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Havens Letter: April 23 1863

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Creator: Edwin R. Havens
Subjects: Civil War, 1861-1865
Date: April 23, 1863
Format: Image/jpg
Original Format: Document
Collection Number: LC00016 – Havens Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 9
Language: English
Rights Management: Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by Michigan State University and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.
Contributing Institution: Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections
Relation: LC00016 – Havens Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 9
Contributor: MSU Archives and Historical Collections
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 1

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

Selickman’s Ford. Virginia.
April 23d 1861 [1863?]

To. Our. Folks.
As I have a few moments
of quiet and need something to employ my mind
and time better than sleep or some worse occupation
I have got my back against a tree and made up my
mind to write you all a letter. I owe none of you one
but being somewhat liberally minded I will give you
this one free of charge. In starting I shall promise
you that there will be little, if any, news. Everything
in camp glides along smoothly, and the wheels of
time roll rapidly and we can scarcely take note of
each day before it is past and forgotten.. Days glide
into weeks, weeks are soon months. and we think of
the happy moments we were wont to pass at home
as though they were but a week past.. It is strange
how time flies with one in the army while he retains
his health.. But very likely to one ill it is slow. surrounded
as he is by none of the comforts of home.
Seven months ago today we were journeying from
Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids to commence our life as
soldiers; well do I remember that day the memories
of home and friends I was leaving crowding about
my mind and shadows of the [dim?] coming future.
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 2

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

Some of those shadows were dark and threatning
presaging ill health wounds, and perhaps death.. others
bright, and promising health and happiness. and on
these what more natural than to build air castles of fame
honor and prosperity. filling not only my own heart but
those of parents and friends with joy and pride.
These seven months have been short and happy
ones. I have been blessed with the most perfect health
and the hardships which I have endured and which at
the distance I had viewed them with friends at home
seemed appalling are when at hand but small and trifling
to one who has made up his mind to endure with fortitude
and resignation whatever falls to his lot.. It often sur
prises me to see men who after having all the facilities
that were offered to them to learn what was to be required
of them after becoming soldiers by their own free act and
professing to a degree of patriotism that would cause them
to leave home with its many comforts for the battle
field, wounds, scars, and all the etceteras accompanying
the army complain when they are required to perform
any duty which is required of them. From such men
I often turn away in disgust We have many such
men but have a few who never complain or attempt
to evade their duty. men to whom it is only necessary
to say “do” and have it immediately done without ask
ing why they should do so. It is unnecessary to give
my opinion of those. Yours would coincide with it.
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 3

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

True, we have to perform many duties which
are irksome to me and which seem unnecessary but
I have no right to question them. I have sworn to obey
my superior officers. and if I but perform what they
order, be it right or wrong I shall not be held accountable
One of the most unpleasant features of military life is
its utter despotism. One man if he only has money and
influence enough to procure a comission and the Eagles
upon his shoulders, while he holds a command, holds
too, the destiny of a thousand men in his hands.
He can elevate or depress them at his own will and
discretion to gratify some personal pique or work some
personal advancement.. Private, “non commish.” and com
missioned officers are alike, compelled to submit to his as
far as the affairs of the regt are concerned, absolute
despotism.. It needs but a slight offence or even pretext
to throw an officer from his command and either deprive
him of his commission or keep him confined to his quarter
for months.. The same but more forcibly and less
appealable are the powers of those whose rank is des
ignated by stars..
The worst hardships we have thus far endured
are scarcity of provisions for ourselves. and forage for our horses
the last much worse than the former.. We seldom see
potatoes although they are allowed by the Regulations
of the army twice a week. Fresh beef we have not
seen since leaving Washington, and many articles
which the government agrees to, and in some

Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 4

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

instances does furnish we have never seen..
Our living consists of bread either hard or
soft, but oftener hard, beans, pork, salt-beef,
sometimes rice, or as we have sometimes had
dried apples or peaches, which are a great luxury
For breakfast we have bread, meat, and coffee
for dinner bread, beans, and bean soup. some
times pork.. for supper bread, coffee, and rice
or fruit when we have them. Today I breakfasted
on bread and butter, dined on the same, and
now as I write I munch soft bread for supper
with neither coffee or water. Butter can be bought
of our Sutler for fifty cents a pound, and as he
Keeps a good lot always he finds quite a ready
sale for all he has.. Our horses fare much
worse than we for they often have neither hay
nor oats and often have to drill half a day
without a mouthful.. This is not because hay
and grain is not plenty enough, but because
we have not teams enough belonging to the regt
or because they are used to transport property
belonging to the Field and Staff “in preference
to any thing else and in breaking camp at
any place the first thing loaded is their
tents and camp equippage. and commissary
and forage stores the last thing. So that often
they go nearly 36 hours without a wisp of hay
or a grain of corn.. Is it any wonder they are poor
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 5

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

Their “fluted sides and the polished
knobs on their hips” are none of their faults. nor
in the majority of cases of the men who take care
of them but of the rather are they victims of some
despotic Col whose whole body and brains is of
less value to the government and the cause than
one of their limbs. and who by his desire to make
a show and be sure that his own precious head
is covered and stomach well filled neglects them
and thus causes a greater loss to the government
than if he himself was killed or captured..
Yesterday morning no oats were to be had at
the Quartermasters and as some of our company
had the day before helped to unload a boat
carrying oats and hay for us. Capt Walker was
ordered to take his company and go to the place
and each man taking a sack of oats on his horse
pack them to camp. The distance was nearly
five miles and on reaching there we tied our horses
to the bales of hay. also giving them good rations
of oats.. The rest of the regt without anything
for their horses drilled from 9. to 12. ..
About 4 Oclock in the afternoon the entire
regiment was ordered to go to the same place and
bring what oats they could.. When our com
pany was nearly ready to start Lieut Brigg
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 6

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

recieved orders to take 12 men and go to
Dumfries as a patrol Thinking I would
rather do that than go after [illegible in original] oats I asked
permission to accompany him which was
granted.. The distance was about 15 miles mak
ing a ride of 30 miles.. We reached camp
again about 11 Oclock without any adventure..
although we heard that seventeen rebels had
been up there a few nights since and stolen
some horses.. The country through which we
passed is much the best I have seen in Virginia
We crossed the Occoquan creek or river. at
Occoquan Village near the head of Occoquan Bay.
which consists of about a dozen houses. some thing
of them having once been quite pretty dwellings
but now nearly all deserted and reminding one
while passing through its quiet and lonely streets
of some village of the eastern countries. so fitly
described by many travellers.. It is built on the
bank of the river and under the banks which
rise many feet above it.. causing one to look twice
to see the sky. The river here is about 15 rods in
width and is crossed by a ferry. The banks on
this side are high and rocky and a small
of men in the houses in the village
body ^ could defend the ford against an army
of many thousand.. coming from this way.
and a few pieces of artillery placed on the hills
on the other side could prevent a large army
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 7

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

from approaching from the other way..
Half a mile below the village is a small
fort built to prevent vessels from coming up
the bay.. Rifle pits prevent approach on all
sides.. The country through which we passed
has not suffered so much from the desolating
effects of the army as the country between
this place and Washington In many places
are fences and buildings in good preservation
and I saw yesterday and day before several
pieces of winter wheat, the first I have seen in
Virginia.. They were quite poor looking
yellow and sickly but bringing to memory
the green fields which would greet our sight
in Michigan. I saw yesterday also several
beech trees the first I had seen since leaving
Washington. It was quite a relief and con
trast to the endless lines of small scrubby
pines which meet the eye in every direction
This country is not originally a piney
country, but the pine is its second growth.
Wherever there is a field that has been
deserted a year or two small pines can be
seen starting up.. but where there is a
piece of country that bears its original
growth of timber you will see small oaks
chestnuts, hickory, and other kinds of timber
common to a hilly sandy country..
Havens Letter: April 23 1863 , Page: 8

Havens Letter: April 23 1863
Havens Letter: April 23 1863

from approaching from the other way..
Half a mile below the village is a small
fort built to prevent vessels from coming up
the bay.. Rifle pits prevent approach on all
sides.. The country through which we passed
has not suffered so much from the desolating
effects of the army as the country between
this place and Washington In many places
are fences and buildings in good preservation
and I saw yesterday and day before several
pieces of winter wheat, the first I have seen in
Virginia.. They were quite poor looking
yellow and sickly but bringing to memory
the green fields which would greet our sight
in Michigan. I saw yesterday also several
beech trees the first I had seen since leaving
Washington. It was quite a relief and con
trast to the endless lines of small scrubby
pines which meet the eye in every direction
This country is not originally a piney
country, but the pine is its second growth.
Wherever there is a field that has been
deserted a year or two small pines can be
seen starting up.. but where there is a
piece of country that bears its original
growth of timber you will see small oaks
chestnuts, hickory, and other kinds of timber
common to a hilly sandy country..
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