Sunday, December 02, 2012

What's the History Behind Chapter II of Prologue?


As Chapter II of the Prologue opens, we meet our "storyteller," Jacob Thompson and his best pard Hank Johnson, both serving in Company H of the Fourth Regiment, North Carolina State Troops Infantry.. Both pards, as we learn, hail from Iredell County in North Carolina and joined up together after the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor and the secession of North Carolina from the United States to throw its lot with the nascent Confederate States of America.

The two friends just have learned their regiment (commanded by Bryan Grimes) and brigade (commanded by George B Anderson)have been ordered by divisional commander Daniel Harvy Hill to cross into Maryland, thereby beginning the first movement north of the Potomac by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. Much debate and soul searching follows as the two companions, along with others of their company, wrestle with their hard-fought principles of defending their homes and rights against following their orders. Jake describes some of this debate in a letter which he writes home to his father and also describes some of the over 180 mile journey on foot from Gordonsville, Virginia to the area near Leesburg in Loudon County (not too far from Harper's Ferry area)..

Is There any Historical Fact behind Jake's Letter Home?


Actually, yes there is. Much of the background factual information about Jake's journey from Gordonsville, Virginia is factual and accurate. Captain William T Marsh, who winds up commanding the regiment at Sharpsburg, wrote a letter from Lessburg to an un-named cousin. 

This letter is important for a few reasons. First, it is the last known letter penned by Marsh; second, it vividly describes the grueling march of D H Hill's "relief column" to join the Army of Northern Virginia hopefully in time for what became the Second Battle of Manassas Plains as well as well as the horrible sights the division saw as it marched through the battlefield just immediately after the Army of Northern Virginia's victory over John Pope's Army of Virginia.

The full copy of Marsh's letter is given below; see if you can match up the details of what he writes to what Jake writes in his letter home to his father in Olin, North Carolina in the novel!

Camp 4th N C S Troops
 Near Potomac River Leesburg
Sept 4th 1862

My Dear Cousin,
 Your welcome letter of the 21st reached me a few days since whilst we were on a forced march to join the erratic Stonewall Jackson, having been forwarded from Richmond. I was glad to hear from you as I always am.
Since I last wrote I have experienced some of the hardest marching of the war &c in Summer dust—hard roads—long toilsome days marches & scarcity of water and thirst. We have now been marching tend days—eight of which without rest except a few hours at night. Within the ten days we have march an estimated distance of 187 miles. Within the eight successive days of march without a day of rest we marched 168 miles—an average of 21 miles per day many days upon only one meal per day and some without any. This force march was made to unite our forces with those of Jackson who was driving the enemy before him from the Rapidan towards Warrenton and thence towards Fairfax & Washington. We were unable to overtake Jackson & Longstreet before the battles of last Saturday and Sunday on Bull Run. We were one day behind and as we passed over the fields of strife extending from Gainesville to Bull Run for mile we were compelled to witness the awful disgusting and revolting spectacle of a battle field the day after battle. The bodies of the dead and wounded lay strewn and in heaps around us on all sides. So far as I could judge from appearances the carnage was greater than in any of the battles around Richmond especially of the enemy. I should think there was at least twenty dead bodies of the enemy to one of ours. It is estimated that their dead and wounded amounted to not less than eight thousand. The Second day’s battle was upon the old battle ground of the 21st of July 1861. They there again met with a most signal rout—we followed them to the fortifications near Washington between Alexandria and Arlington Heights. Our Division and some others were then dispatched to this point we arrived here last night late in the night and are allowed a portion of us (Andersons Brigade) to rest and prepare rations to day—to morrow we expect to follow into Maryland. A portion of Hills Division left us this morning to cross over at Balls Bluff or Edwards Ferry. We expect to leave early in the morning—our present course for the opposite shore. Perhaps when we get into Maryland we may not have facilities of writing or sending letters to our friends at home. I therefore embrace this the earliest as well as latest opportunity to reply to your letter. From late letters received by members of my Company the Yankees have been committing more depredations upon the citizens of Beaufort County than heretofore. I hear they have taken possession of one of our farms and are cultivating the (unclear in copy of copy) with a number of runaway negroes and have a lot of troops there to protect them. I suppose they will destroy my stock fencing &c If we could only get into Pennsylvania I should take pleasure in retaliating.
You have been misinformed in reference to my reported prospect of marriage with Miss Palmer. I have no such intention nor have I ever had.  Miss Palmer’s whole family was very kind to me when I was sick there last fall and again this spring. I am under many obligations to them and shall ever entertain a grateful remembrance of their many acts of kindness—beyond this I have no aspirations. In this disclaimer I am candid and sincere and hope you will not doubt me. I am too old to joke upon such a subject and care too little for what the public may say to attempt concealment. Perhaps I may never marry. I shall certainly never marry any one I would be ashamed of even beforehand. So that whenever I become engaged if you have curiosity enough to enquire I will not deny you the information unless otherwise requested and of that—would be candid. Will you make a bargain with me to tell me your love secrets in return for my own or would I be an unfair one. You are so young and I so far advanced in years. You just in the bloom of loves springtime, I in the autumn.      
As I have said we are about to enter Maryland and what opposition we may meet I cannot say. If we go to Washington of course we shall have much fighting to do. So far a kind protecting providence has held me in his hand and shielded me from all danger. It may still be my good fortune to be preserved. May be the Angel of Death may mark me as a victim. Many of my best friends in the army—among them the noblest and most patriotic—have fallen. Every part of our land has to mourn the loss of some of these—every instance of which tending more and more to alienate the two sections of country and render the separation more sure and permanent.
I see by the papers that my friend Maj. Gedtis [spelling ??] of Hertford Co. has been appointed solicitor. I suppose he will resign his place in the army. The Maj is so [copy lost here] a gentleman the 31st Regt will be the looser thereby.
I shall expect to hear from you soon and often as you are my only female correspondent except A[rest unclear]. It is cheering and refreshing to get a letter from you.
Give my kind regards to your sisters. 
Yours sincerely
 W.T. Marsh

Note:  Copy of original letter transcribed by author of novel and transcribed copy is in the library of the Antietam National Battlefield Park, Sharpsburg, Maryland.


No comments:

Post a Comment