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In Their Own Words

September 13, 1861

Day in Civil War Camp Described

Five months after signing a one year enlistment in a Georgia infantry company, Henry Graves had not yet faced battle. From Norfolk, Va., he wrote to his sister in Georgia of life in camp:

“… I will try and give you some idea of my program for the day. Last night I was up on guard a good deal but had several hours for sleep. And, after standing for two hours, I would go to the guard tent, which is nothing but a piece of tent cloth stretched so as to keep off the dew and rain, and, spreading my blanket down on the bare ground and covering with the other, I could sleep as sound as I would at home in a feather bed… . It would be perhaps a strange sight for you to see me fixed up for acting the sentinel in my ‘bobtain’ uniform, armed with a pistol, musket, bayonet, &c. Take me all in all, I imagine I present a decidedly fierce and formidable appearance. I will be free now from all duty ‘till ‘dress parade,’ which comes off every evening at sundown. I wish you could come and witness our dress parades. You would be delighted with them, I know. the whole battalion have to appear on the ground dressed up in their dress uniform and, after form which is called a ‘line of battle,’ go through with various forms in the manual of arms and music, &c. Every evening ladies from Norfolk and Portsmouth come out to witness it. There is a great deal of pomp and show in a military life, but there is a great deal that is most beautiful and at times grand and exceedingly impressive… .

“Just one week from yesterday, and it will be but seven months before my enlistment will be out, a time I shall hail with the greatest delight. But not because I am dissatisfied with the present. I am perfectly contended, for I find enough in this wild, strange life to interest me at all times and almost to compensate for its hardships… .”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), p. 62.