Friday, April 12, 2013

April 12, 1863: Elisha Franklin Paxton to his wife

Camp Winder, April 12, 1863.

Your letter of April 7th came to hand yesterday, bringing the welcome intelligence of all well at home. I will spend part of this quiet Sabbath in writing to you in answer to it. It is a very pleasant and warm April day, -- so pleasant that our log church has been abandoned and the chaplains had service in the open air. I witnessed to-day what I never saw before: the sacrament administered in the army. It was, indeed, a solemn and impressive scene; a congregation composed entirely of men, standing around in the circle of which the chaplain was the center, receiving the bread and wine in renewal of their vows and fellowship as Christians.

A number were admitted for the first time to the sacrament, and received into the church. The whole assembly wore such an air of seriousness and devotion as I have seldom witnessed before. There was no excitement, but an exhibition of earnest devotion in the discharge of the highest duty on earth. Far away from wife, mother and sister, separated from them perhaps forever in this world, they met, this mild April Sabbath, in the open air, some of them for the first time, and others to renew their sacramental vows of faith in Christ and fresh exertion to deserve his mercy. Men like these, however gloomy the future may be, look to it pleasantly and happily, contented to receive whatever of good or ill God has in store for them with the supplication, "Thy will be done!" Relying with implicit faith upon his mercy, the future is stripped of its gloom and becomes all bright, beautiful and happy. To such men death is no enemy, but a messenger expected from God sooner or later, and welcome as the quick path to a holier and happier life. With such soldiers in our army and such men at home, we might bid defiance to all the boasted numbers and strength of our enemies and feel sure of victory. But it is sadly true that the mass of our men here and at home are not of this type. Very many of our officers and soldiers -- very many more, I think, of our people at home -- have grown worse instead of better by the calamity which has fallen upon us. It is strange that it should be so; strange that adversity makes us no wiser and better; that our depravity grows deeper and darker in proportion to the severity of affliction. How little we know of the future! Last Sunday I thought another week could not pass without more blood. The reasons which prevented it during the winter -- the weather and the roads -- no longer exist. We have for some days had good weather and good roads, and no reason why the enemy should not advance, if so disposed. I place but little confidence in my judgment as to what will happen; but I have rather come to the conclusion that the enemy does not mean to attack us here. There is nothing which seems to indicate an advance. I am inclined to believe we have nearly as many men at our command here as they have opposed to us, and I think it likely they know it.

Their balloons go up every day, and from these they have a full view of the location of all of our troops; I suppose we shall have some activity after a while. If they do not move, we shall, I think. Whenever the struggle comes, I feel sure of success -- that God will bless us with another signal victory. We have a just cause and a splendid army, and I trust that our next engagement may be attended with such signal success that much will be accomplished towards closing the war. I look to the future with much confidence. Many of us must go down in the struggle, never to rise again. Such may be my fate. Sometimes I try never to let my hopes fix upon anything beyond the war, such is the uncertainty of surviving it. Then I find myself happy in the dream and hope of the time when it will all be over, and I shall be with you again, to spend the rest of life in peace and quiet. God will that it may be so! If not, I am content. Sooner or later we must separate in this life, and it will be whenever God so wills it. Despondency and despair under such circumstances is foolish and sinful. Far better to be contented and complaisant, ready to do our duty and submit in patience to our fate, whatever it may be.

And now, darling, good-bye. Give my love to Matthew and Galla, and a kiss to little Frank. Write often, and believe me, dearest, ever yours.

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