Elijah Campbell Letter to Hadassah, March 15, 1866

This is a letter my civil war novel protagonist, Elijah Campbell, wrote to his deceased wife’s younger sister in the late winter of 1866.  He discusses his anger and violence and how he eventually subdued them with his Christian faith.  There are some hints to what will happen in the novel, should I ever actually write it.  There are also hints to the romantic interest that will develop between Elijah and Hadassah in the (unwritten) sequel to the (unwritten) novel.

March 15, 1866

Campbell Springs, Alabama

Dear Hadassah

It is cold and rainy here in Alabama.  There is a hint of snow in the air.  We had snow last week, enough to almost cover the ground.  That is not common for this part of our state.  Snow is not unusual north of here in the Tennessee River valley, and even on the upper Buttahatchie in Winston.  But, here on the lower Buttahatchie we get very little.

The day is so dark.  I miss your sister terribly on days such as this one.  Judith always liked the snow so much when it did come.  The last few days have seemed especially hard.  I just thought I would write you.  I hope I don’t upset you with my letters.  I know you miss your sister as much as I miss my wife.  I only have the one picture of her that I always kept with me.  All the others were lost in the fire.  I am constantly looking at my one photograph.  It is getting quite worn now from handling it.  I even kiss it.  I am afraid I will ruin it, but I miss her so much.  It is all I have left of her that I can actually touch.

You remind me so much of her, Hadassah.  Judith would always write you on your birthday.  I do not recall the exact date, but it was about this time of year.  If the day has already come you should be nineteen now.  Judith was only twenty-one when I lost her.  You know all that.  I don’t know what I am saying.  I should quit writing you.  I guess I see Judith in you, and that is not right.  I need to stop bothering you and move ahead with my life.  You are 200 miles away in Tennessee and Judith is not coming back.  I need to think about the crop for this year and the people here at Daddy’s settlement.  I must stop thinking of myself.  People here depend on me and I waste time feeling melancholy.  I must get over it.

It is my faith that has kept me going, Hadassah.  When I have those times that I droop around so, it is because I am not thinking about my faith strong enough.  When Mr. A. Campbell baptized me in Montgomery, Jesus became the most important part of my life. I could not have been more serious than I was.

As you know by now, I was so filled with anger when Judith was killed that I became terribly violent.  What I did to those three Yankee deserters when Claude and I caught up with them was an awful, awful thing.  We could have captured them.  You already know all this.  How many times will I retell it?  We surprised them and could have easily taken them prisoner.  But that would not satisfy me and my honor.  Honor is a terrible thing, Hadassah.  It makes men who are intelligent and sensible act like animals, like wild dogs.  That’s what it did to me.  Only Claude knows completely what I did, and he is the only one who will ever know.  I am ashamed of it.  It seems that if I am not dreaming about Judith when I am asleep, that I am having a nightmare about the scene at the Yankee soldier’s camp.  You cannot know what happened there.

I think my anger and violence was what drew the men to me at first.  They saw in me what they wanted to see in themselves.  They thought I was some conquering knight, straight from the Middle Ages, complete with shining armor and a gallant steed, who would right all the wrongs, real and imagined, committed against them, who would avenge the loss of their loved ones, set the globe back on its pedestal, and return their lives to before Fort Sumter and Shiloh.  That’s what I thought too, for a while.

Then my faith began to return.  It was almost lost in the flames and smoke and imagined screams when Claude and I arrived on the scene of our burning house with its roof all falling in and Judith and Isaac inside.  When we returned from our bloodletting mission , I found that my faith was right there in the ashes.  But, thankfully, the foundation survived.  After a few months, my faith began to rebuild itself.  That was my salvation for the second time.  The first time was when Elder Campbell baptized me.  The second was when my faith began to recover from losing Judith and our child.

You know it’s strange, Hadassah.  If I had not been so violent at first, no one may have followed me.  But then, after my faith returned and I started trying to be like Jesus again, well, I don’t think Mr. Lincoln would have listened to me that day in the White House if I had still been the old Elijah.  He trusted me because he knew I was sincere.  He would have just ignored me without that trust.  We both knew the Federal troops would retake the city in a matter of hours if Lee did not attack from the south.  After three or four hours it became clear that he was not going to.  But Mr. Lincoln still agreed to my proposal.  Jeff Davis had the telegraph.  Everything was laid out for him.  He would lose the slaves, but not the land.  The war was already lost.  But the Yankee army would have turned north and marched home.  Mr. Lincoln would have given the order within a week.  But Davis still lingered.  He was bereft of the manhood it took to do the right thing.  He would have lost face.  He sacrificed his people in an effort to recover his vain pride.   That war could have ended a full year before it did.  The blame for that not happening is at the feet of Jeff Davis and those who put him in power and kept him there.  But, I cannot dwell on that now.

See Hadassah, I succumb to memories of Judith or thoughts of what could have happened in Washington.  I must think about Jesus and let these other things go.  They will be the death of me if I do not release them.  I know what happens when I purge my mind of these disturbing thoughts.  I feel a great weight, like a blacksmith’s anvil, lifted from my chest.  Anger drains your strength, Hadassah.  It makes you stop being human and turns you into a wounded animal who has been hunted into a corner and will kill anything that approaches because it thinks everyone is against him.  I know.  I have been that animal.  Believe me, it is not a good life.  I do not want to live that way.

The way to live is love, love like Jesus showed.  Faith and release is the path to love.  When I love I become a good person again.  I help people without fear.  I do not care if helping them will help me or not.  I just help, I just serve, I just try to show others Christ living in my life.  People then trust me.  They love me back.  I want people to trust me, Hadassah.  They trusted my dad.  I want them to trust me.  They do when I love them.

Talking to you helps the anger go away.  I feel better now.  I know you are tired of reading my letters.  This one is much too long.  There is no other woman I can talk to.  I have said too much.  I will go now.

May God bless you, Hadassah.

Your obedient servant,

Elijah Campbell


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