I hold a treasure in my hand, one of three pieces of history that have come to me, letters written by a young, literate Civil War solider. They peaked my interest because my great grandmother saw her three brothers march off to war. Two returned wounded, the third never made it home. I’ve wondered what they might have written to their sister and parents.
In a letter dated August 18, 1861, addressed to his sister, this particular soldier tells of his enlistment with the Union army and that he was on his way to report for duty. “Do not be troubled about my going,” he assures her. “I believe I go in the discharge of duty, I believe the rebels are not only fighting against our country but also against the truths of the Almighty. And I further believe that if we go forth to battle trusting in His strength we shall conquer.” Like the Confederates he would fight against, he was willing to lay down his life for the cause he believed in. The solider wrote he had seen the scared, sick, lame, and blind. He must have been aware of his mortality as he ends his letter with “until we meet above, Your affectionate brother.”
In the one dated May 2, 1864, he writes his sister of a personal matter, then gives a detailed description of his company’s march on April 23rd, its encampment on the Potomac and details of their movement through the end of the month.
The final letter, in its original envelope with a 3 cent stamp postmarked Washington D.C., was written to his parents on May 31, 1864. He writes of skirmishes and crossing the Pamunky River on a pontoon bridge near Richmond, VA and the sad news of the death of his 17 year old messmate, “an amiable and intelligent boy. He was shot through the breast just below the heart.”
Sad to say, this was one of his last letters home as he was killed by a sharpshooter a few weeks later.
I have touched history. It has touched me and I cannot help but ask: Did he sit upon a carpet of grass under a tree as he wrote this letter home? Did he hear sounds of war in the distance, the moaning of the sick and dying nearby? Did the smell of sweat and blood overpower the fragrance of spring blooms? I only know what he has written and it is enough. For now.
My research is turning up some very interesting information on this soldier. I hope to post further quotes from the three letters, a photo, and more in a future blog.