5 July 1861: “You need not feel in the least alarmed for me, for I candidly do not believe that any attack will be made on us at least for a long time…”

Item description: Letter, 5 July 1861, from Edward Porter Alexander to his wife Bettie. At one point Alexander describes the mobilizing Confederate forces in a coded message, written in an “unknown tongue.” Several pencil notations were written above the coded message and appear to be a translation. (Our transcription of the letter includes these notations in brackets.)

[Item transcription available below images.]

Item citation: From folder 8 of the Edward Porter Alexander Papers, #7, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

HeadQrs. Army of the Potomac

Manassas Junction July 5th 1861

I imagine you today my dear darling little wifey as on the rail-road somewhere or other on the way to Richmond, but I am afraid, feeling rather down hearted because we can’t meet each other at the Depot. It had been the darling wish of my heart too, Presh, but the fates have decided against us for a while at least. There is one thing however that the fates can’t do, and that is to keep us from loving each other and thinking of each other and having great comfort in that and then in looking forward to meeting each other pretty soon with some more comfort and then from having so much higher appreciation of being together when we do meet. I read your letter of the 28th forwarded by Brother on Tuesday evening and oh Presh it did me lots of good and I read it over and over again. You must write to me often Darling. I wrote yesterday a letter to Brother on our position here, our strength [etc?] and he will show you the letter so that I need not repeat much of it. In brief we have three fortified positions at each of which we will make a very strong fight before we can be driven out, and we think that we can at least occupy the enemy long enough with the first to get reinforcements enough to be impregnable on the others. Our force here is about mox tartlum [twenty] pe [and] clone [three] hyas takamonuk [thousand] Rejto of infantry and mox tartlum [twenty] pe lockit [five] field forces, several thirty two pounders in our intrenchments, and cck [one] hyas takamonuk [thousand] cavalry. I give it in an unknown tongue lest the letter should fall into other hands and our force is rather a secret. Our foremost lines are between Centreville and Fairfax. Our next at Bulls Run Creek (see map.) and our inner ones are about the station here. You need not feel in the least alarmed for me, for I candidly do not believe that any attack will be made on us at least for a long time, nor that Beauregard intends to advance on Washington within a month at least. My duties too are not what will expose me at all. In fact if there was any place for you to stay here, I would not hesitate a moment about bringing you here. The country people are all staying at their farms and are now cutting wheat, and the darkeys and the old red hills look as natural as can be. The country girls come around here every evening to see the parades and it looks a good deal like West Point–I have been interrupted here for a half hour by the arrival of a prisoner, a private of Co. C. 2nd Cav. who either deserted or else got drunk and rode into our pickets yesterday though he don’t admit anything but that he was taking a ride. He appears willing to tell all that he knows, and as he has been in the service for some time, and has been a clerk in Gen. McDowell’s office he appears to know a good deal.

He says there are now 25,000 men on this side of the river opposite Washington, and a very large force in W. which is being measured into brigades and coming across the river. This interruption has occupied me so long that I will have to hurry up and finish this letter, for I have several other things to look after today and I must be stirring. Tom asks to be remembered, and I want my love and respects kisses [etc?] to be judiciously distributed among the Webbs and all inquiring friends. The Pegrances and Mitchells were very kind to me during my stay in Richmond and promised to call on you etc. Please reciprocate any attentions they may show you and remember me to them. Be a good dear Darling little sweetheart and love me lots just like you’ve always done, and then I’ll be satisfied with you and be your own loving and true


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2 Responses to 5 July 1861: “You need not feel in the least alarmed for me, for I candidly do not believe that any attack will be made on us at least for a long time…”

  1. Jay Conboy says:

    With regards to the post of 5 July, the “unknown tongue” in which Alexander coded his message is recognizable as “Chinook Jargon”, a language once used among French/English/American traders and native Americans.

    • dcbh says:

      Thank you for pointing this out. I find it really fascinating. When I first read the letter I thought it was just some sort of individualized cryptogram (or transposition of letters) that Alexander and his wife had worked that would allow them to send coded messages. But then we started researching and discovered this link. My understanding of it is that many army officers spent time in the 1850s at Fort Vancouver in Washington state, where Chinook jargon was one of two primary languages in use (the other being Canadian French): http://www.nps.gov/fova/historyculture/index.htm

      The language was adopted by these officers for use in military ciphers, a tradition that carried on into the Civil War. Mr. Conboy, is this your understanding of the link? Do you know any more about this history? Are you able to read/translate the message?

      By the way, on July 10th, we’ll be featuring a second letter from Edward Porter Alexander containing a similar message in Chinook jargon. The message in that letter has not been translated or annotated. We do have someone working on translating it, but we’d love to have assistance from anyone with knowledge of this language. We hope you’ll check back on the 10th!


      Biff Hollingsworth
      Co-editor, CWDxD