To My Dearests,
Amidst all of the marching and fighting, soldiers during the Civil War made efforts to write back home to their loved ones. They told stories of loss, love, and life as they knew it to be. Some letters were sorrowful, while other letters kept spirits high and mouths laughing. Many letters have been saved to this very day, containing special information in regards to their battles as soldiers. These letters give insight on the means of communication during this time, the spirits of the soldiers from both the Confederate side and Union side, and the difference in language between the two.
Postal delivery was difficult during the Civil War, resulting in long periods of waiting for mail. For the North, postal services worked as smoothly as they had before the war, but this was not the same for the South. Because their letters that traveled between the North and the South had to go through a blockade controlled by the Union, many letters were confiscated making the postal service for the South less reliable. Postal delivery difficulties occurred all the time due to the fact that soldiers were constantly on the move. Hopping from one base camp to the next, soldiers didn’t stay in one place for too long. This made it harder for the soldiers to receive their letters from home. In order to write, soldiers had to buy paper, ink, pens, and envelopes from local, civilian merchants. Post offices for the Union Army were stationed near the forts and camps, but the Confederates did not have the same pleasure. Whether one was a Confederate soldier or a Union soldier, both sides loved receiving mail in return. Soldiers longed to hear from their loved ones, begging for even just a couple of words. Packages from home were even more prized since those took a lot more effort to make it to the soldiers. The packages included things such as soap, candies, and clothing.
The spirits of the soldiers were evident in their letters. As they told of their times away from home, they also admitted to their hardships. Many letters contained sad renditions of lost friends, lost battles, and lost spirits. Roughly 620,000 people died in the Civil War. This means 620,000 sons were killed. This means a number of brothers, friends, and lovers were killed. The most heartbreaking letters were the ones that spoke words of death. Many soldiers died, and many families back home received word of these deaths by mail. Some letters contained great detail, describing how the loved one died or maybe even the soldier’s last words. After the charge at Fredericksburg, Patrick Scanlan lay mortally wounded. As he lay dying, he requested that his fellow soldier write down his final thoughts. Patrick left a message for his wife, Ana, wanting her to believe that he died a “natural death in bed, having received the full benefits of [his] church.” He expressed his apologies for not being able to see her and their kids once more. Many women like Ana received letters like Patrick’s, passing on the news of a loved one’s death.
When reading a letter from the Civil War era, it is not hard to figure out which side the letter came from. Many soldiers had difficulty writing letters properly or spelling the words correctly, especially those from the South. Rural education suffered in America back then, and this is evident when analyzing the letters today. A lot of the soldiers only had up to a fourth-grade level education. Some soldiers didn’t even attend school. Fellow soldiers often lent hands to their men, writing their letters for them. As seen in a letter from Francis M. Russell to his family, multiple words were misspelled. Francis used words like “ast” (meaning “asked”), “sittled” (meaning “settled”), and “wright” (meaning “write”). The soldier’s academic intelligence is obviously on a low scale.
Through the analyzation of these letters which are perfectly preserved today, it is evident that mail was an important part of the Civil War. These letters give the people of today a glimpse into the life of a soldier, reading their feelings about life and love. The letters prove the importance of communication through postal services and the steps the soldiers had to go through in order to even write. Through these Civil War letters, the spirits of the soldiers are shown and the difference between the Confederates and the Union soldiers are clear.