Sunday, September 29, 2013

`It Makes Me Think of Home'

My in-laws’ neighborhood in Fredericksburg, Va., near the battlefield, is heavily wooded with oaks, beeches, tulip trees, holly and various maples, and I was hoping to see evidence of autumn, a season cooler than high summer but otherwise rather undistinguished in Houston. Virginia is still mostly green. The leaves on the tulips are turning a muddy yellow but most colorful are the dogwoods, richly scarlet, filling in the lower reaches of the woods among the taller trees. In a letter he wrote here in Fredericksburg five months after the battle, on May 14, 1863, Richard Henry Brooks tells his wife Telitha: “The Spring is open hear now the Peach trees is all in full bloom an the dog woods are in bloom an all the bushes are buding out nice it makes me think of home.” 

Home for Brooks was Blakely, Ga. He enlisted in May 1862 and served in Longstreet’s Corps for the duration of the war. His letters home are collected in Keep All My Letters: The Civil War Letters of Richard Henry Brooks, 51st Georgia Infantry (ed. K.S. Holland, Mercer University Press, 2003). Many were written here in Fredericksburg, before and after the battle, and I enjoy the knowledge that Brooks, a curious, observant man with a well-exercised sense of humor, who was much devoted to his family, walked this same ground a century and a half ago. Here is a passage from a letter written Aug. 15, 1863, from Fredericksburg: 

“My Dear I was very sorry to hear of you’re an the children’s sickness but I hope when you get this you will all be better, if you are not try my old remedy take 60 grains of Quinine an forty grains of Rhubarb and put it in one quart of whiskey an take a big spoonful three times a day, an give the children a teaspoon full three times a day. an I think that will cure you all of the chills an fever.”

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