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Aaron S. Oberly Letters, 1861-1865

Four letters, 1861-1865, of Aaron S. Oberly, an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Navy, tell of his experiences on board ship off the South Carolina coast and on shore at Charleston. In the first letter, written on 18 October 1861 "At Sea off Georgetown S. Carolina," Oberly remarks, "This section of the country is well entitled to the `Sunny South' for the thermometer stood during the past week about 85 . We are cruising between Georgetown & Cape Romain blockading the mouth of the Santee & pedee rivers[.] All is well in this vicinity—crew in very good health. Heard but once from the north since we are here and that only from Hatteras through old New York papers....In about 6 weeks or two months we must sail into some port for wood & water."

Writing again on 1 December 1861 from the U.S. Frigate Sabine off Cape Romain, Oberly comments on Sunday activities on board ship—"I have no doubt but that the day as observed by you contrasts strongly with its observation here—where no preachers or sermonisers are found. We had no church to attend, but in lieu thereof we had a muster and had civil jurisprudence read to us....I at first noticed the want of regular Sabbath exercises but since then I have overcome the habit and think the day equally well without....One thing we are in common with those ashore in our custom—it is in being clad in our `Sunday go to meeting clothing' and refrain from physical exercise as far as the circumstances will permit."

Noting that they were doing blockade duty accompanied by the barque Gem of the Seas, Oberly went on to say—"How long we are to remain here, or whether any demonstration for an attack on Georgetown is in contemplation I am unable to say—but one thing is sure they are preparing a barrier, as almost daily we can hear the noise of cannon ashore—likely trying the ranges of their guns as well as to practice their men in gunnery—to sink Lincolns ships as they express it."

"In winter the south must be a paradise compared to the chilly atmosphere of the north," the letter continues. "If it were not so warm I cannot see how we could make up our minds to do without fire as that article can not be had, there being too much gunpowder to be safe....In a few weeks we must sail to Port Royal for wood, water &c and if not supplied there will be ordered likely to New York. While at Port Royal we were supplied with water, an article much needed at that time, since our supply diminished considerably during the week we had the marines aboard....We are on an allowance of water at present receiving but three quarts each day (each individual) for washing, cooking &c. It comes rather hard at times to find sufficient left to wash the face. The crew wash in salt water & find three quarts sufficient. I don't know what we will do (officers) if we cannot get some washing done ere long, for at this rate washing days are few & far between. Another month or two will find me much in need of clean clothing, while many are now complaining and say they were obliged to wear their linnen a second time."

The final letter, 28 May 1865, written from the U.S. Steamer Santiago de Cuba, reports that Oberly had arrived at Charleston. "Today as soon as we came to anchor some of the party were on hand to go ashore, by the first opportunity, in order to attend church as they stated," the letter states. "Towards evening a party started ashore again to take a ride to the cemetery and other quiet retreats....About four oclock, by invitation of the captain, I went ashore with him for an hour, to call on a couple of ladies....The individuals we called on are known by name Izard—a mother and daughter, and the remnants of one of the most aristocratic families of South Carolina. Miss Izard is a lovely young miss, and is engaged to be married to a naval officer. She wears a pin, & sleeve buttons made from the navy button, and seems to bloom forth for Union now, whatever her previous sentiments may have been. However much the ladies of the south deserve the reward for being active agents in the war, I cannot but feel for them in their changed condition. I hope that soon this feeling of envy and hatred between North & South will die out, and that we will be a united & peaceable people—& that our country will know but one head, & under it all will be rejoiced to live."

| 1999 Manuscripts Collections | 1999 USCS Table of Contents | South Caroliniana Library |

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