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Where Such A Thing As They Heard Comes From

ISSUE:  Summer 1991
Washington DC, September 1861


It was like smoking sawdust to hear the preacher
But we kept respect and stayed buttoned together
Going back to camp. This afternoon there will be
A gill of whiskey for the choppers groaning the axes
And clearing back trees from our growing site.
It’s a way the new recruits come down to soldiers
Quite fair natural. I’m glad it’s not like before
When the weather was up to singe a fellow’s hair
And the march here made me sickish with the sharp waste
Of noble peaches rotting just over the fences.
When we rested by Mount Vernon I picked an orange leaf
From a tree planted by Washington’s hands.

Feel how smooth the leaf is.
I also plucked an ivy leaf from over the tomb.
The rest are watermelon seeds from the best I’ve ever had.
It might be the soil here,
But I hope most of the good is in the seed.
My boot blister is on its fifth day,
Which means it doesn’t sting much anymore,
And I remember how far I’ve gone from Michigan,
How in Ohio the hills were pierced for coal,
How John said a spent bullet once struck
His breast strap and bounded off again.
Much obliged to you for that snipping of white
Cotton lawn. You must appear in it each Sunday.
I’ll try to send a small specimen
Of my bristles, but it’s short
And cold weather’s coming on.
You tell the girls kisses will not keep
Long enough to go that distance.
But you know I am always
Your affectionate brother.

 Arlington Heights, January 1862

 Dear Brother,

The weather is bracing with little snow.
There are fifteen men in each tent,
And as we have straw now, we pair up
With a bedfellow to build ourselves a nest.
We still leave our encampment to march out
As commanded. Last week a union man
Living near the rebel line
Reported to our pickets.
Some of us were sent out, guided by the citizen.
The secesh were having a dance
As the sound of music could be heard.
From our dusk lookout on the slope of a hill

I saw below a house, quite square,
With window light beaming out
The four directions of the compass.
Our officer ordered half our men down,
Telling us to stay behind in case.
The one man standing guard at the house
Challenged our soldiers when they approached.
They shot him and surrounded the house,
Killing all except the fiddler,
Who they took prisoner.
Maybe they hoped to capture in him
The source of music, but clearly they don’t know
Where such a thing as they heard comes from.
On the way back, after passing Fairfax,
It commenced a drenching rain.
By the time we reached Arlington Heights
We lost all order and every man came in
On his own. Now we’re waiting again.
I’ve seen the fiddler look out long to the wood’s edge
Like he’s watching birds flocking and settling
The bare trees. I hope this war will soon end,
And I hope Michigan will never be cursed
With an invading foe.
But you must not flatter yourself
About seeing me home by spring, for I’m afraid
You’ll be disappointed.
I hear rolls of musquetry at changing quarters.
One of our men was broke in two.
We sewed him into a blanket
To hold him together and lower him into the ground.
Another man had both legs shot off at the ankle,
So now he hobbles on wooden feet.
Of course you can have my old skates in welcome
If you can fix them. Give my respect and love
To the family, and keep a good share for yourself.

 Richmond, May 1862

 Dear Parents,

Your kind favor came to hand last week:
Butter, maple sugar, several homemade cheeses,
And a sack of ginger snaps. We concluded
To use the things together in common
As the best way of dividing. I’ll send you
Some dried Virginia flowers next, for even the trees
Held out hillsides of blossom. Corn is large enough to hoe,
Oats are thick and green, peaches and apples are formed,
And everything looks like summer.
Which horse do you drive with now?
The colt must be old enough to spare Frank.
I would’ve sent home $10
But one of the boys ran in debt
The whole face of his wages before pay day.
He came to me so I bought his watch.
I’m making a present of it to Delia.
I suppose Janey’s plaintive voice
Will be used to some purpose this summer.
Wonder if she’ll have any beaux.
Bill is poking around trying to see what I write
So I’ll have to hurry.
Our knapsacks and other heavy dunnage
Have been sent across the Chickahominy
In case we’re forced to fall back
As far as the river.
But we’re having easy times now,
Laying around in the shade
While you at home are hard at work,
Sweating in the sun.
But we don’t know what minute
We’ll be ordered to pack up, march and fight.
That’s the difference.
Dust flies down from the roads
As far as the eye can reach

In the direction of the Blue Ridge,
Many miles distant.
You can hear the Cavalry galloping.
I believe the final drive has begun.
Before you receive this
You’ll hear of the fate of Richmond.

George Miller
[Sept. 2, 1842 to May 31, 1862]


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