By JEFFREY POWELL
Ask any military personnel that have been deployed to a war zone how they feel about letters from home and most will tell you they are the highlight of their day. This is as true today as it has been since the first man left home to battle an adversary.
Recent articles in this newspaper concerning Civil War re-enacments and ditty-bags to be sent to Afghanistan spurred local resident Gladys Cromartie to take another look at letters from her husband’s relative that served during the War Between the States.
Confederate Lt. Joel Clifton Blake was the great-uncle of longtime area resident Joel Blake Cromartie. Blake was originally from Miccosukee, FL. which is just east of Tallahassee. In his letters to home he expresses a myriad of emotions and details about his surroundings at that time. Much of the contents are an attempt to keep tabs on what had previously been an ordinary life. One letter from his wife Laura evoked this response.
“I eagerly broke open the envelope and commenced to devour its contents,” Blake writes. “I was at times completely overcome and could not read for the tears which fell thick and fast down my cheeks. I was overcome with gratitude to God for his goodness to me.”
In another letter to his sister Ann Eliza, Blake expresses his thanks for the treats she and her mother had sent him.
“Tell mama I am much obliged to her for the pepper vinegar and catsup, we can never get such things in camp, you can not imagine how such things are prized. The sugar-cane was quite a curiosity here, and while enjoying it my thoughts carried me back to the land of flowers and produced within me a longing desire to be once more with the dear ones at home,” Blake reflected. “How time lags when we are thus separated from all that is dear to us on earth.”
Other portions of the letters deal with the realities that life, and financial hardships, went on at home.
“I do not know what people will do to meet their taxes this year if congress passes the present tax bill tinder [tender]considering it will take a tenth of everything made by producers,” Blake worried. “To take a tenth of our meat, syrup, etc. when we do not make enough for home consumption will go rather hard on us.”
In retrospect, Joel Cromartie can see both honor and humor in his relative’s writings.
“I am right proud of him,” Cromartie said. “He was doing what he thought was right. I think it is funny when he talks about Lincoln being so close to him.”
Cromartie is referring to a passage from an April 10, 1863 letter written from outside Fredericksburg, VA.
“We suppose old Lincoln was over there yesterday,” he said. “We heard 21 guns in rapid succession, which number constitute their president’s salute, no other officer being entitled to that number.”
Unfortunately Blake was killed in battle on July 2, 1863, during the second day of Gettysburg. Blake is believed to be buried there although his body was never positively identified.
“I have had people read these letters and just cry,” said Gladys Cromartie. “It is sad to read how much he wanted to come home and have him get killed at Gettysburg.”