12 October 1862: “what white people you meet give you a wide berth for fear of contaminating themselves by touching a yankee…”

Item description: Letter, 12 October 1862, from Union soldier Stephen Tippet Andrews to his beloved, Margaret (Maggie) Little. In this letter, Andrews describes his journey from Newport News to Suffolk, Va., commenting on the condition of the cities of Norfolk and Suffolk and noting his passage through the Great Dismal Swamp.

Stephen Tippet Andrews enlisted in the 85th New York Infantry Regiment on 26 August 1861. He helped organize Company F, and was mustered in as first sergeant of the company in the second half of 1861.

For an introduction to the correspondence between Andrews and Little, please see our post of 11 February 1862.

Item citation: In the Stephen Tippet Andrews Letters #5324, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Suffolk Va Oct 12, 1862

Dear Maggie.

I rec’d your late letter a day or two ago and derived the same pleasure I always do in perusing your letters, I wrote you last Sunday and just as I finished we received orders to leave Newport News and come to this place, which I noted in a postscript; I presume you have received it long ere this. Well we had to leave our nice camp and are again in the field. we left Newport News the next day and embarked on the Steamer Express for Norfolk; and pulled out at 4 P.M. and in an hour and a half was at the dock of the latter place, As we were (to) stay here two or three hours awaiting the cars I took a stroll around the city In time of peace – Norfolk must be a very pretty place to live in; but now there is but little doing. And here I saw for the first time – what I have often heard of but never before seen – viz (?) “Grass growing in the principal streets of a city” – a sad comment upon the effects of the war One other thing I will mention and that is the large number of the “frail fair” who throng the streets plying their filthy trade upon the passers by and I must admit that they are largely supported by the officers of the Union Army. At last the train was ready and we started at 9 o’clock P.M. under one of the most beautiful moon lights I ever beheld. Soon we were across the river and out upon the level country. – You spoke of going through the “Dismal Swamp” with my friend Nichols – well what if you did? Within a half hour after leaving Norfolk I went through the Dismal Swamp! Yes the celebrated Dismal Swamp – made famous in poetry by Tom. Moore and in romance by Mrs Stowe, and ever and anon I caught glimps (sic) of groves of cypress whose dark shadows looked in strange contrast with the bright moon light which played around them

A ride of two hours brought us to the famous city of dust, darkey and decay. I must say I was very much disappointed in the looks of Suffolk. It is a town of about fifteen hundred inhabitants and if it was not built before the flood it certainly was soon after – it is the oldest and most antiquated looking town I ever say. The dust in the streets is about six inches deep and the walks so crowded by niggers that a person is sometimes crowded off into the dust, and what white people you meet give you a wide berth for fear of contaminating themselves by touching a yankee Upon one side it is the Namsamond river and upon the other the Dismal Swamp, and if it was not for the name of it I would say I was homesick, – for this is the most God-forsaken town on earth – and today it rains like thunder (Excuse me Maggie) which makes me feel sour

Now that we are in the field it will be impossible to get a furlough so I shall have to forego the great pleasure it would afford me of going home and seeing you – but keep up spirits – I hope this war will soon close and then we will be all the happier for this long separation. I do not think we are going to see any fighting here for the “rebs” are a great way off and Gen Picks is fortifying this point very strong – so if they do come down upon us they will get sore heads, But Maggie I must close for it is dinner time Write me soon and accept a big lump of love

From your own


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