Civil War Cadet Life
Samuel Atwill letter, September 2-3, 1862.
VMI Archives Manuscript #0061
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Note: Atwill refers to the following people and events:
--"Old Spex": Francis H. Smith, Superintendent of VMI from 1839-1889.
--Cadets were were given oral rather than written examinations.
--"Subs"--Sub-Professors (junior faculty members)
Sept 2nd 1862
My dear Father-
As I have holiday today I will dedicate a portion of it, at least, in writing to you although I scarcely know what to write about as I have written several letters since I received one from you. It has been upward of a month since I received a letter from you, and I am afraid the Yankees have hemmed you entirely in.
You ought to have seen me yesterday when I went in to be examined; about twenty Subs and professors were sitting in a row; in the centre there sat "Old Spex" as big as life, resembling an old owl with a standing collar, and a pair of spex on; but I will not say any thing about the looks of this venerable gentleman for he certainly is as goodlooking as any monkey you ever saw; with a mouth sharp enough to pick peas out of a porter bottle. But enough of this; for you know how badly scared I was when I was in his presence, and while he was examining me. The examination is over now, and we have holiday until next Monday. I must now close for the present as the drum is beating for dress parade.
September 3, 1862.
How much better I feel now than I did this time yesterday! This evening when I was on one side of the Parade Ground, I saw someone come out of Old Spex house with Old Spex, and Oh Pa! I though it was you until I saw his watch chain, and then I knew it was Mr. Mayo. But really he looked so much like you that I could not drill any more for looking at him, and as soon as I was dismissed Claybrook and myself went out on the hill to see him, but we had only five minutes to stay so he could not tell us any news, only that you were all well, and that the Yankees had not troubled you yet. He is going away tomorrow on the eleven o'clock stage, and I am going uptown to see him tomorrow before he goes. I was certainly glad to hear from you all, as it has been upwards of a month since I heard from you, and especially to hear that you were all well. I would have written you some time ago but I could not get any stamps or money to get stamps with.
It is not at all strange to see a Cadet faint in the ranks; this evening one of the fellows let his gun fall on his foot at dress parade and it hurt him so badly that he fainted. Two of the fellows picked him up and instead of bringing him to barracks which was just as near as Major Williamson's, they were very cunning and took him to the latter place as "Old Tom" (Maj. W.) has two very prettie daughters. As soon as they entered the house the young ladies put water in his face and bathed his temples with cologne &c; in about two minutes he came to and came over to Barracks. Just now a servant came in with a waiter in his hand with a white cloth over it and a note to Cadet_____ with the compliments of the Misses Williamsons. Now you can imagine what was under that cloth, besides having the compliments of two beautiful young ladies that you never knew before. Well, if this is the way one gets paid for fainting at dress parade I will certainly try to break my foot tomorrow evening and then fall down; but before I do this I will make a bargain with two fellows to have some chalk prepared for the occasion and as soon as I fall to rub it on my face and hands and then take me to Major Williamson's, or Col. Gilham's; it makes no difference which as both of them have prettie daughters and are equally distant from the Parade Ground; neither of them is over fiftenn yards.
If you have an opportunity to do do, please send me, together with the thing I have written for before, some flannel shirts and yarn gloves. I must now close as my iddeas are getting beautifully less. Give my love to Ma and tell her when she is eating peaches that she must think of me and eat enough for us both. I got as many as I wanted today but had to pay .25 per dozen for them so you see our monthly allowance ($2.00) does not last long when apples are 20 cts and peaches 25 per doz., and watermelon $1.25 cts. and very scarce at that price. Write very soon and by every opportunity. Your devoted son, S.F. Atwill.