~ A Civil War Letter from Isabel Rose Stuart to Major General Jacob Stuart, 1862 ~
My Dearest Jacob,
I remember looking through the twilight mist, as your wool coat, like great dark wings, moved slowly as you turned to see if I was watching. I was.
My darling, that autumn eve in the Year of our Lord, 1861, forever changed me. The cold ache in my heart made me aware of an immense deepness and stillness, I never knew existed.
I watched you descend o’er the barren field in the evening; my eyes clouded from tears, as I closed them. It was then that I felt the golden rays of the sun upon my lips. It is there that I see you my darling.
That moment is forever pressed upon my heart in hope that each gentle beat will be a rhythmic lullaby; gently singing upon your dreams, every nightfall.
You wrote me in your last letter, of the trials and tribulations of the battles that have ensued. One has to be thankful that Lieutenant General Stonewall Jackson has claimed many Victorious measures in his and your Campaign. I know the brave men under your charge must be feeling blessed that God shone light upon you all as the Shenandoah Valley was cleared of Federal threats.
It has been hard here on Daddy’s land without you. All of the strong men from our village have gone to fight this war. Only the weak and older men stay behind tending the chores and shoppes. The older women care for the broken-hearted younger brides who have received letters filled with sadness. I smile to think how our sewing circles have kept many a woman sane with comradery and the spread of news among us in the villages that we share and spread to other sewing circles in the distant towns. It is like a secret newsletter that we all create. The men and soldiers must think we have nothing better to do but sew and bake to our hearts content. You have never seen so many lovely quilts, I declare, there will never be a cold soul in this town come winter.
It is just myself, older sister Cora Lee and the help who have not deserted us, that are left to tend all the crops, cure the meats, do the sewing and caring for the ones in need in the parish. I am grateful to be kept busy with chores that fill my hours instead of dread and want. I now spend my days creating Butternut dyes for the soldiers uniforms out of leaves, husks, bark and branches from the large, orchard trees.
One stormy night in October, your sister Annabelle and I came upon a frightful scene. I was taking my usual ride on my horse to the back fields to look for repairs to be made on the fence row. Even though I rode a good distance I could see our house and the chimney smoke rising from the back kitchen. I see Annabelle, doll sized from my vantage, waving what looked to be a red cloth. I knew washing day had come on Monday, and it being Friday eve I knew she wasn’t hanging anything from the two storied porches out back. I knew she was without her rifle but had your Daddy’s smoothbore gun hidden with her sewing. I always take the rifle-musket you gave me when I travel on the back lands. I rode my gray mare, Thunder, quicker than I have ever done before and slowed down as I approached the southern east side of the property along the bramble thickets and large oaks like you showed me to do if there was trouble. I could see a couple of ‘Bummers’ and I heard one of them speaking roughly to Annabelle. She feigned nervousness but I know her strength, Jacob. It is like mine too. You would have been proud.
I dismount and straighten my cotton shift dress and rifle in hand enter through the back kitchen. I see a tall, young Yankee walking down the dark hallway to me. I was frightened, Jacob, but I gathered my wits and pointed my rifle towards him. I asked him what they wanted. He stopped, looking mighty tired and spoke saying he and the other soldier are scouring the neighboring village for salt-pork, covers, ammunition and horses. He promised me he did not want to hurt me or Annabelle. He said you young ladies are like our wives back home. Afraid and left alone. He hoped no harm would come to them by enemy soldiers.
I told him he was bold to impose upon us like this, scaring us to death. He could see I would have shot him point blank if he tried to harm us. He nodded and said “Yes my lady. I am in great need of supplies for our camp and men, never meaning harm though to woman and children.” I was afraid to tell him who you are Jacob and was hoping they did not recognize the photograph of you on the hearth.
I have Annabelle take the other soldier out to the barn and smoke house. I tell them they could have two horses, three salted pork hams. I gave them four quilts, bags of apples from the cellar and a tin of coffee and tobacco. I poured him coffee from the pot on the stove, of which he took gently from my hand. Annabelle and I shared our dinner with them listening to stories of their Families and the war. We are not too dissimilar, I thought, as we sat in silence listening to a whippoorwill call from the forest before the sun was setting. They thanked us and mounted their horses, departed and promised to never return.
It is December now, our cherished Christmas eve; I sit here reflecting on all the time since you have been gone. I watch the snow, ever so silent, fall upon the back orchard. The winter moon is bright and sets its glow upon the branches thick with ice.
My love, I do not know if these words I write will ever reach you; yet the hope and spirit within me is like that of a steady flame, which burns with an eternal light, I hope you can feel in your dark hours.
It is by the Almighty’s special providence that my good faith resides and my prayers are offered to be heard, to make your leadership and path less cumbersome.
Please come home to me, my dear Jacob. I write you this cold Christmas Eve, by the warm hearth fire, where we have laughed, loved and spoken of our treasured dreams that are to be shared as we grow old, together. I hold to my heart, the last remaining letter you gave me. It has been opened and folded so many times it feels like the textured velvet of a moth’s wings. I can hear each written word as if it were coming from your sure, confident voice.
My darling, when I close my eyes before sleep, my dearest wish is that I will see you next to me on a Christmas morning, with the sun rising upon the fields of snow; your strong hand in mine and I hear you softly tell me, one more time, ‘I love you my angel, my everything’…
Your true and forever loving, Isabel Rose~
~A Civil War Christmas letter from Isabel Rose Stuart to her Confederate Major General Jacob Stuart, December 1862~
© 2020 Duskflyer Visions Art and Productions~ Tommie Flannery Baskis