, Homer states, “you must excuse all the mistakes, for this letter was written by the light of the moon.” You will notice all of his mistakes—no more misspellings than usual, but missing words. Despite that, Homer gives a good description of what “soldiering” life is like for them. Homer’s mother had asked about their daily duties, and he tries “to picture it out to” her.
The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Bolivar, Tenn Nov 2nd
Dear Father and Mother,
We rec’d your letter of the 28th today about noon. It found us on what is called Grand Guard, which I will tell you something about, by & by. But as Ed has been writing to you, all day,—I shall not be able to write much news, and you must excuse me if I should write somethings that he has already told you, for he has closed his letter, and I have not read it. [paragraph break added]
You wished me to tell you something of daily duties in camp, so I will try to picture it out to you, so that you may know in a measure, what it is to be a soldier, and in order to make it look natural,—I must not leave one stone unturned, so it will be necessary [to] commence at the beginning, which is when we go into camp. In the first place when we are marching into a camp ground, every soldier, if he has learnt his business, he will keep his eyes peeled to see if there is not something that he can jay-hawk1 with which to make himself more comfortable. The first thing he looks after is something for a bed. If he can find any straw or hay or lose boards, he will secure them, before someone else gets them. The next thing is something to eat, if there is a sweet potatoe [sic] patch near by they will pitch into that, and it must be a good sized one that has any left in it when they get done. If there is any hogs and chickens or sheep running about at large, it will be a swift footed one that escapes. The bump of detr destructiveness I should say is rather large on most soldiers for it is not an uncommon thing [to] see them tarring [sic] down a nice house to build make tables and bunks out of it. They always have plenty of lumber to use. There was a large house and a gristmill and sawmill about a half of a mile from our camp, which has been torn down, mostly by our Regiment. Since we have been in Bolivar we have had to answer to five roll-calls each day and any one being absent from roll call with-out leave is put on guard or fatigue duty the next day, unless he gives a satisfactory excuse for being absent. But I have not time to tell you all the misteries [sic] of soldiering in this letter, but I will give you further particulars some other time. [paragraph break added]
I prommised [sic] to tell you about what a Grand Guard is. It [is] about the [same] as a common picket guard, only there is a company detailed from each Regt. and sent out to different posts then each company sends out pickets in squads of five or six men and a seargent [sic] on each road, we stay on 24 hours. There has five thousands troops come in here to day on the rail-road. We got marching orders to start for Grand Junction tomorrow morning. [paragraph break added]
But is is getting late and I must bring this to a close, you must excuse all the mistakes, for this letter was written by the light of the moon, and secesh rails. Give my love to Grand Mother and tell her that she must write to us as often as she can.
I remain your Affectionate son,
1. Jayhawks, or jayhawkers, were bands of men that were willing to fight, kill, and rob to keep pro-slavery settlers out of Kansas during the Kansas-Missouri border war. Homer is obviously using the term to mean steal, pillage, or appropriate.