“Thy Will Be Done” – Chapter 19 Henry K. Douglas Writes Tippie From a Cold Island Prison by Jim Surkamp.

690 words

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Chapterette 19 – December 17, 1863 – Imprisoned Henry Kyd Douglas writes Tippie Boteler from his deep-frozen island prison on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie.

Douglas wrote another: “Johnson’s Island is just the place to convert visitors to the theological belief of the Norwegian that Hell has torments of cold instead of heat. (This winter) two men would squeeze into one bunk so as to double blankets, would wrap themselves up heads and feet, and in the morning break through the crackling ice, formed by the congealing of the breath that escaped, as one has seen on the blankets of horses at sleighing time. – (1).

Needing a woman to dream of in his adverse state, Douglas continues to write Tippie from his freezing and harsh prison. It is the kind of letter from a man who is pushing uphill against the gathering evidence that the woman he continues to write to has wearied of him, and even has become hostile to his very chiding, very – however contradictory – self-absorbed attentions. One senses that she has turned her heart toward her future husband, Dudley Digges Pendleton who is also away at war.

My Dear Miss Tippie
Circumstances have prevented my answering your last (letter) sooner but it makes no difference, for neither my precepts nor examples seem to have the slightest effect in making you more prompt. The fact is that on that subject you are perfectly incorrigible. And, moreover, who had riled you so thoroughly that you were compelled to vent some of your temper upon my unoffending head? In your last, you certainly laid aside your good humor and reminded me of a certain character in romance that I’ve read of lately who used to display his indignation by demonstrations that meant a great deal but did really little harm. He was a good-natured fellow withal. And here let the comparison stop. All this by way of preamble.

On his sub-freezing prison:
This is great country up here, – or at least that pent-up part of it that I inhabit – and of most remarkable climate. Snow, rain, ice, and winter generally. The normal condition of the thermometer is below “freeze.” I will mention an instance illustrative told me by the reliable gentleman himself. Several gentleman were engaged in rather an earnest conversation near the woodpile one day after sunset. The next morning, a cook collected chips, sticks, etc. and placed them upon the fire. Directly afterwards, there were heard to proceed from the stove disconnected fragments of oaths, cuss words, intermingled with several laughs and a few sneezes — all in the well-known voices of the two gentlemen aforesaid. What was it, think you? Nothing more than part of the conversation of the said gentlemen, which had frozen as it was spoken and was now being melted and dissolved into sound and space. Maybe you will doubt it? If you do and will come up here, I can show you the stove. I dare you to test the matter. Indeed I could tell you many similar facts, equally reliable and illustrative of this icicle isle . . .

Bravely, or maybe blindly, Douglas continues:
You call my effusions attacks and seem to imply that you think the muses are ill treated and imposed upon: next, you tell me that you have an “omnium gatherum” in which you keep all the absurd ridiculous productions that reach you and gravely ask me to contribute to it. No, I’m obliged to you. I have recovered from the scathing criticism you inflicted upon me in our salt-box days (referring to a small academy that was a salt box structure in Shepherdstown located on the north side of New Street between King and Church streets before the war.-JS).

Douglas continues concluding with a remark certain to achieve his demise with Tippie Boteler – he denies Christmas:
Xmas is apace. I always despised the time of year and shall in all probability drop it very pleasantly.

Yet he persists to the end:
Can’t you get me up an individual poem on the subject? When you next write, don’t forget to send me your carte de visite – please.
. . .Yours as usual Henry Kyd Douglas. . . Write! And at once! – (2).

References/Image Credits:

Chapterette 19: December 17, 1863 – Imprisoned Henry Kyd Douglas writes Tippie Boteler from his Deep-Frozen Island Prison on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie.

1. Henry Kyd Douglas Papers, Duke University.

NEXT: Chapterette 20 https://civilwarscholars.com/uncategorized/thy-will-be-done-chapter-20-april-1864-u-s-colored-troops-stop-at-the-lees-home-by-jim-surkamp/