September 16

It's a delightful evening; has been pleasant all day. There was battalion and company drill this forenoon and afternoon respectively. Extracts from the Richmond Examiner and other Southern journals state that Lee's army about Richmond is in terrible condition, is living on half rations, clothes worn out and no prospect of getting more. It has got so they have to use negroes to transport supplies, etc. I wouldn't blame that army for changing its politics or anything else to get out of the scrape it's in.

September Sixteenth

Mr. Lincoln, sir, have you any late news from Mr. Harper's Ferry? I heard that Stone W. Jackson kept the parole for a few days, and that about fourteen thousand crossed over in twenty-four hours. He is a smart ferryman, sure. Do your folks know how to make it pay? It is a bad crossing, but I suppose it is a heap safer than Ball's Bluff or Shepherdstown.

Bill Arp  (Charles H. Smith)
(Humorous “Letter to Lincoln”)



September 16, 1862

Tuesday. We are getting right down to business now. Have company-drill and will soon drill with the whole regiment together. To-day we practiced the double-quick, which is nothing more than a run. The day was hot and these heavy clothes buttoned around us made us sweat, and one man gave out. He fell down and several fell over him, stopping the work long enough for us to catch breath. He was put under a tree and by the time we were through was able to walk back to camp. I went into the mill to-day and asked for a job. The miller said he thought I had about all the job I could attend to. That is the nearest approach to a joke I have heard from a native. They are the dumbest set of people I ever met. At least they seem so to me. The country is queer, too. There are no roads here. They are all turnpikes. Many of the houses set so far back from the road, and shade trees are so plenty, that they are not seen unless one goes on purpose. To the west and south the country looks like a forest, but there are no forests here, only scattering trees all over the fields and along the roads. The people are Dutch, mostly, and the rest are negroes,—"Niggers" they are universally called here. Money has another name, too. I bought a bundle of straw for a bed, which I was told was a "fip" for a bundle. I tied up a bundle and was then told it would be a "levy," all of which meant that if the man bound it up it was a "fip" and if I bound it it would be a "levy," which is two fips. I found out at last that a "fip" was sixpence and a "levy" was a shilling. Two fellows got too much of the sutler's whiskey to-day. They forged an order for it, and as a punishment each had a placard pinned to his back, with the nature of his offense printed in large letters, and were marched about the camp until sober.

Wednesday, September 16th.—Still here: only four of the twenty-five (five sets of five) who formed our unit have been found jobs so far: two are taking a train of sick down to St Nazaire, and two have joined No.— Stationary Hospital in the town. We still await orders! This is a first-class War for awaiting orders for some of us.

Yesterday it poured all day. We explored the Cathedral, which is absolutely beautiful, perched high up over an open space—now crowded with transport and motor ambulances. We made tea in my quarters, and then explored the town; narrow streets thronged with Tommies as usual.

We have lunch at eleven and dinner at seven, at a dingy little inn through a smelly back yard; there is not much to eat, and you fill up with rather nasty bread and unripe pears, and drink a sort of flat cider, as the water is not good.

To-day it is sunny again. I have just been to High Mass (Choral), and taken photos of the Cathedral and the Market below, where I got four ripe peaches for 1-1/2d.

Writing in the garden of Mme. Bontevin, my landlady.

There is any amount of work here at the Bishop's Palace; more than they can get through on night duty with bad cases, and another Jesuit College has been opened as No.— Stationary. Went up to No.— S. this afternoon where F—— has been sent, to see her; she asked me to go out and buy cakes for six wounded officers. They seemed highly pleased with them; they are on beds, the men on stretchers; all in holland sheets and brown blankets; only bare necessaries, as the Stationary Hospitals have to be very mobile: stretchers make very decent beds, but they are difficult for nursing.

They have had a good many deaths, surgical and medical, at L'Evêché; they have pneumonias, and paralysis, and septic wounds, and an officer shot through the head, with a temperature of 106 and paralysis; there is a civil surgeon with a leg for amputation at No.— Stationary.

19. John Adams

Philadelphia, 16 September, 1774.

Having a leisure moment, while the Congress is assembling, I gladly embrace it to write you a line.

When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay, of New York, and Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Anabaptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists, that we could not join in the same act of worship. Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his country. He was a stranger in Philadelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duché (Dushay they pronounce it) deserved that character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duché, an Episcopal clergyman, might be desired to read prayers to the Congress, to-morrow morning. The motion was seconded and passed in the affirmative. Mr. Randolph, our president, waited on Mr. Duché, and received for answer that if his health would permit he certainly would. Accordingly, next morning he appeared with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read several prayers in the established form; and then read the Collect for the seventh day of September, which was the thirty-fifth Psalm. You must remember this was the next morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning.

After this, Mr. Duché, unexpected to everybody, struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never beard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself [54] never prayed with such fervor, such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so elegant and sublime—for America, for the Congress, for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here. I must beg you to read that Psalm. If there was any faith in the Sortes Biblicæ, it would be thought providential.

It will amuse your friends to read this letter and the thirty-fifth Psalm to them. Read it to your father and Mr. Wibird. I wonder what our Braintree Churchmen will think of this! Mr. Duché is one of the most ingenious men, and best characters, and greatest orators in the Episcopal order, upon this continent. Yet a zealous friend of Liberty and his country.[55]

I long to see my dear family. God bless, preserve, and prosper it. Adieu.


[54]Dr. Samuel Cooper, well known as a zealous patriot and pastor of the church in Brattle Square. The edifice, at that time esteemed the finest interior in Boston, and yet much admired, had been completed about a year. It has now gone the way of all old structures in Boston. Mr. Adams had become a proprietor and a worshipper at this church.

[55]He held out tolerably well for two years. But the apparent preponderance of British power on the one side, and his sectarian prejudices against the Independents of New England on the other, finally got the better of him, so far as to dictate the appeal to General Washington, in the gloomiest period of the war, which forever forfeited for him all claim to the commendation above bestowed.

60. Abigail Adams

Braintree, Sunday, 16 September, 1775.

I set myself down to write with a heart depressed with the melancholy scenes around me. My letter will be only a bill of mortality; though thanks be to that Being who restraineth the pestilence, that it has not yet proved mortal to any of our family, though we live in daily expectation that Patty will not continue many hours. I had no idea of the distemper producing such a state as hers, till now. Two of the children, John and Charles, I have sent out of the house, finding it difficult to keep them out of the chamber. Nabby continues well. Tommy is better, but entirely stripped of the hardy, robust countenance, as well as of all the flesh he had, save what remains for to keep his bones together. Jonathan is the only one who remains in the family who has not had a turn of the disorder. Mrs. Randall has lost her daughter. Mrs. Bracket, hers. Mr. Thomas Thayer, his wife. Two persons belonging to Boston have died this week in this parish. I know of eight this week who have been buried in this town.

In Weymouth, it is very sickly, but not mortal. Dr. Tufts tells me he has between sixty and seventy patients now sick with this disorder. Mr. Thaxter has been obliged to go home, as it was not possible for me to accommodate him. Mr. Mason came this week, but if he had been inclined, I could not have taken him now. But the general sickness in the towns determined him to return home for the present. The dread upon the minds of people of catching the distemper is almost as great as if it was the small-pox. I have been disturbed more than ever I was in my life to procure watchers and to get assistance.

I hear Mr. Tudor has been dangerously sick, but is now upon the recovery. Mr. Wibird is very low indeed, scarcely able to walk a step. We have been four Sundays without any meeting. Thus does pestilence travel in the rear of war, to remind us of our entire dependence upon that Being who not only directeth the arrow by day, but has also at his command that which flieth in darkness. So uncertain and so transitory are all the enjoyments of life, that were it not for the tender connections which bind us, would it not be folly to wish for continuance here? I think I shall never be wedded to the world, and were I to lose about a dozen of my dearest connections, I should have no further relish for life.

But perhaps I deceive myself and know little but little, of my own heart.

"To bear and suffer is our portion here."

And unto Him who mounts the whirlwind and directs the storm I will cheerfully leave the ordering of my lot, and whether adverse or prosperous days should be my future portion, I will trust in his right hand to lead me safely through, and, after a short rotation of events, fix me in a state immutable and happy.

You will think me melancholy. 'Tis true, I am much affected by the distressed scenes around me, but I have some anxieties in my mind which I do not think it prudent to mention at present to any one. Perhaps when I hear from you, I may in my next letter tell you.

In the mean time I wish you would tell me whether the intercepted letters [99] have reached Philadelphia, and what effect they have there. There is a most infamous versification of them, I hear, sent out. I have not been able to get it.

As to politics, there seems to be a dead calm upon all sides. Some of the Tories have been sending out their children. Colonel Chandler has sent out his, and Mr. Winslow has sent out his daughter. People appear to be gratified with the Remonstrance, Address, and Petition, and most earnestly long for further intelligence.

God helps them that help themselves, as King Richard says; and if we can obtain the Divine aid by our own virtue, fortitude, and perseverance, we may be sure of relief.

To-morrow will be three weeks since you left home; in all which time I have not heard one word from you. Patience is a lesson I have not to learn, so I can wait your own time, but hope it will not be long ere my anxious heart is relieved.

Adieu! I need not say how sincerely I am

Your affectionate     Portia.


[99]See Letter No. 54 note.

La Creste, Huiry, Couilly. S et M

September 16, 1914 Dear Old Girl:—

More and more I find that we humans are queer animals.

All through those early, busy, exciting days of September,—can it be only a fortnight ago?—I was possessed, like the "busy bee," to "employ each shining hour" by writing out my adventures. Yet, no sooner was the menace of those days gone, than, for days at a time, I had no desire to see a pen.

Perhaps it was because we were so absolutely alone, and because, for days, I had no chance to send you the letters I had written, nor to get any cable to you to tell you that all was well.

There was a strange sort of soulagement in the conviction that we had, as my neighbors say, "échappé bien." I suppose it is human. It was like the first days of a real convalescence—life is so good, the world is so beautiful. The war was still going on. We still heard the cannon—they are booming this minute—but we had not seen the spiked helmets dashing up my hill, nor watched the walls of our little hamlet fall. I imagine that if human nature were not just like that, Life could never be beautiful to any thinking person. We all know that, though it be not today, it is to be, but we seem to be fitted for that, and the idea does not spoil life one bit.

It is very silent here most of the time. We are so few. Everybody works. No one talks much. With the cannon booming out there no one feels in the humor, though now and then we do get shaken up a bit. Everything seems a long time ago. Yet it is really only nine days since the French troops advanced—nine days since Paris was saved.

The most amazing thing of all is that our communications, which were cut on September 2, were reopened, in a sort of a way, on the 10th. That was only one week of absolute isolation. On that day we were told that postal communication with Paris was to be reopened with an automobile service from Couilly to Lagny, from which place, on the other side of the Marne, trains were running to Paris.

So Amélie gathered up my letters, and carried them down the hill, and dropped them hopefully in the box under the shuttered window of the post-office in the deserted town.

That was six days ago, and it is only this morning that I began to feel like writing to you again. I wanted to cable, but there is no way yet, so I can only hope that you know your geography well enough not to have worried since the 7th.

Although we are so shut in, we got news from the other side of the Marne on Wednesday, the 9th, the day after I wrote to you—the fifth day of the battle. Of course we had no newspapers; our mairie and post-office being closed, there was no telegraphic news. Besides, our telegraph wires are dangling from the poles just as the English engineers left them on September 2. It seems a century ago.

We knew the Germans were still retreating because each morning the booming of the cannon and the columns of smoke were further off, and because the slopes and the hills before us, which had been burning the first three days of the battle, were lying silent in the wonderful sunshine, as if there were no living people in the world except us few on this side of the river.

At no time can we see much movement across the river except with a glass. The plains are undulating. The roads are tree-lined. We trace them by the trees. But the silence over there seems different today. Here and there still thin ribbons of smoke—now rising straight in the air, and now curling in the breeze—say that something is burning, not only in the bombarded towns, but in the woods and plains. But what? No one knows.

One or two of our older men crossed the Marne on a raft on the 10th, the sixth day of the battle. They brought back word that thousands from the battles of the 5th, 6th, and 7th had lain for days un-buried under the hot September sun, but that the fire department was already out there from Paris, and that it would only be a few days when the worst marks of the terrible fight would be removed. But they brought back no news. The few people who had remained hidden in cellars or on isolated farms knew no more than we did, and it was impossible, naturally, to get near to the field ambulance at Neufmortier, which we can see from my lawn.

However, on the 9th—the very day after the French advanced from here—we got news in a very amusing way. We had to take it for what it was worth, or seemed to be. It was just after noon. I was working in the garden on the south side of the house. I had instinctively put the house between me and the smoke of battle when Amélie came running down the hill in a high state of excitement, crying out that the French were "coming back," that there had been a "great victory," and that I was to "come and see."

She was in too much of a hurry to explain or wait for any questions. She simply started across the fields in the direction of the Demi-Lune, where the route nationale from Meaux makes a curve to run down the long hill to Couilly.

I grabbed a sunbonnet, picked up my glasses, and followed her to a point in the field from which I could see the road.

Sure enough—there they were—cuirassiers—the sun glinting on their helmets, riding slowly towards Paris, as gaily as if returning from a fête, with all sorts of trophies hanging to their saddles.

I was content to go no nearer. It was no army returning. It was only a small detachment. Still, I could not help feeling that if any of them were returning in that spirit, while the cannon were still booming, all must be well.

Amélie ran all the way to the Demi-Lune—a little more than a quarter of a mile. I could see her simply flying over the ground. I waited where I was until she came back, crying breathlessly, long before she reached me:

"Oh, madame, what do you think? The regiment which was here yesterday captured a big, big cannon."

That was good news. They really had not looked it.

"And oh, madame," she went on, as she reached me, "the war is over. The Germans have asked for peace," and she sat right down on the ground.

"Peace?" I exclaimed. "Where? Who told you that?"

"A man out there. He heard it from a soldier. They have asked for peace, those Boches, and General Gallieni, he told them to go back to their own frontier, and ask for it there."

"And have they gone, Amélie?" I asked.

She replied quite seriously that they were going, and she was terribly hurt because I laughed, and remarked that I hoped they would not be too long about it.

I had the greatest possible difficulty in making her realize that we were only hearing a very small part of a battle, which, judging by the movements which had preceded it, was possibly extending from here to the vicinity of Verdun, where the Crown Prince was said to be vainly endeavoring to break through, his army acting as a sort of a pivot on which the great advance had swung. I could not help wondering if, as often happens in the game of "snap the whip," von Kluck's right wing had got swung off the line by the very rapidity with which it must have covered that long arc in the great two weeks' offensive.

Amélie, who has an undue confidence in my opinion, was terribly disappointed, quite downcast. Ever since the British landed—she has such faith in the British—she has believed in a short war. Of course I don't know any more than she does. I have to guess, and I'm not a lucky guesser as a rule. I confess to you that even I am absolutely obsessed by the miracle which has turned the invaders back from the walls of Paris. I cannot get over the wonder of it. In the light of the sudden, unexpected pause in that great push I have moments of believing that almost anything can happen. I'll wager you know more about it on your side of the great pond than we do here within hearing of the battle.

I don't even know whether it is true or not that Gallieni is out there. If it is, that must mean that the army covering Paris has advanced, and that Joffre has called out his reserves which have been entrenched all about the seventy-two miles of steel that guards the capital. I wondered then, and today—seven days later—I am wondering still.

It was useless to give these conjectures to Amélie. She was too deep in her disappointment. She walked sadly beside me back to the garden, an altogether different person from the one who had come racing across the field in the sunshine. Once there, however, she braced up enough to say:

"And only think, madame, a woman out there told me that the Germans who were here last week were all chauffeurs at the Galeries Lafayette and other big shops in Paris, and that they not only knew all the country better than we do, they knew us all by name. One of them, who stopped at her door to demand a drink, told her so himself, and called her by name. He told her he had lived in Paris for years."

That was probably true. The delivery automobiles from all the big shops in Paris came out here twice, and some of them three times a week. It is no secret that Paris was full of Germans, and has been ever since that beastly treaty of Frankfort, which would have expired next year.

After Amélie had gone back to her work, I came into the library and sat down at my desk to possess my soul with what patience I could, until official news came. But writing was impossible.

Of course to a person who has known comparatively few restraints of this sort, there is something queer in this kind of isolation. I am afraid I cannot exactly explain it to you. As I could not work, I walked out on to the chemin Madame. On one side I looked across the valley of the Marne to the heights crowned by the bombarded towns. On the other I looked across the valley of the Grande Morin, where, on the heights behind the trees, I knew little towns like Coutevoult and Montbarbin were evacuated. In the valley at the foot of the hill, Couilly and St. Germain, Montry and Esbly were equally deserted. No smoke rose above the red roofs. Not a soul was on the roads. Even the railway station was closed, and the empty cars stood, locked, on the side- tracks. It was strangely silent.

I don't know how many people there are at Voisins. I hear that there is no one at Quincy. As for Huiry? Well, our population—everyone accounted for before the mobilization—was twenty-nine. The hamlet consists of only nine houses. Today we are six grown people and seven children.

There is no doctor if one should be so silly as to fall ill. There are no civil authorities to make out a death certificate if one had the bad taste to die—and one can't die informally in France. If anyone should, so far as I can see, he would have to walk to his grave, dig it, and lie down in it himself, and that would be a scandal, and I am positive it would lead to a procès. The French love lawsuits, you know. No respectable family is ever without one.

However, there has not been a case of illness in our little community since we were cut off from the rest of the world.

Somehow, at times, in the silence, I get a strange sensation of unreality—the sort of intense feeling of its all being a dream. I wish I didn't. I wonder if that is not Nature's narcotic for all experiences outside those we are to expect from Life, which, in its normal course, has tragedies enough.

Then again, sometimes, in the night, I have a sensation as if I were getting a special view of a really magnificent spectacle to which the rest of "my set" had not been invited—as if I were seeing it at a risk, but determined to see it through.

I can imagine you, wrinkling your brows at me and telling me that that frame of mind comes of my theatre-going habit. Well, it is not worth while arguing it out. I can't. There is a kind of veil over it.

Nor were the day's mental adventures over.

I was just back from my promenade when my little French friend from the foot of the hill came to the door. I call her "my little friend," though she is taller than I am, because she is only half my age. She came with the proposition that I should harness Ninette and go with her out to the battlefield, where, she said, they were sadly in need of help.

I asked her how she knew, and she replied that one of our old men had been across the river and brought back the news that the field ambulance at Neufmortier was short of nurses, and that it was thought that there were still many wounded men in the woods who had not yet been picked up.

I asked her if any official call for help had come. She said "No," but she presented so strong a case in favor of volunteering that, at first, it seemed to me that there was nothing to do but go, and go quickly.

But before she got outside the gate I rushed after her to tell her that it seemed impossible,—that I knew they didn't want an old lady like me, however willing, an old lady very unsteady on her feet, absolutely ignorant of the simplest rules of "first aid to the wounded," that they needed skilled and tried people, that we not only could not lend efficient aid, but should be a nuisance, even if, which I doubted, we were allowed to cross the Marne.

All the time I was explaining myself, with that diabolical dual consciousness which makes us spectator and listener to ourselves, in the back of my brain—or my soul—was running this query: "I wonder what a raw battlefield looks like? I have a chance to see if I want to— perhaps." I suppose that was an attack of involuntary, unpremeditated curiosity. I did not want to go.

I wonder if that was not the sort of thing which, if told in the confessional in ancient times, got one convicted of being "possessed of the devil"?

Of course Mlle. Henriette was terribly disappointed. Her mother would not let her go without me. I imagine the wise lady knew that I would not go. She tried to insist, but my mind was made up.

She argued that we could "hunt for the dead," and "carry consolation to the dying." I shook my head. I even had to cut the argument short by going into the house. I felt an imperative need to get the door closed between us. The habit I have—you know it well, it is often enough disconcerting to me—of getting an ill-timed comic picture in my mind, made me afraid that I was going to laugh at the wrong moment. If I had, I should never have been able to explain to her, and hope to be understood.

The truth was that I had a sudden, cinematographical vision of my chubby self—me, who cannot walk half a mile, nor bend over without getting palpitation—stumbling in my high-heeled shoes over the fields ploughed by cavalry and shell—breathlessly bent on carrying consolation to the dying. I knew that I should surely have to be picked up with the dead and dying, or, worse still, usurp a place in an ambulance, unless eternal justice—in spite of my age, my sex, and my white hairs—left me lying where I fell—and serve me good and right!

I know now that if the need and opportunity had come to my gate—as it might—I should, instinctively, have known what to do, and have done it. But for me to drive deliberately nine miles—we should have had to make a wide detour to cross the Marne on the pontoons— behind a donkey who travels two miles an hour, to seek such an experience, and with several hours to think it over en route, and the conviction that I would be an unwelcome intruder—that was another matter.

I am afraid Mlle. Henriette will never forgive me. She will soon be walking around in a hospital, looking so pretty in her nurse's dress and veil. But she will always think that she lost a great opportunity that day—and a picturesque one.

By the way, I have a new inmate in my house—a kitten. He was evidently lost during the emigration. Amélie says he is three months old. He arrived at her door crying with hunger the other morning. Amélie loves beasties better than humans. She took him in and fed him. But as she has six cats already, she seemed to think that it was my duty to take this one. She cloaked that idea in the statement that it was "good for me" to have "something alive" moving about me in the silent little house. So she put him in my lap. He settled himself down, went to sleep, and showed no inclination to leave me.

At the end of two hours he owned me—the very first cat I ever knew, except by sight.

So you may dismiss that idea which torments you—I am no longer alone.

I am going to send this letter at once to be dropped in the box in front of the post-office, where I am very much afraid it may find that of last week, for we have had no letters yet nor have I seen or heard anything of the promised automobile postale. However, once a stamped letter is out of my hand, I always feel at least as if it had started, though in all probability this may rest indefinitely in that box in the "deserted village."