It seems our regiment will make our winter quarters around Port Royal, which is wonderful, as I should be able to spend much more time with Marianna. After the trials and revelations of the past year, her face is a welcoming world of warm whispers. Each time I see her, I say very little at first, because I cannot catch my breath; my voice would seem as though I had just run miles through the farm fields to greet her. In my heart that is how it seems, even if I catch a glimpse of her from across the room. Fortunately, Marianna has much to say, so my hying heart can calm a bit before I say a word or two; a full sentence takes much longer. I am her gallant trooper, so I try not to sound like a breathless schoolboy, though that is how I feel around her.
In the days since the Fredericksburg battle, Marianna has been helping across the river at Chatham, my Cousin Betty’s home. The Federals have turned the large house and grounds into a field hospital and it is a gruesome scene. There are also wounded Confederate prisoners bedridden there, so Marianna went to make sure they were treated well, which they were. She says she has met the most remarkable man working there as a nurse and companion to each and all. His name is Walt Whitman and he brings small gifts of food and writing papers, sitting with the wounded for hours at a time. Marianna says he is a journalist who has traveled here from New York, but I am sure I have heard his name before.
My cousin, Betty, spends her summers at Ellwood, across the Plank Road from our home. There she has a grand library; it is where I have enjoyed many hours reading her collection of books. Betty, a tiny, beautiful woman ten years my senior, inspired my love of reading as a boy. I'm not even really sure if she is actually a cousin, but she's a Jones, I'm a Jones, and our families have lived right here for well over a hundred years, so I call her cousin. I remember that, just after I enlisted, she showed me a slim volume of poetry, from a Boston bookstore, which she adored. I told her I would read it in a few weeks when I returned, but that was twenty months ago, a lifetime ago. That slim volume was called Leaves of Grass, which sounded like poems I might like, and the frontispiece pictured a jaunty gentleman, as I might like to become as I aged. I believe the author was Walt Whitman. I am sure that is coincidence, but this will be a warmer winter with the memory of happier days spent with friends, family, and books in a fine library next to a blazing fire. It certainly brightens my evening, sitting here in my wet, cold shebang, with an inadequate campfire, writing my own slim volume by lantern light.
NOTES: Walt Whitman traveled to Horace and Betty Lacy’s mansion, Chatham, in Fredericksburg, Virginia to volunteer as a nurse in the army hospitals after the Battle of Fredericksburg. His graphic recollection of this time can be found in his book, Memoranda During the War.
Pictured above is the frontispiece to the 1855 publication, Leaves of Grass. It is a steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison.
Ellwood Manor, is a circa 1790 home located on the Wilderness Battlefield in the Virginia counties of Spotsylvania and Orange. Much of the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on the plantation itself. William Jones’s daughter, Betty, inherited the 5,000-acre plantation in 1847. Betty married J. Horace Lacy in the house on October 19, 1848. With the exception of the Civil War years, the Lacys resided at Ellwood until 1896, when they retired to a smaller home on Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg.