1863: “Even the birds are seldom heard with their cheerful voices”: A Confederate Reflects Post-Chancellorsville

Though sometimes referred to as Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory, the battle of Chancellorsville resulted in nearly 13,000 Confederate casualties– almost 20% of the Army of Northern Virginia’s strength. As the Confederacy mourned its losses, perhaps mostly famously the death of Stonewall Jackson, Sergeant Lafayette Cooper, of the Georgian Troup Artillery, sat down to write his mother a letter.

While the majority of the Confederate army had recently engaged at Chancellorsville, Cooper’s battery fought atop Lee’s Hill during the smaller Second Battle of Fredericksburg. He doesn’t mention many specifics of the battle, but Cooper’s letter is fascinating in that is presents an unusual perspective– a soldier who undoubtedly mourned Jackson’s loss, but who also fervently believed the Confederacy would be able to recover with generals “here far superior to him.” Cooper also looked to the Western Theatre, where reflecting on the ongoing campaign of Ulysses S. Grant against the Mississippi River he wrote, “If they will only hold Vicksburg all is well. Cooper’s letter then, presented below the break, presents the voice of a soldier stuck in the “great task before us.”

Camp “Troup Artillery” Fredericksburg May 18th 1863

Dear Mother

I take my pen in hand not to answer my letter for I have written twice without receiving an answer but merely to let you know our situation etc. I wrote you after the fight at some length. I gave my opinion as to the loser on both sides and I was about right as figures have recently proved. Anything I might say in regard to our 8 days battle would be what had been thrice written by every newspaper correspondent. Our company is now stationed two miles this side Fredericksburg on the Telegraph road. The boys are in good health and passing away their time by sleeping and fishing. It is thought we will move back some 8 miles further for the purpose of procuring a pasture for our horses. I am very anxious for them to move.

Everything around F[redericksburg]– seems desolate and forsaken. Even the birds are seldom heard with their cheerful voices. Insects of every description, except the most unwelcome have gone to a better land- yet as miserable as the place is the army is destined to remain here for the protection of our Capital.

The Confederacy aught to be grateful indeed to the Armies of Virginia for its suffering and trials in the great strength. Do you ever look back and think how many battles it has fought and against what good odds? Do you ever think and remember in all their fights they have ever been victorious? Certainly never was there such an Army in ancient or modern times. Had the Army in the West only done what one tenth what our Army has done I believe Peace would have been dawning over our beloved country. If they will only hold Vicksburg all is well. If Gen. Lee’s veteran army was there all would be safe. With such defenses they would hold out against the world.

I wrote to you in my last that Genl. Jackson was wounded. Since that, as you know well, he has passed away. A great man has fallen. A patriot, a Christian and a hero. The loss is heavy to the South, but it is not irreparable one. We have Genl’s here far superior to him. Lee and Longstreet are more popular and leaders than he. Others will soon be his equal. The South places her defenses in no man. Leaders will spring up as fast as others are killed. It is wrong to make so much noise about one man. When thousands of privates have been killed unknown to glory, more meritorious and equally as patriotic as he. It is disgusting and sickening to hear men say twas better to have lost 25,000 men then Jackson. This is all nonsense and toadyism. The army endorses no such.

Our boys were loath to leave their old winter quarters in “old Caroline.” Many I fear left their hearts there. I went down there since the fight on business and whilst there went around and saw all my old acquaintances. They were truly glad to see me and I was soon answering their questions in regard to some of their favorites in the battery. I never saw ladies so very anxious to see a company in my life. During the fight at F[redericksburg] They could hear many of the guns and I was informed that more than one young lady was crying at the report of every gun. One old gentleman told me before we came down there, he only had 2 sons in the army to grieve about in a battle. But now he says “I have got to think about some 40 or 50 and all seem as mad as my own boys.” This is what I consider the true Virginia style.

I wrote to you some time ago to make some nice colored shirts of some description. I don’t want the checkered cotton you made before. Also send some collars and the cravat or 2. I wrote about having my blue overcoat being made into a suit, Pants and round jacket, if not able to get them out of it, pants and nice vest. You can send me one of Marsillis’s shirt I have at home. Try and send them and have everything sent you think I need. I don’t know what I will do about a horse.

There is scarcely 10 horses in the whole country and I can’t get to go off and get now get new. I expect I will have to pay about 500 for a common horse here. I would send home for one but they won’t allow transportation for him. I intend on getting my “pony” from the government if he costs $1000. Every officer that has elected must stand a very rigid examination before he is commissioned. I don’t know when I will stand mine. I don’t fear the military part but they examine on mathematics &c. These I am perfectly misty and no chance to brighten up as no books of the kind can be obtained here and no place to study them if I had them. I don’t care much if they bust me. I feel that I have done my duty in the war as the company also thought by electing me. I must close. Send those things the first chance as I am very much in need of them my love to all instead of “Ga. Legion” &c.,

L.C. Cooper

“Troup Artillery”

Cabell’s Battalion Richmond or Fredericksburg, Va., McLaws Division[1]


[1] Lafayette C. Cooper, Letter, May 18, 1863, from the files of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

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