In light of the election last night, and how divided our country appears at this time in our history, I thought time travel was in order. Einstein proposed that to travel to another time in space one simply had to cross over it, stepping across the bends it creates like a river rounding back on itself. This letter written so many years ago makes that journey feel possible. It was written during a time when the United States was at war with itself, in some cases brother against brother. I read this and hear the voice of a man whose hopes for his country is to be unified and his home peaceful again. Ira A. Rice penned this on January 23, 1864, from his camp with the Vermont Volunteers. He was roughly 32 years old and had been enlisted for two years, on May 13 of the same year he was wounded at the battle of Spotsylvania and discharged. Sophiah Aldrich was his sister who was married and living in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, and is my husbands ancestor. I reproduce his letter to her word for word.
Saturday January the 23, 1864
Arm of the Potomac 1 Brigade 31 Division Army Corps.
Dear Sister and Brother,
I now seat myself in my humble tent to converse a few moments with loved ones far away those who are so near to me by the ties of nature We Soldiers are quite oft to think of these loved ones so often I know that I have and would write oftener if I could get time but we have numerous duties to attend to which occupies our time We have to go out on picket and are gone 4 days from camp we go 8 miles and it makes quite a tramp for us and then you ought to see the place we have to sleep in after we get there sometimes it is an old building sometimes a tent made of pine needles and sometimes we put up our fly tents which consists of one ? of cotton cloth made to button together to each man. So you can quess what kind of quarters we have when we are on picket yet we Soldiers get along quite well where we as you would not think you could have your pigs lay such a place as your cows have to lay in nights we should call good quarters. Well I hope we shall not have to stay here always dont you how I would like to see those dear ones at home those sweet little ones who I love so well. It does seem some times as if I could not stay here as long as I shal probably have to yet my time is most half out and it will soom pass away and another thing I am in hopes that this will close this next summer so that most of us can go home to our dear ones, those of us are alive after all. I expect that we shall see some large battles the coming summer a number such as the battle of Getteysburgh where thousands will be slaine in a day. I cannot describe to you the feeling it produces in one to see the dead and dieing all around when one is in a battle but it is no verry pleasant one I can assure you I have witnessed such a scene once and I do not care to see it again I presume that I shall never see a worse one that will come under my immedieate observation I hope and pray that the time will come when man shall not war with his brother man when the cannon shall be beaten into plow shares and the sword into pruning hooks and nations learn war no more. It may not come in my day but I think the time is not far distant Oh may God hasten the day. Oh Dear Sister you cant guess what I had sent to me the other day, I will tell you fathers folks sent me a nice box of stuff and it all came in good as ? they sent me some flour some ham one half of a cheese some butter and numerous other things and was verry thankful for it, it was all unexpected to so much the better it is such a luxury here to get such things from home, I shall have a good many meals out of that box Oh Sophiah I will tell you what you said about Harveys Death, you were speaking of your dear ones which had died (you said life?) how much better off is Harvey and Sheldon than they would have been in the Army you probably meant our little Harvey but as long as there was another one in the family by the same name you should have qualified the names.
Your Brother Ira A Rice
See, time travel. He had seen the Battle at Gettysburgh, the Vermont Volunteers guarded the left flank and the rear of the main army, his words describing it seem so raw, a brother simply writing home trying perhaps to lessen the scars of what he saw with words. He was living in a country truly fractured. I think of what he would write now, what he would think about what his United States have become. But he was hopeful, I feel I must be too.