[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Historical Review
Vol. 33 No. 3 (April 1927), pp599‑617

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p599  Documents
Letters of a West Pointer, 1860‑1861

The following correspondence is, with the permission of the writer's family, contributed to the Review by Mr. Francis P. Sullivan of Washington, D. C.

The writer, Edward Willoughby Anderson, was the son of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.James Willoughby Anderson, a graduate of West Point in the class of 1833, whose career is briefly outlined in the letter of General Scott printed below, and of Ellen Mannevillette Brown (the Ellen M. A. of the letters). His paternal grandparents were William Anderson, colonel in the United States Marine Corps, and Jane Willoughby of Norfolk, Virginia. Before going to West Point he was a student in the New York Free Academy, the institution which in 1866 became the College of the City of New York. Its president, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Horace Webster,º was a West Pointer of 1818; Wolcott Gibbs and Charles E. Anthon were among the young man's teachers in the academy. Its Catalogue of 1857‑1858 lists him as a member of the freshman class, living at 87 West 36th Street. Its Merit Roll of July, 1859, shows his name as fourth in the sophomore class.

After leaving West Point, Edward Willoughby Anderson served, as will appear on later pages, as cadet in the Virginia provisional army. Then he served as engineer in the construction of Fort Norfolk and the St. Helena and Craney Island batteries; as drillmaster of the Sixth Virginia Infantry; as captain of artillery in the regular army of the Confederacy, and on the staffs of Generals Lee, Pender, and Wilcox; and participated in the battle of Petersburg, the Seven Days' battles before Richmond, and those of Winchester, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Mine Run, and others, to the end of the war. He was married in 1867 to Elizabeth Masi of Norfolk, of a family to which there are references in the later letters, and died in Washington, D. C., in September, 1915.

The "Uncle Mann" of the letters was Elihu Mannevillette Deering Brown, an artist by profession.

The omissions indicated in the letters as printed below are solely of family matters or of passages that would have no interest for present‑day readers. Letters XV‑XVII are of especial interest. Further entertaining pictures of West Point life in this very interesting period may be found in General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Morris Schaff's The Spirit of Old West Point, 1858‑1862 (Boston and New York, 1907).

 p600  I. General Scott to the Secretary of War.​1

Head Qrs. of the Army,
N. York, Dec. 29, 1859.


I beg to ask a cadet's warrant for Master Edward Willoughby Anderson, son of Major J. W. Anderson, an excellent officer of the 2d Infantry, who, after distinguishing himself on several occasions in the Mexican War, was mortally wounded at the battle of Churubusco. I have the honour to be, Sir, With high respect, Your obt. Servant, Winfield Scott

II. E. W. Anderson to E. M. D. Brown

West Point, June 17, '60

Dear Uncle Mannevillette.

I am very well, and beginning to get broken in. I do not know that I am a Cadet yet as I have not passed my mental examination. This is a rough school. Very rough. The cadets are, in general, a swearing, immoral, boisterous set, very vulgar in their language and excessively given to a petty teasing habit. we are very much tied up here. Have comparative freedom only on Saturday afternoons. Our fare is very poor though there is enough of it. An old man has just come into the room to get dirty clothes, and made that he had been about the barrack 30 years. I asked him if he remembered Cadet Anderson who graduated in 33, my father, and he said yes, he remembered him and that he was called "Pokey Anderson". He says every one gets a nick name. We have not much time to ourselves. Demerits do not count for 1st month, and this is very fortunate, for I have several already for not keeping room clean, caused by my short sightedness, and for another slight offence caused by ignorance. The drill is the worst thing here. It is tiresome and irksome. I suppose I will get used to it after a while. We are allowed to have letter stamps. I have to get up at 6 and go to bed at 10. How did you get along to Utica? You must come and see me sometime. All you have to do after getting to Roe's Hotel is to send for me. It is said that ours is the best looking "plebe" class that has come here for sometime. It is nearly tattoo and I must close.

Your affectionate nephew, Willoughby

III. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, June 24, '60

Dear Ma,

I am now firmly fixed as a member of the Military Academy. Don't come on yet, however, till I tell you. I haint got my "togs" yet, and  p601 would not make a satisfactory appearance (Get Georgia to tell me if that is an "a" or an "e".) I shall tell George to call around if he will, and see about my books. I will give you a list as near as I can recollect. Look into all for the mark (Free Academy, New York) something like that. Let Georgia Attend to this. She said she would when I left. What books I don't put down George will probably know: Bartlett's Optics and Acoustics, Bartlett's Astronomy, Davies' Calculus, Owen's Homer's Odyssey, Anthon's Horace, Sophocles Grammar (Greek), Andrews and Stoddarts Grammar (Latin), Shaws English Literature, Bird's Natural Philosophy, Mahan's Logic, Perry's Japan.

There may be an algebra and a geometry around. Look round a little for them. If you find any with the mark in them send them to the Academy. If you don't find any, why all right. . . . I shall write by this mail I think to Dr. Webster. I am now in "Camp". Live are in one tent, 12 by 8 ft, of this shape.​2 We keep pretty warm during the night. I've been in the guard house already. Don't be alarmed. A fellow can't help it yet. They put us in for nothing almost. They say it is to learn us how. Don't get any demerits till 15th of July. . . . In most of our tents the cadets and plebes live together, 2 cadets, and 2 plebes to wait on them generally. My tent is the only one, I believe, where 4 plebes live together, and I think we are the more respected for it. We call it "Plebe Hotel". My tent mates are Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Elliott from Penn., Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Maclay from New York and Meade, a distant relation of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Richard K. Meade from [image ALT: an underscored blank]3 an amiable boy 16 yrs old. . . . There is a custom here of plaguing plebes by pulling them out of their tents, when they are asleep, by the heels, or even in the evening when they are sitting down. We seem to be let alone remarkably in this respect for what reason I don't know. They say that plebes tent with old cadets to avoid being pulled out. I think they get served a great deal worse, besides being pulled out, rode on broomsticks etc. They are "fags" and drudges to the tent mates, most of them, especially those who good natured or who have no spunk. One of our plebes actually blacked a cadet's shoes for him. I have done hardly anything as yet for them unless they asked me in a civil manner, and I do not think I get along any the worse for it. They have tried several times to "yank" me out of the tent by the heels, but have not done it yet. They say it is done mostly by the yearlings and that we will do the same things next year. I hope we will get up a more respectable class. I think the best fellows in our class will not do so, and can I hope prevent the rest. It would be an era in West Point Life. . . . I am not by any means so confidant of standing head of my class as I was before I came. There are some smart fellows in it. I think, however, I shall do my best. I am writing to you on the back of a looking glass, while I am lying on the floor of my tent on a comfortable. My three tent mates are all writing letters, one sitting on a pail turned upside down, the other two sitting on the locker, a sort of partitioned chest. Do you remember a Captain Clarke of the 3d Infantry. His son is here, same class with me,​4 a fine looking young man and I think pretty smart.

Your affectionate son, Willoughby

 p602  IV. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, June 27, '60

Dear Ma,

I received your last letter today. You want me to write oftener. That I shall try to do. Soon as I get settled down I expect to be able to write very often. I sent you a couple of letters yesterday, I think, one of which explains why you were a week without hearing from me, viz. ignorance of the postal arrangements here in camp. . . . I expect to get my uniform about the 4th. Georgia wanted to know. She asks about politics. West Point is all democrat and those who are not of that stripe here, veil their flag, or go to the Belleveret.​a . . . [I] eat anything and everything. The other day the whole "squad" (I.e., the plebes) went down to the Commissary's to get some fatigue jackets, and while we were waiting an old man came along with two baskets full of ginger snaps. In a very short time all but a half basket were gone, and I expect nearly all the spare chink was gone too. Money is worth a great deal here, a great deal indeed. I must tell you about those fatigue jackets. They are made of stout brown linen. When we went into the tailor shop, we found a great pile of them ready made, and soon a great many of us were fitted as Lieutenant McCook​5 said who was there trying them on. He is a great stickler for looseness and most of the boys looked as if they had meal sacks on.

I guess I'll give you a synopsis of a day in camp. Gun fired in your ears at 5 o'clock, get up, dress, and run out to roll call sans face washed, teeth brushed, etc., run back into tent and make a dive into a wash bowl, fixed up on three stilts for a wash stand, and before you get through called out again to act as scavenger for your company, picking up all the pieces of paper, dirt, rubbish in company ground with your fingers (business of new cadets), run back in tent, brush hair, seize musket, rush out again at 5½. Then for an hour we drilled in the Manuel. Support arms, present arms, carry arms, trail arms, order arms, charge bayonets, etc. with those muskets, light ones, but heavy for us, at ½ past 6 run back into tents, perform toilet, get water, and perform service for old cadets (if you don't do it you get in the guard house), run into tent, and maybe you are free for a couple of hours (just as like to be in the guard tent (prison)). At 11, turn out for drill, for one hour, till 12, in a roasting sun, double-quick step, (run) sometimes. Get back into tent, which is like an oven, blow for an hour, perform toilet for dinner, provided you not put in guard tent for inattention at drill. (Although you may have been doing your best). At 1 march to dinner, composed of beef, bread, gravy or butter, bread, water, bread and potatoes, sometimes you can't eat them, also bread. Get through and march back at ½ past 1, and if you don't get in guard tent for errors in marching to dinner or from same, or some other error, or no old cadet want's your services, you maybe free till 4, at which time, the new cadets go into the scavenging business again, policing the grounds of rubbish, . . .

 p603  V. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, June 29, '60

Dear Ma,

Tell Villette not to be afraid of the demerits. It wouldn't do here, for a fellow — beg pardon, man to get no demerits, even if it hand practicable. Tell her also, that I am certain that my demerits don't count yet, — not till the 15th July, when we will get much less of them and less of the guard trust either: for, now, we get into that constitution mostly for disobedience of old cadets, who take this method of compelling submission, by telling on the plebes, when they find them — not me, on the smoking, swearing — smoking, swearing, even, — although they swear excessively themselves, out in company ground (between tents) with jacket unbuttoned, or caps off. Old cadet comes up to plebe "Hallo! plebe, ain't that my cap you've got on?" Upon which plebe puts in a negative, at the same time uncovering his caput for the purpose of examining the suspicious article. Plebe is put on guard tent for having cap off. The guard house is mere "fun" for the cadets, and much otherwise for us, since we get no demerits, and are conscious of no wrong. I have only one (head tog) in camp. I wish I had brought a latin and greek book, because at present I stand but little chance of seeing such an article here. This may mend, however, when we get into the library. . . . I don't wish to burden you with anything when you come, but you may bring my Lucian and Sallust. If I want anything else I will write you word. The only way in which I could get a bundle without it being inspected would be through the post office. I only tell you this as a piece of information. They can be sent Holy Roman Empire by express, but must be opened at the quartermaster's. I guess that wonderful uniform won't be much, as "they say" that the tailors take zzzzzzzzz little pains with the plebes' coats. Much obliged for the articles, great market for them here. The dining hall is a large "hall" furnished with 12 tables. No one but cadets in the hall except the waiters. Have to behave though or get demerits. As the cadets are officered from cadets, the corporals being appointed from 4th class, sargeants from 3, lieutenants from 2d, captains from 1st. There are 4 companies, A B C D. I enter B at present. I have my old nick name at present, but it won't last because it is too long. "John Anderson my Jo John." . . . I don't know whether Georgia means to insinuate, that you are a grasshopper or not. I am not this year at any rate, for it is not customary for plebes to go to "hop", although I have the subscription list in "plebe hotel" for signatures, also for dancing school, which last I have signed with a great many of my class. . . .

Now I must tell you of a grand catastrophe which happened to our tent about three oclock last evening. It suddenly took it into its head to tumble down, being aided, I know (for I saw them loosen the ropes) by some cadets. We were enveloped in the canvas. I by one edge was covered by the sky which being lit up by the moon was very beautiful, as I gazed on it from my horizontolº position. The sentinel came round and helped us to put it up again. . . . Have to go out scavenging in a minute or 2, so must stop.

Your affectionate son, Willoughby

 p604  VI. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, July 3, '60

Dear Ma,

I am on sick list today, so that I have a little leisure. I am excused from drill on account of pounding one of my toes with a musket in "Order arms". I thought I could get along with it this morning, and went through a drill with it, with not more than the average amount of jawing, but marching from breakfast, the boy in front hit my foot with his own, unintentionally, but I had to fall out of ranks, and march to camp by myself. I have to say in my tent you this "excuse from drill" which will be rather irksome tomorrow (the 4th) when we have no drills. Besides I lose a good deal of practice in the Manuel, which I can ill afford, as I find that I learn it very slowly, more slowly than most of the others. Also, I just learned (coming back from hospital) that my uniform, among a few others, is done. However, what can't be cured must be endured, so I shall take it easy. The sentinel who went to the hospital with me, told me that he served himself the same trick when he was a plebe, and, like me, tried to stick it out, in order not to get behind his class. But he said he got along a great deal worse and had to go to the hospital at last. Tell Georgia and Villette that I am much obliged to them for their sympathy, and for the scolding which they give the arrangements here. I am rather sorry that Davis​6 is on the committee as he is called the father of the 5 years course. Ask Georgia to write me word what precession and mutationº are, for I'll be shot if I can make it out in the present state of my mental arrangements. I have met one friend here, Dupont, the cadet quartermaster,​7 who says his father and mine were "amigos". I was in the guard tent 3 times yesterday and once today. There were no less than 34 of us in yesterday evening for the same thing. every one receives money here who can get it. I wish you could send me a newspaper now and then. The easiest way, but most costly, would be to have a paper sent directly from office here. There are a great many sent. . . . Some are Douglass and some Breck.​b . . . Don't be alarmed about my not having enough food, such as it is, to eat. . . . You need never get worried about me, or Georgia either, for I am much more tied up here than I was at home. The drill in the middle of the day will be abolished soon and artillery drill will replace it. . . . You need not stand in the guard tent if there is room to sit down on the floor. . . . Don't send any more "sandpaper". I thought I had a nice long letter when I got that. Much obliged to you for it nevertheless. We have to use it to clean our guns. . . . Do you know anything about the Massey's of Norfolk, Va. There is one in my class,​8 who knows, "they say," five or six languages, and everything else in proportion. I think from the looks of my class that it is a very smart one. . . .

I have just limped down to dinner and back, and have been ordered to go down to tailors for my uniform, so that I will emerge among the first from the condition of an "animal" to that of a new cadet. . . .

 p605  The place of all places here now does not seem to be Benny Haven's, but a certain "diggings" called "Buttermilk" or "Butermilk Falls". . . .

I am in a dilemma. B is the northern company, C is the Southern. I should rather be in C than in B. Lieut. McCook is commandant of B Company, and he, having most to do with making corporals (great office here) takes most of the corporals from B. . . .

VII. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, July 6, '60

Dear Ma,

I have not been able to write to you for some time. I'll tell you the reason in a minute. About those collars; make no buttonholes, and make them 2 inches longer than length of this paper. The stitch makes no matter. The chief thing here is to have enough of them so that one can have 2 or 3 clean ones every day. I told you that I went on sick report and was excused from drill. Toward evening I asked whether I was excused from parade. No. So I went on parade. Got put in the battalion, that is, among the old cadets to parade so that I could go on guard on the 4th. I was rather willing to go because going on guard is a great bore to the new cadets, and so to the old also, but not so much because they are not plagued and know the duties. I had no idea of what I had to undergo, or, presbytery, I should not have done it. However I went on guard on the 4th, at 8 in the morning, walked 2 hours from 10 to 12, walked again from 4 to 6 in the afternoon, again from 10 to 12 in the evening and from 4 to 6 in the morning. In all that I guess I got about 2 hours sleep. The last round it was raining so that I stood up in the sentry box as long as I could, where I fixed a stick so that I could rest half sitting and half standing. Nearly went to sleep 2 or 3 times, but gradually got my eyes open as the sun came up, so that I had to sleep all day yesterday every chance I could get. Last night from 10 to 12 the old cadets came round plaguing me. 2 of them tried to take my gun away, but could not do it. Another time the grand scarecrow for the new cadets, the Great "Hyankydank" paid me a visit. It was composed of two cadets, one below and another mounted on his shoulders with a cloth draping them. The Great Hyank — etc. — came up and took hold of my gun, upon which I upset the hyank and spilled the top part on the ground sprawling. I went into battalion last night because I have got my uniform. They say mine is the only plebe coat which fits. I am getting along pretty well. We commence artillery drill today. . . .

VIII. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, N. Y., Oct. 16, 1860

Dear Ma,

Did you get home safe? What oclock did you leave here? I could not manage to see you after guard mounting without running great risk. I did not get reported for being at the hotel last night. His Royal Highness​9 came into the recitation room of the 1st section this morning, with all his suite and I had a good look at him. He did not impress me so favourably on second sight. He does not look very stout when  p606 his overcoats etc. are off, but delicate. Gentlemanly enough looking, though not so manly, as I had at first thought. "They say" that he was much more at home and sociable with the Cadet Officers of the first class, who were invited to see him and be presented at Col Del's house.​10 Seems to be somewhat in awe of the old dukes and lords with him. I did not have the honor of reciting before him, of which I was glad, for I was much beflustered on account of not being able to get out to see you. He went away about half past eleven in the morning and was saluted with 33 guns — a national salute, I think. Don't forget to send me the illustrated papers with the picters, I don't know what paper it is, but I think it is either Frank Leslie's or the illustrated News. . . . HRH seemed very modest and unassuming. . . .

It is against the regulation to have eatables in rooms and to cook. I suppose this is why we started to make some candy the other night when we thought there would be no inspection. In the first place we "hived" ever so much brown sugar from the mess hall table; about a pound I guess between us, then we got up our fire (gas jet) then our stove a block with 3 nails, and next our pot a tin can in which had been packed peaches preserved. Putting our "conveniences" together we made such a cooking arrangement as this​11 and the room was very dark by which means we could not study much. However we cooked the candy, but had too much butter in it so that it was not eatable. The only satisfaction we got was that we had broken the regulations with impunity. . . .

IX. Mrs. J. W. Anderson to Anderson

Thanksgiving Day, 29th, Convent of the Sisters of the Dust, 179 East 20th Street

Dear Will:

. . . [Mr. Pollock] denied being an abolitionist. I think in about three weeks time, there will not be one to be found, even if there be any now. Right away after them the republicans will white wash themselves, and then all the world will be of one mind, niggers will be nowhere, and there will be an opening for any good subject of quarreling which can stir up the politicians north and south with equal animosity. . . .

I am amused at Mayor Wood's​12 proclamation of Thanksgiving. He cant see anything to be thankful for. He reminds me a prayer Edward used to put into the mouth of an old lady who sat in the pew behind us at church. "God bless me and my daughter, my son and my son's wife, us four and no more, Amen." The Mayor wants the people to pray that the mischief may fall on the heads of those who made it. Evidently he don't believe in forgiving his enemies. Bennett​13 proposes to pray for Beecher, Greely, Weed and Webb, but does not remark that we should be thankful for them. Do you see the papers? They are not  p607 interesting just now. Everybody is holding his breath to see what will happen. I begin to believe it will turn out like the celebrated "Bah!" only the State of South Carolina will enact the part of the old woman in Pekin, and Mayor W. is the man in the Feegee islands. They'll make all the noise. God Bless you.

X. Mrs. J. W. Anderson to Anderson

New York, Dec. 31st, 1860
179 East 20th Street

Dear Will,

Yours of the 28th I have just received. I have no hesitation at all in advising you what course to pursue. I have three distinct considerations which influence me in advising you to stay where you are for the present and if you can't be easy, be easy as you can.

In the first place, I think you boys take rather than an erronious view of your positions. You are not exactly commissioned officers yet. You are under a sort of contract to serve the U. S. eight years, and you are under this bond as minors. Now tricycle you are bound by that contract, but of course no contract ever contemplated that a man should fight his own countrymen. I think you should remain where you are until called upon to fight your own brethren, then sheath your sword and tell all men, law or no law, you will only draw it for your country's enemies. My dear Will, before it comes to that, the Government will fall all to pieces, everything will be chaotic for a while, and then we shall have a new order of things. As for Southerners advising their sons to leave, I do think they would advise them to leave just out of bad temper. The whole country is in a bad temper just now. It is likely enough they will come to blows, but my boy, the fighting will be everywhere, except perhaps just where you are, as you have a reputation for biting, rather than barking, and it is the barking dogs who are getting us into hot water. . . .

XI. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, N. Y., Feb. 28, 1861

Dear Ma,

I have been rather busy lately, so that I have not been able to write to you. I shall try to be more punctual hereafter, and write oftener. I have studied rather more this term than I did last, but do not see that it will advantage me any. For a time I was head in mathematics, but made a slip one day, and am now in consequence third. I am also third in English. I should be well enough satisfied with my standing if it were not for a sort of partiality on the part of my teacher, which makes me and some others of my section have to work harder for the same marks than others, which is very discouraging as it renders it so hard to regain a lost step. . . . One can't expostulate with him, for when he first commenced teaching us he made us a little speech, saying that in marking us, he made it a matter of conscience. So that he appears to be either wanting in judgment or uprightness. It can't be the latter for he has the reputation of being the most Christian officer on the point, and besides holds a prayermeeting every Thursday evening, at which certain cadets attend, among whom are certain of the favored part of my section. But  p608 enough of this. I would not have bored you so long but that I want to show you why I did not write. . . .

The snow is off the ground up here, and we have commenced dress parades again. Soon drills will commence, but, thank heaven, plebe drills are no more for me. If I am so fortunate as to be appointed a lance corporal in June (which I much doubt, on account of my abrupt leave of the abolition company) I will have the honor of putting some of the new plebes through their paces. The president's appointments have been made already as you have, I suppose already seen.

I look forward with great pleasure to the time when you will be able to come up and see me again. During camp, you know, I shall be quite a gentleman of leisure compared with my status last year.

Continuation, March 2nd . . . . I suppose you have seen the account in the Herald of the burning of Cozzens Hotel. Well, on the day it happened, we (the cadets) were in the mess hall at dinner. We (the hungry cadets, including your dutiful son, also very hungry), were just about to pitch into some dinner, and by the same token I remember the day of the week (Friday) for the dinner included soft fish for the Catholically inclined. Well, as I was remarking, we were about plunging "in medias res" when McCook, the fat Lieut. you remember, came in with the adjutant Kingsbury, who immediately called the battalion to attention and said that Cozzen's Hotel was on fire, and that we were to go down with the apparatus, such as it is that we have. We needed no second command. Apart from the fact that any excitement or occurrence out of the ordinary run of events, such as the fire in question, is a great treat to the corps, Cozzens Hotel is a tabooed place to them, it being "out of limits". We got there pretty soon hauling the old machines after us and running nearly all the way, but when we got there found the engines of no use, for they could not throw water high enough! The fire would have been put out in ten minutes, I should judge, if we had been provided with one decent engine, but we were not so all we could do was save the out buildings (which the newspaper account erroneously states were all burned up), provisions, crockery, etc., and tear down the doors and window shutters, as these may be made serviceable again. Among the other articles carried out was the contents of the wine cellar, which aforesaid contents has caused two of my class to be at present in arrest on charge of drunkenness. My class, the 5th is the only one not on pledge, or I fear half the corps would be in the same predicament. Others of my class were drunk, and others happy under the influence of the juice of the gape, but no others as the expression is were "hived", that is caught "in flagrante delictu", ain't I awful latinish, I believe it is natural for I've hardly thought of a latin book this year. The consequence of this little escapade will probably be nothing more than getting my class on placing with the rest, a result very distasteful to most of its members, but which, as you know won't bother me much, except that I have always had a repugnance to pledging myself to anything. It is a restriction of liberty and a tacit denial of a man's competence to take care of himself. But we will all have to sign the pledge whether we like it or not as only on condition of the whole class signing the pledge are men found drunk allowed to stay here, as the penalty by the regulations is immediate dismissal. . . .

 p609  XII. Mrs. J. W. Anderson to Anderson

New York, March 10th, 1861

Dear Will,

I ought to have answered your nice long letter some days back, but I, like you, have my time and thoughts so filled up with occupations, that the days slip away very fast, and I find many things undone I would gladly have attended to. To write to you is always more or less on my mind, and if you received all the letters I mentally indite to you, the regard of them might seriously interfere with your studies. This religious teacher, he reminds me of many old sinners of his sort, who used to pester your father. Such men are always found in the army and are generally reckoned a nuisance. They are great producers of hypocrites. I could tell you some funny anecdotes of that sort of teaching Godliness, but will content myself now with one. A boy relating his conversion, remarked that he received from his father "a new pair of trousers as a reward for being converted". I am afraid that men whose vocation it is to teach grammar, mathematics or tactics, and who mark down according to morality, have about as proper ideas of Heavenly things and the way to make them attractive as did this little boy's father. But don't you mind any of these things. If there were no difficulties to be overcome in ones path, what would be the necessity for exertion. Neither can a man choose his misfortunes. Of all things to be regretted in this not over delightful world, the most so I think is the rarity of a truly enlightened Christian gentleman. I can think of but one in all my memory, that one was Doctor Robert Murry, U. S. A. Of course I speak of men who make profession of religion. Your Uncle Mannevillette, with all his odities deserves to be mentioned as another example. Your father was one of the most upright men I ever knew, but he made no profession. Now I have a word more to say in this connection, and it is this — that from the changes going on in the government and consequently in the Army and Navy, it is possible the esprit of West Point may become puritanical altogether. In that case I intend to take upon myself providing no one else does it, to put a hint in circulation, that a Southern Military School where Cadets of Southern feelings could complete their course of studies would be a very desirable affair. You know there is already a South Carolina School, and a Virginia School into either of which you could get admittance, I have no doubt, especially the Virginia School, the superintendent of which, Frank Smith,​14 was one of your father's valued friends. But then it is not clear yet that Virginia will be on the right side in politics. Still it is above all things desirable to graduate at West Point if possible. No other school in the world has such a reputation. No other school in the world gives its graduates such a status. Other schools might be even better, but reputation is not won in a day and for success in this world, reputation is of vast importance, so dig ahead my boy, and you will come out ahead, never fear. . . .

Observe. I am not very apprehensive about the puritanism of which I spoke. Old Abe and his sense keepers are in too much perplexity as yet for any one to predict which way the wind will blow them. I should not be much surprised if there should be such a break down in that direction, that puritanism, republicanism, abolitionism and all should become a  p610 byword and a reproach and people go wild, mad and fanatical in the opposite direction, just as they did in the reign of Charles the second. I have seen nothing of all this in the papers, but you know, I am always a good bit in advance in my opinions, and I have been right so many times, I am beginning to put faith in myself. I could elaborate all these things to you, if we could only talk about it, and show you the small loop holes, through which I can see future events, but they are too tedious to write out. Never mind we'll have an immense deal of talk yet, some of these days. I'll come up and see you as soon as ever I can. I feel sure it will come about very soon, although I do not exactly see how, but I am sure of it, because a strong wish, backed by a strong will is a mighty powerful lever to move events.

Your affectionate, Ellen Ma.

XIII. Mrs. J. W. Anderson to Anderson

New York, March 23, 1861

Dear Will,

. . . The Southern Congress seems to be getting on famously, and old Ableº and his counsellors struck with confusion. I suppose you know they would willingly abandon Fort Sumpter if they knew how to do it. Now we have an eminent example of the wisdom of selling an ignorant back woods farmer and setting him at the head of the government.

I have just replyed to a letter from your Uncle Mann. He tells me I am "foolish" in my opinions, but not so foolish as some others. I had a good laugh over his letter, and then wrote him a long political tirade. I don't know how he will take it, for he evidently fancies Old Able, and is one of those who hope great things from him. . . .

XIV. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, N. Y., April 12th, 1861.

Dear Ma,

. . . I wish I could come down to see you, but it cant be did, within a year I'm afraid, unless you give me your opinion and permission that I ought to leave here for good, before that time. The newspapers are very tempestuous. . . . What do you think of the prospect of a fight now. Both sides Haarlem (if what we hear be true) gone too far to recede. . . .

I am at present learning the intricate science of cartridge making. I have made 100 now of various kinds. I don't think they'll do much damage, as they are not very admirably constructed. However it is a satisfaction to know that I can make a good one if I want to. The grass is coming out on the plain allright. What do you think, Ma, all Roe's rooms have been engaged for the summer in consequence of the burning of Cozzens. I wish this fuss between N and S was stopped. I'd try to get a leave next summer. Gen Scott could get me one very easily I suspect.

Your affectionate Son, Willoughby

 p611  XV. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

West Point, N. Y., April 18, '61.

Dear Mama.

I have refused to take the oath. It was even more unconditional than the one I have sent you, which I copied out of the Regulations. It was more unconditional than the other classes have been made to sign, and consisted of that part of the oath I sent you, commencing with the words "I solemnly swear", and ending with "Articles of War".​15 Dear Ma, I considered as thoroughly as I could my position before I went over there, Cadet Dupont of the 1st Class from Delaware but appointed at Large, has been my friend whilst I have been here. His father was a Class Mate of Pa's. He advised me to take the oath. I actually cried before I went over there, so you may conceive how I was bothered mentally. I know well that I resign every thing, prospects in life etc by my action, and that for a little while I will have to increase your expenses, (but I hope soon to get something to do, I don't care what). Well I say I had considered all this well, and, when I went over there, in the chapel — whenever I went up and placed my hand on the Bible, I would have taken a conditional oath. I kept my hand on the Bible till the Magistrate got through the totally unconditional oath, I have told you about, and required us to kiss the Book, I couldn't do it. It was a solemn occasion to me. All my class were in the Chapel. Many of the other classes were there to see the cerimony. The officers of the army were there in there dress coats and epaulets and we wore our side arms. We went up five at a time to take the oath. Before it was taken it was explained that "Cadets constituted a part of the Land forces of the United States", and as near as I gather "took this oath in the same spirit that Officers and soldiers take it". Well Mama I didn't take the oath, and they may pack me off in short order, or dismiss me. But if they will let me resign I will do it, so I want you to date and sign the accompanying paper which I have written, and send it to me. It must be tendered with my resignation. I got your letter, saying that you left what I should do to me and my own conscience, this morning. I have not yet got an answer to a letter I wrote Uncle Manne similar to the one I wrote you, yet. I told him however that if I did not receive his or your answer before I was required to take the oath, I should not take it. I think he will tel me not to take it. It don't matter much now except to my feelings. Nine other cadets of my class refused to sign with me. I don't believe a true Southerner signed it. He couldn't. Please if you can,  p612 mail the "permission" by return mail, or as soon as possible. I must now say good-bye for a little while.

Your affectionate son, E. Willoughby Anderson

XVI. Mrs. J. W. Anderson to E. M. D. Brown

New York, April 19, 1861

Dear Mann:

I received a nice long letter from Edward​16 yesterday. He arrived at Charleston harbor in season to be at the battle, but was not allowed to land. He sends his love to you.

I copy from his letter so much of the accounts of the battle as I have not seen in the various papers. I say of the battle, but I should say of the fleet, for, as I said before, of the battle he was only a very distant spectator.

Nine o'clock today. The fort is on fire from the shells of its batteries.

Eleven o'clock. The once honored stars and stripes have disappeared. The fort has been one dense smoke for hours, still the lower tier of cannon flash away, and the batteries pour in to her in rapid succession.

"Twelve. The firing has ceased, and we can discern, with the glass, the confederate flag floating from all the ships in the harbor.

We can't get in until tomorrow morning at nine o'clock, as the tide serves too late this afternoon.

Yesterday the Harriet Lane steared for us and fired a cannon across our bow for the ship to lay too. The captain obeyed the summons. The Lane steamed around us with all the men beat to quarters, with pot holes open, and bristling cannon, looking quite warlike and dangerous. This manoeuver on the part of the officers, evinced great coolness and courage — to sail round an unarmed vessel, instead of going to the assistance of their brethren. It certainly showed much discretion. She did go near enough once to get a shot from one of the batteries, which made her steam away like a quarted horse, without taking time to return the compliment; although armed to the teeth, and commanded by half a dozen bran new officers, all in their nice clothes, with swords belted on. They hailed us — what ship? Where from? and where to? All of which the gentlemen knew before.

"The ships of war belonging to the perjured government lay off the harbor, manned by brave officers and fierce soldiers, with abundance of all the munitions of war, with the most approved weapons of modern warfare, with small rifled cannon, and barges for taking men on shore, for attacking the rebels and reinforcing fort Sumpter, but strange to say, they do not make the first attempt. The ships keep at a very respectable  p613 distance giving heed to the old saying that discretion is the better part of valor.

"The ships are the frigate Powhatan,​17 one other large steamship with troops, arrived today, the brig. Dolphin, Harriet Lane and transport ship Atlantic."

I had a letter from Will yesterday telling me all the boys were to be made to take the oath of allegiance. I told him in that case, to resign. It is monstrous to make boys under age take an oath of allegiance, which actually means not to the whole country, for of that, there is no need. The fact of their being there, shows their allegiance to their native land, and also that of their parents or guardians, for I had to give my consent in writing to his obligating himself to serve — but it is a trap to make the boys swear allegiance to one political party against another. I scorn the base trick! will is worthy of his parentage, for in spite of his deep disappointment in having to give up the darling idea of his heart, to wit — to graduate at West Point — in spite of poverty and no work, staring him in the face, in spite of its being the most unpopular act here in the city, which he could just now do, he will not, for all or any of these reasons, take an oath to support the wrong side of a political fight. Never will he draw sword against his native land! No, rather let us live in obscurity, or die, if need be, at the hands of the mob. It would not surprise me if it should come to that. You can have no idea of the rampant state of the abolitionists here in the city. They are jubilant to a degree that is ridiculous. If you do not hear of it, it is because the papers dare not tell the truth. The mob have it all their own way. I asked one of them, who told me it would be dangerous for a man to declare himself a secessionist now, What had because of their boasted liberty of speech? "Yes — ah — people must not be allowed to do wrong" was the gentleman's reply. This man was the secretary to the working man's association last winter. What has become of freedom now?

Yours Ellen M. A.

XVII. Mrs. J. W. Anderson to Anderson

New York, April 21, 1861

Dear Will

I arrived here last night, safe and sound, and without having encountered any difficulties. It was about ten o'clock when I reached the house. I have felt dissatisfied with myself all along, for not comprehending your position better. I hope you put in your resignation. It did not occur to me, how necessary it was that you should do it at once, until after I had left you. In fact this whole business has bewildered me much after the fashion the death of a beloved friend does; I could not realize it, but it all came clear to me, as I was riding home.

Three letters had been received during my absence; the one from yourself, one from Edward and one from Mannevillette. The latter  p614 containing a draft for thirty dollars, and sundry reasons for your taking the oath; well enough according to his view of the matter, but I opine they should have been sent to you instead of me. It is of no use trying to convert me. I am an old sinner and hardened to my present form of doctrine, — throwing hard names at me makes no impression whatever. Still, I would give you a rehash of his reasons if it were not entirely too late. He begs me not to make you a traitor, and explains also what a rebel is. Now as for the latter, I consider that we have a hereditary right to the title, and as for the former, it is merely calling opinion by a hard name, and as for both, I have no otherwise influenced you than, that, "As the twig is bent the tree's inclined". You are a twig of my rearing, but I think I have let you grow straight and I shall tell him so. He has a good deal to say about the state rights view of the matter, but you know that was not the point which bothered you, or me. Your Uncle Edward is in Charleston and expects to get an appointment right off. He thinks he will be stationed at Morris Island. His cousin Alfred Aldrich — a lawyer and a smart man — is quartermaster General.

The new U. S. Marshall here is out with a request for secret information etc. etc. Be sure and see it in to day's Herald (21st). That is the beginning of nice times. I still think your plan of going directly south with the others the best. If you get in any difficulty whatever, telegraph to me, if possible. Don't fear worrying me. If you choose to go to Charleston and join your Uncle Edward you can be sure of a warm hearted reception and perhaps is your best plan. He is very sorry he has not us in Charleston with him. Now it is certain that your being there would be a very great inducement for me to go, but everything in the future is so uncertain now that I would not have let that idea influence you. I am sure we shall all see you and that soon somewhere or other, because I am determined on it, of course I am.

By and by, with Generals Fever and Climate take the field, with these northern doctors for aids de camp, there will be no lack of bills of mortality even if the regiments should be as much a mere stratagem, as they pretend the fleet was. But I am of opinion we shall see some terrible fighting before that time, and then these people will begin to come to their senses, and patch up some kind of peace. And then we will all get together and be very smart and make money enough to live upon, and if you have not an A. B. or Lt. to your name, you will have seen something of the world to make up for it. Let us fancy ourselves getting rich enough for you to go to Europe and getting a degree there!!!

My dear Will, you cannot imagine how puzzled I am in attempting to advise you at all. I think I will enclose your Uncle Mann's letter although it is too late to influence you. He says all that can be said on his side of the argument and you can thus satisfy yourself if he would have been likely to influence you. For my part I say there is no United States in the sense in which it was understood when you received your appointment, but I will copy so much of my letter as relates to your affairs. After telling him his reasons came too late, and that I regretted it, I tell him that you wrote to me, and I directed you to do as you pleased, that afterward I went to West Point and found that

"Will had already refused to take the oath. His view of the matter was that the United States as understood when he received his appointment was no longer in existance. In taking the oath of allegiance now, he was taking it to such of the States as are now united and thereby  p615 obligating himself to fight with them against the South. This he was unwilling to do. As for me, I had entirely misunderstood the matter. I had supposed it a test oath in consequence of the present political troubles and not a customary oath administered to all cadets. If I had known it was customary I think I should have taken Will's view of it. I do now take that view of it but that did not influence him, because I did not think of it. I was indignant at their dragging boys into their political quarrels as you must have perceived from my letter to you. I have never influenced Will except in so far as described by the poet 'As the twig etc.' Moreover I think I have let my twigs grow very straight and I am not sure but your reasons would have influenced him had he received them in season. Although too late, I have sent him your letter.

"I have advised him to go South immediately. It would not do for him to come here. There he can get something to do. As both he and I have unpopular opinions here he could not only get nothing to do but would stand a fair chance of seeing the inside of a prison."

That is what I have written. I certainly might have expressed it better as I see in going over it, but I want you to be satisfied that I set the matter in a correct light, and now Will I would not give the thing another care. The lamentable part of it is, that you should be deterred from coming to your home, and that home the once-thought free city of New York, free to licentiousness — the most important city of the freest country upon Earth, and be deterred on account of having acted in accordance with the highest sense of honor and humanity. Well may mankind deplore the passing events.

Georgia thinks my letter will give you the impression that I regret you did not take the oath. Do not entertain such an idea if it so strikes you. What I do regret is the whole trouble, as I said before, I am like a person looking upon of the corpse of a dead friend. I cannot help expressing my regret — but I do not the less know that it is no more the living thing I loved.

In regretting that Mann's letter did not come sooner, I think that some how or other you might not have felt so bad about it if you had had some one to talk to you. In fact your description of your state of mind when you were called upon to decide about taking that oath haunts me like the memory of a great misfortune, and I blame myself for my stupidity but it is past now. the more I reflect upon it, the more I feel that you did right, New York City influenced by our Father in Heaven to do what was best for you, and now my dear Will this letter must go right or wrong. It is the second I have written to you — having torn one up — and yet scarcely pleases me better than that. God bless you. Your Mother Ellen

XVIII. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson and his Sisters

Norfolk, June 24, '61

Dear Mama, and sisters,

I am well and flourishing, but want to see you very much, so that I am living in hopes of a speedy termination of the war. I am station at what is called the Entrenchment Camp, very near Norfolk, — a most miserable place, so far as heat is concerned, but quite healthy I think. Mosquitoes pretty bad. I have a pretty rough time drilling raw recruits,  p616 and making them remember their hay foot from the straw foot. When I am in town (Norfolk) I stay at Mr. Masi's house. He is father of a class mate of mine, and has been very kind to me indeed. . . .

I hope you do not allow yourselves to worry about me. I assure you there is no occasion, for I have got started and if nothing happens I shall do very well. I hope you are all well. In a little while I hope to be able to come after you and bring you South, or stay North with you as the case may be. Of course I prefer the South. You must not get sick or fretted.

I told you when I last wrote (I have some doubts regarding your receipt of the letter though) that I was a Lieutenant in the Virginia Provisional Army. Gov. Letchier​18 has turned over all his appointments lately to President Davis, and a great many of the Provisional Army will be dropped (don't you think we are well supplied with officers). I will not be dropped because I resigned out of the U. S. A. but it is probable that I shall razeed,º i.e. that I shall become a cadet once more. Of course I don't mind the much. It is just and proper. I will be not a cadet in Prov. Army of Va., but a cadet in the C. S. A. which makes a great deal of differ.

I don't smoke any more which you remember you said was the only thing you were afraid of.

Dear Ma don't believe half what you see in the newspapers concerning the battles with the southerners. The newspapers are unreliable even down here in the midst of it. . . .

I wish I had some money to send you but I have not been paid my first months salary yet, and if it had you could not use Virginia money. . . .

Good bye for the present. This letter must go.

Your affectionate son and brother Willoughby

P. S. If you ever try to write me don't sign your name to your letters. I know all your handwritings like "tactics". Willo.

XIX. Anderson to Mrs. J. W. Anderson

Sep. 30 '61

Dear Mama.

I hope you are all well, and in no danger. I have not been what I call sick for a single day. Thanks to the kind friends I have found. I am still at the old place (N), but I know you cannot write to me, and am very sorry for it. I received the letter you wrote me, and it relieved my mind considerably. I am now in the Regular Confederate Army, the Virginia Prov. Army having broken up on the 1st Sept. I have applied to be put in the Engineer Corps, and Secretary Mallory​19 told me I had been successful the other night. I shall go today for my commission. I suppose my high standing at West Point, I was about 2nd when I left, and also going four years to college before that gave it to me. Anyhow, I am very thankful. I went to see Mr. William Taylor, he  p617 has two very nice sons and one daughter, but I dare not tel you any news because I wish to make sure of your receiving this letter. There were only three cadets put in the Engineers, Jones, a second class man, Rowland, head of the class above me,​20 and myself. I think I am fortunate. I had some notion of going to Florida coast this winter, but I have found people so kind in Norfolk, especially the Masi's, that I think I shall go back there. How I wish I could see you all. Only one letter in four months, I have to make turmoil of it. You must keep up your spirits and make Georgia and Villette run about, but not too late in the evening, but I must say good bye or I shall say something to stop my letter, which will probably be read. I shall seize every opportunity to write to you, but you need not try to write to me as I don't think it possible.

Goodbye for the present.

Your affectionate son, Willoughby

The Editor's Notes:

1 John B. Floyd.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Here, as in various other places in the letters, the writer inserts a drawing.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Pennsylvania; George Meade, son of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.G. G. Meade, and at Gettysburg a colonel on his father's staff. The other two were John Elliott, afterward captain in the 43d Infantry, and Isaac W. Maclay, afterward an ordnance officer.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander S. Clarke, afterward captain, and assistant instructor in the Academy.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander M. McCook, assistant instructor in infantry tactics, afterward major-general.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Senator Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War in the previous administration.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry A. Dupont, class of 1861, afterward brevet lieutenant-colonel and United States senator, son of Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry A. Dupont of the class of 1833 (Anderson's father's class).

[decorative delimiter]

8 Frank J. Masi; see nos. XVIII and XIX.

[decorative delimiter]

9 The Prince of Wales, afterward Edward VII.

[decorative delimiter]

10 The superintendent of the Academy at this time and until Feb., 1861, was Col. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Richard Delafield, afterward major-general.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Against this passage occur various illustrations.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Fernando Wood, mayor of New York.

[decorative delimiter]

13 James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald. The other references are to Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley of the Tribune, Thurlow Weed, and James Watson Webb of the Courier and Enquirer.

[decorative delimiter]

14 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Francis H. Smith, West Point 1833, superintendent of the VMI Military Institute from 1839 to 1861.

[decorative delimiter]

15 Apparently the oath required of cadets on this occasion was that prescribed by the act of Mar. 16, 1802, which appears in the regulations for the Military Academy promulgated on Mar. 14, 1853, in the following language:

"I, [image ALT: an underscored blank], do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them, honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and that I will observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the Officers appointed over me, according to the Rule and Articles of War."

A more drastic form of oath, explicitly engaging the taker to "maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty I may owe to any state, county, or country whatsoever", was required of all cadets by an act of Aug. 3, 1861.

[decorative delimiter]

16 Another uncle.

[decorative delimiter]

17 The Powhatan, which on Secretary Welles's plan was to go to Charleston, had gone instead to Pensacola. So had the Atlantic. See General Meigs's narratives, Am. Hist. Rev., XXVI.285‑287, 299‑302, and references there given. The vessels actually composing the relief expedition were the Pawnee, 8 guns, the revenue cutter Harriet Lane, 5, the unarmed transport Baltic, and (arriving on the afternoon of the 13th) the Pocahontas.

[decorative delimiter]

18 John Letcher. On April 25 the Virginia convention had ratified the offensive and defensive alliance with the Confederacy.

[decorative delimiter]

19 Confederate Secretary of the Navy.

[decorative delimiter]

20 William R. Jones, Va., appointed in 1857; Thomas Rowland, appointed at large in 1859.

Thayer's Notes:

a The Constitutional Union Party, nicknamed "Bell-Everett" for its 1860 presidential and vice-presidential candidates John Bell and Edward Everett, made an attempt to keep the Union together by adhering to the Constitution — letting each of the States regulate the slavery question the way it saw fit.

[decorative delimiter]

b Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Breckinridge, whose candidacy divided the Democratic party in the 1860 elections.

Page updated: 7 Mar 13