A Letter Home

My Dearest Margaret,

Please forgive that this is my first letter these last two weeks.  The war has been raging with increasing ferocity and each day is more demanding than the day before.  I offer this not in the way of excuse, however, for I know how you must worry for my wellbeing regardless of what distracts my hand.

Under General Meade, our army held Gettysburg a fortnight ago, as I shall assume you have by now read in the newspaper.  While we prevailed, our casualties were horrific, as were those of the Confederate troops who fought with Lee.  The slaughter was such that I shan’t attempt to describe it lest I profane your sense of decency.

When I hired on as an army surgeon I had visions of healing those brave troops who were wounded in their fight to reunite our country.  While I am a peaceable man and not a soldier, my belief that our country should provide freedom for all was so profound that I felt compelled to contribute to the effort in what way that I could.  Now, the reality of war has provided a much starker undertaking for me – I simply struggle to remain sane in the face of so much suffering.  My earlier naiveté would be an embarrassment to me today if I my exhaustion did not disallow the luxury of emotion.

The weariness and numbness to suffering is also afflicting the troops.  Not only must they witness the same suffering as I, but they must also inflict it in kind upon our foes.  The torment can become too much for some and their minds can break.  Some grow shallow and withdrawn, others appear normal until they awake screaming from torturous dreams, while still others will explode violently for no reason, even attacking their own fellows.

For example, just this afternoon I had traveled to the railway depot to collect some medical supplies. The train was late, so I wandered into town where I ran into young Raymond Healy. You will remember him as the son of the blacksmith who made our gates.  He had grown into a fine young man and had recently become a captain in the Union Army.  I stood talking to him, both of us sharing happier memories of home, when one of our soldiers came running up the sidewalk.  Without a word, he stabbed Raymond in the chest and continued running, screaming gibberish, whence he tripped upon a loose plank, and falling upon on his own knife, soon expired.  I began to tend to young Raymond, calling for help although I knew none could come, but alas, his wound proved mortal as well.

So, my dearest, while I am safe in body, remaining behind the lines of battle in my surgical tent, please pray for my sanity.  I have seen how men can lose their minds as easily as their limbs or their life.  One day this war must certainly end, and when it does I can only hope to come home to you as the same husband who so proudly donned his uniform nearly two years ago.

Until that time, and with heartfelt sincerity, I remain your most faithful and loving husband,

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