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"Two kettles, two spiders and two dripping pans..." - A Christmas Letter from Camp Nelson

Twenty-seven year old Chester Slayton joined Company B of the 25th Michigan Infantry on September 11th, 1862. His brother Asa, was twenty when he became a member of the company as a lieutenant. There are two more Slayton men in Company B, Charles (another brother) and William (perhaps a cousin who would die of disease on July 22nd, 1863).

Two of the brothers, Asa and Chester, were stationed at Camp Nelson near Nicholasville, Kentucky on Christmas Day, 1863 when they penned this letter to their mother, Berthena, back home in Grattan Township, Michigan.

Engineers Department

Camp Nelson, KY

December 25th 1863

Dear Mother,

We wish you a Merry Christmas for today and a good many happy ones yet in store.

Could we know exactly how you all are at this moment. Where you have been and what you have been doing today. And what you have all been talking about. We should know exactly what to write and say to you. However, as we can only guess at it, we presume that you have several of you have had a good visit somewhere; and perhaps some luckless turkey or unfortunate chickens had to come in and do their share towards making it a day of thankful pleasure for you.

We can more certainly tell what we have been doing and how we have spent the day here in Kentucky, than how our friends in Michigan have passed it. In the first place, we got up right early this morning, that is to say just after peep of day. And had a soon breakfast for this county or in other words ate fried bread, potatoes, and beef steak at eight o’clock. After making up our bed, doing up our dishes, sweeping out our house and bidding everybody around Merry Christmas, four of us started out exploring. We went across the camp two miles and came to the river bluff about half a mile from where the Big Hickman Creek empties into the Kentucky River.

The bluffs are about three hundred feet above the water and as we stand at the top and look away down at the green ribbon of water winding along sometimes appearing directly under our feet, and again moving off to the opposite side of the gorge, our minds are filled with wonder and admiration.

We walked along the cliffs some distance and I could not help but think of walking along the rocks and looking down into the deep gullies above Grandfather Clark’s, Uncle Warner’s, Aunt Pedee’s, Uncle Jared’s and many others of West Hollow.

Soon we clambered down the rocks a hundred feet and entered Boone’s Cave and explored it nearly half a mile. We then rambled along up the creek, looking at the hill and hollows and walls of rock two hundred feet high, and finally turned to camp at one o’clock.

Last night the Chief Engineer gave us an invitation to take dinner with him today. So our morning ramble was just to give us an appetite and we assure you we had appetites that fully appreciated the fine qualities of a roast turkey with plenty of stuffing and suitable gravy. Turn about is fair play, so we invited the Engineer, Mr. Gilliss, to sup with us which he did. We had warm biscuit, nice light Michigan biscuit, good yellow butter, green applesauce, Mother’s cheese and good thick syrup about as nice as strained honey. We then visited an hour or two and now at nine o’clock are writing this letter, which we hope you will have to read New Year’s Day.

You would like to know what kind of a house we have. A white cloth one to be sure. Just nine feet square and four feet high at the eaves. In one corner, at your right, as you step in at the door in the end of the tent, is a splendid cook stove, not large to be sure, for I could carry it in my overcoat pocket, if the pocket was big enough. Two kettles, two spiders and two dripping pans came with the stove. All cost five dollars; had been used six months.

In the left hand corner is our wood box; in the further right hand corner is our cupboard for victuals below and books above. On the other side is our board bed stead; between the stove and cupboard is a small table, but it holds enough to make us contented and happy.

We have good board floor under our tent and we sincerely wish that all our soldiers were as well provided for as we are.

We can buy butter for thirty cents per pound, potatoes and apples one dollar a bushel; chickens 25 cents and turkeys 75 cents each.

We have not heard from Charlie since coming here. Hope we shall soon; have written to him. Have no fear for us. We are feeling well, living well, trying to act well and to do well.

With many wishes for your health and happiness dear Mother.

We remain your affectionate sons,

Asa and Chester

Those of us at the Western Theater in the Civil War website, blog, and Facebook group wish you and yours the best Christmas!

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