Term Paper: Why Did Soldiers Enlist and Fight

Motivations of Civil War Soldiers for Joining and Remaining in the Wartime Armies

            Historians have been interested in the motivations of Civil War soldiers since the war ended. However, differing opinions and interpretations of the reasons that Civil War soldiers went to fight has been a source of conflict for almost as long. Two prime examples of analysis of the motivations of Civil War soldiers are Embattled Courage: the Experience of Combat in the American Civil War by Gerald F. Linderman and For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James. M. McPherson. In Embattled Courage: the Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, Linderman claims that soldiers initially went to war with enthusiasm and, most importantly, courage. However, as the war dragged on the expectations that soldiers had of war was vastly different than the reality. This caused soldiers to become frustrated and disillusioned, clinging to courage as their motivation to continue on the battlefield. However, in For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, McPherson argues that soldiers were motivated to join the army due to a combination of duty, honor, and patriotism. He claims that ideology and images of manhood were just as important to soldier motivation as group cohesion was. Furthermore, McPherson asserts that religious fanaticism and ethnic hatreds were not key factors.

            It is easy to simply accept one argument or the other, however, when addressing the motivations of Civil War soldiers, the best place to gain insight is within the letters and diaries of the soldiers themselves. This paper addresses both the Linderman and McPherson arguments, as well as evidence from four primary source documents illustrating soldier motivations. It is important to recognize the limitations of this sample, as two Union soldiers and two Confederate soldiers hardly represent the entirety of the army. However, their letters allow for insight into some reasons for motivations. When looking at the letters as a group, it is possible to come to the conclusion that Civil War soldiers had multiple motivations for volunteering for service, some addressed in Embattled Courage: the Experience of Combat in the American Civil War and others addressed in For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War. These motivations include duty, nationalism, government, slavery, religion, peers, and family. All of these serve as motivations for this sample of soldiers to enlist in the army as well as remain in the army.

            The core reason that Civil War soldiers fought according to McPherson are the concepts of duty and honor. He claims that both of these ideas were “powerful motivating sources” (McPherson, 5). Furthermore, McPherson noticed that Union soldiers were more likely to speak of duty as a motivating factor while Confederate soldiers were more likely to speak of honor as a motivating factor. This geographical ideological divide was likely caused by the South’s sense of honor and public reputation while the North focused more on their own conscience (McPherson, 24).

             However, despite these observations in McPherson’s work, neither of the Confederate soldiers in the limited sample specifically mentioned honor or duty at all. Their letters were preoccupied with other matters and motivations. Conversely, both Union soldiers mentioned these concepts within their letters. In a letter to his parents, Watson Squire announced his hopes that he will “return with honor and invigorated constitution” (Squire, 21 May 1861). His want of honor conflicts with McPherson’s assessment of the way in which duty and honor were viewed by Union soldiers. However, James Dupray, a Union soldier, supports McPherson’s idea that those fighting for the Union were preoccupied with duty and their own sense of conscience. Dupray asserted his duty not only to his country, the Union which he is fighting for, but also to God and to his family (Dupray, 15 December 1861). In the limited sample of Union letters, both soldiers mentioned the idea of duty and honor as motivations for fighting in the Civil War. Despite being on opposite ends of the Union, with Squire in New York and Dupray in Iowa, the ideology of duty and honor seems to have transcended geographical barriers to serve as a motivating factor for Union soldiers. It is possible that Confederate soldiers also named these ideas as motivating factors, and indeed they do according to McPherson. However, the two Confederate soldiers in the sample do not specifically use that rhetoric.

            One of the most apparent motivations spanning all four soldier accounts is the motivation of a sense of nationalism by discussing the preservation of or the creation of a government and nation. Both Union and Confederate soldiers used rhetoric and symbols of country, liberty, legacy and Constitution in explaining their motivations for volunteering for service (McPherson, 21). However, the South and the North used this rhetoric and reasoning in different ways.

            The South claimed nationalism and government as a motivation for fighting in the Civil War in a more tangible way than their Union counterparts (McPherson, 99). Confederates believed that fighting in the war would be the only way to preserve their new Southern nation and if they did not fight they would “no longer have a country worthy of the name” (McPherson, 99). Both of the Confederate letters studied contain the ideas of nationalism and government. John Cochran, a Confederate in Richmond, described the excitement of the Southern people immediately after the Union surrender of Fort Sumter in one of his earlier letters to his mother. He stated that they “fired a salute of one hundred guns in honor of the victory on the square under the very noses of the traitors to the state” and subsequently “hoisted the flag of the Confederate states upon the capitol” (Cochran, 14 April 1861). Even at the very beginning of the war, the Southern people felt a sense of nationalism and patriotism to their budding nation. Cochran further asserted his nationalistic motivations in a later letter to his mother after he enlisted in the Confederate army. He avowed that he was in the service of his country for as long as his life or otherwise was necessary (Cochran, 24 May 1861). The fact that Cochran referred to the Confederacy as his country further demonstrates that nationalism played a key role in his enlistment motivations.

            Cochran was not alone in his nationalistic motivation, however. Stephen Compton, another Confederate soldier used language in his 1861 letter that portrays the North extremely negatively and affirms a sense of Southern nationalism. Compton created a stark “us vs. them” dynamic that strengthens the idea of a united Southern nation. He also used intense patriotic imagery to illustrate his reasoning for fighting. Compton stated that “if they come here to rob us of our property and destroy our glorious South, so we are bound to kill them in defense of our country, our homes, and our all” (Compton, 6 August 1861). This statement simultaneously alienated the North as a tyrannical force and strengthened the Southern identity as a glorious new nation that must be preserved through fighting the war.

            In his letter, Stephen Compton not only asserted a Southern nationalism, but also demonstrated the confidence that the Southern population had that they would win the war. Compton felt that peace was imminent as “the Yankeys [were] the worst whipped nation now upon the face of the globe” (Compton, 6 August 1861). This statement was likely due to the immensely high morale of the South during the beginning of the war (McPherson, 105). Furthermore, Compton referred to the Union president condescendingly as “Old Abe” and he believed that Lincoln would soon realize the foolishness of attempting to reunite the Confederacy with the United States of America (Compton, 6 August 1861). In this statement, Compton likely alludes to the Southern interpretation of the heritage of 1776. The Confederacy interpreted this heritage to support their own motivations in that they were fighting for “liberty and independence from tyrannical government (McPherson, 105). Compton’s assessment of the North in his letter definitely portrays the North as a tyrannical state which supports his motivation to fight this oppressive power to retain the glorious South.

            Both Cochran and Compton made use of nationalistic rhetoric in their letters despite their geographical differences. Cochran first wrote from Richmond, the capitol of the new Confederacy, while his second letter came from Virginia, a state within the Confederacy with the utmost importance placed upon it. Because of this geographical placement in the center of the new government and in a state of utmost value, it makes sense that his letters would contain a great deal of patriotism. However, even though Compton wrote his letter from Mississippi it contains, perhaps, more of the rhetoric of nationalism than Cochran’s letters. This could be due to the fact that Mississippi is so deep in the South and therefore has a stronger Southern identity but it also is likely that a sense of nationalism spanned the entirety of the Confederacy regardless of geographical orientation.

            The Confederate letters were not the only ones to invoke nationalistic rhetoric. Both Union letters discussed these as reasons for fighting in the Civil War. James Dupray alludes to a sense of nationalism when he discussed his “irresistible force to take up arms to defend those associations,” associations which he later describes as God, country and family (Dupray, 15 December 1861). However, this mention of a nationalistic motivation is brief particularly in comparison with Watson Squire, who devoted a good portion of his letter home to discussing why the war is necessary to preserve the Union nation.

            Watson Squire’s letter supports McPherson’s argument that the Union fought to “preserve the nation conceived in liberty from dismemberment and destruction” (McPherson, 105). The Union, as many Northerners believed, was the last hope for republican government as many other nations were ruled by despots and kings (McPherson, 112). In order to strengthen their arguments for war, the people of the North “invoked the legacy of the Founding Fathers” as a means to stir a public nationalism. Squire certainly used this rhetoric to explain his motivation for enlisting and fighting in the Civil War. In his letter home, Squire claimed that war was inevitable and the state of the nation hung upon a thread (Squire, 21 May 1861). The main reason he advocated war to preserve the institution of self-government, an institution that would be undermined or even completely dissolved if the North were to allow the South to simply depart (Squire, 21 May 1861). However, Squire did claim to “deprecate war” and preferred that the North resist the rebellion by a “united overpowering effort to maintain the government” (Squire, 21 May 1861). Squire further asserted the importance of maintaining self-government by likening the Northerners to the Founding Fathers. He even went as far as to claim that the Northern cause was greater than that of the revolutionaries because they were only fighting for taxation without representation while the North was now fighting for self-government (Squire, 21 May 1861).

            Both of the Union soldiers invoked nationalism as a motivation for enlisting and fighting in the Civil war despite being located on the opposite ends of the Union. This demonstrates that nationalism was a far-reaching factor in the enlistment of civil war soldiers. Furthermore, both of the Confederate soldiers also discussed nationalistic motivations for fighting. It is interesting that nationalism was such a driving force behind the enlistment of Civil War soldiers regardless of their geographical position or with which nation their allegiance was placed.

            Although the ideology of nation and government was the overarching motivation behind all four Civil War soldier’s letters regardless of which side they fought for, there were still other, albeit less represented, reasons for enlisting and fighting in the war.

            One of these other reasons for enlisting and fighting was a religious motivation. In For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, McPherson claims that religious fanaticism hardly played a role in motivations (McPherson, 6). However, religion did serve as a means to cope with the idea of death and helped soldiers to endure the hardships of combat (McPherson, 76). Similarly, in Embattled Courage: the Experience of Combat in the American Civil War, Linderman claims that religion “permitted people to explain why a soldier died, a battle was lost, or a cause seemed to be failing” (Linderman, 105). He claims that courage was likened to godliness and therefore religion helped soldiers to remain in the ranks and in combat situations. The concept of religion is only mentioned in one of the letters, that of James Dupray, a Union soldier, but his descriptions match the assessments of McPherson and Linderman. Dupray stated that he “will trust all to the care of God” (Dupray, 15 December 1861). Putting his faith in God demonstrates that his religion was a means to cope with war. However, he does go on to assert his duty to God which shows that religion was also a motivating factor as well as a coping mechanism.

            One motivation that was noticeably absent was that of perpetuating or abolishing slavery. Both of the Confederate letters briefly mentioned African Americans, but not to the extent of identifying it as a key motivation. In his letter, John Cochran did condemn the Union because of its “black republican despotism” (Cochran, 14 April 1861). However, he did not pursue the matter further. Stephen Compton did not discuss slavery as a motivation but did mention African Americans in a manner that demonstrated his racial views. Compton related to his brother that he “was thin enough when I left home but I am nothing but skin and bones and burned as brown as Negroes” (Compton, 6 August 1861). Both of these letters do contain slavery as a motivation in a different way, however. They, like many other Southerners, describe their motivation to fight against their own enslavement by the North (McPherson, 21). Their nationalistic descriptions of the South as well as their demonizations of the North attest to this motivation.

            Another motivation of soldiers for enlisting and fighting in the Civil War was that of family. Fighting for their country was a means to protect and defend their families (McPherson, 134). Although it was extremely difficult for these soldiers to leave the comforts of their home and family, they realized that the war was the best way to secure the future of their families (McPherson, 97). Those who remained at home also were critical in motivating the soldiers first to enlist and then to continue fighting. Their support or lack of support was key in the soldiers morale (Linderman, 86). All four of the letters in the sample discussed family and the idea of home as a motivation and a way to keep morale up.

            John Cochran, a Confederate soldier, claimed that one reason for defaulting to the Confederacy was to attend to business connected with his grandfather’s estate (Cochran, 14 April 1861). Although this is not necessarily a motivation for fighting, it does demonstrate that importance of family to him. Stephen Compton, another Confederate soldier, addressed the importance of family by identifying family as a reason for fighting. He stated that he must defend “our country, our homes and our all.” The importance of family to him is also apparent in his concern that his family did not receive word of his safety and whereabouts (Compton, 6 August 1861).

            The Union soldiers also discussed family as a motivation to continue fighting. Watson Squire depended on the letters from home to keep his morale up. When his parents wrote him a letter that contained sad overtones, he wrote back that their letter had grieved him (Squire, 21 May 1861). He went on to tell his parents that he is glad they care a great deal for him but he cannot bear “plunging his parents into affliction” (Squire, 21 May 1861). This response to his parents demonstrates that letters from home provided soldiers morale and therefore when letters contained concern it greatly affected the mindset of the soldier they were written to. James Dupray also depended on letters from home to keep his morale and motivation up. He asserted that “it is with pleasure that I spend a few moments conversing with you with my pen as that is the only possible way that we have at present. It would give me much more exquisite pleasure could I have the pleasure of conversing with you face to face” (Dupray, 15 December 1861). This section of his letter shows that writing and receiving letters kept his morale up and was a factor in keeping him in the ranks. Furthermore, Dupray impelled his family to “write immediately on the receipt of this address” which demonstrates the high importance he placed on receiving letters.

            Similarly to the importance of family, another motivation for these Civil War soldiers in enlisting and fighting is the idea of peer cohesion and the image of themselves in the eyes of these peers. Linderman states that “each of those in ranks felt the necessity to prove himself to himself, to those comrades around him and to his family” (Linderman, 21). All of these letters were written in 1861 which means they were part of the first wave of volunteers, a group which became the overwhelming majority of those who fought throughout the war (McPherson, 16). This identity led to camaraderie between the soldiers and their peers because they felt connected to those who acted identically to themselves (Linderman, 234).

            Only two of the four letters mention a sense of camaraderie and this mention is only understood reading between the lines. Stephen Compton, a Confederate, mentioned another soldier, Dave Osteen in his letter and claims that he would have helped him finish his letter if Osteen did not have his own letters to finish. Furthermore, he closed his letter with the phrase “all the boys send their best” (Compton, 6 August 1861). Both of these instances show that Compton was close with the other men in his Company and demonstrates the idea of camaraderie between the men. The sense of peer cohesion was also apparent in a Union letter, that of Watson Squire, however his notion of ‘peer’ reflected more upon the people of the North than strictly the soldiers in the Union army. In his discussion of war to maintain self-government, Squire claimed that even if the North fails to bring the South back into the Union, the North will continue to “bind together with everlasting bonds that band of states which adhere to the general government” (Squire, 21 May 1861). This Northern identity as bonded together serves as a motivation to keep soldiers fighting because they want to preserve that bond.

            In order to fully understand these motivations for enlisting and remaining in the army, it is important to understand the conditions which the soldiers were voluntarily exposing themselves to. Two of the letters do not view camp life or other hardships as an issue. Confederate John Cochran claimed that although his foot is injured, his entire company was thrilled that a fight had come along at last (Cochran, 24 May 1861). Union Watson Squire even claimed that “camp life thus far has been easy for me as for any that are with me” (Squire, 21 May, 1861). However, it is important to note that both of these letters were written in late May of 1861, still very early in the war.

            The other two letters write more of the hardships and the want of the comforts of home, as they were written months after. Confederate Stephen Compton explained to his family the horrors of witnessing the death of so many and describes the immensely long stretch of time the men continue to fight. He also described the declining health of his regiment, many afflicted with measles, fevers, colds and coughs. Compton went on to address his want of the good food he would have at home (Compton, 6 August 1861). Union James Dupray also wrote of hardships and his own poor health, having just recovered from lung fever. Furthermore, Dupray described his new found appreciation of “the blessings of home” in the face of the hardships of camp life (Dupray, 15 December 1861). Both of these letters were written in the later months of 1861, August and December respectively. Therefore, although the war was still in its first year, the soldiers had been in the ranks for enough time to realize the great difficulty and stress of camp life and combat.

            Understanding these hardships of soldiers creates a better understanding as to why soldiers enlisted and remained in the ranks during the Civil War. There were a great many motivations, each unique to the individual soldier. Common motivations included duty, honor, religion, race, peers, family, and most importantly, a sense of nationalism. These were such strong factors to the soldiers that they transcended the individual’s desire for safety and home and led them to enlist in the armies of the Civil War.


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Benton Barracks Dec. 15th 1861
Dear Sister
It is with pleasure that I spend a few moments in conversing with you with my pen as that is the only possible way that we have at present. It would give me much more exquisite pleasure could I have the pleasure of conversing with you face to face but that boon is [?] at the present but still hope in the providence of God that time will come that we will enjoy that blessing. My health is not epa [sic] good at present haveing [sic] just recovered from an attack of lung fever. I have not been able to do duty for a week but think I will be able to commence again in two or three days. I received a letter from home Friday. They were all well eccept [sic] Caroline. Her health was quite poor. I have not been at home but once since I went in to camp at Camp Union Dubuque on the 19th Oct and it is amongst the uncertainties of this world wheather [sic] I shall be permited [sic] to see my family on shores of time but I will trust all to the care of God and hope in his mercy you may think a little strange that I should leave home and family with all there hallowed associations for the scenes of war and the battlefield but when I take into concideration [sic] that those associations with all that we hold dear or is worth living for. It seemed that I was inpeled by an epara eparatedle [sic] force to take up arms to defend those associations alone all other earthly conciderations [sic]. I have only one grand object in view that is to my duty first to my God then to my country and family while I am eparated [sic] from my family and all. There social relations I feel a strong assurance that I shall be permited to return to them again and enjoy their society. If I am thus privileged I know that I shall appreciate the blessings of home more than I have ever don in my life, not that I have not enjoyed these privileges as much or more than the majority of men but that I am satisfied that we do not enjoy any blessing to its fullest import until we have been depraved of them. I received your letter the night before I left Camp Union and it was impossible to answer it at that time and I have delayed on account of ill health and other circumstances beyond my control. I find a great many folks here that I have seen before. Horatia and Conney [?] Waldo are here and a great many more from Jackson County. Brother William was here last Wednesday night. He was on business and left next morning. He is in the 9th Iowa Regt and is stationed about 40 miles southwest of here. Abr. McCabe from your place was into our quarters. He is well. I want you to write immediately on the receipt of this Address.

James S. Dupray
Co. I 12th Iowa Vol.
Benton Barracks
St. Louis MO



Elmira, N.Y.
May 21st, 1861

Dear Father & Mother,

Your letters have both been received. I was much grieved at the sad tone of both. Of course we all deprecate war. But since the question of our existence as a nation seems to hang upon a thread, and in case a dissolution takes place war is inevitable. I say let it come when we are best prepared and when we have the national prestige and resources to back us. Who wishes to see a reenaction of the Mexican feuds. There if a party fails in a Presidential election it immediately sets up in opposition and usually so with success. What is our government good for if it cannot maintain itself. If the people are to rule in any locality they must do it by majorities. And if it those majorities are to be successfully set a defiance by [?] then the experiment of self-government is at an end. I say we have a greater cause for which to battle now than did our revolutionary sires. They fought against taxation without representation. We fight for the doctrine of self-government.

Acquiescence in the demands of the South would be next to disintegration of the whole nation. The irremediable disgrace of us all & a feeling of dispair [sic] in the breasts of freeman all over the globe. There is no knowing where the consequences of such a step would end. We should see European tragedies of state acted over on the American soil. What can be done to arrest this lava tide of woe? Nothing, but a firm resistance to rebellion can be save us. Instead of creating wars we shall diminish and mitigate them by a united overpowering effort to maintain the government. If it is successful then indeed will the world sing with shouts of delight, and if not so, we at least save and bind together with everlasting bonds that band of states which adhere to the general government.

But, I will not dwell longer upon a discussion of these wars. I have not much time to write now, but the tone of your letters grieved me so much that I felt I must write something immediately. I think you are too much concerned about me. I am very glad to have those who care for me, but I cannot bear to have their bosoms rent with anguish. If there could have been anything that would have deterred me from the course I have chosen it would be the thought of plunging my parents into affliction. I appreciate all you have done for me. I shall try to be a faithful steward of what you have bestowed upon me. Of course we none of us know the chances of war. I may return with honor and invigorated constitution. I hope by a prudent course so to do. Camp life thus far has been as easy for me as for any that are with me. We have had no camp, but rather a life in the barracks.


(Watson Squire to his parents)




Bristole Station near Broadtown, August 6th 1961

Dear Brother,

I received your kind and welcome letter a few days since and I now proceed to answer the same. I wrote a letter to you about a week ago but not knowing whether it will reach you or not, I write another to be more certain, knowing that you all are uneasy and very anxious to hear the truth of what had become of us. I have been informed that you all had received the false report that our regiment had been cut all to peices, but I am happy to inform you that it (is) not so. We were not in the fight at Mannasas. Only a part of our brigade and our brigadier General Smith was mortally wounded and has died since. The whole brigade would have been in it but the cars ran into each other between Mannassa Junction & Peadmont where we were at the time of the battle (only about six or eight hours trip) and consequently our regiment did not arrive until next morning but we went out and viewed the fields of the great battle of Stonebridge, and there beheld the dead & the dying in almost every direction. It is impossible for me to describe it to you. It was one of the most horrible sights that I ever beheld in my life. I never wish to (see) such another sight, as long as I live, but as you say, we are forced to do it and if they come here to rob us of our property and destroy our glorious south, so we are bound to kill them in defence of our country our homes and our all. It was a bloody battle and great numbers lost on each side. It was a hard fight. They fought all day from early in the morning until about six or seven in the evening, when the Yankess retreated at a double quick step and Davis with two thousand men following them. They (gradually?) went on to Washington City before they stopped retreating. The loss on their side (as near as I can learn) was something over six thousand killed, wounded and taken prisoner. We took 74 pieces canon, 40 thousand stand of arms, besides other things to numerous to mention. The loss on us I am informed was about 2 thousand or 25 hundred, but I can not say positively whether these are the exact numbers or not, for I do not think anyone could give a correct history of it except Gen. Beauregard. I can only say that it was one of the greatest victoreis ever won on the continent of America. This is about all I can say about it. I have been informed that therre has been a big battle in Missouri, in which about 9 hundred Yankees were killed and the balance taken prisoners. (This is the report coming in at present.) I expect you all get about as much news as we do, for we get but very little I can tell, and then we (are) at a loss to know whether to believe it or not. We are now in camp at a place called Bristole Station, about ten miles from the Mannasas Junction. I expect we will stay here some time, on account of the health of the regiment. There is a great many down with the measles. Every one of our (troop?) were sick yesterday. Some measles, some fever some headache, and generaly all of us with cold and coughs. We are all a little better today. I was thin enough when I left home but I am nothing but skin and bones and burned as brown as negroes. If you were to meet us you would not recognize us now, but I am in hopes that we will all get home in the course of three months more for the Yankeys are the worst whipped nation now upon the face of the globe and I think it will (not) be long before peace is made. I will now close. Give my love to all. Your brother

Stephen R. Compton

Well as is (?) I will write a few more lines of my nonsense to fill out the vacant sheeet of paper. Dave Osteen and I together will try and fill it out. (We?) you say the “home guards are drilling in “linen and fine cloth” and having a plenty to eat and drink of the very finest kind, fruits, mellon wines, (among ?) just at hand and close and then dreaming of the bright days in future when they will not have to endure such hardships. I say God help them to know what hard times and hardships are if they pronounce that hard times. If they don’t know it, permit me to tell them that they are living in clover. They have (home?) houses to sleep in, chairs to set, beds to sleep, their families and friends (around) with a promising crop to look at, a horse and they can mount and ride to their hearts own content, go to church, listen to sermons, see their Dulcemias, and everybody else and then complain of such hard times. Well I will close as I am called. I will close. Goodbye

Stephen R. Compton

Well I will go on a little further

They do not know what times are I think if they were with us a while they would then learn how to apprecite home and the comfort they have around them. Know one knows when they are doing well until they are doing worse. You must tell them all to put up a plenty of fruit, for I will be home certain this winter, if nothing particularly happens to prevent it. I do not think we will be out more than one year at the outside from the way things are working. Old Abe is beginning to get his eys opened and if he does not quit his foolishness he will be very apt to get them opened a little wider. I do not think he will quote his old Mother (nobody is hurt) anymore for somebody is hurt now and badly hurt at that. The (?) is now that he will not attact us anymore but wait for us to attact him. It is report that Kentucky has come out and is fighting her way out. If that be true it will not be very long ere (peace) will be made and weary soldiers returning to their happy homes. You speak of the troops being in readiness and being sent to prevent their attact on New Orleans. There is no danger of them ever attacting West Point and those that go that way may consider that they are going on a pleasure trip to spend the summer in (bay) with pleasant and healthy sea breses to refresh and add to their pleasure. I would like to be there now myself. I would get such nice fat oysters to eat, for I am sick tired and worn out on flower bread and bacon. Cornbread, cabbage, snapbeans, mellons, peaches and such things would be the greatest treat in the world to us. I feel like If I just (get) home and set down to a dinner of vegetable cornbread, buttermilk, fresh butter, that I could eat about one level bushel & well heaped up. And as to putting linen clothes and gold buttons, I would never get done looking in the glass to see how I looked. I do real(ly) believe some of (us) would nearly twist our necks off looking around at our coattails, we (take?) at owl fashion. Well it is now getting dark and candles are scarce. I will bring nonsense to a close. Dave Osteen says he has taken the flux since he wrote his letter, or he would help me finish these few lines. You must write and give me all the new, no difference what it is, it is interesting to me. Tell sol and Sophia that I have not forgotten and must write to me occasionly they must not wait for me to write to them, as money time paper, ink and time are all very precious up here. I have been called out on duty about three times since I commence this so you can judge how it is about times. So farewell until you hear from me again. Give my respect to all. All the boys send their best.

Your brother, Stephen R. Compton.


April 14, 1861


Dear Mother

Your letter was received several days ago. But owing to the mail communications being cut off I did not think it worthwhile to write to you before there was some news to write. All of the rail roads to the north were very much damaged so much so that we had no northern mail for several days. The river rose so high that it formed a connection with the dock and at one time looked like it would flood the lower part of the city entirely. Boats were rowed about in the lowest parts of Main and Cary streets. The river has subsided considerably and is fast resuming its [unclear: wonted ] bounds.

If I go south it will be for the double purpose of taking up arms and of attending to the business connected with my grandfathers estate. But I shall wait in Virginia until all hopes of secession or revolution ar killed. The feeling is growing here that we will have to disperse this convention drive Letcher out of the eastern part of the state divide the state and declare Eastern Virginia free of the West and of the Black Republican Union. News of the surrender of Fort Sumpter was received here yesterday after a bombardment of nearly thirty hours (not counting the time that both parties ceased firing during the night.) We fired a salute of one hundred guns in honor of the victory on the square under the very noses of the Traitors to the state who hold their daily “pow wow” in the capitol. After which we hoisted the flag of the Confederated States upon the capitol where it remained until removed in the darkness of night by the order of Letcher. Bonfires [deleted: burnt] blased in main streat until 12 Oclock at night and the city looked like an immense hive. Things ar growing warm here and members do not scruple to say [deleted: th] in debate that they will divide from the west rather than remain in this disgraced position which the west has made Virginia assume. I can not have the stock transfered to my name even with an order you will have to do it in person or send a power of attorney. I think it had better remain as it is until you come down. Enclosed I send you a piece taken from the Examiner by th paper in which it appears. I hope that you have recovered and that all are well. Give my respects to all and believe me your affectionate son J. H. Cochran

P.S. Fort Pickins has been reinforced. I think that after its reduction Davis will march on Washington. J.H.C.
P.S. 12 O’clock the river has again commenced to rise

May 24th 61

Marlbourough Point, Stafforc Co. Va

Dear Mother

Your letter was received several days ago but this is the first opportunity I have had of answering it. We are stationed here between two batteries for the purpose of defending either in case of attack. We are now upon the extreme boundery of the Southern Confederacy with nothing to divide us from the Black Republican despotism but the broad waters of the Potomac. How I wish that we were on the other side and in full march upon Washington. We are in camp at this place constantly expecting an attack. We have thrown out two picket on the river with instructions to fire into man or vessel which refuses to answer hail. I was stationed in one of the pickets last night about 1 O’clock the sentinell called us up on account of a suspissious craft which was enterring a small creek near us. We were in the highest state of exultation at the idea of a fight atlast. I still suffer from my foot but I hope that it will be well soon. We suffer some inconvenience of course as what soldiers do not. But so long as my arm or my life is necessary it is at the service of my country. I gave all of my valuable papers to Annie to take care of. And feel confident that they are perfectly safe. Hoping all are well I remain your affectionate son

J. H. Cochran

P.S. It is with extreme difficulty that I wrote as I have no ink and am writing on a box. J.H.C.
We had an allarm here last night produced by heavy cannonading which we thought was at Acquia creek. We were up and ready packed for a march and fight in five minutes. It now appears that it was an attack upon Alexandria. May 25th 61 J.H.C.

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