The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 22, No. 1

Our Day of Grace

by Jim Shepard

Camp near the TN River
Mon. November 21, 1864

Dear Lucy,
It commenced snowing at about dark here, & the wind is as cold as the world's charity & blowing at a terrible rate. Some of the letters I sent came back. It is very uncertain about letters nowadays, tho I suppose it will do no harm to write more, & I wanted you to know that I'm still right-side up, tho you ought to see me now if you want a hard-looking case. Whiskers have grown out all over & I am ashamed to scan a looking glass. C.W. calls me Chief of the Brigands & looks as rough as I do. I had Georgie cut my hair & he made such a hash of it that it will take 12 months to grow out right.
     On the march north we lived 3 days on parched corn & then in the last week in the rain & mud just 2 biscuits a day to each man. When an officer rides by the boys all cry out, "Bread, bread, bread," & tonight there was a meat issue but it featured so many shanks & necks that our requisition officer said next they'll be throwing in the hoofs & horns. Still if nothing else the war has taught me to be less particular, & now when I see dirt in my victuals I just take it in.
     In our last camp we made a hut by driving timbers into the ground in the fashion of a stockade but here we sleep in what we call gopher holes, after we've built fires in them to dry & harden the earth. We huddle together & shiver like Belshazzar did when he saw the vision on the wall. Everyone wants to get at the Yankees to pillage their blankets. There is still a great deal of sickness in the regiment with measles & dysentery accounting for most of the casualties. A good many get sick that never get well again. C.W. hasn't changed his shirt in 5 months & Georgie is a perfect tatterdemalion. He says that if his shirt rots any more he can make it a necklace. C.W. says in this army 1 hole in the seat of your britches means you're a Captain, 2 a Lieutenant, & if you're a private you don't need to unbuckle to relieve yourself. Georgie has tried fashioning moccasins from some scraped hides but says they stink & stretch out in the heel on the march & whip him nearly to death. Back when barefoot men were excused from fighting many threw away their shoes the night before a battle, but now they're compelled to perform as much duty as those well shod.
     I'm happy to hear my Georgie stories charm Nellie in particular. Tell her he is so small some of the boys like to call for him to come out of his hat because they can see his legs. He walks like he's stepping over furrows & is always kicking his fellows' shins on the march. He regularly announces to one & all that if he can just get an eye on Lincoln with his musket he'll make a cathole through him. C.W. says that anyone who can make us smile so much is like loaf bread & fresh beef all the time, & that he is always hunting for something to raise his spirits given that he's forced to sojourn in those low haunts of Sorrow. He claims Georgie's tomfooleries & his wife's letters to be his only remedies. He reads me his wife's letters & I am always tired long before she closes.
     We hear a great many things about reinforcements coming from west of the Mississippi, & also about the movement of Lee's army in VA. Ten thousand rumors are current & many believe them all.
     Most of us are disheartened, even those who would not profess to it. C.W. calls Hood the Butcher & it is certain he is the most unpopular General in the army & some swear they will no longer fight under him. It's said that the Brigadier Generals & Colonels & company officers have all been called together to forestall an uprising & that everyone all around regrets that poor Joe Johnston is gone. Yesterday Hood rode past our column & when it came time to give 3 cheers our 3000 men did not make as much noise as you would hear at a schoolhouse on the election of a chalk-tray monitor. He blames all setbacks on poor morale resulting from his predecessor's continued retreats. He told us before our previous engagement that he would compare us to a mule team that had been allowed to balk at every hill: one portion would make strenuous efforts to advance while another would refuse to move & thus paralyze the whole.

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