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A soldier’s letter to his mother in Louisa County on Christmas Eve

Posted on Monday, December 24, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Dr. David Watson left Louisa County to fulfill what he thought honor demanded during the Civil War. Prior to his exploits in the war, successes that would propel him to the rank of major, he wrote a letter to his mother for Christmas in 1861.

It was unusually cold in December of 1861. From Shipping Point Battery, near the Potomac River, Dr. David Watson wrote to his mother on Christmas Eve.

The owner of Bracketts Farm in Green Springs was a prominent figure in Louisa County, and when Virginia seceded, many Americans were thrust into abandoning their former lives and becoming soldiers, including Watson.

Watson found himself enlisted in the Confederate Army. Despite being from an affluent family, he had enlisted as a private. He had no expectations of leadership, and as a proud Virginian, he was happy to fight for the place he loved and called home in any form or fashion. Ultimately, Watson would be elected to 2nd Lieutenant for the 1st Virginia Artillery Regiment.

A well-read and educated man, Watson found himself writing letters regularly to his mother, with whom he was very close. So on Dec. 24, 1861, during a low point in the action, Watson penned a letter to his mother for Christmas.

“Dear Mother

It has been something like a week since I wrote to you and I reckon you begin [sic] to want to know whether the Yankees have chased us away from Ship Point yet or not—you will see by the date of this that they have not…

The Civil War in 1861 was quite different than it was in 1864. The novelty of it had not worn off yet, and it was viewed as a gentlemanly affair. The true horror and devastation to come was not yet realized.

People were oblivious, at this point, to the violence that laid ahead. The Civil War was almost a spectacle. In the first Battle of Bull Run, spectators set up picnics on the side of a hill nearby and watched it as if it were a form of entertainment.

“…The General seems to still be expecting things to turn up—I don’t believe anyone else does tho’ and he seems to be becoming somewhat doubtful about the intention of the Yankees to come this way, too…”

Cold and bored, soldiers began to miss their cozy fires and warm beds at home. It would be the spring of 1862 before the action would intensify, with General George B. McClellan’s attempted landing on the peninsula between the York and James Rivers.

It was McClellan’s intention to take the city of Richmond, but with a force several times larger than his own, he was held back by units that included the 1st Virginia Artillery.

“…A prisoner taken in a skirmish between some of our troops and the Yankees near Hampton a day or two ago says the last thing they think of there is coming up this way…”

It was following their impressive stand during the Peninsula Campaign that Watson was promoted to captain. He would lead another tactically brilliant encounter when he was assigned a special duty of reconnoitering and engaging Federal transports.

This is a partial article. Read the full story in The Central Virginian’s Dec. 20, 2018 issue.

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