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16th and 78th Illinois Infantry - Assistant Surgeon

Item LTR-5783
December 25, 1863 William H. Githens
Price: $285.00


Original Civil War soldier's letter. 4 pages written in period ink.

2nd Division Hospital 14th Army Corps
Chattanooga Tenn
December 25th 1863

Dear Wife

You will no doubt be surprised to get a letter from me from here when you expected that I was on my way home – But the day I made out papers for a second application for leave of absence – I received an order to report for duty to the Division Hospital – of our Division. I was both glad and sorry- sorry that it would stop my chances for a time of going home – and glad, if I could not go home, to have a chance to get where I could be in the dry – sheltered and warm. We are hardly organized yet – but expect to be in fine working order in a few days – then I wish you could be here – and we could be as cozy as we were at St Io but that cannot be – and I must be content with my lot – and I hope you will be able to get along for a little while yet – and I think I will promise not to leave you again – I was quite much vexed to think they would not let me go – but they blarney’d me – by saying I was the kind of man that couldn’t be spared – Dr. Payne – formerly surgeon of the 10th Ills is our Medical Director – and he has told me two or three times that he would let me go home after a while – but now was the time I wanted to be home when the Baby came and help take care of you – as long as I could stay – but oh what a trial it would be to leave home again – to come away down in this Heaven forsaken desolated land – but we hope fighting is over – at least for the winter – and that no more poor fellows will be mangled and butchered – at present you would hardly think that war was desolating this part of the world – previous to the Battle of Missionary Ridge there was hardly an hour when cannon were not booming in some direction – generally from Lookout Mountain – but – now all are gone – the Rebels forever – and a good part of our Army after them. Today, however, it sounded more like war again. Cannon and musketry booming and banging in every direction – till one could hardly realize that the Rebs were not stealing a march on us. But the Boys will be jolly on Christmas whether in the army or out – and as they had plenty of powder – they made it crack.

The river is in good boating condition now and we have several little boats that are bringing supplies so that we begin to get something ahead – they are building a new wagon road across Lookout Mountain and hurrying the railroad through at the same time so in a short time we will have an abundance of everything – a large quantity of butter has been issued to the commissaries – which is quite a treat – and now I must tell you what we had for Christmas dinner and how we had it – last night we hadn’t hardly a sign of anything – but I was determined to lay by the hard tack for once – and see if there was not something better – so by perseverance I not only had a good dinner for ourselves but one for the Boys also – I managed to swap some flour for light bread. Then I had to send across the river – for the butter and sugar – then with the aid of a little dried fruit and a can of condensed milk, we were all right – we had dried currant pie – sweet cake molasses – stewed dried corn – soda crackers – light bread – butter – fried shoulder (couldn’t get any other kind of meat) milk for coffee – I forget whether there was anything else. We thought it magnificent – and with the aid of Uncle Sam’s silver and earthen mugs to hold coffee – we fairly feasted – it was quite a contrast to our usual hard tack and greasy flour gravy – dinners – but I hope to be able to eat my next Christmas dinner and all subsequent ones at home with my family – conscious – that rebellion will never again disgrace and almost ruin our glorious country.
I know you will be glad to learn that I have got so nice a place – I know that I am, especially after such a long tiresome march as we have had – I will live quite well here – have a good warm bed and not very hard work – I don’t mind the work however – provided I don’t suffer from wet or cold or hunger – If I get leave of absence and go home I will have to go back to my regiment – as my place will have to be supplied, right away – I hardly know what to do – but I expect it would be best for me under the circumstances – (unless you should not get along well) to not lose my place for a while yet – at least until the winter weather is over here – which will be in a few weeks – we have not had much cold weather yet and I am in hopes will not have – it has not been cold enough to freeze ice thick enough to bear a man – and the Natives say it is as cold they ever see it – it is a fine thing that the army is so far south – in the condition that some of the Boys are in they would freeze any further north – a great many are nearly barefoot – some of them quite – blankets and overcoats are very scarce – and until now, no prospect to get them. Supplies are coming in rapidly now and I am in hopes in a few days we will be able to get anything we want – I was about out of shirts – couldn’t even buy an army shirt. So had to buy one from a clothing store – price five dollars. It is a nice one and the only kind I could get. If I had known that I couldn’t get home right away, I would have ordered some clothes by express. I have no pants at all except a pair of blue army pants and all the officers here dress very fine – especially the Potomac or Eastern Army.

I wrote this for last night – and expected to finish in the morning – but I was so very busy that I did not have time to finish before noon when the mail went out and now the talk is that Division Hospitals are to be done away with – if that is the case, I may get to come home yet – unless I am ordered to Brigade Hospital – I was going to order some clothes sent to me – but I guess I will wait – a while – I shall be sorry if our Hospital is broken up – we have got everything working nice – plenty to eat – light bread, sugar & coffee in abundance – butter – potatoes – onions – dried fruit – pickles – cod fish – and in fact nearly everything that is needed – quite a contrast to the field Hospital – where the poor fellows had to nearly starve. But it could not be helped. Supplies could not be obtained and it is only a day or two since we could get these things – and I hope they will continue plenty.

It is raining today and rather uncomfortable – but not cold as I expect you are having it – there has been no snow yet – although it does fall here to some depth. Sheldon has just handed me a letter that he got from Joe – saying that he was still at home – and unable to do anything and that there was nothing to do – if he was able – out of money – and winter before them – when they have money it goes – then get out and starve. I pity Joe for I don’t think it’s his fault entirely.

I must close or I shall be late for the mail today –

Good bye and God bless you,
W. H. Githens
Send letters as usual.
Jo Platt was killed at Mission Ridge. I have not heard from the 93rd Regt -