12 June 1861: “I took a long look at your picture while waiting in ambush for the enemy, & you have no idea how much I valued my life…”

Item description: Letter, 12 June 1861, from William Gaston Lewis to Martha Lucinda Pender (“Mittie” or “Mitt”) of Tarboro, N.C. Writing from Yorktown, Va.

Item citation: From the W. G. Lewis Papers #2314-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Yorktown June 12th 1861

I was well repaid for hard fighting at Back River & two days severe march, by receiving from you, my dear Mitt, one of the most welcomed letters ever received by your humble servant. You will hear of the first battle of the second revolution, fully from those of our country who arrived on the field before the action was finished.

To N.C. belongs the praise of victory & to Edgecombe especially is the fortunate issue of the fight live.(?) Both of our Colonels congratulated our captain on winning the battle & said we behaved well.

I think you are a little inclined to flattery if I can take portions of your last in earnest.

You accuse me of being brave. If you had seen me dodging shells & bullets you would have thought differently. As we passed Col. Hill, he says, “boys you have learned to dodge already, I am an old hand at it” & at the same time dodged a bullet, & shook his finger at the enemy saying, “you dogs you missed me that time.”

I took a long look at your picture while waiting in ambush for the enemy & you have no idea how much I valued my life, & only to live for you. I believe if I was afraid of death, it was on your account.

I even had thoughts of you when bullets whistled around me & shells were bursting above me.

In the next battle I will try not to have a thought of you except to make you proud of one you have placed so much confidence in.

Butler was in command of the enemy in person, & his defeat was complete. I won’t say anything more of the battle as you will hear all the particulars.

You must really excuse such a disconnected letter as this, for you have no idea how difficult it is to write amid so much talking and confusion as is now in our tent.

Judging yourself by me. I will write even if it be but a few lines for I am always more than rejoiced to receive a letter from you, but the longer the better. You have most too high an opinion of me, as I am afraid you will yet find out, but in you, I know I am not mistaken when I tell you that I know of no other who will compare with you in all that is true, faithful and good. But you will accuse me of flattery if I go on, although I am in earnest. Tell cousin Lizzie, after giving her my love, that she is mistaken in my being as bad as Coff. Tell her to kiss Coff for me, when she next sees him.

Please write often, you have a great deal better chance than I have to write. There is always so much noise & so little privacy in our tent that I cannot collect my thoughts sufficient to write as I would like to you. Rest assured, Dear Mitt, that your name is sweet to me, I like to write it, I like to sing it, I like to hear it, I feel as if you are all to me in this world of tribulation.

Ain’t it hard that we should be separated perhaps forever, by such a rascal as Abe Lincoln. But we must make the best of it, & hope that we may yet live a long & happy life together. God bless you and take care of you. I wish I could tell you how much I love you & how much I wish to see you. Write soon to yours truly,


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