day in the spring of 1942, an old photograph rescued from a trunk
at a relative’s house in the small San Patricio County community
of Round Lake caught Robert Dougherty Bluntzer’s eye.
The sepia image had captured an instant in the life of a young man
with fair, piercing eyes and a Prince Valiant-style haircut. His
too-large cotton shirt, despite the scarf-like cravat he wore, allowed
for at least an inch of empty space around his scrawny neck. He
did not look happy. Maybe that was his nature. Maybe he didn’t like
getting dressed up. Or maybe Chrys Sullivan had posed for the glass
negative portrait not long before having to trade his dark suit
for a butternut gray Confederate uniform, somehow sensing what lay
ahead for him.
Flipping the photo over, Bluntzer found a letter clipped to the
back. Sullivan had written it on Feb. 23, 1863 from a Confederate
army camp in Louisiana. The Civil War had been under way for nearly
What the oilman from Corpus
Christi read moved him profoundly:
“Your letter that I last received was dated December 11th. I think
that Rachel has little to do and she might condescend to write a
little oftener. From this time hence I will write only as I get
a letter….Nearly all of the boys in my company get letters every
week. When the mail comes the cry is always, “There is none for
you, Sullivan.”…George and John Dee get lots of letters and I am
sure if there were any written [to me] I would get them.”
Switching to news, Sullivan said his unit had received orders allowing
two 30-day furloughs for each company.
To make that process fair, he continued, the night before his fellow
soldiers had drawn beans to determine who would get to go home.
The two “lucky ones” who drew a black bean did not want to leave
their comrades, opting instead to sell their furloughs. One of the
soldiers got $105 for his black bean, the other only $25.
Sullivan said he had not participate in the lottery for leave, “as
it would have been of no use for me to come home…unless I had some
business of importance besides I would have to spend all the money
I have to make the trip.”
The rebel soldier then returned to the theme of his letter:
“Please write,” he pleaded. “I am starving for news from all of
you. I think even my horse Snorter knows how I hurt as each week
I get the same stab, “No mail for you, Sullivan!”
plea for correspondence did any good is not known, but a month later
it no longer made a difference. The youthful Confederate cavalryman
from San Patricio County killed in action, another Southerner who
lost his life over slavery and the notion of state rights.
Bluntzer read that sad letter, hundreds of thousands of Texans had
volunteered or been drafted to fight in another conflict, one even
deadlier and broader in scope than the Civil War. A veteran of the
Great War, as World War
I was called before the war with the Axis powers spread world-wide
with the Japanese
attack of Pearl Harbor, Bluntzer knew how important a letter
from home could be.
“The idea came
to me,” Bluntzer later wrote, “[that] the least I could do would
be to try to stimulate communication between the men of our section
of South Texas of whom we were so proud so that no one would hear
spoken, ‘There’s no mail for you, Sullivan.’”
That experience was the beginning of The Round Robin, a typed, mimeographed
letter that Bluntzer sent regularly to South Texas soldiers, sailors,
marines and airmen fighting from “somewhere in the Pacific” to “somewhere
in Africa” to “somewhere in Italy.” Recipients of Bluntzer’s letters
from home were encouraged to pass it along to anyone else from South
Texas they knew, as well as to write home with their news. Bluntzer’s
letters featured local news, gossip, jokes, cartoons, poems and
The first letter from Corpus
Christi – a typewritten original and two carbon copies – had
gone in April 1942 to three of Bluntzer’s relatives on the Dougherty
side of his family then serving overseas. Each recipient was a grand
nephew of Chrys Sullivan, the Confederate cavalryman whose plea
for mail had inspired Bluntzer 81 years later.
As the war progressed, the Corpus
Christi man’s morale-building effort grew in scope. Soon he
had more than 1,200 “subscribers.” In addition to providing news
from the home front, Bluntzer established a “Jam Fund” to help out
GIs with an emergency need for a little money.
One of the
South Texas men enjoying each issue of the Round Robin was Lt. James
B. Dougherty, Jr., one of Bluntzer’s nephews. On Oct. 7, 1944, he
was reported missing in action in Germany. Bluntzer tried to be
optimistic, but Dougherty was later confirmed as dead.
After VJ Day
in 1945, Bluntzer stopped producing the Round Robin. Fortunately
for posterity, he kept copies of all 75 issues. In 1969, he organized
the letters and self-published them in a four-volume set of softcover,
magazine-size booklets in a cardboard slipcase. Following his death,
Bluntzer’s son donated all the original issues of the Round Robin
and other family papers to the Mary and Jeff Bell Library at Texas
A&M University Corpus Christi.
Among the letters in the collection is the one from a lonely rebel
soldier that started it all.
© Mike Cox
February 12, 2015 column
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