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Rebecca McDowell letter, July 1864.

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This letter is courtesy Dr. and Mrs. Murphy Cronland, owners of the original document, and reproduced with their permission 


July 25th, 1864
My Dear Aunt,

I have been intending to write to you but have felt so badly that I put it off from day to day, hoping that my heavy sorrow would grow lighter. But it does seem to me that it only deepens as I reflect on it and realize my loss as days pass away.

At first, I could think of every blessing that had been vouchsafed me in connection with it. But now, altho' I do not murmur or complain and can from the heart say "Thy will be done," yet I recall the mercies remaining, but can't feel the same gratitude. 

I felt so thankful that the poor, dear child was not wounded & taken prisoner by our cruel foes--that he did not linger in agony and that as he had to die, that he died in the discharge of his duty to his God & his country, and not a craven coward, [illegible] away his life. I realized that there are some things, harder to bear than death, the disgrace of those we love. I felt so thankful that I had full assurance of happiness & that he passed from earth to Heaven with but one sigh.

But now I only feel my loss. I can't think of him in Heaven with that bright angelic host mingling his praises with the Redeemed. I only feel that his loss to me is [irreparable]. That I shall no more see his form -- so erect --no more gaze at his beautiful eyes--lit up with mirth or enthusiasm -- no more see those dimples in his cheeks as he would break out into his merry peal of laughter or look at the long dark lashes when he was in thought. This was the month in which he was to have been at home, and when I had expected to send him into the army with my prayers & blessings. I had made up my mind to give him to his God & country, but O not so soon! Could I weep, it would bring relief, but I cannot.

Before these Union people, some of whom I have heard of exulting him his death, I talk of my noble hero boy. I am calm - cheerful. I tell how thankful I am that he fell at the post of honor & duty & c. But my heart - O how it aches! afterwards - but if I died, they should not know if was with grief. My child died in defence of the South. To that cause my life is devoted and my God in his mercy take all that are dear to me & myself before we ever bend to yankee rule.

We had a kind & sympathizing letter from a gentleman in Lex[ington] whose son was a room mate of Willie's on last Saturday. He says that his son Edward Tutwiler & Willie were "fast friends" & that his son was much attached to him - that a short time before the Yankees took possession of Lexington he visited the room the boys occupied for the purpose of getting away the clothes & other things left by his son & on examination he found several articles belonging to our son, among them his daguerreotype. He says that he looked for his trunk but it could not be found & Col Preston writes that it is believed to have been burnt in the Inst or carried off by free negroes before.

His watch (his father's gold one, bought while he was in college) cannot be heard of, neither his Bible. Col Preston's son, who was Capt of the Company, said that he assisted in burying him, that there was no mutilation, no bruise on the body except where the fatal ball entered but neither his watch nor Bible were on his person. Mr. Tutwiler says that his his son in writing to him from New Market said "my roommate McDowell was killed, in the front rank. I know he has gone to heaven for he was a sincere Christian" & the Father adds in his letter --"This should cheer you, in your sad affliction, for you loss has been His gain."

Revd Dr. White of Lexington, whom I've met with at the Gen'l [illegible], has sent us part of his hair, retaining the other half for fear it might be lost, and writes that he hears Willie spoken of by every body who knew him in the most flattering terms--by Profs. & c. Dr. White & Col. Preston have both lost most promising sons in battle, & seem to sympathise much with us. We have been treated with much kindness by all our friends & had very many kind letters.

Willie had not been social until grace sanctified his heart. But on his last visit home his health was better & he was so bright & merry and his associates always spoke of him as being so intelligent, & well read, so truthful & reliable, despising everything low & mean. He had the qualities that would have ensured success--integrity, perseverance & energy with great [several words illegible]....

...We had such a kind letter from dear James about Willie. May God spare him to you, dear Aunt & bless you all. With much love to Lizzie & Carrie, yr attached niece,
R A McD