‘Wonder Only Ends in Wonder’
The following letter is are from the pen of Robert Bell Stewart, one of ten children born to John Stewart and Anne Bell Patton of St. Clairsville, Belmont County, Ohio. Robert wrote the letter to his sister, Margaret (“Maggie”) Jane Stewart while serving as a private in Co. E, 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI). In May 1864, he was promoted to Corporal and he mustered out of the service with his company in November 1865.
This letter is one of thousands of letters transcribed by William Griffing as part of his online repository of Civil War letters, Shared & Spared. For more of the compelling letters he makes available to read, visit the Spared & Shared Facebook page.
The letter is from the private collection of Mike Huston and is published by express consent.
Monday, January 19, 1863
Time has passed very swiftly since we had the great tear up here [Battle of Stone’s River]. We are again settled down as of old. All is comparatively quiet — camp duties go on as usual, the regular routine of picketing and foraging keep us moving just as it always did. There is nothing in our camp duties to remind us of the great change which has come over us. Only when we are engaged in a social capacity are we reminded of the missing ones and “I wonder where such a one is?” is passed around the circle. And the wonder only ends in wonder which time alone will explain.
Of our company, two have been laid in soldier’s graves — two occupy a signal portion of this vast burial ground where thousands of brave hearts sleep the sleep that knows not breaking. Dreams of battlefields no more; days of danger, nights of waking. You will be sorry when I tell you that John B. Disart was one of these. He died last Tuesday of a wound in the thigh received on that memorable last day of the year. He separated from the regiment and was taken prisoner and left in care of a rebel family with a great many more. He was reported among the wounded and in a field hospital. All were being removed as fast as possible to Nashville when we crossed the river and came here and we thought no more of him but supposed him removed.
James Ewing Ramage (1841-1863) was wounded at Liberty Gap, TN — a compound fracture of his left thigh on 24 June 1863. He died at Murfreesboro four days later. His remains were sent home in a metallic casket.
On Wednesday evening after we had come in from foraging, Captain came to me and told me he had just heard that Brown was at this house some 10 miles off and not expected to live, if he was not already dead, and asked me if I would not go and see him. Of course I would. In company with [James Ewing] Ramage of Co. F — his cousin, I started and reached the house after dark, inquired for him and was told he was buried. This was sad news but it was war. All we could do was to remain till morning, mark his grave, and secure it from desecration as well as we could. We stayed all night with the family and had a very pleasant time though they were strong secesh. They were very kind and hospitable though we were now their avowed enemies. They treated us as friends. The lady said she hoped to see the time when the old ladies of the North would tremble in their shoes at the sound of war as she had done.
In the morning we marked the grave which was the last one of four which they had buried in their orchard, We fixed it as well as we could and felt our duty to the dead done. Mrs. Smith told us we should not go away without our breakfast so we washed and sat down to a real good breakfast. I ate until I had enough because I knew they wished me to. After thanking them for their kindness, we parted the best of friends. Mr. Smith was a fair specimen of a southern planter. He owns 40 negroes who look on him as a protector, a fine plantation stripped of its fences and sadly laid waste lay around him his horses, cattle, hogs, &c. were all gone. The Yankees spared nothing. Their son lay at home, wounded in the battle of Friday. They were not rebels when the rebel army was here, and Union when our army is here, but performed their principles. Such enemies I can respect. The other class I and all of us despise.
John Danford died on Thursday from a wound through the body. He was a good soldier and a sociable companion. Our other wounded are getting along well.
We have been having a very nice spell & winter for the last few days. We had some fine warm weather — very warm indeed. On Thursday it began to rain and rained without stopping till Saturday morning when it turned to snow and was very cold. It is moderating and will soon be warm again.
The battlefield of Stones River. (Library of Congress)
On Friday morning our regiment received orders to go to Nashville as guard to our cracker train. We were up at 3 o’clock. We were to start at 5. It was dark and raining very hard. We waded through mud and water for a mile to the pike where we would join the train and get into the wagons. We reached the road as wet as rain could make us and very cold. Here we waited till after daylight for the train. It came at last. Then we had to wait until we found out whether the road was passable which was doubtful. About 8 o’clock word came that the bridge over the river was gone and we could not go. With a shout each of us broke for camp cursing mentally if not in words the officers who caused the movement. I never saw a country so flooded. Water ran everywhere. Some of the boys swore they saw it running up hill.
Yesterday we were out foraging. We walk out and in so it was not very hard on us.
You have read different accounts of the battle here. I have seen but one yet. It was from the Cincinnati Commercial and was as far as I knew anything about it correct. On Gen. [Richard Woodhouse] Johnson will rest the blame for the disaster of Wednesday for the soldiers put it there. No blame can rest on the men. They did all they could do. The 2nd Division of [Alexander] McCook’s Corps justly had a reputation which it has lost — not by its own behavior, but by the negligence of its officer in command. The Second Division will not fight under Gen. Johnson. They look on him as a traitor and will treat him as such. The judgement of an intelligent army must be respected. Gen. Johnston is at the mercy of his command.
— R. B. Stewart
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