Will Fisher to his mother
Elk River
January 23, 1864

Dear Mother,

I am on picket to night and have a little time between “tricks” and will have to write to pass away time. I wrote to you last night and mailed it today, but I suppose it will do no harm to commence a letter and finish it at my leisure. I don’t know hardly what to write but shall have to strike in and let you have it just as it comes.
There are two of us on picket and we take turns relieving the men, on six hours and off six, so you see that I, for instance, have today taken the second relief. The other sgt. stood from nine this morning till three, then I stand from three till nine PM. Well now it is ten PM and I have from this till three AM before I go on again, that’s the reason I have to write to keep awake. But I must go out to the line for it is getting late and I shall go on, in an hour, and besides the camp are getting out under arms and of course it must mean something, in the night too.
Sabbath 25th
Again I find time to continue this sheet.
The picket duty is done and also one day and about a half hard labor done and the mystery solved in regard to the alarm night before last. The Col. got the regt. out under arms and marched them out to the other side of the fort and had them stack arms and then told them to go and pack their knapsacks and bring them out and everything that they wanted to save for if we were drove into the fortifications they might burn the camp. Well after all this, he had them go back and begin to tear down the camp. Well the result was the camp had to be moved about 20 rods. The shanties were carried whole but the chimneys were all torn down and the floors had to be taken up and, in fact, stripped bear, to make them light enough to carry them. But now it is all done and the fire place built again and everything straitened all right.
We have to fall out, under arms, every morning now and stand a few minutes about 4 o’clock. The old Col. is so anxious to do everything so well that he give us a good deal of trouble. It is nothing but a whim, our having to move camp, for he has not bettered it one bit. It makes the boys awfully vexed to see the old fool perform, but such a dislike as this does not last long. All his scare arises from information received at headquarters that the Rebel Gen. Wheeler has crossed into Tenn. with 15,000 cavalry and is somewhere around and that is all.
I have not heard from John yet. Libbie has not answered my last yet and it is time.
Is Alex staying to home this winter? I heard that he was going to New York to get into business. I should think he would soon take some active measures for the future, he is quite age-y by this time, and they are marrying so fast I am afraid somebody will seize upon Lib and carry her off yet.
Tell Jim Sherman that I am waiting for a letter from him also from Jim Skinner. I heard he was out to Northeast. Skellie got a letter from Sarah Skellie who was out there visiting and she said she saw Jim there. He told her he was going to St. Louis. I hope he will do well but I am afraid he won’t.
I haven’t seen any papers yet so if you have sent any they are on the road yet. We get our mail regularly now everyday at 1 PM.
But I have been to work hard so I think I will go to bed and dream of home if I can, for my stomach will not be overly occupied with digestion.
Good night Mother. Good night Sarah. Echo answers good night. Don’t forget to say your prayers
Monday morning 26th
We have just come in from our line of battle performance again and it is too late to go to bed again so I will write awhile.
The weather for the last two weeks has been delightful and pleasant. A person would wish for winter all the year around in this part if it was not quite so muddy. But the South seems to be all mud when there is any moisture in the atmosphere. The soil is a kind of red clay that will become very muddy at the least possible rain. It is so red that it looks just like great piles of tan-bark, where any fortifications have been thrown up or any cut made in the railroad. It is quite free from stone except very small ones. This soil is what we use for mortar to build fire places with and it is excellent too.
You would be struck with the appearance of the country here, were you to see it. Seven eighths of the land is not cleared at all. Once in a while you see a little piece cleared and a miserable log hut on it. I say cleared, but the way they clear land is to girdle the trees and let them rot. I noticed this a good deal passing through the West, particularly by Indiana. You could see great tracts of land completely covered with old logs and fallen dead trees. They cannot use the wood and so they girdle them and let time do the rest. But Indiana is three times as thickly settled as Va., Tenn. or Ala., as far as I have seen.
I have looked in vain for the great, splendid mansions of the aristocracy, but they are very rare indeed. I have seen but one house in Tenn. that is as good a house as ours and that one was no better. This belonged to a Mr. Henton, father of the man who shot Lamphier in Co. A. His buildings are to be burned and the property confiscated and $10,000 give to his folks.
Near his house stands an old mill (grist mill) and by our camp there used to be an old factory running, probably 150 spindles. These are the only signs of enterprise I have seen in the state. But remember, I mean outside of the city. They are full fifty years behind the times when compared with the “detestable Yanks.”
It is remarkable what a change there is upon passing from a free to a slave state. Behind in everything and the society is so horribly ignorant. The women all use tobacco in all its forms, both chewing, smoking and snuffing. They will hover around soldiers and beg for tobacco and coffee. I believe there is not one woman out of ten but would sell her honor (if such they have) for a pound of coffee or a little tobacco.
Surely these people of Tenn. are in a deplorable condition. Most of them actually suffer for the necessaries of life. I have heard of a women in Chattanooga who was a millionaire before the war and one of the highest families and is now driven to the lowest depths of degradation for a living.
It is quite amusing to see them use snuff. They have a stick which they dip into the snuff and then suck it. You will see them with this stick in their mouth when at work. I am told that, among the aristocracy, the females do not use tobacco until they are married, but then commence it “en masse."
I will not go so far as to say that this is always the case, nor that all parts of the South are like this, but as a general thing society is mighty “hard up.” They haven’t more than half enough clothing. I have not seen one single deviation from the general rule for male dress. It is a whole suit of a kind of homespun tweed and dyed with walnut bark which makes a perfect snuff, tan, butternut rind, injun color.
But I have given you a pretty good description of Tenn. life, enough for this sheet. I don’t know as it is interesting to you but hope so far I have nothing to write so much unless I go into detail. I shall continue to do so until I hear your mind on the subject.
Love to Aunt S. and yourself from Lemuel and your own boy.

W. G. Fisher