In this letter, Baird reflects on the battles he remembers from the past year (1863) and his health. He also looks forward to finally marrying his longtime love, Maggie Bowker.

Stephensburg, Va.
New Year Eve, 1863

My dearest Maggie,

I find myself once more at the close of another year, and that close Still finds me in the tented field. When I look back over the past year, I Sometimes wonder that I Still live. It has been one of extreme care, toil, privation, and Suffering. I have borne my part, I will not Say how well, on Several bloody fields. Have Seen many who have fallen on those fields, indeed have Seen all the horrors and Suffering incident to war. The first night at Gettysburg will ever be fresh in my memory, nor will Falling Waters, Boonsboro, or Thornton’s Gap soon be forgotten by me. The little incident at Monterey, too, which occurred on the night of the 4th last July, will also be one worthy of reflection. But amidst all these dangers, toils, & privations, we have had our enjoyments, our frolicks & fun. Though Much has been bitter, Still a due proportion has been mingled with the Sweet and in every circumstance I cannot but acknowledge the providence of God, I had hoped when I left home that this conflict would have closed ere this. In this I was disappointed. It Still continues, and our remorseless foes Still cling with a pertinacity worthy of a bitter cause,  to the determination to distroy our country. I had hoped for health, This has been kindly granted to me to a degree far beyond my expectations.  Nor have the fated bullets been permitted Sear or lacerate my flesh, or limbs. Oh! Maggie, Why Should I complain? Why should I not rather look with brighter expectations and fonder hopes to the close of the approaching year? True it is Still in the dark future, We cannot Solve its undeveloped misteries, but we can trust, as we have, in the past, to the Strong arm & ever watchful eye. Oh! Maggie, I wish I could believe that you were as trustful on that Strong arm as I am, that you could believe that He holds the destinies of individuals, as well as of nations, in his hand. And then if we ask not amis he will surely grant it; and ere another year has flown we will have the Consummate Satisfaction of knowing that our petitions & desires have been crowned with answers of blessing. Then we will both enter the new year with Strong hearts placing our entire confidence and dependence on the Ruler of all, And look with bright hopes of anticipation to the closing Scenes of another year.

Your letter of the 20th reached me the 29th. The question you ask me I will answer by directing your attention to the 4th Chap. 17th verse of James. I am surprised to hear of so horrible an affair as that which you relate. I trust the perpetrators of so atrocious a deed will be discovered and brought to justice. Surely a crime so terible aught not to go by unpunished. I Should, indeed, love dearly to enjoy with you some of your “calls” though that time is still distant, but we will hope on. I heard Sometime ago that Noah’s regiment was now in Mich. but from your letters I conclude that it is not. I think it would do Noah much good to get a furlough home. Our doctors & officers do not seem to consider the good that would result from the sending home of men who are lingering along in sickness & suffering. I hope Noah may have the opportunity of visiting home & friends and once more. I have been wishing that David’s regiment would come down into this detachment, but I understand it has gone West. May David have Success while gone and a Safe return & friends.    

I got a letter from home the other day dated the 21st. Father stated that they would move into the new house that week and so I suppose they are now there. How much my poor Mother looked & hoped for the time when She might enjoy that comfort, but, alas, she was not permitted to See her hopes fulfilled. My father writes me that Leiyyis has lost one of his sisters, she died of smallpox. Our regiment has been out on picket the last three days and a very disagreeable time have they had of it. Now is the worst Season of the year. Rain and mud are the principle features of a Virginia winter. I came here just in time to escape the hard weather we are having now and I find my new Situation much easier than my former one. When we get our new winter quarters completed I Shall enjoy myself much better. I am on duty to-night and so I will watch the old year out & the New Year in. The old year goes out rather gloomily, for it has stormed all day, & Still Storms and 1864 will be ushered in with a frown. But it will brighten up in a few days again, and all will go “Merry as a Marriage bell.” A fair day here is beautiful indeed and if we could only have such all the time Soldiering would not pass so drearily. But we cannot rule the weather, so we will find no fault.

Well, Maggie, Swift flows the old year’s ebbing tide And each Man moans a doleful dirge, only about an hour more & the new year will have been born & as I have written all the news and more, perhaps, than will interest you I will bring this lengthy message to a close. However, I must first have the pleasure of wishing you a happy New Year, & health & success while its hours last.

Write Soon, Maggie, how cheering your letters are I alone can know.

But good night, dearest, and with respects to all friends,
I remain yours ever & constant

Matthew

(Sealed with a kiss)

Noah and David Bowker were two of Maggie’s older siblings. Noah served in Co. A of the 13th Michigan Infantry and David was a Sergeant in Co. L of the 11th Michigan Cavalry. Both were farmers after the war.

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Who’s Matthew Baird?