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Text of an actual letter home from a Southern soldier.

The war has long been advertised as brother against brother but, as usual, that is politicians rhetoric. As in many wars the soldiers related to one another as men and it may have been the small kindnesses that did more to heal the nation after the war than any amount of “reconstruction” – which was really nothing more than a continuation of the war by the north. Soldier’s Pen is a good enough book but the Gilder Lehrman foundation earns its bread and butter by presenting teaching materials about the war and offering a prize for books about Lincoln – hardly an unbiased source.

Near Chattahoochee
Fulton Co.
July 15th, 1864

Pickets don’t fire at each other now. We go down to the edge of the river on our side and the Yankees come down on their side and talk to each other. The men on picket opposite are from Ohio, and seem very tired of the war. They say that their term of enlistment will be out in three months and most of them say that when it is out they are going home. Gen. Johnson has issued an order that there shall be no more communication between with them, and I think it is well that he has done so because they were getting too intimate. Some men don’t know what should be concealed. The Yankees are very much in want of tobacco, and our Government gives it to us, and we used to trade tobacco with them for knives and canteens. There is a rock near the middle of the river to which they would swim and trade. After a while they got so well acquainted that some of our men would swim clear across and land among the Yankess. The Yankees were not so bold for a long time, but a few days ago they got to coming across also. That has been broken up now and if any trading is carried on, it is done contrary to orders.- – – – I took some tobacco down with me the other day but I found out when I got there communication had been stopped. As I was sitting on the banks, one of the Yankees from the other side called to me to know if I had any tobacco. I told him I had. He said that he had a good knife to trade for it. I told him that trading was prohibited. He said “Your officers won’t see you, come over, I want a chew of tobacco very bad.” I asked some of them who they were going to vote for President. One of them said “Old Abe” but most of them said they were for McLellan.

We have a fine rain last night that was much needed. I had my oil cloth pitched for a tent but it leaks very badly. I got rather wet but the rain was very hard and lasted only a short time, and I got dry and went back to bed and slept very well. One of the Yankee Lieutenants promised to mail some letters for one of our officers and I wrote to Aunt Martha expecting to send it at the same time but Gen. Johnson stopped the prodeeding so I did not send it. There is a force of Yankees on this side of the river and have been there for some time. Why Gen. Johnson don’t drive them back I don’t know he must have some object in view.

Write to me soon..

Yours truly,
O.D. Chester

This letter  shows a side of war that most people ignore. It is not unusual for troops from opposite sides to mingle when not fighting. Second it comes two days prior to removing Joseph E. Johnston as Commander and replacing him with John Bell Hood . The final sentence details much of the argument about tactics over which Davis and Johnston fought. Finally, the letter speaks of the coming election in November. This is very important in the South. At the time, the South viewed McLellan as a peace candidate so support for him would have been pro-South.


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