The senior officers, as usually, took advantage of the winter lull and went home on furlough. There was controversy over whether the junior officers and privates should enjoy the same privilege.
The brigade’s former commander, Gen. D.H. Hill, for instance, famously remarked that “If our brave soldiers are not permitted to visit home, the next generation in the South will be composed of descendents of skulkers and cowards.”
17th Mississippi Private Robert A. Moore wrote in his diary that those “who re-enlisted have drawn for furloughs—five were to go from our company.”
Spartan Band quartermaster clerk William H. Hill recorded that many men in the 13th Regiment “are sending up applications for furloughs.”
Then, on Jan. 10, Hill wrote of the latest wrinkle in the issue:
“Saturday. Cloudy and raining in the evening. The order from General Lee allowing all of those that had pressing business at home to have furloughs, provided they have had no furlough or have been absent without leave since they have enlisted was rescinded. An order allowing furloughs to two men in each company issued in its place. The length of the furloughs vary according to the distance. Those going to Mississippi are allowed 33 days. Those going to Texas are allowed 60 days.”
Meanwhile, Union General Ambrose Burnside was relieved from command in late January. General Joseph Hooker took control of the Union army which was still camped across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg on Stafford Heights.
Not all the Confederate senior officers got to go home. The 13th’s division commander Gen. Lafayette McLaws was one who didn’t. He wrote his wife Emily on Feb. 2: “I applied for leave as I informed you in my last, but may consider that it has been refused as it has not been heard from and Genl Longstreet informed me that he could not recommend it.”
It had snowed several times, accumulating at least ten inches before melting, by Feb. 3, when Minutemen of Attala Private Nimrod Newton Nash won a furlough home to see his wife Mollie. He was ordered to return on March 5.
The next day, Hill noted the freezing of “the water courses” and “the citizens are putting up ice. The soldiers are skating on the ponds. I quit the old camp this morning and moved the books and papers of the Commissary Department to town.”
Excerpts from McLaws letters to Emily via John C. Oeffinger’s 2002 history A Soldier’s General, the Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws.