Capt. Nathaniel H. R. Dawson, Co. C, 4th Alabama Infantry, On the Battle and Aftermath

29 11 2022

Near Manassas, July 25, 1861

I have written you three times since the late battle, my own dear Elodie, but it seems that for the first time today I am in a sufficiently quiet state of mind to commune with you. I feel like one who had accomplished a great work and was resting from his labors, and my first impulses after this are to lie down by your side and rest in the knowledge that your heart pulsates to every throb of mine. I come to pay tribute to you whom I love beyond all human beings and to whisper into your ear things that I dare not breathe to others, to tell you of the strength of that love which I bear you, and to seek comfort and peace in your sympathy. It is at such hours as this, when we rest from our labors, that man needs the comforting solace of woman, and I would give all that I have to be with you and to feel the influence of your kindness. How much I want you to be near me and to receive from your own lips the assurance of your love, I leave you to imagine.

Durin the fight when the bullets fell like hail, I thought of you as far away, at a church, on your knees, praying for my safety, and I was nerved and strengthened to do my duty. It seems a miracle that I was not killed as several of my men were shot down at my side. I attribute all to the providence of God, and I trust that I will endeavor to appreciate his mercy.

I went over the field yesterday. The scene was awful. The dead Yankees were still lying unburied in many places. I saw as many as one hundred in the space of an acre. They belong to Ellsworth’s Zouaves who were reduced from 1,100 to 200 men. God seems specially to have marked them for vengeance. They wore blue pants and red shirts and are fierce looking fellows. They fought well.

To give you an idea of the extent of the forces, I will merely mention that our line of battle extended ten miles, but we were only attacked on a line of about three miles. The roar of artillery was incessant from 8 o’clock until 3 in the evening. The air resounded with the whistling balls and hissing shells. Trees as large as my body were cut down in the forests by the rifle cannon balls. I have gathered up some bullets on the field and will keep them for you.

Our regiment is in a state of disorganization. Capt. Goldsby being the senior captain is acting as Col. He has been absent since the battle, and I now have the command. I do not desire to retain it however as I am anxious that a U. States officer should be placed in charge. We have suffered greatly for want of competent field officers, and I will not permit any selfishness to interfere with the welfare of the regiment.

We are encamped on the battlefield, surrounded by all the evidences of the sanguinary contest – broken gun carriages, dead men, dead horses, and the graves of the dead. Every house in the neighborhood is a hospital for the wounded of the army. Our own have been sent to Culpeper and Charlottesville. The dead Yankees will all be buried today. Judge Walker arrived this morning to take the remains of Lieut. Simpson, his brother-in-law, home. He will mail this letter in Richmond as there is some difficulty about sending letters off here. I telegraphed the Reporter to let you know I was safe as I knew you would be very uneasy until you heard.

We have been sleeping in the open air without tents since we left Winchester, and it seems we are to do without them for the balance of the season. We are indeed fast becoming used to all sorts of hardships. I am bearing them well and hope to pass thro them safely. It is now three months since I bid you goodbye, but it seems a long year. I cannot tell you how anxious I am to see you again. It will be one of the happiest days of my life when I meet you again safely. You are indeed, my dear Elodie, the star that I worship, and all the breadth of my love seems insufficient to repay you for yours. When I think how much this has cost me in the sacrifice of being absent from you, I almost wish it had not been commenced, but we are battling for our rights, and the feelings of an individual should not be allowed to interfere with our duties. But still I hope, and hope most earnestly, that I will be allowed to be reunited again to you. Our movements are uncertain. We will remain now on this line of operations and may go on to Alexandria, but we will hardly attempt to take the place by storm. The campaign will end in November on this line of operations, when the war may be transferred to the south.

You will write to me at Manassas Junction and your letters will be forwarded in case of our removal. I have not heard from you since the 11th of July. I hope to receive letters forwarded from Winchester today or tomorrow as I have sent a gentleman over there to see about our baggage. You can’t imagine how much pleasure a letter from you will give me now. It will be so soothing to read your affectionate letters. I will continue to write you as often as I have an opportunity, but you must not expect to hear as regularly as you have heretofore done. I will always embrace any opportunity of advising you of my movements.

I have now to attend a meeting of our officers and must bid you adieu. Farewell, my dear Elodie. Pray for me and may God bless and preserve you always.

Ever and affectionately yours,
N. H. R. Dawson

I have attempted no rhetorical account of the battle and its incidents. You will see this from better hands. Besides I have no time and no power to do so. You will see in the Charleston Mercury a full account from Mr. Sprate, who is a friend of mine. Our regiment did great credit to itself.

From Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence pf Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln. pp. 143-145

Nathaniel H. R. Dawson at Ancestry.com

Nathaniel H. R. Dawson at Fold3

Nathaniel H. R. Dawson at FindAGrave

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