October 10th 1862
My dear Brothers.
I need scarcely tell you with what ardent love and interest our hearts have followed you during all this long period when you have been so constantly exposed to such danger, hardships, and privation. We have written you whenever there seemed a possibility of letters reaching you, but I suppose very few, if any, of the letters arrived safely.
We were so anxious about you, after we know that your Division of the army had passed into Maryland & knew that you must have participated in the bloody strife at “Sharpsburg” & oh, our hearts went up in earnest thanksgiving when we heard that our precious dear ones had come safely through the fight preserved by the guardian care of a Merciful Providence & then when Father got out of prison & our home free from Yankee rule – We felt that we were indeed truly blessed far about many around us.
I must confess I felt great delight & pleasure in hearing that you had both borne yourselves well & bravely in the fight – & my heart and eyes were full when I heard that Robert had borne off the colors of the regiment – & had, even in that most dangerous of all posts – been safely sheltered and under the panoply of God’s love and power. I felt more pleased & thankful than I can ever begin to tell you. Oh! we do so long to see you both – & would be so glad if we could only be at home together once more…
Virginia Soutter Knox to her brothers Robert Taylor Knox & James Soutter Knox, October 10, 1862.
It took time for news to travel. Depending on a family’s location, communication lines in their area, and connections, it could be a matter of days, weeks, months (or even years) before they heard about their loved ones in campaigns or battles. Fortunately for Virginia Knox, she was staying in the Confederate capital after refugeeing from her home in Fredericksburg, Virginia; her information would have been received comparatively quickly.
However, as the Confederate army had moved north during the Maryland Campaign, they had marched away from the regularly communication lines, making it harder for Southern civilians to get regular and accurate army news or receive letters from loved ones. She reflects in this October letter that the family continued writing and hints at the irregular communication lines by supposing that few letters had arrived in camp.
With official reports and plenty of rumors in the capital city, Virginia Knox had been able to track the Southern army’s progress and early successes in the Maryland Campaign, but lacked specific information about her brothers’ unit. Thus, like thousands of others on the Northern or Southern homefronts, she had faced conjecture, hopes, fears, and uncertainty until word arrived that her brothers had survived. Virginia Knox was one of the fortunate civilians following the bloody fight at Antietam (Sharpsburg). This time there was no mourning.
Virginia expresses her “delight and pleasure” at the reports of her brother’s bravery. Reputation was important in 19th Century America, and not just among soldiers and units. Imagine what a proud family might feel if they heard that their soldier relative had been a coward…and then what repercussions that could’ve had for the entire family’s name and reputation.
In this situation, the brothers had gone above and beyond their soldierly duties – even saving a flag. Flagbearer was an extremely dangerous post and was noted for bravery.
However, interwoven with the feelings of pride and the interest in maintaining a good reputation and family name came the uncertainty what all that bravery would lead to. Death for the soldier? Bereavement for the family? Many times that was the price for a brave reputation.
“We do so long to see you both…” If there is one consistent, unifying theme in the majority of Civil War letters I’ve read, it’s that. And it doesn’t matter if the letter was written by a soldier or civilian. War separates loved ones. That separation built character and self-reliance, but it also highly emphasized the importance of family bonds for many in the army or those keeping the home fires.
What might have been taken for granted was suddenly missed: companionship and family support, for example. Each side had its reasons for fighting. And there would be a variety of outcomes from the Civil War. However, during the conflict, the enduring lesson for many individuals was the realization of what truly mattered most. For many, that was family.