The start of 1918 saw my grandmother, Anna Bell Barnhart Calhoun, and her first husband James Calhoun, several states apart – she at home in Bovina and he in North Carolina. He wrote her a long letter on New Year’s Day:
Jan 1, 1918
My dear Anna;
This is the first day of the new year. It is a holiday all day with us at Camp Greene and I am trying to make it such in the true sense of the word as nearly as I possibly can. I came into Charlotte early this morning on the trolley with one of the others from squad 13 who is an accomplished organist. We went directly to the YMCA and took a good refreshing wash up which was free as we furnished our own soap and towel. I then went out and found a haircut and went from there out about town a little and am now back at the YMCA at 11 o’clock AM writing in a nice cosy room God bless the YMCA. They are the haven of rest for the soldier boys. The friend who I am with picks up a good bit of money playing the pipe organs at different churches here Sabbath days and evenings. He often is able to get $2 a day for playing outside of drill hours. I felt I must not eat lunch in town today as it would be to[o] expensive but that I should go back to camp and eat Uncle Sam’s fare but my friend is going to stay in all day and urges me to stay and lunch at his expense and I have consented to do so explaining the circumstances of course. I have plenty of money here. Have nearly $10.00 left from the $20.00 I left home with and will get $6.00 more probably when pay day comes in about 10 days. I hope not only to be able to save enough out of my monthly pay here but to lay a little aside.
I looked at the thermometer as I came from breakfast this morning and it registered 6 degrees above zero. I am told this is the coldest weather this place has experienced in 28 years. My cold is much better today but some of the others in my squad have hard colds this morning. My bed fellow from Shinhopple, NY has a severe cold and I am afraid by the sound of his cough that it is affecting his lungs. I got some lemons last evening and made some real sour hot lemonade just before going to bed. It seemed to do wonders in loosening up the phlegm and taking the soreness from my throat. The sun is shining brightly today and as there is but little wind. I think the weather shall begin to warm again today. I know from reports that a cold wave has extended throughout the U.S. It has been quite cold throughout the southern states even down on the gulf coast.
The chances for real cold of great length is not great here and as we will probably stay here until nearly spring we will probably escape much of the real cold weather this year. If we should go to France or abroad it will be in summer which will make it much more pleasant. It isn’t nearly so hard to drill hard when we are comfortable and not frozen to death.
My friend has finished his letters and wishes to go so I will not keep him waiting. This will let you know I am well and my hopes are rising. I am willing to be more patient in waiting for a better day if I feel it is really coming. As ever your most loving husband
January saw no major events in James’ life, but he saw a couple of changes of duty. There are no letters that survive from Anna to James in this period, but James commented on several things going on in Bovina, including some deaths and the start of a family squabble in Anna’s family.
On January 2, he wrote that “I enjoy your letters so much because you write all about what takes place with you and that is where my heart’s interests are. I am so glad to hear all about what takes place up there. You said by your last letter that you thought you had better close as you had written enough trash. Now dear Anna it is not trash to me but every word of it is precious to me. Write me whenever you can and anything you think would be of interest to me. I think your letters are the best ever and I wish I could write such interesting letters as you do.”
In a letter written January 4, he explains why we have so few of Anna’s letters available to us today: “I do not know how many letters you have written me as I destroy them after I have read them thoroughly because it is unwise to carry them about because someone would find them and read them but I have gotten a nice big bunch of them. Yes they are our love letters which we did not need to write when we were courting. No lover ever enjoyed his sweetheart’s letter more than I have enjoyed yours to me.”
James was rather self-effacing about himself, as evidenced by this passage: “It does not seem possible that so many Bovina boys have gone to the army but their names tell the story. I knew you would prove patriotic, but I am not worthy of the star for you know Rev. Graham said I was a slacker and you better have my name taken from the honor roll.”
James and Elizabeth Boggs
On January 5, James comments on Anna’s sister Edith helping at the home of James and Elizabeth Boggs. “I am glad Edith likes her place and I always liked Boggs people very much. James was always especially jolly and good natured. So, they are expecting something to happen next summer are they?” The assumption here is that Elizabeth was pregnant. Sadly, it appears that complications set in. On January 12, he comments that “I am sorry for Boggs’ people if Mrs. Boggs has the fever and the trouble of which you spoke. She has almost too much for her physical ability and scarlet fever will make it hard for the entire family.” The scarlet fever led not just to the Boggs family being quarantined but Edith had to join them. A few days later, Anna reported that it wasn’t scarlet fever, which let Edith out of quarantine. But worries about Mrs. Boggs continued. On January 14, he wrote “I am so glad that Mrs. Boggs doesn’t have scarlet fever. It means so much to you all. I am extremely sorry for Boggs people and may God grant the sparing of Mrs. Boggs. Should she be taken away it would almost kill James. They have had hard luck with their family indeed.”
Mrs. Boggs’ illness worsened, turning into blood poisoning. Elizabeth died on January 17. James learned of her death on January 21: “I cannot tell you how sorry I feel for James Boggs and all of his and her friends. It is very hard indeed and all have my sincere sympathy who have to pass through such an experience. You know it is only those who have suffered who can full sympathy with suffering. This will prove a terrible blow to all of their people.” James continued to mourn for his friend. On January 24, he wrote “I cannot help but think of poor James Boggs and God only knows how I pity him. I suppose I should be very thankful that you are spared to me and realize that we are really blessed and spared in comparison to what some of our fellows must endure.”
In February, he still was struggling over writing a letter of sympathy to James Boggs “but really I feel I can hardly do it. I think sympathy letters are hard to write. Give me a few pointers on the subject please.”
On January 12, James wrote about two deaths in Bovina. His aunt, Jane McNair Doig, died on January 5. “I was sorry but not at all surprised to learn of Aunt Jane’s death. She is surely better now and she was a good woman and lived a life of supreme Christian character.”
The other death in early January was a shock to all. John Irvine, former Bovina supervisor, committed suicide on New Year’s Day. Irvine was the father of Isabell Russell. It was his son-in-law Cecil who found him. James wrote “Mr. Irving’s death was especially sad. The way it happened made the entire affair much more sad. It seemed as though he had very much to want to live for, but he had lost his health and he couldn’t not see life in a way to really enjoy it. Money is a good thing to have but good health and a true love works for more to make truly happy lives, doesn’t it?” In a later letter, he speculated whether or not the suicide was caused by Irvine’s fear for his sons going off to war. Clifton already had gone off to camp (Clifton did serve in the war in Europe, coming home in 1919).
Family issues and Life at home
James had been commenting on the relationship his brother-in-law Ralph had with Ruth Ormiston. In learned in early January that they had a falling out and hoped “it proves to be only temporary.” He went on to note that “No we have never had any smashes in our love affairs and I trust and feel that we never shall…. We surely are getting the chance to write our love letters now but I think our letters are more confidential than those of any two unmarried lovers possibly could be and as man and wife our letters should be perfectly confidential. [Ruth would marry Henry Monroe in
Later that month, he became concerned about another issue concerning Ralph. This was the draft. On January 14, he wrote that “I am not fully informed with regard to the new draft papers that are served on the young men but I am glad to know that Ralph is attending to his promptly and feel he should get exempted from service on excellent reasons. It is a grave mistake for the U.S. to call any of the boys from the farms because the worlds people are short of food stuffs now and next years will be much worse than this has been.”
In his letter of January 24, James makes the first reference to a family squabble that developed with Anna Bell’s mother and her uncle John Miller. His letters do not provide any detail to the squabble, but occasional references show up for some time. John Miller lived next door to Anna Bell’s family farm [this is the farm that later became Suits-Us farm]. James writes “I was not injured in the least by the way Uncle John’s have treated us and I am not afraid that I shall ever be injured by anything they may do or say are you? I sometimes think it is only jealousy and not us. We will heap coals of fire on their heads by returning good for evil. Am I right in so saying?”
James commented on things related to the family farm: “You are having hard luck with the dairy but do not feel discouraged because there are losses in every business. Feed is terribly high and milk not high enough in proportion. You have a nice bunch of calves and the cows must be milking well.”
Anna’s letters from home delighted James and occasionally made him homesick. “When I read in your letters of the work you people are doing up there it makes me wish all the more to be there and take part and just for a chance to be with you. The preparations for the future surely sound good to me and I shall try to wait as patiently as possible for that time to come.”
He also delighted in the food sent from home, as apparently did some others: “Your box of delicious cookies came today and those who have sampled them proclaimed them excellent and they surely were worthy of the credit they received.” One gentleman named Charles told James “Your wife’s cookies are so good I must have another.”
Life at Camp Greene
Some of James’ time at Camp Greene was spent on kitchen duty. “I do not think kitchen work calls for as steady work as camp orderly job. This morning we came in and waited on tables at breakfast, then ate our own breakfast. After breakfast we cleared the tables and washed the dishes, carried up the kitchen slop and cleaned up the floor. We then peeled 3 or 4 bu of potatoes and are through work until we serve dinner. I do not know the hour of the day but I think it is about 10:30 o’clock. Our cook said after dinner was served and the dishes washed we would not need to work again until time to serve supper…Our regular eats here consists of lots of soup (vegetable and meat) and stews. We get plenty of potatoes, bread, butter and roast meat. The waste cuts of meat and the bones are boiled up to make stew and soup. We also use up lots of onions and beans. For breakfast we usually have milk (solution of evaporated milk) and cereal, usually boiled rice or wheat and corn flakes. Occasionally we have hot cakes and syrup or hot soda biscuits.”
The second week in January sees a sudden job change for James. On January 8, he writes that “We are due to go out to the rifle range early tomorrow morning, so I can write but a note tonight to let you know that I am fairly well.” James didn’t write again for three days, an unusual occurrence during his time in Camp Greene. When he wrote again, he reported his duty change:
Jan 11, 1918
My dear Anna;
After I reached camp today the first thing I did was get some eats and then I sneaked out of sight and got a haircut and washed up. I had just gotten my toilet completed when I was called to the orderly room and told to move my baggage to the orderly room and prepare to become broken in there as clerk. I will have to do a little drilling but will work here most of the time and think I shall like the work and will see and learn a good bit that will be useful to me when I come back to civilian.
James wrote again two days later, noting that he was “back at the orderly room. When I came back I found the sergeant and his company had gone and the clerk was having a clearing out of papers and etc of his desk. He immediately gave me a job and I have been busy since except when eating supper.” He went on to note that he was unable to go to church because of all the work he was given. He assured Anna that “I am not turning heathen for all of that and will not if I am in the army for years. The teaching I received at my mother’s knee has to firm a hold on me for that. There are many men who did not have religion at all but what they believe and do doesn’t affect me at all.”
He commented again on the lack of Sabbath observance a week later. He is working in the Orderly Room of the Army. “All the way I see the day differs from week days is that the officers are not here nearly so much. I of course do as I am told but it goes against the grain for me to do unnecessary work on Sabbath. I have worked all day and have not even taken a moment to read. I shall not let that affect me if I have to work every Sabbath for years. The men here are very good to me and I get many favors in here I would not get if I was doing straight drill. I am going to do my best without complaint here and when I am out of the army I shall keep my Sundays as I believe they should be kept.”
In another letter, he notes that he “shall not permit my duties here to keep me away from church entirely.” He also hopes to get some of the men he is with to come with him. These two men “both are careless people in more ways than one but they are good to me and I am not blaming them but rather I do pity them. The clerk had $3 pay day, he lost it all in about as many minutes gambling. I do not believe in gambling so let it strictly alone besides I have no money to throw.”
James made several comments about the gambling he saw. His preference for playing cards was pinochle (misspelled in his letters): “Do you play pewinkle now. I have not played a game since I came from home. They play cards down here and shoot dice in place of playing pewinkle. I do not though. I do not believe in gambling and have no money to throw away anyway.” [Pinochle was a game my grandmother continued to play into old age.]
Working as a clerk gave him access to a typewriter. He used this to write some of his letters to Anna: “I hope you do not mind getting a typewritten letter. I am going to write my letters to you on the machine, so I can learn to typewrite.… I have never written on one before so excuse all mistakes. This has been a beautiful day. The nights are cold[cold] but not bad.” He found the experience too laborious and a day letter went back to his pen. But he continued to try to use the typewriter and a number of the letters he wrote were typed over the next few months.
In mid-January, James reported that “Measles and mumps have broken out in this regiment and many of our men have been placed in the detention camp. I think there are 60 men there now out of a Co. of 250 men.” James noted that he was lucky that he already had had both diseases. He also was glad he was in the orderly room, where there was only “the clerk and the first sergeant and they are not likely to get sick as they are old army men.” The reason he was glad was that when someone in a squad “is taken with measles or mumps he is sent to the hospital and the others of the squad are sent to the detention camp.” Word around was that the food at the detention camp was poor.
James did face quarantine around January 20 “because a man of the company who was sent from here to the Detention Camp Jan 11 came down yesterday with spinal meningitis. There was really no use in quarantining the company as there has on one from here been with him since Jan 11 except those already in Detention Camp with him. So don’t let that worry you. Quarantine will probably last but a few days.”
A few days later, the City of Charlotte was quarantined “because spinal meningitis has broken out there. We cannot go there except on official business and then must get a special pass. I for one shall not go very often because I go very little when I am not quarantined. It is a hardship on many of the however because they feel they are very much misused if they cannot get to town nearly every night.”
He related some little human incidents from camp. One morning he report that “Our first sergeant did not hear the bugle call for reveille soon enough to dress and get out this morning so he pulled on his rubber boots, hat and overcoat and went without pants. No one could tell but he was dressed.”
James generally did not like the army and two months after going into service, comments on some of the men he encountered. “I do not see how some of the fellows can be so thoughtless and careless of home ties. Some of the boys do not even take the trouble to write home occasionally to let their people know how they are. As much as I see the necessity for helping win the war for U.S., yet I shall never forget the loved ones at home. I am willing to do all I can but there are many things in army life that are really distasteful to me and I shall be that happiest boy in the whole bunch when the glad tidings came that peace has been declared.”
James found being in the south a different experience. He noted in a letter that “I picked up a few bolls of cotton yesterday on my way back from the hospital and will mail them so you can see how cotton really is in the raw state. These are only bolls that were left from last falls picking and are not good ones but will give you an idea and sometime in the future we can look back and remember where they came from.” [The cotton bolls were not in the letters I got from my grandmother’s estate.]
The irony of Camp Greene was that it was established to give a better chance of good weather for drilling and other training. It turned out to be one of the wettest and coldest winters the area had experienced in years. In one letter, James writes that “This has been a rainy day and the mud grows deeper and deeper but nevertheless we keep on top. I don’t mind the mud so much for the simple reason that I do not have to get out and wallow in it continually. I feel some of the boys are in it pretty bad down on the lower part of this street where the mud is so deep.”
James sometimes wrote about the mundane, right down to dealing with his clothes: “I told you I would send my underwear home but have neglected to mail same. I shall do so before we move from here I think as extra baggage is only a nuisance to a soldier or a man who is trying to get to be a soldier. I have a good place to hang up clothing here and our supply sergeant issued me a locker tonight, so I can place what I do not wish to hang up within that and keep them neat and clean.”
Keeping clean was certainly a challenge. Working as a clerk gave James a chance for “a dandy bath here. I put a part of water to heat and took my dip in the tin wash tub we have. How good it seemed to be able to get a good bath at my own shack. A tent is a poor place to bathe especially when the tent is crowded with beds and other junk.”
On January 19, James makes the first reference to a couple living in Charlotte who contacted him. “I have a post card here from Prof. C.A. Wheatley of Charlotte, N.C. stating that he and Mrs. Wheatley have a package of socks sent to them by the Andes Red Cross for me and for me to call and get them. Mrs. Wheatley was formerly Laura Ballantine of Andes, and a daughter of Geo. Ballantyne of the same place and a sister of Mrs. John A. Gladstone of Albany. Mr. Wheatley used to be principal of Andes High School and it was there he met Mrs. Wheatley. I did not know they were down here and was much surprised to know there were people I had known living in Charlotte and I shall assuredly make them a call when I can find it convenient to get to town.”
Within a couple of days of this letter, “Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley…came out today and called me to the head of the company street as they were not allowed to come into the company. They brought me the two pair of home knit woolen socks from the Andes Red Cross and they surely are fine.”
Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley gave James a taste of home for the rest of his time in camp.
James writes several times about the possibility of his going overseas: “I know nothing about when we go to France but I surely count on getting home for a few days. We may not go to France at all. I do not believe it is known where we shall go.” James notes that he’s not supposed to write anything about “movement or intended movement of troops but I know you will not say a word outside of our family.” There is no evidence that letters he wrote while in the United States were read or censored, unlike those he would late write from France.
Toward the end of January, James also commented on rumors about peace. “I am watching the peace talk of the dailies. I hear the officers and men commenting daily on the war situation. They feel that Austria and Germany are tiring of war but that the Allies will not give up until the world is made safe for democracy and I am afraid the only perfect solution of the problem is to fight it out to a finish unless Germany and Austria give way which I trust they soon must do and hope they may.” In another letter, he noted that “Austria is getting very short of food and there is but little fighting over there. I have strong hopes that the war will soon be settled. I hope it closes before we get across because it would take a long time to get home again should it close shortly after we went across.” In another letter, he wrote that “I for one am ready to have peace but I don’t want it unless it can be permanent. If we must fight again in a few years we may as well fight it out now. America would be a poor place to live if the Kaiser rules here which he never will do.”
At the end of the month, James notes that if he does go overseas, his lack of drill experience might mean that “they probably will not put me in the trenches until I get some training.” He hoped that if he made “good as clerk” he probably would not see “much fighting on the firing line. I do not wish you to worry any more about this war business. I am sure it will soon close and if not we will get out alright.”
January 24, 1918
My heart is very full tonight and though you are miles away I can realize the your full true love so good and sweet to me and if I had to go through again what we have gone through I should not want our relation to be otherwise than it is now. My God I cannot tell you how glad I am that you are my wife. You do so much to help me be faithful and true and contented in every way.
January 27, 1918
I was over across the street to the company C this morning and found or inquired about the boys I knew from Del or who came from Dix with me who are in that company. I found Bilby(?) And George Votie of South Kortright. Mitchell from East Meredith of C. Co. I find has been sent to the hospital. Leonard from French Woods NY is in the Detention Camp as also is Charles Houck of Grand Gorge. I think I shall make a visit to the hospital this PM and see if I may see Mitchell. I am not going if he has a contagious disease but I can find out about that at Co C orderly room.
James last letter to Anna in January was written on the 30:
…Dear girl it is difficult to tell when the war will finish but if the time is not very far distant. There is talk, yes lots of peace talk now and there has never been before since the war commenced. I feel as you do that we had better not buy many of our supplies now but simply wait until we need them. Everything is very high now and many articles will eventually become lower in price after peace comes. We are not making rich now but have a good provision from Uncle Sam and am sure we can make ends meet.
….I am glad to see that you are called upon for church work and are not omitted since you have taken such a disreputable name upon yourself. I know you can make that name reputable or rather make me live such a good life that I shall be able to look my fellows straight in the eye.
There is nothing more tonight I think. I shall get ready to help Sgt Schneider do some work.
Your most loving husband James