Cadet Beverly Standard (called “Jack” by his peers) wrote a delightful collection of letters to his widowed mother from Virginia Military Institute during 1863-1864. (I’ve written about them in detail here.) In April 1864, he wrote a letter which follows a rather typical pattern in his letters of this period:
- Tell Mother how miserable he is
- Warn Mother that he plans to join the army
- Appeal to Mother to help him leave VMI so he doesn’t have to run away
- Tell Mother comforting things and how to be more patriotic
- Go back to telling Mother about war news
And this letter has a request for something from home in the postscript. The days before Walmart and he wasn’t planning to sew these for himself.
I’ve added a little bit of punctuation and a couple of clarifying notes in parenthesis, but here is the letter with original emphasis:
V.M.I. April the 24th 1864
My darling Mother
They are starving us out now. Don’t give us half enough bread, miserable rye coffee without sugar or milk (and it has caused an eruption to break out on a good many of the Cadets, I believe it is poison) and for the last two weeks they have been giving us nothing but rotten beef. I declare it is perfectly awful.
Old Spex [cadets’ nickname for VMI Superintendent] has some 50 or 60 barrels of it put away and will keep feeding us on it. An old scamp, he has about ten or eleven barrels of molasses, and won’t give us any. All the cadets are grumbling and abusing him for it….
Well Mother every body (or Cadet at least) has been right much excited today, been thinking of leaving for the Army to join the coming battle. You need not be surprised if I am one, if they raise a company I shall join. Remember I will be 19 on the 27th of this month and ought to ashamed of myself to be here. When you are advised to keep me here as long as possible, people don’t know my age, and of course they would not tell you they thought I ought to be in the army. They are going to take us in service I expect in July out in the mountains here, but I prefer being with Lee.
Mother I don’t want to desert or be shipped from here against your wish, therefore I beg that you will write me permission to resign, and I can then use my own discretion whether I will or not. If you give your consent, mention that it is concerned with family matters (except name) that prevents your sending me here longer.
Mother, I hope you will not let what I have written distress you. You should be more firm and patriotic, and want me to be in the army, but this is an unnatural feeling for an affectionate mother like yourself.
When is the big fight to come off[?] Is there any chance of its taking place in Orange[?] I think the Yankees are going to get the worst whipping that they have ever gotten, and it will almost wind up the war. If Lee whips them, he ought to follow up his victory and drive them as far north as he can….
I am as ever your
Own darling boy, Bev
I am in want of draws. [drawers/underwear]
Beverly Stanard, edited by J.G. Barrett and R.K. Turner, Jr. Letters of a New Market Cadet. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961). Letter: April 24, 1864. (pages 54-55)