1 February 1863: “I have had the itch – and feared to write lest it should be imparted to you from the paper…”

Item description: Letter, 1 February 1863, from Leonard Henderson to his mother Mary Henderson. The letter describes Henderson’s affliction with what many historians colloquially call “camp itch,” a mysterious skin disease that plagued countless soldiers during the war. Many now believe that this epidemic was actually an outbreak of scabies.  For more information on this topic, please read the entry on “camp itch” in the Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine.

Item citation: In the John S. Henderson Papers #327, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Camp Whiting
February 1st 1863

Dear Mother

I have been afraid to write for some time for a very good reason as you will acknowledge when you hear the circumstances. I have had the itch – and feared to write lest it should be imparted to you from the paper. When I got back instead of Duggers telling me the men had it, he seems to have taken for granted that what he knew I knew also and the men being very glad to see me came up and we had a general shaking of hands. the consequence was that in due time I contracted this most loathsome of diseases, but Dolt Ritter, who by the way is now Brigade Surgeon, has managed to nip it in the bud though I am still under treatment, the welts however have dried up.  Just before I commenced this the Doctor examined my arm and says it is the worst that has come under his treatment. Some have broken out all around the main ulcer and it looks more like a running ulcer than a sore caused by vaccination. I have gotten tired of my inactivity & gone to see him in order to have it healed quickly if possible but it was no go. he says it will get well in process of time and patience is all that is required. I cannot therefore do duty. Dick is a great little fellow and to console him you may tell him that there is one chance in a hundred of his seeing his bubba Len home and safe, say also that when I do come, if I do, I will bring all sorts of pretty things and toys. Did you see the standard of the 30th, if you have not get and read it, there is a letter in it written by Mrs. Hinton to her husband, Maj. Hinton of the 8th. it is written very feelingly and is truly feminine in its character, the Yankees are delaying as they did at Roanoke and are under the same leader, Foster, for Burnsides was ten miles beyond range of the longest guns of whose resignation or [?] I have reason both to be sorry and glad. I sincerely hope they will not meet with the same success, but be this as it may they will receive a heartier and more cordial reception for “few will part where many meet” unless perhaps at a double quick. Our forces are said to number 9000 but I know that [5000?] is the greatest number that can possibly be brought in the field. I alude to the forces now here – odds against 50,000, our fortifications are now complete and Genl. Clingman has already picked out a place where Foster is to deliver up to him his swords. I fear our Genl. is mistaken never but he is positive and talks as if the thing had already happened and to say truth if the enemy came that particular road and our Brigade is sent down as it certainly will be the Gen’l will gain some fame if he doesn’t get the coveted sword. the position is a natural one and fortified as it is, is impregnable, just in front of the fortifications is a broad creek, very deep with swampy banks and unless they have pontoons they could hardly cross unopposed and with our Brigades in front of them and entirely covered by the works, pontoons would do them no good even could they drag them across the country which is utterly impossible on account of the depth of the sand and weight of transportation. If the Yankees come a most bloddy and exterminating battle will ensure as Gen’l [?] has determined to fight to death and even destroy that which he is [?] to defend rather than retreat.

[for Dick’s benefit]

Nay, [?] from the word ‘farewell’. As if ’twere [?]. [?] such fears may prove [certain?]; So changed is life’s fleeting day, Whenever we sever – hope may say, We part – to meet again.

My love to Father. Kiss the little ones.

Your affectionate son,
L.A. Henderson

P.S. If you can get it. Send me a couple bottles sarsaparilla. I will get them if sent by Express

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