This letter was written by John Sprague Robbins (1832-1862) of Co. E, 18th Massachusetts Infantry. He was the son of Chandler Robbins (1801-1887) and Sarah Burgess Robbins (1798-1882) of Carver, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. He wrote the letter to his brother, Benjamin Whitmore Robbins (1835-1912).
According to regimental records, John was 29 when he enlisted in August 1861. He wrote this letter from Camp Scott near Yorktown, Virginia, in April 1862. The 18th Massachusetts was present at the siege of Yorktown and during the entire Peninsular campaign, but suffered no loss in action. Belonging to Martindale’s Brigade, Morell’s Division, Porter’s (5th) Corps, the regiment was detached most of the time with Gen. Stoneman’s command.
The first real combat service of the 18th occurred at 2d Bull Run, August 30, when it participated in the attack of Porter’s Corps on Jackson’s position at the railroad embankment. Here the 18th Massachusetts suffered the loss of 54 of its members, killed or mortally wounded. One of these was John S. Robbins.
Serving with John in the 18th Massachusetts and mentioned in this letter was Joseph S. Robbins of Lakeville, Massachusetts. Joseph was discharged in April 1863 for wounds.
Camp Scott, Virginia
April 25th 1862
I have been expecting to have to turn out on drill this morning but it has commenced to rain so I think that we are safe for awhile. I received a letter from Hannah last night. She states that she has heard from you at Harriet’s so I suppose that you must have been alive at that time. We are waiting about here for the movements to go on. We have had nothing to do this week yet of any account but to wait and read what we can get as the papers have begun to come here. 2-cent papers for 10 cents apiece, and to think in what condition the country is in at the present time.
The North think and feel that it is hard times and not without reason. But it is impossible for them to have a realizing sense of the conditions of the Southern States. You just imagine the North & West with a conquering army crowding through in every direction so strong that they would fear to meet them at any point, hemmed in on every side, with their whole force in the field even to forbidding a white man as a deck hand on our boats and provisions at famine prices as the prices in the New Orleans papers state. Hams at 30 cts per lb (and Richard says that he can buy good hams for 8 or 10 cts) and other things in proportion. When they are forced to burn corn by the 100,000 bushels at a time to keep it from being taken by our troops as they did at Fredericksburg, Va., and still giving away at every point where the opposing forces are brought to bear upon them.
Women and even children think if they were in that position, then and not till then will they know what it is to have a war in their own state. And that is what the South intended they should know when they started unless they would bow themselves down and do their bidding. That is what their leaders talked after the fall of [Fort] Sumter and they meant every word that they said about that. And the leaders have the control of the matter so complete that it is almost a unit with them. Our Northern men did not await a moment to soon. If they had lain idle a short time longer, this war — a part of it at least — would have have been carried on in Ohio & Pennsylvania to say the least under the command of the unscrupulous leaders of the South instead of being in Virginia & Kentucky so long, so afraid of hurting them and theirs.
The North stirred just in time to keep the battleground on the Southern soil and that is all that can be said as to that. That has saved every Northern and Western state from knowing what it is to have two opposing armies within their lines, to scatter death and destruction to everything that comes under their observation. As much as I hate and detest everything in the shape of fighting, and long for the time to come when men and Nations shall know enough to settle their disputes without the appealing to brute force, I am fully confirmed in the belief that where force must be used, it should be used on the soil of those that force the issue to that extent if possible. If they will not be satisfied without fighting, let them have it to their entire satisfaction, and where they can see the misery and desolation that they have caused before them as a lessen to them in future.
I hope that the North & West will learn a lesson by this war but I fear sometimes that they will not. They are to blame as well as the South in my opinion but not as some talk it by the prattling abolitionists (for in my opinion, many of them are no better than the Southern slaveholders) and their influence is small, but by sending men to Congress to make the laws of the Nation that instead of being an honor to their position, their position or all that holds them up, they go there and care more for self than for the Nation, and will do anything if it can be greased over so as to go down, and if they can find a weak point in a man’s character, they will break him to do that rather than to have our land run over by them led by such unprincipled men as their leaders, for I do not doubt that the soldiers are as sincere in their belief as I am in mine — many of them them.
But I was saying this morning that if we could have such men from the North & South placed between the contending armies at the commencement of a battle, that I thought I could work with a good stomach until they were cleared away. Then I think if the armies could have things explained to them, the fighting would be done until another set of precious scoundrels had managed to crawl into their places. Perhaps you will think that I am a little excited but I am not. I am as cool and cozy as you please so I will hold up for awhile hoping to hear of your safe arrival home and of your installation in your now new home. My love to you & yours, — John
[on slip of paper]
…do not make it leak worse and so have been in pain all night. Joe says this morning he thinks of there were any lice in his head, they are drowned now. The ground is very flat and if the water gets much higher, we shall be in a pond.
Our mail did not come last night except some that have had their letters answered that they have written since they came to this place. So the mail that went to Washington has not got round yet. You must not think I am homesick by the way that I have been writing for I am in good spirits and all I ask is to push things along and then let me go home. I would like to start home at any time so that they have got through with me but not to have them send for others to take my place when I am gone. I have got my hand in now and can stand it with most any of them.
Remember me to all. Joseph is busy writing to others so he will not write this time but we are both well and all right and so was [Austin] Ward ¹ the last time that I saw him a few days ago. He is up to his eyes in business since we commenced to move. From John.
Write when you can.
¹ Austin Ward was a 35 year-old butcher from Carver, Massachusetts when he enlisted.