Letter Content: "The shafts of this war too have been destructive of society and friendship and well as human life." Hays talks of divisions created by the war including that of him and his former classmates. "The antagonistical relations we now sustain towards each other forbids the renewal of that friendship which once existed between us. It is severed perhaps forever." He speaks of the death of classmates and the destruction of his home town, Prairie Grove, Ark. He mentions Generals Hindman, Blunts and Ben McCulloch, and the battles of Oak Hills, Elk Horn, and Prairie Grove. "Those only who have seen can fully realize the painful emotions which filled my bosom as I turned to gaze for the last time upon familiar spots of earth - - covered with dead and dying friends and foes" Hayes finishes the letter asking that the recipient commit the letter to the flames. It appears that the letter was sent to a Northerner and this was a last farewell.
The letter reads:
Johnson’s Island near Sandusky Ohio Dec. 7th 1863
Your note of Dec. 1st has been received. I should have more deservingly revived rebuke rather than merited your kind consideration for my temerity. It was intended as an innocent expression of regard for one whom I trust does not think unkindly of these who have felt their convictions of duty rise superior to every personal consideration. I hope you will not treat this as indelicate when I say to you that is to assure you of that which you do not seen to be positively assured in your note - - and as you would forgive the Parisian his ignorance of the customs of an Ottoman Count - - as you would considerately pardon the awkwardness of an American at the court of St. James, even so you can overlook in the far familiarity with those rules which the more cultivated and refined districts of his own country have established.
Although a student in your state several years since you will say that I there should have learned the common rules of civility. That would be true - - but if you will pause and consider for a moment you will agree with me in the opinion that in the wild abstraction of the days that have elapsed since then much of the elegance and refinements of our society has suffered severely. A common danger, a single object of devoted interest with us has obliterated the ordinary courtesies of life, inspired a sincere and earnest friendship and cemented the bonds of fraternal affection. The shafts of this war too have been destructive of society and friendship and well as human life. I could name many of my classmates who are now in the federal army from your state and whose names the thrilling events the war have made familiar to you as well as many in the Confederate army one of whom like myself is so unfortunate as to be incarcerated in this prison. The antagonistical relations we now sustain towards each other forbids the renewal of that friendship which once existed between us. It is severed perhaps forever. Col. Chas. Hanson who fell at Murfreesboro and now sleeps with the honored dead, was a dear friend. This is but one of the innumerable painful incidents of this war.
I have already written more than I should have done while I have entirely digressed from my original purpose and will hope that ere you shall read this we will be permitted to join our comrades in the field and breath our own free air again. I could wish I could add my home but the possibility of that is to remote. My home is upon the battle field of Prairie Grove, Ark. This day one year ago, I last saw that home and then only through the smoke of the battle fought there on that day between Genls. Hindman and Blunts, but that last look was full of fearful interest to me. It was the third time we had met that army in the deadly shock of battle, Oak Hills, Elk Horn, and Prairie Grove. The moldering heaps of earth by the wayside bear sad testimony of the earnestness with which we had contested every foot of ground from Springfield, Mo. to the gaps of the mountain but we were at last compelled to yield to them. It was a painful spectacle to behold the exhausted and depleted battalions of our army retiring before the enemy. Those only who have seen can fully realize the painful emotions which filled my bosom as I turned to gaze for the last time upon familiar spots of earth - - covered with dead and dying friends and foes - - upon the smoldering ruins of the adjacent farm house - - upon the shattered walls of “Uncle Buck’s Church” which stand, like a sacred monument upon that blood baptized field, and familiar and dear to all northwest Arkansas. Our homes are quite and desolate if not more so than that district of Virginia over which the two grand armies of the Potomac had been vibrating for nearly three years, yet we do not despair. Misfortune and privation induce fortitude, inspire courage. Among the young men who joined Genl. Ben McCulloch when the war was yet in its infancy we left our homes more than two years ago - - and but few of us have been permitted to visit them. I was one among the number with and under the unpleasant circumstances I have related. Many of those comrades sleep upon the Battlefield of the Mississipi and Louisiana. I must close - - I will not tax your patience further and will only request that when you have read this you will commit it to the flames. In quiet and alone I penned it this Sabbath evening - - alone read it and then destroy it. In all probability circumstances will never arise which would enable us to extend the acquaintances incidentally formed, should such an object be agreeable or desirable, therefore I desire you will think no more of this and while I tender you my most grateful acknowledgments, I must bid you my most respectful Adieu
S. E. Hays