Letter from Sergeant Edwin Fay of the Minden Rangers to his wife.
Camp 4 miles in rear Mechanicsburg
July 10, 1863
MY OWN DEAR WIFE:
I wrote you a long letter yesterday but on sober reflection last night while all the Camps were wrapped in sleep I concluded that it was too wicked to send you and I have concluded this morning to write again. I have little indeed to write as news is scarce in this part of the Country. Vicksburg as you will already have heard has been surrendered to the enemy and 17,500 brave Southern men have laid down their arms and given up the stronghold, the key of the Confederacy. It is almost impossible to tell the consequences but if Grant is wise Port Hudson will fall in less than a week and then Mobile, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, Augusta, Charleston. There is one escape and I am almost in hopes that Grant will pursue Johnston to Jackson as we learned yesterday that they were skirmishing at Clinton halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg. If we can keep them from Port Hudson till we can get there we may prevent such a series of disasters. God only knows what will be the fate of the Confederacy. I believe that as a power of the Earth it is conquered, but do not near believe the people are subjugated. I have little hope for the future.
But as an offset we hear of the total discomfiture of the Yankee Army in Maryland 12 miles from Baltimore at the Relay House some 30 miles north of Washington, having killed 4 Brig Gen’ls and severely wounded Col. Mead, the successor of Hooker in command of the largest army on the Planet. Washington will doubtless be captured. Such being the case I have a faint hope that a compromise of some kind will be effected which may result in Peace. This is a faint hope but drowning men will catch at straws, you know. The Yankee troops were told that when Vicksburg was taken they would be paid off, discharged, and go home, that peace would be made at once. Poor deluded, miserable wretches to believe a lie. How many thousands of their bones will bleach beneath a Southern sun ere they will see the dawn of peace. If Johnston whips Grant, as he will if he can fight him outside his entrenchments, the Yankee glory will be shortlived. God grant that he may get the opportunity.
Johnston was moving to relieve Pemberton and the time of the attack was to have been July 7th and Pemberton surrendered on the 4th, alleging starvation as the cause. The 10th was agreed upon and the blame rests on Pemberton. Thus we have suffered from Southern men of Northern birth. New Orleans, Vicksburg, and the Confederacy all gone unless by a direct interposition of Providence. We hear that New Orleans is in our hands but it won’t be long if Grant moves down the River. But a truce to War Matters, though a word more. I very much fear you will be visited by the Vandals before long, for I know there is a lack of ammunition on the west side of the river and if so you may look for me home. I may come anyhow. I can’t tell you, you need not be surprised to see me at almost any time. I feel sad to think that all my sufferings and toils are all lost to the Country all in vain. My first allegiance is to my family, my second to my Country.
Mr. Minchew came last Friday but he brought me no letter from you. Others had received letters from Minden by mail since Caufield’s return there, some as late as 19th but none for me and you can imagine how I felt. Tuesday I got yours of the 16th inst. and you don’t know how rejoiced I was to get it, but at the same time I thought it was very tame and cool considering I had not had a letter for nearly two months…
If some terms of accommodation are not come to between the contending powers, this will be a war of extermination. I cannot keep from the War Theme, my pen is like Anacreon’s lyre only its strains instead of those of Cupid belong rather to Mars bristling with his helmet and shield. I wish you to keep that pistol loaded and capped and if the Yankees come to Minden to wear it on your person, never be without it and the first one that dares insult you blow his brains out. This you must do or you are not the woman I married…
The report has just come in that Bragg has fallen back to the Tenn. River, Rosecrans having whipped him or rather flanked him and caused him to fall back. If it had not been for Bragg’s incompetency we would have held possession of all of Ky. and Tenn. We have been thoroughly blessed with incompetents in this Western Dept. Jeff Davis thinks Richmond is Heaven or nearly so while the loss of Vicksburg is incomparably greater than 40 such cities as Richmond, yet the latter has been surrendered, the former held…
But I must close my letter, I know it is not interesting but it is the best I can do under the circumstances. I am glad to hear that you have so much flour. I wish we could get some, for this cornbread will sour in 12 hours and we are required to keep 2 days’ rations on hand all the time. But I must write to Mother a hasty note to let her know I have not been surrendered at Vicksburg, for she will worry if she does not hear. I want to write to Spencer too before long as I expect he is now in Chattanooga. I am tired of this eternal state of suspense. Whatever is to be done I want it done quickly. My love to your Mother, Father and Sisters. What did your Father go to Shreveport for? Don’t let him neglect that matter of Spencer’s. Good Bye, dearest.
Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988).