On this day in 1862, W. S. Morton, of Farmville in Prince Edward County, addressed a letter to “My dear Mr Ruffin,” otherwise known as Edmund Ruffin. The two were friends and had, for a time, been correspondents before, according to Morton, “a long continued & chronic diarrhea” intervened. Like Ruffin, Morton concerned himself with the science of farming, having once written a letter to the editor of Southern Planter announcing “That our soils are well adapted to the culture of the rutabaga.” He also was a medical doctor and contributed, to the very first issue of The Monthly Stethoscope and Medical Reporter, an essay on the “Causes of Mortality Amongst Negroes.” (Dr. Morton’s Cause No. 1 for this phenomenon: “their ignorance and consequent folly and perversity.”)
In his letter to Mr. Ruffin, Morton apologizes for his previous silence and appeals on behalf of his forty-plus-year-old son, “an educated & cultivated man” who nevertheless is wasting away in “the mud of the Chickahominy swamps.” Perhaps, Mr. Ruffin, you can find him a job somewhere? After all, his “moral habits have greatly improved”!
June 5th, 1862.
My dear Mr Ruffin,
of age on my part, and the pres-
sure of important public business
on yours, in a time of great
agitation, have long interrupted
a correspondence in which I
formerly so much delighted.
My general health has greatly
improved, being relieved of a long
-continued & depressing chron
ic diarrhea: but my eyesight
has failed to such an extent
that I might almost be called
a blind man, being neither
able to read nor write.
Both of my sons are attached
to the army the younger John B.
Morton is at present with me
& acts as my amanuensis. He
was detailed on account of his ac
quaintance with chemistry in the
service of the Nitre Bureau. The
older James W. Morton is a
private in Co. E. 18th Va Regt.
(Longstreet‘s Div.) near Richmond.
My object in writing this is to ask
that you call on him if it be
perfectly convenient should you
chance to be in the vicinity of his
regt.–cheer him up, & if in your
power aid in delivering him from
from [sic] the mud of the Chickahominy
swamps. He served eighteen months
in the Mexican war, & is said
to be highly skilled in military
tactics, & is generally acquainted
with the details of military affairs.
He is at present more than 40 yrs.
of age yet wishes to be of service
to the Confederacy during the
continuance of the war. I have
thought, from the fact that there
have been many appointments made
of men whose ignorance & lack of
cultivation precluded their being
of much use to the country, that
the fact that he is an educated
& cultivated man might make
him of more service in some other
position than his present one. I
feel assured that from his ex-
treme diffidence he would die
in his present situation rather
than attempt of himself to be
removed to service elsewhere, and
should state perhaps, that he is
at present entirely ignorant of my attempt to
interest you in his behalf. I have
thought that from your extensive
acquaintance & influence in the
Army you might have some friend
who might need the hand of a
ready writer, in the capacity of clerk
& who might feel perfectly willing
to confer the office on him. I have
never before regretted the privacy
& retirement of my life which debar
me from making personal appli
cation in behalf of my son. James’
moral habits have greatly improved
& I trust that he is thoroughly reformed.
Should you succeed in delivering
him from the hardships now endured,
& of which I fear a very long continuance
would be fatal, you will confer a
favor upon our whole domestic circle.
I have once boasted of thinking with you
in many matters I certainly agree with you
in considering our enemies the vilest race which
it has pleased the Almighty to permit to exist
Most sincerely yours W. S. Morton
IMAGE: The 5th New Hampshire Infantry constructs a bridge over the Chickahominy River in May 1862; the bridge was soon destroyed by flood (Library of Congress)