Fairfax Station [BCF]
On the outside of my last letter to you I mentioned having received yours enclosing one from Uncle Henry; we have had no letters for some time now; there is a hitch in the mail every little while.
The other day I wrote to George, and spoke of what you wrote me about McClellan, in a way which I thought afterwards might look rude on paper. I didn’t mean it so, and I wish you would tell him. It is astonishing how much the meaning of a sentence may be changed by the manner in which it is said, and consequently how a written sentence may be misunderstood.
We hear that Hooker will probably be made commander-in-chief before long. I believe he will be a failure too. Though he got us so much glory at Antietam, neither he nor his Corps were on the field after 8 1/2 A.M. We were under his command part of the time, or at least received orders from him, and they were thought to be pretty wild ones then. If we do change our commander again, and the new one doesn’t do any better than his predecessors, I should think a crisis in our affairs might be expected. I hope the battle in the West may turn out to be as important as is supposed.
We are all comfortably housed in log-huts, with brick fireplaces, and can laugh at the cold for the present. Harry and I are as cosey as possible in a house seven by six, with a tent for a roof. I feel almost as if I were at home, after the exposure and discomfort of the last three weeks. We may be ordered off at any moment though, so that we don’t indulge in any hopes of escaping the frosts of January.
We have been reading “Bleak House,” and I didn’t remember how many beautiful things there were in it. I am reading “Napier’s Peninsular War” to myself, and it is really a classic work; I never knew before, either, what a man Sir John Moore was, nor was so impressed with Napoleon’s military genius. It is a great book, and a great many things in it apply to the conduct of our war. Speaking of one of Napoleon’s letters to Joseph Bonaparte, he says: “Then followed an observation which may be studied with advantage by those authors who, unacquainted with the simplest rudiments of military science, censure the conduct of generals, and, from some obscure nook, are pleased to point out their errors to the world; authors who, profoundly ignorant of the numbers, situation, and resources of the opposing armies, pretend, nevertheless, to detail with great accuracy the right method of executing the most difficult and delicate operations of war.” The observation he refers to is: “But it is not permitted at the distance of three hundred leagues, without even a statement of the condition of the army, to direct what should be done.” In another place, he says: “A ruinous defeat, the work of chance, often closes the career of the boldest and most sagacious of generals; and to judge of a commander’s conduct by the event alone, is equally unjust and unphilosophical, a refuge for vanity and ignorance.”
Did Father get my letter asking him to forward my coat lined with red flannel? If you have given it away, no matter. I can get along perfectly well without it, and if not, can get another from Baltimore. We have had some very warm woollen jackets issued to us lately, which are almost as good as an overcoat. Out men are all as well housed as the officers, each house having a fireplace in it. Give my love to Susie, and tell her not to nourish the hope that I can get away in February. I don’t think there is any chance of it.
What a great year this is for the negroes and the country! I don’t appreciate it at all times. If we get the Mississippi, it will make a great difference, I should think, in the spreading of the President’s Proclamation. I read Mrs. Stowe’s “Reply” in the January “Atlantic,” and liked it very much.
With love to Father, always your most
January 8, 1863
Robert Gould Shaw had been serving in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry for almost two years, and would become the commander of the newly forming 54th Massachusetts in several months:
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