As reenactors, we have a rare opportunity. John Watson’s letters offer us glimpses into the life of a soldier in the unit we portray, the “Stafford Guard”. As with most diaries and letter collections that were written during the war, they are less grandiose and heroic than post war memoirs are. In fact, Watson describes the Battle of Sharpsburg with the words, “we…had a battle.” He doesn’t write long narrations of camp life. But there are snippets throughout the letters that give the reader insights into daily life in the army, including an interesting reply to his wife concerning “Dutch girls”. Most of his writing is about home and family concerns. Almost every letter mentions several other members of the company who are either relatives or close friends of his family. John was a very religious man. He often writes of his faith and encourages his wife and others in theirs.
John Watson was not the typical soldier of Company I. He didn’t enlist until March of 1862, well after the initial rush of secessionist fervor. He was married, had several children, and at the age of twenty-nine was nearly ten years older than average for his comrades. Maybe this is what led to him being quickly promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. He took this responsibility seriously, writing several times of how his duties prevented him from leaving for home. This caused him great anxiety, especially as conditions grew worse for his family as the war went on.
In transcribing these letters to electronic form, I kept the spelling and punctuation used by John Watson. On occasion, I added the correct spelling of names and places in parentheses to aid in identifying who or where he was writing about.