25 January 1863: “A few days’ quiet generally relieves me, but exposure and irregular living generally bring it on again.”

Item description: Published letter, dated 25 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 25, 1863.

I spent yesterday in bed, and feel to-day like getting back into it. Whilst I have not lost any time from sickness since I last left home, I have been often unwell and compelled to lie in bed for a day or two. A few days’ quiet generally relieves me, but exposure and irregular living generally bring it on again. I never was better than when I came to the army last summer; but about the time of the battle of Cedar Mountain it began, and has continued, making me often hardly fit for duty. It is in some measure owing to a want of vegetables and fruit, and to bad bread. The next opportunity I have, I will send to Richmond and get a stock of crackers, dried peaches, etc.

We have occasionally had an alarm, but generally everything has been quiet. Yesterday morning we had an order to send our extra baggage to the rear, but it arose, I believe, from the accidental bursting of a shell in Fredericksburg, which set the armies on both sides to beating the long roll. My brigade has been rapidly increasing in the last month by the return of sick and absentees. I hope by spring to bring it up to 2200 present, and to have it in a high state of efficiency. Then I expect some good service from it.

You say you have forty-eight barrels of flour at the lumber-house. After saving for your own use what you want, get Wm. White to send off the balance and sell it. Have the balance of the wheat ground, so that you may get the offal, and send off the flour. I wrote you in my last letter a good deal about the farm. Let me hear in your next letter all about them. I have but little time now to think of them, and trust it all to you. If my work here is well done, it will occupy my whole time. I should like to fill my place here, so as to leave it with some credit to myself. To do this will leave me but little time for matters on the farm. So you must be housekeeper, overseer, man of all business, and everything. You may as well learn now, and if you will devote your mind to it you will have no trouble. With such assistance as you can get from Matt and your father, you will be able to get along very well.

When I was lying in bed I half wished that I might get sick, so that I might get home for a little while; but I think my disease is destined to take an unfavorable turn so as to deprive me of that pleasure and keep me in camp.

Give my love to little Matthew and Galla, and tell them I say they must be good boys and do everything you tell them. How I wish that I could be with you again! I hope the day may not be far distant. This hope is the last thing with which I wish to part. Now, darling, good-bye. Write often.

P.S. After closing and sealing up my letter, I break it open to say that I received yours of the 17th inst. It is sad, Love; but still I am glad to know that I am prized at home even by the baby. God bless him, and — a more fervent prayer still — may he teach me my duty! Just here the Chaplain comes to say that the two of my poor soldiers condemned to die desire that their remains may be sent home, and my answer was that all in my power should be done to further their wishes. How I wish that I had some place where less responsibility was thrown upon me! May God give me strength to meet it in the spirit of mercy and justice. How sad it is to think of the distress which this punishment must bring upon others! It makes me shudder to think of such a fate being brought upon the wife and children of my own household. I feel in no humor, Love; I am too sad to write anything which would please you. Again good-bye.

General Paxton’s illness took the “favorable turn” which he hoped for, and his condition became such that a brief leave of absence became necessary, and he spent a few weeks with his family.

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