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Edward Porter Alexander - Gettysburg Fame - Possibly his first letter from West Point

Item CON-71
June 15, 1853 Edward Porter Alexander
Price: $1200.00


4 page original Civil War soldier's letter written in period ink and pre-war dated.

West Point
June 15th 1853
Wednesday morning

Dearest Mother,

I am a plebe at last. And if my plebeship was to last all four years, I would wish I was home. But as I know that it will be over after a while and as it is easier every day, I stand it very well. Last Monday morning, Robert Anderson, Brewer from Maryland and I marched down to the adjutant’s office and reported ourselves, residences, parents etc., that I almost imagined that I was talking with Old Dame Darden. After we had satisfied Uncle Sam’s curiosity, we were asked if we had any money to deposit. The money, which Father gave me, held out. And I had 2.50 besides, so that I deposited my check for 80 dollars. We were then marched to the Barracks and shown a room. Robert and I were placed in a room with a little fellow from Virginia named Meade and a very plain, clever, good-natured fellow he is. Then we went to the commissary’s store where we each found an account book with his name printed on the back and an order in it for a number of housekeeping articles. We took the orders and crossed out those things which we did not want and the rest were tied up in a bundle and hung on one end of the broom handle. And on the other end we had a bucket full of candlesticks, basins, bottle of ink, ink stands, etc.. I only got one pair of sheets, one pair of blankets, one pillow and the other necessary articles, such as books, candles, slate, looking glass, gourds, etc.. We all thought it very amusing until we had to shoulder the broomsticks and march nearly half a mile in the sun. And as the bundles weighed about fifty pounds each, we became very tired of them. When we reached our rooms, a cadet officer came and showed us how to arrange our room and made me the orderly. Our bed clothes have to be folded just so many times this way and so many that way and piled in an exact order, making a perfectly perpendicular pile with the folded edges to the wall. But if I were to begin to give an account of our room police it would occupy all my paper. As I am orderly, I am responsible for my roommates’ bed clothes, brooms, buckets, basins and everything, and it keeps me as busy as a bee. After we had arranged our rooms, we were carried to a section room where about 14 plebes were reciting arithmetic and told to watch the manner of recitation, and were assigned a lesson in vulgar and decimal fractions. Here I first saw some of my classmates and of all the ugly, uncouth, red-faced, sunburned and freckled sets of crackers. I think our section take the lead. There is one fellow, Turner of Pennsylvania, who is no larger than Hilly and does not look as old. Monday afternoon we were carried in another room and made to read, write, etc.. Yesterday morning at recitation, I was sent to the board to do some sum in division. And after I had done it promptly, the cad who teaches us asked me what mathematics I had studied. I told him and he immediately made me come out in the floor and questioned me for 15 minutes on Descriptive Geometry. I answered them all however correctly and to his disappointment, for William Boggs told if I pretended to know anything, they would try especially to make me fail. Today he gave me a problem, extempore to work. But I worked it very readily and I will study my Geometry before I go to recite tomorrow. So much for my studies. And now I must tell you of my first drill. Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock we were all assembled before the barracks and divided in squads of three each. And one cadet took each squad. My “driver” is named Misner and the most gentlemanly driver on the ground. He talks very sharp to us. But sometimes an old cadet or “overseer” comes around and scolds us as if we were dogs. And if we answer a word, we are abused for ten minutes. The first afternoon an old cadet named Heght came around to me and after abusing me, because in executing some command I put my feet more than three inches apart, shook his cane at me and told me that he would give me something to make me mind, because I looked down at my feet to see how far apart to place them. It made me very angry for a while. But I kept from any signs of passion. It is very provoking to have to be scolded about so many things and to say nothing. But I stand it as well as I can. The first afternoon the sun was very hot. And as we were out in an open plain and on a place which has just been graded and where there is not a blade of grass for three acres of land, it was almost unendurable and several plebes fainted in the ranks. Yesterday afternoon, they marched us in the shade of the buildings. But the hardest drill is in the morning before breakfast. We have to get up before the sun is up and slip on boots, pants and coat, without washing our faces, brushing our heads or taking off our night shirts and run down and answer to our names. Then come back and in half an hour, we have to fold our beds (which alone takes 15 minutes, they are so particular) dress sweep our rooms, dust our table, mantel piece and shelves, fold our camp stools (we have no chairs), arrange our shelves of clothing, put up dirty clothes, wash our basins, inside and out, turn them down and then run down and answer to our names at drill roll call. Then we have to march out on the plain and are drilled and scolded for one hour. And this coming on an empty stomach almost kills me. The next thing to tell you of is the fare. Oh it is miserably vile! I had liver and eat a slice cut out of a cotton bale, as a slice of the bread they give us. I don’t know how the old cadets stand it. But it is so completely indigestible that it has made more than two thirds of the plebes sick. Doc sent us to the hospital but makes our head swim to stand up much and gripes us awfully. The beef is so tough that we have to cut it up small and bolt it to save time. It is well that they give us but little time to eat, for if we were to eat much it would kill us. Today (for it is evening now) I have written all this between times being interrupted by recitations, dinner and drill, supper, etc.. We had an extra fine dinner consisting of a half pint or so of soup with a slice of tough corn beef in it, some lettuce, a _____ tender cabbage leaves and a pudding made of the bread scraps of the last two days, pitcher of poor molasses and some of the meanest, watery small Irish potatoes I ever saw. At supper we have one dry roll, some strong butter, and a cup of tea for those who wish it. I feel so faint after drill in the morning that I always drink a cup of coffee and I like it pretty well now. They have cut my hair to the length of a half inch all over my head and I have no more use now for a hair brush. Since brush it how I may, it looks all the same and it is too short to part it at all. I don’t care to put my head out of my room at any time on the slightest occasion without buttoning my coat to the chin and putting on my cap. They report the plebes for everything, a misstep, a sidewise look, a stumble, or anything else. The reports we get now will not count against us, but they mark us for the slightest things so as to make us particular. I have not been reported yet and there are but very few who have not. Though it makes no difference yet, as a matter of pride, I am very particular not to be reported. The cadets tell me that if I behave well, I can get a leave of absence for a day, when we are in encampment, to go to New York to get anything I want. If I should go, I will go and get my daguerreotype taken for you and send by Mr. Wright. William Boggs has been very kind to me and has given me his comforter (my own is nine foot square) and today he told me that he would give me some of his uniform clothes. I like Mr. Childs (a cadet to whom Lt. Woodbury gave me a letter). Do write to me and make the others write to me very often. I’ve heard from home since I left New York. I’ve got a great deal to say, dear Mother, but no time to write.

We will be examined by the medical board Saturday. And our examination by the profs will begin the same day. We go into camp the first part of next week and I will write as soon after as I can. Give my love to all the household, big and little, and accept the same dearest Mother.

From your affectionate son,

Edward P. Alexander