This letter was written by Capt. Edwin Burr Babbitt (1803-1881), a career soldier who graduated from the US Military Academy in 1826 and served various army posts primarily in the Quartermaster’s Department. He was also the army officer responsible for the repair of the Alamo in 1850, which included the adding of the now familiar “hump” or parapet over the facade(forever changing the local architecture). He retired with the rank of Colonel in 1866.
Babbitt was the son of Abiel Babbitt (1766-1847) and Abigail Burr Sturges (1771-1864). He married Sarah Stedman Sprague (b. 1810) in February 1832 at Fort Jessup, Sabine County, Louisiana. They had at least five children: Edwin Sprague Babbitt (b. 1832), Sarah Frances Babbitt (b. 1834), Henry Bainbridge Babbitt (b. 1836), Laura W. Babbitt (b. 1839) and Lawrence Sprague Babbitt (b. 1839).
Babbitt wrote the letter to his friend, Rev. Michael Simpson Culbertson (1809-1862) of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Culbertson entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on 1 July 1835. The Academy graduated him 6th of 31 in the class of 1839, and he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the First Artillery on 1 July 1839. Second Lieutenant Culbertson served at Rouses Point, New York, during the Aroostook War. He served briefly as assistant professor of mathematics at United States Military Academy 1 January to 1 February 1840. Second Lieutenant Culbertson then served with the First Artillery at Fort Preble in Portland, Maine, and Hancock Barracks in Houlton, Maine.
On 15 April 1841, Second Lieutenant Culbertson resigned his commission to study theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Upon his graduation in 1844, Culbertson was ordained by the Presbyterian Church and was sent as a missionary to China by the American Presbyterian Mission. He was stationed in Ningbo from 1845 to 1851 and in Shanghai from 1851 to 1862, where he acted as member of the Committee of Delegates on the revision of the Old Testament. Culbertson later withdrew from the Committee of Delegates and co-published a variant of the “Delegate’s Version” with Rev. Elijah Coleman Bridgman in 1855, with the help of Episcopal Bishop William Jones Boone. He died of cholera in Shanghai in 1862. [Source: Wikipedia]
Adressed to Rev’d M. S. Culbertson, Care of Walter Lowrie, Esqr., Mission Rooms, No. 23 Center Street, N.Y. [City]
Fort Towson, Arkansas
August 23d 1845
My very dear friend,
I am surprised in referring to your letter received by me in Houlton, Maine, to find that more than one year has passed away since the date of that letter which was written 17 June 1844 on the eve of your sailing from New York for your distant field of labor. I certainly did not intend when I put your letter on my files to be so remiss in answering it, but I must not occupy much space with excuses in a letter destined to the other side the globe. On the receipt of your letter I felt disposed both to rejoice and to weep. While you were in our own land, it seemed to me quite possible that we might meet again and perhaps enjoy a season of social converse and prayer, but now it was morally certain we should meet not until the whole human family shall be assembled around the judgement seat of Christ. This thought made me feel solemn and sad. But our Lord and Master wanted laborers to go forth into his harvest and when it is specially enjoined upon his disciples to “pray” into “the Lord” of the harvest that, “He will send forth laborers” &c. and when in answer to such prayers the Lord puts in into the heart of one in the full vigor of life, in the possession of eminent qualifications and full of zeal for the cause of the Redeemer, to stand forth and say, “Here am I, send me,” how could I but rejoice and thank God that you were to enter into the great missionary field. And now let me say that I have had the satisfaction to learn from the religious journals of your safe arrival in China. The place last named as your location was “Ningpoo” but agreeably to your direction I shall consign this letter to the care of Walter Lowrie, Esq.
You are now upon your field of labor and a vast one it is. And the intelligence derived from the Missionary Herald and other religious publication of the day does not leave me quite a stranger to the many and often formidable obstacles with which the missionary is beset, while endeavoring to deliver his Master’s message to a dying world.
The acquiring of a competent knowledge of the Chinese language is itself an undertaking of no slall magnitude. Then comes the extreme difficulty of procuring a lodgment for the truth in the stupid and lethargic mind of the Chinese. Then the open or secret opposition of the infidel, the complacency of the self-righteous idolater [the sadducees and pharisees of old] aided occasionally perhaps by the power & influence of the civil magistrate — these and many other difficulties have usually to be encountered by the missionary; and such as these, dear friend, will no doubt cause you many seasons of sadness and cause you at times to say in your heart, “who is sufficient for these things?” and you may be left to feel the need of a Aaron and steer one on either side to stay up your hands till Omalek be discomfited.
I do not say these things supposing that you had not previously counted the cost when you consecrated yourself to the service of Christ, but yo show you that we know the nature and something of the extent of your trials and to assure you that we do try to sympathize with and pray for you. But where, my dear friend, is the disciple of Christ taught that he shall enter Heaven except “through much tribulation.” In view of the very trials alluded to above as peculiarly incident to the missionary , now cheering the voice of our Blessed Savior, “Lo, I am with you always” &c. while therefore it is your province faithfully to sow the good seed, you are permitted to enjoy the comforting assurance that it will result in a harvest of precious souls, for God says of his word, “It shall not return unto me vice” &c.
And now may the Lord bestow upon you and yours the abundant riches of his grace and qualify you for great usefulness in his vineyard, giving you amidst your toils frequent and refreshing draughts from the well of salvation. May the life, health, and interests temporal and eternal of yourself & your dear Lady be ever precious in the sight of the Lord is the prayer of your friend & Christian brother, — E. B. Babbitt
After leaving Hancock Barracks in the Autumn of 1840, I spent near two years in Florida, wife and family with me the last year, and then returned to Hancock Barracks again and spent another tour of two years with the 1st Artillery, and left there in November last having been relieved by Capt. [Ebenezer S.] Sibley who had just been promoted to a company at Houlton where he was to be in command of his company & also perform his staff duties as A.Q.M.
I reached this (one of my old posts) with my family in February last where I am on duty as Assistant Quartermaster with four companies of the 6th Infantry. Our eldest son [Edwin] we have left at school in Maine. Mrs. Babbitt & the four other children are here and in good health. Lt. Col. [Gustavus] Loomis commands this post & regiment. He is a sterling, pious man. We have preaching nearly every Sabbath at the garrison from Rev. Mr. [Cyrus] Kingsbury, Presbyterian, or one of the Methodist Brethren who are all missionaries among the Choctaws. When occasionally we have no minster. Col. Loomis or myself usually hold a meeting. I have a Sabbath School of about 35 members in garrison. Your old regiment is still stationed along the N.E. & norther frontier. All of your classmates who joined the 1st with you are still in the regiment. Capt. Giles Porter still remains at Fort Preble. Major [Justin] Dimick at Portsmouth. Capt. VanNess at Eastport. Capt. [John H.] Winder at Fort Kent. Capt’s Sibley & Webster and Major Tompkins’ companies at Houlton. Major Tompkins, however, not in command of his. S. B. Haskin, Dawson Bowen (married to Miss Carey last spring) & others at Houlton. [James B.] Rickets at Eastport. W. S. Smith at Portsmouth. Grafton probably at Fort Kent in place of [Lt. William E.] Aisquith who was cashiered last February for drunkenness, unofficer-like conduct &c. He is, I fear, lost irretrievably for time and eternity — nothing but the powerful interposition of the grace of God can save him. He has a wife & one child. Col. Crane commands the Eastern Department & Lt. Col. [Benjamin K.] Pierce the Regt. The latter with three companies are at Newport Barracks, Rhode Island.
Texas has given assent to annexation to the United States agreeably to a proposition of the latter, and the 2nd Dragoons an 3d & 4th Regiments of Infantry have gone to take possession and are located near the Rio-del-Norte. Whether it will result in a war with Mexico is as yet problematical. If not, I think her physical weakness, and not, the justice of our cause, must procure our immunity. In a moral aspect, I like not our cause in this matter.
Religion is at a low ebb in our country. I try to think that Christians are beginning to arouse from their lethargy a little, but I fear that the days of the mourning of zion are not ended. Now my dear sir, before closing, let us offer you our sincere congratulations that you found to accompany you to your far off land a dear partner, apparently so well adapted to sympathize with your missionary labors, and may she long be spared to you to sweeten your joys and to mitigate the ills of life & also to be an efficient coadjutor in all your missionary labors.
We shall be truly pleased to hear from you when you can find time to write us a line. You had better address to Washington City and the Adjutant General U. S. will forward it to the proper address.
Mrs. Babbitt unites with me in kind remembrances to you & best wishes for the happiness and prosperity of yourself & lady and of your co-laborers. Ever truly yours, — E. B. Babbitt