18 February 1863: “Of the colored race those the nearest white are the most to be pitied they look kind of sad as tho they do not like the position they occupy”

Item Description: Letter, 18 February 1863, from Silas Everett Fales, a soldier with the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry, to his wife Mary. Fales wrote from Bayou Gentilly and then New Orleans, about army life, the climate and bustling activity in the city, and race. Fales commented on the variety of skin colors he saw, and made particular note of a very dark-skinned, bright-eyed girl about the same age as his own daughter.

Item Citation: From folder 3 in the Silas Everett Fales Papers #3509-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Item Transcription:

Bayou Gentilly La Feb 18, 1863

Dear Mary

Yours mailed the 3d inst I received yesterday  I am very glad to learn that your health is better than when you wrote before  I received four letters by yesterdays mail one from you Lewis Joel one envelope containing one from Mother Henry and Anna tell them all if you see them that I feel very grateful for them and will answer them as soon as possible

We are having weather peculiar to this climate so hot this afternoon that I sat in the tent with my cap, coat, vest, and boots and a plenty warm tonight is cooler stars shining bright  For winter I like this climate very well in some respects  Yesterday I was on guard for the first time in a rain  it commenced raining just before 12 noon my relief was on from 12 to 2 when it rained in torrents but I sat down on a log my rubber blanket wrapped around me  Havelock on my head I sat and see it rain but did not get wet much  After I was dismissed I tried to fire off my gun but it was no go  the poweder was too wet so I drew the cartridge out and set the gun back and then had a good time reading letters  Hear comes new orders every man must have everything in the best of order knapsack packed and be ready to start for New Orleans at 8 O clock tomorrow so it wont do for me to write more at present  I must polish up my brasses pack my things & c Feb 19th The great time is over we have been to the city and a more tired set of fellows you never saw __ We sat up last night and fixed up our things and were up early this morning got everything in good order and at 8 O clock we started knapsack Haversack canteen cartridge box with 40 rounds bayonet and cap box hung on to me and the gun to carry it was quite a load as I had in my knapsack 1 shirt pair of pants blouse overcoat and blankets it as very warm we went on a couple of miles halted at a house to fill our canteens with water  four from the right were detailed to take the canteens and fill them a woman asked us to her house the water is in a cistern caught from the roof every house has one or more large wooden cisterns. She was very kind tho should speak but little English  She came out with a squad of Nigros with pitchers tunnels &c.. and we soon had our waters and were off.

On the way the people were out on the side walk to see us pass  Some of them looked quite savage at us but we don’t care for that  Most of the crowd were Nigros of al complexions from those that charcoal will make a white mark on to one I saw a little fellow with flaxen colored wool on his head and blue eyes  I saw one little girl about as large as Sarah and blacker than a cook stove just blacked  She was very bright her eyes and were quite conspicuous

Of the colored race those the nearest white are the most to be pitied they look kind of sad as tho they do not like the position they occupy __ We got to the city between 9 & 10 Waited in the street for a lott of Officers on horses to look up a field for inspection after they decided where to go thy took us on to a field low and wet We took a dry spot formed in line with the 26 & 97 Mass and the inspection commenced under the supervision of Gen. Sherman he was not nearly so particular as our Capt is on the Sunday morning inspection no fault was found with the arms of our Co  After inspection we had a Brigade drill  Were marched thro mud and water half way to the top of our boots the way we went thro it on the Double quick made the mud fly some  We got home at ½ past 2 So tired we could hardly walk it was So warm that the Sweat run down in Streams on our faces after lying down a while I feel quite well again tonight is cleer and mild  the nights are warmer we Sleep warm with one blanket over us  Leaves begin to grow on the trees plums trees are very full of blossoms oranges are budded full  I see some nice fields of clover all in blossom it is the white Honeysuckle

Sunday Evening  We had a chance when we come in from our walk this afternoon to hear the sound of bullets when within ½ mile of camp the old guard of yesterday were firing of their guns the balls went singing over our heads I laid down the rest got behind a tree  I don’t suppose they would have hit us but they come too near to be pleasant

I have been paid off to the first of Jan and have sent 45 dollars to your address North Wrentham the Adams Express. Co. are to deliver it there free of expense as I have paid freight and insurance if it should not come get Henry to call at their office in Boston  it was delivered to them on the 4th of Feb  I don’t think of much more to write camp life is about one thing all of the time tho time passes the fastest here of any place I was ever in not so much because it so pleasant as because we are so busy we don’t have time to think of any thing but our duties except when on guard then we can think of home and friends and the 2 hours are soon ever even if it is so dark that we cant see the length of the beat we walk on. We think of home then and some of the men wish they were there  I should like to be at home but I want my time to be out first  If I ever get home I can tell you something of Military life: something you never dreamed of  Tonight I hear the church bells rining in New Orleans the air is soft like spring frogs are peeping in the swam birds singing and if I could see nothing I could fancy myself at home in May but to look around it is not like New England teams are drawing wood and cannon stores are open  Peddlers are on the field selling pies oyster fruit &c. groups of Negros are walking lazily round ragged and dirty but (more intelligent than those of Hilton Head) on the whole I see nothing that looks like the christen Sabbath  I hear the cars passing down to the city now. One will learn to prize the institutions of the north by living hear awhile. We are camped inside of a race course they have had one or two races since we have been here  Sunday is a common day for them it looks to me like a brutal amusement some of the horses seem most ready to drop down when they get around

I have received a letter and paper from Henry for which I am much obliged  I wish you and all would write often as I feel disappointed when a mail comes with nothing for me

Be sure and take good care of your health as that is of the first importance I am very well  Weigh 170 pounds [annotation in pencil: 125 when he died] The tattoo has beat I must pack up for the night

Don’t get low spirited I find time to think of you and Sarah and our home if I am busy and hope if my life is spared to be with you again  Good night

Very Truly Yous S.E. Fales


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