Civil War Love Letters: February 4–16, 1865
James wrote this letter over several days in February 1865. For most of the letter, he remained at Camp Asylum prison in Columbia, South Carolina, and still hoped that his friends from his old regiment, the 8th Kansas Infantry, would arrange his exchange. James passed the time by reading Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847, and Very Hard Cash, a novel about the abuses of private insane asylums written by Charles Reade in 1863. While James’s condition had not changed, the war progressed nearby. In early February, Union general William T. Sherman began his Carolinas Campaign, starting in Savannah, Georgia, and heading north to ultimately join Grant’s forces battling Confederate general Robert E. Lee at Petersburg, Virginia. During the several days that James wrote this letter, Sherman’s army got closer to Columbia, but Sherman sent part of his forces toward Augusta and Charleston, South Carolina to delude the enemy. On February 4, Sherman’s army, which he split into two wings, was near Beaufort’s and River’s bridges. By February 12, the army was just west of Orangeburg, South Carolina. By February 14, Sherman’s army was less than 10 miles south of Columbia. On February 15, the Confederates moved the Federal officer prisoners, including James, from Columbia to Charlotte, North Carolina, where James wrote the last entry of this letter. On February 16, Sherman’s army entered Columbia, and the mayor surrendered the city to Union forces the following day. James planned to attempt another escape. Would he finally succeed?
Feby 4th 1865
As rumors of an early Exch. of sick still continue to prevail, I resume my notes, hoping they may reach you and cheer you a little in my absence. I have found that our letters accumulated at Hilton Head, in consequence of Sherman's movements, have been since sent to City Point and Richmond for transmission but I fear the lazy Rebs will scarcely trouble themselves to read them and let us have them. As they are too lazy to read ours to send away several thousand letters have accumulated in their hands for friends at home so far and that is the reason we have quit writing.
We have heard of an attack on Grant by Lee in which the latter was repulsed with Loss of Men and Gunboats. I hope it is true as it disproves the rumors of Armistice. Also that Grant is appointed Comr. of Exch. in lieu of Butler disgraced, and that he has had an interview with Ould from which some expect great results. I do not.
Feby. 12th 1865
We have passed another wet & frosty and so to us miserable week. Many rumors however are current to cheer us, all tending to a favorable result to our arms, or towards an early Exch. for some of us. I have had a cold and occasional sick headache, but nothing of moment, even to my idea and you know I am rather fearful of colds. Fortunately I had just got possession of “Jane Eyre” and “Very Hard Cash” and I laid abed and sweat it off. I am now quite free. I have just got a letter from our old Lt. Col. (Schneider) from Ohio, where he is at home sick, and he states that Col. Martin being out of the Service had called on him and shown him a letter of mine dated 9th Decr. that he had taken immediate steps in some quarter where they had the will and the power for my Exch. that he hopes if possible to procure it and also assure's me that all will soon be at home. That ought to put me in good spirits you would say – but still I doubt. We have been promised the same from the highest authority and deceived. I have no faith left. I am much pleased and gratified at the receipt of the letter, and will try to wait the issue patiently but meantime the crisis in the shape of Sherman is upon us and we are under momentary expectation of being ordered to move out of the way of our friends again, like the dove from the Ark. We can find no where to rest. All is commotion outside. All the Old men and all the boys above fourteen are out, in fear of a raid from this Cavalry – while his main force is said to be at or near Augusta, and another column at or near Charleston. We go to ________. I'll tell you perhaps when we get there. On the merest grounds of humanity our government should Exchange us. I fear they can not rescue us – until we are marched to death, or killed by cold and exposure, being driven before the advance of our friends like so many cattle. Columbia today, by the bye, is like a fair. It is full of men, women, children, horses, cattle, furniture and supplies and wagons of all kinds, just flocked in, in order to escape the clutches of the victorious Sherman.
I sent a letter by and same time as the one I have just mentioned (9th Decr.) to you. I happened to have it written but not mailed, also one to Wm asking him not to pay a certain Bill of Exchange. I wonder if either reached. I have now some hopes they did, as one has, why not all. They must unless some unfortunate accident prevented. If so you will have heard from me – though you will feel annoyed at the scanty amount of news contained therein. If I had known of any certain opportunity, I would have prepared as I am now doing and given you as much truth as paper and pen will convey, but a chance is so problematical and paper is so scarce, and &c, &c, &c. Why I may actually carry this through myself. I have no doubt that ere May day several hundred of us will rejoice our friends with our personal presence. Why should not I? Well I might were I not a Jonah!!! So dont expect me. Today is a beautiful Spring day, warm sun and balmy wind. Yesterday was almost as fine, and so I washed all my clothes. They were much in need and made all preparation for a march to a new prison or camp – so called a Prison or to Sherman & Liberty, for if I can fool the guard so as to get off without a shot in the back I will run for it, and so will the majority of us. While I was busy there was service held in camp by a preacher who has visited us for that purpose before – so I was not present, but to day a Lt. Gunn of Ky. preached and we had a very pleasant service indeed at which I was present and I hope I profited. I now fill up the interval before our dinner (or supper rather) in writing to you.
Oh! I so pray and pine to hear from you my dear girl. I hope you keep up heart and enjoy yourself for after all in a troubled mind and suspense you must suffer more than even I do, from these few evils of the body – believe me I suffer more in mind than in body myself even now and also in the long months gone by. When my mind was easy I made light of our sufferings and extracted as I ought many sunbeams from my Cucumber. It was only when at times I got the blues from dissapointed hopes that I gave in to our tormentors; I hope for so little now, that I can scarce be dissapointed again, but I feel it much that I do not get a letter from you occasionally. I know you write.
For months no letters came in camp from the North! Now they come again, but I am not fortunate as yet. I may be tomorrow! I pray to God I may! A large mail came in to day and yesterday, the balance comes tomorrow.
I made out a draft on Friday on Lawyer Evans, who owes me money, but I do not expect him to pay it. I dont wish him to pay it until I return home, or write to request it. I have not got any money on it yet, and I do this to prevent rascality. I got such a fright last time when I drew on William that I resolved not to do so again if I could help it; unless I wished it paid at once which I know he would do. If he paid the first one I sent (in Decr.) why I must only trust to repaying myself by taking from some Reb, according to the laws and rules of war, a thing I have not done as yet, but the provocation is so strong in this case that I have almost sworn it! And why not? such has been the way of the world since time began!! The bluest blood of the English Aristocracy, hold their rank, wealth and title by the good old rule that he should take who had the power and he should keep who can – so of all rank - the world over! Save a few of late day by merit, and a few by legal or illegal gains in trade! Only think if 1 had been out of here, I would be Major or Lt. Col of our Regt. Yes even if I had got out when Austin did in Sept. last, or even when I escaped in Novr. I could yet have been Major but because I am a prisoner I am yet plain Capt. Love – but in that respect I suffer along with 40 or 60,000 other prisoners so I do not grumble at what may perhaps be a necessary regulation.
I do want to get out of here however, so as to secure any such windfall and then leave the service if I want too. I would like to be promoted once or twice first. I assure you, vanity and a sense of justice would then both be satisfied but dinner is now ready, and as that is the main event of our day, it brooks no delay, or evasion so for the present my dearest girl goodbye. With much love to you and all friends – and more gossip anon
from yours truly
James E. Love
Capt. 8th K. Vet. Vol.
Feby. 14th 1865
Well my Love, I have just received a valentine from you, it was dated 27th Nov but what of that. It is to remind me that there is more and better things to come, and it was full of Love too, and of your ardent hopes nay expectations of my early Exchange. In fact you puzzle your brains! why I am not released ere now? Now on that subject I can enlighten you now, though I could not have done so six months ago. And first I am in a Kansas Regt. Thats Bad! Then I am from Mo. Thats worse!! And both together is quite damnable in all rebel eyes! Then although I have been wounded and badly, I was turned out of the Hospital over a year ago, so that counts against me, when an Exchange of sick or wounded is in progress, and probably accounts for the dissapointment of the Washington authorities in part. But not altogether for with about two dozen exceptions, and they mostly General & Field officers the U. S. Govt. have not got anybody they wanted exchanged since last May.
The Rebels send who they please, and always those who are traitors to us, or who pretend to be so, also those who have most money, in hand to Bribe them with!!! Now I have none to spare in that way! And I never ask any favors of them! Nor never will, unless I am starving. I hope it wont come to that, for I w’d almost prefer it, to stooping to them. And thats whats the matter!
Bless your dear heart. Almost every officer here has a promise of an Early Exchange, and yet few believe in being Exchanged before the end of this year or of the War! There will be a few fortunate ones of course and that soon but the sick and the monied ones only. Our Governt professed to be anxious to Exchange us all, but that I should say it. It is false! And only said to keep you quiet at home. They hope to capture us – not Exchange us! and all the movements are in that way, but they cannot capture many of us, for the Rebs will move us quicker than our army can move! All is pretence, and this will be the result, a number of thousands will be exchanged within a month or more perhaps, and then Grant and Sherman will capture their Railroads, and stop Exchange by their movements, as they did last year, and on this pretence, for it is only a pretence, Exchange will stop again until the fall. Ere which time as I said they hope to capture us – and so give no equivalent! As I said I have no such hope.
But if the cause prospers I forgive it all, what after all is my little mite of suffering, when weighed against that of the Nation at large!? Therefore I pray for its success and dont wish the war to stop until in Gods good Providence all its citizens are free and all our wishes granted by a reestablishment of the Union that will be as lasting as it is glorious!
I wish to be with you so much however that I will give my watch to any Reb who will take me out; and I will escape by any tunnel or other means that offers. The Rebels have just discovered a Tunnel, but others are in progress that they wot not of; and if they move us, why numbers will escape as usual. Well my Love I am sorry I cant send you a better Valentine, but when I reach home I will try and do better. I will try and do and be all you want of me!
I look for some more letters from you daily, for we have not got half our mail yet. Meantime do be disheartened and above all things – write to me.
Feby 16th 1865
After writing the above we were notified to pack for a move. We were marched to the cars and found all Columbia in excitement, cause Sherman was coming. We soon found we were bound for Charlotte and after a tiresome ride of 18 hours arrived here last night. It was an awful day and night rain sleeted and froze hard until the ground and trees were covered with an inch of ice. It was so rough I would not escape though I had a good chance last night we slept by a large fire in an open field. It was cold and foggy but dry, today the same. Tonight I intend to go if possible, with a party of eight for East Tennessee. Exchange news is good, but we have no faith and would rather cheat the rebs if we can, and carry our own letters. I have just got one from Wm. dated 25 Decr. announcing a box – none from you. With love farewell till I see you
James E. Love