1862: Catherine (“Kate”) Backster to John Henry Backster

These two letters were written by Catherine (“Kate”) Backster [Baxter] (1843-1935), the daughter of John C. Baxter (1813-1896) and Mary Jane Elston (1819-1891) of Vernon, Sussex county, New Jersey. In 1870, she married Charles Arvis Crissey (1841-1891) who served as the 1st Sergt. of Co. F, 27th New Jersey Infantry.

She wrote the letters to her cousin, John Henry Backster (1845-1863) who was a private in Co. F. 27th New Jersey Infantry.


[North Vernon, Sussex county, New Jersey]
Saturday Morning
November 1, 1862

Cousin John Henry,

How strange it seems to me that I must resort to this way when I wish to speak to any of my former associates—those with whom I have been with all my lifetime. It is so unnatural that for the moment it seems to me an illusion and I fancy myself in a dream. Oh that it were a dream that I might awake and find myself surrounded with my early friends and associates. But it is no illusion nor dream; it is reality. I think we at home feel the separation more keenly than you do. You do not know how we prize a letter from camp. It is quite the style to show our letters that come from Washington. As we take pleasure in this way, you will please excuse us for doing it.

Now the idea of going to Washington where the most refined people are congregated in cattle cars, what must they have thought of you? Your Pa and Ma called here last night after prayer meeting which was held at Mr. Welch’s. Next Friday evening it will be at your Pa’s house. North Vernon is a dull place since you fellows went away. I did not think you were of so much consequence, but we know now how to appreciate you, and will be able to give you a hearty welcome when you return.

[Nathan] Benjamin Givens [b. 1830] and Mary [Elizabeth] Longwell [1845-1906] were married the 4th of October and have gone west on wedding tour. Isn’t it dreadful to take a scholar through as many branches? Our Donation will be the 12th November. You had better come home and attend it for there will not be another here in a whole year and you may want to go to one before that time expires.

Our Singing School is a dull concern. There are so many new beginners that the old scholars will not advance much.

Tell [brother] Charles I received his letter last Tuesday and he must answer it right away for I have not got time now. I am going to Aunt Margaret’s today with Cousin Susan and as I am going this morning, I will not have much more time to write. Remember, I want long letters in return for short ones. Do not wait for me to answer every letter but write whenever you feel like it and yours will be gladly received.

Pa says you must take extra good care of yourselves and sends you his best wishes. This leaves us all well. I hope it may find you in perfect health. Give my respects to all. From your affectionate cousin, — Kate Backster


[N. Vernon, Sussex county, New Jersey]
December 1st 1862

Cousin John Henry,

Almost the first thing I could ask you would be how is Dan [Bailey] but it will be so long before I can get and answer. Mr. Ferrier came up to N. Vernon this morning. He speaks rather discouragingly of his recovery; he also brought the letter which you sent by him. What a privilege it is to write to our friends in camp and a still greater one to hear from them. How I hope your lives and health may be preserved, but I greatly fear the fever Dan has is contagious and the rest of you will take it, if you have not already. We have heard that F. Edsall and J. Carmon are in the hospital. Please tell me whether they are or not. Remember it is no kindness to conceal anything from us. If we were certain that you would write if any were sick, such reports would not alarm us but as we are certain you do not, we imagine probably more than is really so, which increases our anxiety.

I would like to tell you of merry times in N. Vernon but we don’t have them—none feeling in the mood. Out entertainments shall be postponed until the return of the Vernon Volunteers. As for gossip, we do not have any, and slander is entirely gone, leaving the place about the time the Volunteers did. Everything is peaceful, orderly and quiet. I have no doubt you will be surprised at the change when you return, and you will feel very ill at ease until you get inured in the high state of enlightenment and refinement of this place.

It is one year today since Mr. Grenell began his labors with this church. How soon it has passed and what strange events it has brought about. I cannot help wondering what the coming year has in store for us and yet I almost fear to anticipate much happiness for fear of bitter disappointments. But let us all be cheerful as long as we can.

George Crissey and you, I suppose, are greater friends than ever. How very nice it is to have all your schoolmates and associates with you. This is an advantage that all soldiers do not enjoy. Mr. Jones had his Donation last Wednesday night. Mr. H___ has his the tenth of this month but do not know as I shall have any opportunity. Our Singing School I have almost forgotten how it is as we have not had any in three weeks on account of bad weather. This morning I went to church. Your Pa and Ma were there and are with the rest of the family enjoying good health. Mr. Grenell prayed very earnestly that you might all return to us in due season and for the recovery of the sick. Judson Grenell has come home to go to school this winter. I have just been thinking what a nice time we would have going to school if you and the rest of the scholars were here. I guess they would have to get a bigger teacher if they kept us anywhere within bounds. I have a good mind to go and take his place and send him off to war.

I would like to write you a longer letter but as my time is limited, I cannot. Affectionately your cousin, — Kate Backster

P. S. Write soon.

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