Editors’ Note: In commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, Zann Nelson produced and directed a play called Somebody’s Darling based on the letters of William H. Stowe, 2nd Vermont Co F. The narrative, dialogue and letters will be republished for the Culpeper Times in a 4-part series. The dialogue between Mother and William was written specifically for the play while the style was taken directly from Stowe’s letters. John Tole of Rappahannock County was a major contributor to the narrative. A special thanks to Dennis Buttacavoli who owns the letters for allowing us to use them.
The Civil War is often called the defining period in the history of this country. Great questions were confronted and resolved, great leaders identified, great battles fought, and great ideals expressed. The physical, psychological, and personal losses were equally enormous. Somehow, from the complex mixture of heroism, conflict, and devastation came a stronger and more unified nation.
Two and a half million men and a few women served in the opposing armies while many, many more anxiously watched and waited at home, desperately hoping and praying for the safe return of a son, brother, sweetheart or friend. Their experiences are sometimes forgotten, overshadowed by the iconic leaders and the epic set-piece battles.
In late May 1861, twenty-one-year-old William Hall Stowe of Calais, VT. enlisted in the Union Army leaving behind his parents, Alonzo and Elizabeth, and younger siblings Lewis, Emily, and Hannah; William, together with his best friend Elijah Brown, joined the Capital Guards. This unit would soon become Company F of the Second Vermont, the first of the three-year regiments from the Green Mountain state to answer President Lincoln’s call for volunteers.
Monday, June 24, 1861 excitement ran high at the train station in Burlington. Approximately 860 officers and men of the 2nd Vermont Infantry anxiously waited to board the train bound for Washington, DC.
Mother: William, will you not reconsider? Look at all those men: surely they have enough without you!
William: Mother, I hiv already made up my mind and anyway, Calais needs to be rightly represented. Would you have me be a loafer? Lorenzo and Theo both have wives but they is thinking about jernin’ up.
Mother: Don’t talk to me of your brothers; they moved away and missing them is awful, now you! The next thing I know Lewis will want to go, too. What will become of us?
William: Oh, Mother, frettin’ will surly mek you sick. The war aint gunna las long and in a few months I will be back to help on the farm. I bet you will hardly even miss me.
William: Look, there is Elijah, now. I bes be going.
On July 21 less than one month after leaving home, Stowe and his comrades participated in the first major battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Va. Two days later, after William’s first face-to-face encounter with the reality of combat, he wrote home with bravado and an upbeat spirit.
July 23, 1861
Dear friends one and all,
I thought that I would let you know that I am well and alive, as yet last Sunday was a day that I shall not forget as long as I live.
It started about seven oclock in the morning and lasted 9 hours. We cant tell how many is killed but I should think there was 3 thousand killed or wounded.
The worst is we got whiped the worst kind. All the way from elexandry to Manasas the road was lined with batrys and they would open on us and cut us down like grass.
They cant brag much, though, for they lost more men then we did.
Our regiment was the last to leve and the hardest of it is we had to go and leave our boys on the field.
I shant rite any more about the battle, tell the boys of Calais that here is the place to do their fighting. They think that if they blow about it that is enough. If I get back to Calais I shall talk to them.
Please rite soon.
your son Wm Stowe”
Until next week, be well.