1865 May : “Now that an armed foe no longer assails the Old Flag, I must write of other things than the scenes and incidents of war”
After Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered all of the Confederate forces in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, to Union General William T. Sherman on April 26, 1865, Sherman’s forces left Raleigh on April 30, 1865, and marched about 250 miles to Washington, D.C. Edwin describes that march in this letter. They marched in their usual two-wing formation: the Army of the Tennessee—which included the 12th Wisconsin Infantry—and the Army of Georgia. Unlike their earlier marches, however, foraging was prohibited, which is why Edwin talks about guarding houses as the troops marched by. The daily march increased from a more leisurely fifteen miles a day to almost thirty miles per day, and because of the springtime heat, many men straggled or dropped from heat exhaustion, another concern for Edwin and his brother Homer, in their Provost role. Rumor had it that the grueling pace resulted from a bet between some of Sherman’s generals as to who would get to Richmond first. After marching through the battlefields of central Virginia, Sherman’s troops arrived in Washington, D.C.—technically, across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia—on May 19th. The last “march” required of these soldiers was the Grand Review on May 24. Edwin mentions the upcoming Review in the first paragraph, and describes it in detail in a later letter (May 29, 1865).
A typescript copy of this 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. Not having done it ourselves, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the transcription. The date of the letter is obviously wrong, since the march did not end until May 19th. More likely the date should be May 21st.
Washington D. C. May 1st [sic], 1865.
My Dear Parents,
Well, aren’t you surprised ! Here we are in Washington and are ordered to take part in a Grand Review, for which little preparation is being made. And now while you are looking for “another army letter,” I gladly pen these lines, hoping they may confer as much pleasure and interest as felt by me when tracing yours.
Now that an armed foe no longer assails the Old Flag, I must write of other things than the scenes and incidents of war, and what shall they be? My purpose was to write a short sketch of our march from Raliegh [sic], North Carolina to Washington, but the thought occurs that from previous letters you must be quite familiar with the features of interest in a march, for though varied, they are much alike in each instance, and therefore I will not invite you to a perusal of what might be but little better than an old story. I will say it was the most pleasant and agreeable march ever performed by us. We¹ had been detailed for Provost Duty at Division Headquarters, and being mounted on horses, with the privelege [sic] of going where we wished, had an excellent chance to see the Country and people. Sometimes we remained as safe guards at the houses during the passing of the troops, and sometimes stopped overnight. Everyone was seemingly glad the War was ended. Numerous questions were asked about the North and the Yankees, and more than once I tired with talking. By the way, would you believe it — some of the fair ones asserted their liking for the Yankees, and more than once I said they would marry the first favorable chance. Further, some of Raleigh’s daughters actually made peace with Uncle Sam’s boys by marrying them. This demonstrates conclusively that there is yet in Dixie a real love for the Union. Now, who says the war was a failure, when it ended by making lovers of enemies? A different turn of the wheel of fortune some of the Northern girls may think, and what do you suppose they will say? The trip I shall always remember with satisfaction. I would give some of the conversation, but fear I might spin this out to too great a length.
I can not think but that our required services will not be more than 6 or 8 months longer. But I must leave you now for duty calls.
Your affectionate son,
1. Edwin and his brother, Homer.