An 1864 letter sent by Confederate Lt. William Dandridge Pitts to assess the wellbeing of his brother Charles is up for auction — and its contents are brimming with remarkably different strokes.
In the handwritten note, Pitts, an officer who served in the 40th Virginia Infantry until his resignation in late 1862, asks the superintendent of the Staunton-based Western Lunatic Asylum, where Charles was being kept as an inmate, to keep him apprised of his brother’s condition.
Once a private in the same outfit as his brother, Charles was discharged from the Confederate Army shortly after the outset of the Civil War due to an unspecified “illness,” according to documentation reviewed by Live Auctioneers.
At least part of that affliction, based on the professional opinion of Charles’ pre-asylum physician and the accounts of numerous soldiers who served alongside him, was chronic masturbation.
“I have had some conversation with the physician who attended my brother previous to his going to the asylum,” Lt. Pitts wrote to the superintendent, “and he advises me to inform you of the fact, that he had learned from some of my brother’s associates, who were in [military] camp with him, that he was addicted to masturbation, while in camp. He (the physician) is also persuaded of this fact from the conversations he has had with my brother.”
“I missed this scene in Gettysburg,” tweeted historian James Taub, the associate curator at the Museum of the American Revolution who first shared the letter to Twitter.
“Director’s Cut,” another user responded.
The poor soldiers forced to bear witness to Charles’ ailment were no doubt scarred, their visages imprinted with thousand-yard stares well before ever being baptized in the fires of armed conflict.
To this day, desperate cries of “It’s Johnny Reb, not Johnny Rub!” echo throughout the South, particularly in Pitts’ home state of Virginia, which labels itself as “for lovers” instead of for onanism.
The condition of the letter, meanwhile, appropriately titled “[Civil War] Soldier Addicted to Masturbation,” is considered “very fine, with only very minor wear and original fold lines,” according to the item’s listing.
The auction, which includes the unusually paired tags of “Civil War” and “Erotica,” is slated to conclude in mid-August. The current bid is $125.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.