Not all casualties of war are immediately apparent. My father, for instance, began smoking in the front lines at Normandy to steady his nerves, and the habit stuck with him, killing him 49 years later. Another example is my friend Suzanne’s great-great-grandfather.
James Edward Larkin of Concord, New Hampshire was an officer in Company A of the 5th New Hampshire Infantry. He enlisted on September 28, 1861 and was mustered out on October 12, 1864. During that time he and his unit were in the thick of many battles, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. He wrote this on December 13, 1862, two days after the Battle of Fredericksburg:
“Saturday morning I thought there was little prospect of my ever writing to you again. I wrote a few lines on a card and left it with Calvin to send you in case I should fall—and what saved me but kind Providence. We advanced for a half mile in the face of Batterie and Infantry where it was almost impossible for a mouse to live, yet I came off safe. We lost three Captains killed and two Lieutenants—every commissioned officer was killed or wounded except three—Capt. Pierce, Lieut. Sanborn, and myself. The night after the battle I was in command of the regiment or all there was now of them. We expect a fight tomorrow. All the regiment we have now is 72 men and if we have to go in again we shall do the best we can… I am in an old house tonight and have but a small piece of candle, so you must excuse me for not writing more. Yours in life and death, J.E. Larkin”
Two years later, he wrote this:
“I write you tonight with great anxiety and feelings you can never know and I could not describe them should I try. I am confident that the great struggle for Richmond is at hand, and a desperate battle is about to be fought… It has just been decided by orders to proceed to Deep Bottom and that means Richmond. I think sure if we take it, it will be a glorious thing, but if we fail I cannot tell the results. I don’t know what force besides our corps is to be engaged. I trust I shall come out safe but should I fall, you must do the best you can. I am conscious of the charge and responsibility you have and I feel your great loss should I fall—but the Great Dispenser of Events does all things well and we must be governed by His will; our destinies are in His hands. I have made arrangements with Doctor Weber to sell my horse and furnish you with the money should you need it and he said he would do it, until you can get the insurance and my back pay. I shall leave this with the Doctor to send you in case I fall. God bless you all. How I long to embrace you and our little darlings once again. James E. Larkin”
James survived the war to come home to his wife and son and daughter and worked as a painter and then a postmaster. He wrote this to his daughter in 1872:
“Fourteen years ago today, you came to us to gladden our life. It seems but a short time, but in the brief space you have lived, has transpired the most important events of our history. You can never know what it cost me in feelings to leave you for those three long years of war, every day feeling you might be left fatherless. But I thank God I was spared to come back and see you develop into womanhood... You can never know until you have children of your own how closely your life and happiness is interwoven with ours. I send you this ring. May you live long to wear it and may it remind you of the never ending love of your affectionate father. James E. Larkin.”
Sadly, his beloved daughter died in 1884. His wife followed in 1907. Who knows what pain he carried? When he had to bear it alone, it apparently became too much for him. In 1911 James’ life ended at age 79, at his own hand.
I suppose only a soldier can understand the pain of a soldier. My father would tell us stories, terrible stories sometimes, usually late in the evening when his guard was down. I always sensed that what he told us was just the tip of the iceberg. It makes my little problems and disappointments and so-called hardships seem so trivial... God bless our soldiers, one and all.