Chapter V

The Coming of the Mail

On our arrival at Grand Junction, the accumulated mail of the previous six weeks was received and distributed to as joyful a class of men as ever welcomed news from home. More than three thousand letters were issued to about seven hundred men, some receiving more than twenty. In the entire Regiment, but one man failed to receive a letter. The scene attending each successive receipt of the mail was full of interest. Nothing would arouse attention more promptly than the announcement of its arrival, an eager crowd invariably collecting at the Chaplain's tent to receive the allotted portion. Those favored with news were always cheerful, while the disappointed ones could be seen slowly returning to their quarters, evidently dissatisfied with the results, perhaps complaining of the neglect of friends at home. After the long and toilsome marches, cut off from all communications for months, the coming of the mail was like the distribution of precious treasure (p51) among the expectant throng, waiting to receive the long-delayed message from the dear friend far away.

The soldier learns, by protracted absence, to appreciate the home privileges, which he has heretofore enjoyed with scarce a thought of their true value, till they have been laid aside. As he goes out to the field of strife, feeling that he is no longer privileged to do as he pleases, but that for three long years he may be kept from his family, who continually miss him from his accustomed place, he catches a partial conception of the price he pays for his country's preservation. But when far from home, and shut out from the world, with no word of cheer from those dear to him as his own life, he more fully realizes the value of the joys he has resigned. The presence of loved ones is denied him, and his own solace is in the silent messenger borne to him by the coming mail. It is not surprising that the strong man feels a peculiar thrill of pleasure as the long looked-for letter is placed in his hand. With what eagerness he breaks the seal and casts his eye over the page. You need not ask if he has good news, if the dear ones are blessed with health, or are in sorrow and distress. His countenance, overspread with a smile or a look of sadness, tells the tale of joy or of sorrow which the message brings. (p52)

The influence of kind words from those we love, in our absence from them, is more powerful than that of the human voice in conversation. It is to us a visible testimony of the mystic chord which unites hearts in common sympathy, and the imagination at once clothes the sentiment with personality. For this reason an old letter is made to supply the place of one we hoped to receive. There is nothing new--for we have read it before--but it renews the assurance of continued remembrance and affection. Yet in the presence of the writer these old letters are little esteemed, for we prefer the music of the voice. Let any one sit down, in the quiet of home, to read old letters, however interesting, and they fail to please as they did in our absence. Even our own letters seem frigid and uninteresting when read after the lapse of years. Yet they once came warm from the heart, and afforded a mutual satisfaction to the writer and the receiver. They lose their interest because they are no longer necessary to association.

To the soldier the words of affection and friendship come with peculiar interest. The young man who prizes the pious instructions of his mother is more affected by them than by sermons or prayers, for they come home to the heart and elicit a response which no other agency could call forth. The influence of a mother's love upon a wayward son, thus subjected to direct Christian instruction, (p53) can scarcely be exceeded. Instances are not unusual of the formation of noble resolutions of amendment, under faithful material counsel. Many a devoted wife has spoken more powerfully to the heart of her husband by her letters than by her voice. The brother has been strengthened by the unselfish affection of a sister, and the admonitions of the father have enabled the son to triumph over temptations into which others have fallen. The degree of influence exerted for the good of the soldiers by their faithful friends at home can never be known,except by those who have been benefited thereby. Those who have thus been restrained from vice and encouraged in the pursuit of virtue know full well how to appreciate the homes to which they now return.

The value of friendly counsel to those in the army has an illustration in the encouragement which all who love their country have afforded to those engaged in the service, to faithfully and cheerfully discharge their duty. Thus strengthened by wise counsels the true soldier has gone untarnished through the struggle, proudly conscious of having fulfilled his sacred obligations. Through the medium of correspondence with the good and true the sentiment of the people and the army was kept in unison, and the loyalty of both to the great principles involved in the conflict was mutually stimulated by the simple influence thus exerted. (p54) The social and civil ties that bound the masses and the country's defenders together were thus made like a three-fold cord, that could not be broken. It would be difficult to conceive the weight of influence exerted upon the two great armies in the field, by the intelligence received from home concerning the hopes and purposes of the loyal people. Triumph of principle and patriotism over partisan and treasonable combinations at the ballot box gave fresh impulse to the energies of the soldier, while his victory in return stimulated more vigorous effort by the citizen. In the exercise of this mutual encouragement--the very soul of patriotic correspondence between the people and the army--our ultimate triumph was reduced sure, and the pen of the humblest mother, urging her son to constant devotion, was, like the weapon he bore to the conflict, employed on the side of right, and gave no small influence in the scale. (p55)

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