At this point of the process we are making sure that we have everything in order for our manuscript editor, by making changes suggested by readers, beefing up sections, and making sure we have everything factually correct.
As I was working on the chapters on Salem Church I found letter that I initially pulled from an archives in 2007. Admittedly I forgot about the letter, which is easy enough to do if you have seen the stacks of paperwork I have dug through over the years.
The letter is from Lieutenant Rufus Jones of the 9th Alabama. Jones’ unit served in Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox’s all Alabama brigade during the Battle of Salem Church. Wilcox’s brigade fought a brilliant delaying action in the hours following the Battle of Second Fredericksburg. Wilcox’s men made their stand at the small brick Salem Church, about four miles to the west of Fredericksburg. During the battle the Alabamians engaged with an all New Jersey brigade under Colonel Henry Brown. With in the New Jersey Brigade was a nine month unit, the 23rd New Jersey, known as the “Yahoos”. For a brief time the 23rd New Jersey, with a number of other Federal units held the church and ground immediately around it.
Confederate reinforcements arrived and turned the tide of battle. Confederates leaped from earthworks, crossed fences, and fought their way through wood lots driving back the Yankee hordes.
In the minutes following the battle, Lt. Jones walked back across the battlefield and arrived near the church, where he found what he thought was a dead Union soldier. The soldier was alive, and his name was Private Josiah Crispin of Company H, 23rd New Jersey Infantry. Crispin was in the waning moments of his life. Jones did what he could to aid the dying soldier. Crispin’s last request was for Lt. Jones to send Crispin’s diary home to his sister, which Jones obliged. What follows is the second letter that Jones sent to Mary Crispin, Josiah’s sister. To me, the letter retells one of the most poignant stories of soldiers compassion that I have come across in my studies. The letter dated October 13, 1863 was written from the Federal Prison on Johnson’s Island, while Jones was incarcerated there as a prisoner of war. What follows is the letter in its entirety. I hope that you will find the interaction between two enemies as touching as I did. (The layout of the letter, spelling, and punctuation in the original.)
I received your letter of the first and hasten to give you all the information in my power concerning your brother, J. B. Crispin. On Sunday the 3rd of last May the battle of Salem Church was fought. After the battle was over I was passing over the ground which was held a few minutes before by the Union forces, when my attention was attracted by a groan from a man I thought was dead. I went to him and turned him over (he was lying on his face) and found that he was still alive. I drew my flask from my pocket and I poured some of the contents down his throat. When he soon revived and asked me in a weak voice if I was going to kill him. I spoke to him kindly and asked him if I could do anything more for him by opening his coat. I saw that he was mortally wounded and would soon die as a Minie ball had pierced his left breast, just below the nipple, in the region of his heart. As soon as he came to himself and saw that I was not going to hurt him, he asked me to move him in the shade (as the sun was shining and very warm where he fell) which I did. I spread down a blanket and fixed his knapsack under his head so as to give him temporary ease of pain. I filled his canteen with water from my own and started to leave him for the purpose of send our ambulance corpse to have him sent to our hospital. When he called me back and looking up in my face remarked that war was a cruel, cruel, thing. I saw that he was sinking fast and I raised his head upon my knee and gave him a strong drink of brandy and water. He thanked me very kindly and with tears coursing down his cheek exclaimed, “My dear sister, Mary, I will never see you again and you will wait in vain for my return. Oh my god! Why did I leave my happy home? I know that death has laid his heavy hand upon me, but I am thankful that I am not afraid to go.” He then put his hand into his breast pocket and took out his diary handing it to me saying, “Take this, my kind friend, and read it if you choose. It is the idle thought of a poor soldier while fare away from those he loved and then send it to my sister Mary. You will find her address on the inside of this poor diary of mine. Give me your hand. And may God bless you for the kindness you have shown to an enemy. I raised his head, but his soul had taken its flight from this battlefield to where all is peace and the clash of arms are never heard. I have passed through much and witness many sad scenes but none have left such an impression upon my memory as the death of this brave soldier. I had him buried with several others in the immediate vicinity of the stately old church, Salem Church (whose name will grace the pages of our country’s history for future generations to come). A small and rude pen of rails marks his last resting place. If in recalling his last words to my memory I have caused you pain, I hope you will excuse me for I assure you it was not my intention. When I am exchanged (which God grant may not be far off as I am in rather a forlorn condition, not having relatives or friends North to whom I might apply assistance in time of need) I will return to my regiment near Fredericksburg and anything I can do for you, to his grave, or body, will cheerfully be done. Please let me know when you receive this. Hoping you may find comfort and consolation for the loss of your brother.
From who never turn his back on those who seek Him, I remain
Very Respectfully your obedient servant,
Rufus C. Jones, 1st Lieutenant
Company H, 9th Alabama Regiment
Wilcox Brigade, Longstreet’s Corps
Army, Northern Virginia