17 January 1863: “My only hope for a furlough is to get shot or get sick. This is the misfortune of my promotion.”

Item description: Published letter, dated 17 January 1863, as collected and published in Memoir and Memorials (The Neale Publishing Co., 1907), a memoir of Elisha Franklin Paxton.

Elisha Franklin Paxton was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1828. He studied at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) and Yale before entering law school at the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1849 and practiced law in Ohio and Lexington, Virginia. In 1860, when failing eyesight forced him to give up the law profession, he became a farmer. In April 1861, Paxton joined the Confederate army as a first lieutenant with the Rockbridge Rifles. He fought at the 1st Battle of Bull Run and was elected major of the 27th Virginia regiment in October 1861. Continuing to climb through the ranks, Paxton was promoted to brigadier general in February 1862. He led the Stonewall Brigade at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, where he was killed in May 1863.

John G. Paxton, one of Elisha Paxton’s four children, collected his father’s letters and printed them under the title Memoir and Memorials: Elisha Franklin Paxton, Brigadier-General, C.S.A. (1905). Paxton’s weekly letters written to his young wife describe the Civil War from the perspective of a Confederate soldier and officer. Covering a span of two years, the letters begin in April 1861 and continue until April 27, 1863, just six days before he was killed. John G. Paxton also includes a series of letters and telegrams written during the war, among them a telegram from General Robert E. Lee expressing his sincere regrets over Paxton’s death at Chancellorsville. Letters from friends to the Paxton family offer similar condolences. The collection also contains official Union and Confederate army records documenting Paxton’s military accomplishments, and extracts from the journal of Margaret J. Preston, a neighbor of the Paxtons and the author of Beechenbrook; A Rhyme of the War (1865).

[Biographical information courtesy of DocSouth.]

Item citation: Paxton, Elisha Franklin. Memoir and memorials: Elisha Franklin Paxton, Brigadier-General, C.S.A. ; composed of his letters from camp and field while an officer in the Confederate Army, with an introductory and connecting narrative collected and arranged by his son, John Gallatin Paxton. New York: The Neale Publishing Co., 1907.

Item transcription:

Camp Winder, January 17, 1863.

We returned yesterday from a week’s tour of duty on picket, and the men are now camping in their old camp. We had very good weather, with the exception of one day’s rain; and it was cloudy and seemed every day as if bad weather was coming upon us. Whilst there I got an order to cook one day’s rations and be prepared to move at any time. But several days have elapsed and no order yet to move. I think it is very improbable that such an order will come before spring. The Yankees, I doubt not, are having a quiet time in winter quarters, and, I think, have seen enough of us to last them until spring. Appearances indicate an engagement in North Carolina. It is probable they will make an effort to take possession of the railroad and of Wilmington. If so, we will have, I doubt not, a severe battle there. I expect, too, we shall hear of another attack on Vicksburg before long. So far as we are concerned here, I feel, perhaps, too confident. We have whipped the army in front of us very often, and I feel sure that we can do it any time. We repulsed their attack at Sharpsburg, where, I am sure, we did not have more than half of our present strength. I do not think their army can ever be increased but the symptoms of dissatisfaction at the North must tend largely to diminish it. Our independence was secured in the last campaign when we proved our capacity to beat the finest army they could bring in the field. The war may be protracted, there is no telling how long; but we have shown our capacity to beat them, and we are better able to do it now than ever before. But many of us may never live to see the end; it may last long enough to see the end of more of us than will be blessed in living to see the end of it. If it be God’s will that my life shall be lost in it, I feel that I should await my fate contented, if not with cheerful satisfaction. The next world we must all see sooner or later, and in this business one must make up his mind to look upon the change with composure. Every sense of fear and alarm must be controlled in such a way that he may act free from the influence in the midst of dangers which at other times would have made him shudder. It is well that we cannot know to-day the events of to-morrow; that upon the eve of our pain and death we may be made happy by the anticipation of pleasure which we are destined never to enjoy. So, darling, I live upon the hope that this war may some day end, that I may survive it, and that you and I may spend many a happy day together. God grant that it may be so!

I had hoped to have gotten home this winter, but I think there is no chance of it. My only hope for a furlough is to get shot or get sick. This is the misfortune of my promotion. Before I could go and come when I pleased, but now I am fixed while the war lasts. Now, Love, I will bid you good-bye. Write often.

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