William Henry Harrison Clayton was one of nearly 75,000 soldiers from Iowa to join the Union ranks during the Civil War. Possessing a high school education and superior penmanship, Clayton served as a company clerk in the 19th Infantry, witnessing battles in the Trans-Mississippi theater. His diary and his correspondence with his family in Van Buren County form a unique narrative of the day-to-day soldier life as well as an eyewitness account of critical battles and a prisoner-of-war camp.
Clayton participated in the siege of Vicksburg and took part in operations against Mobile, but his writings are unique for the descriptions he gives of lesser-known but pivotal battles of the Civil War in the West. Fighting in the Battle of Prairie Grove, the 19th Infantry sustained the highest casualties of any federal regiment on the field. Clayton survived that battle with only minor injuries, but he was later captured at the Battle of Stirling's Plantation and served a period of ten months in captivity at Camp Ford, Texas.
Clayton's writing reveals the complicated sympathies and prejudices prevalent among Union soldiers and civilians of that period in the country's history. He observes with great sadness the brutal effects of war on the South, sympathizing with the plight of refugees and lamenting the destruction of property. He excoriates draft evaders and Copperheads back home, conveying the intra-sectional acrimony wrought by civil war. Finally, his racist views toward blacks demonstrate a common but ironic attitude among Union soldiers whose efforts helped lead to the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Dear Delia chronicles the story of Henry F. Young, an officer in the famed Iron Brigade, as told through 155 letters home. His insights, often poignant and powerful, enable readers to witness the Civil War as he did. Young covers innumerable details of military service—from the camaraderie, pettiness, and thievery he witnessed among the troops, to the brutality of internecine war. He was an equally astute observer of the military leadership, maneuvers and tactics, rumored troop movements, and what he considered the strengths and weaknesses of African American soldiers. From newspapers, he retained a firm grasp of Wisconsin and national politics, often noting incidents of graft and corruption and offering pointed opinions regarding the 1864 presidential election. Above all, Young’s communications highlight his unflagging patriotism—his fierce determination to preserve the Union no matter the cost. Candid, contemplative, thorough, and occasionally humorous, Young provides a clear window into everyday events as well as into war, society, and politics. Civil War enthusiasts will appreciate this correspondence, as it reveals the perspective of a young officer from America’s western heartland, a regional viewpoint generally omitted from Civil War–era documentary projects.
William McKnight was a member of the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry from September 1862 until his death in June of 1864. During his time of service, McKnight penned dozens of emotion-filled letters, primarily to his wife, Samaria, revealing the struggles of an entire family both before and during the war.
This collection of more than one hundred letters provides in-depth accounts of several battles in Kentucky and Tennessee, such as the Cumberland Gap and Knoxville campaigns that were pivotal events in the Western Theater. The letters also vividly respond to General John Hunt Morgan’s raid through Ohio and correct claims previously published that McKnight was part of the forces chasing Morgan. By all accounts Morgan did stay for a period of time at McKnight’s home in Langsville during his raid through Ohio, much to McKnight’s horror and humiliation, but McKnight was in Kentucky at the time. Tragically, McKnight was killed in action nearly a year later during an engagement with Morgan’s men near Cynthiana, Kentucky.
The American Civil War through the eyes of a French Jesuit chaplain.
"This book has a tantalizing quality, and it certainly is fresh literature for those who have watched the story of the Civil War unfold. . . . One cannot help but marvel at the research undertaken by Fr. Buckley. These letters of Fr. Gache cover such subjects as the duties of a chaplain, the lack of stimulating conversation in camp, whiskey as medication for diarrhea, the chaplain’s uniform, the oversupply of Catholic chaplains, descriptions of battles—Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg—chaplains as prisoners of war, the possibility of General Lee being chosen as the second president of the Confederacy, making candles for the alter and bleaching wax, procuring sacramental wine, conflicts with Protestant preachers, and the surrender of Richmond. Such subjects allow the personality and character of Hippolyte to stand out. . . . [The book] is interesting reading for all who love and admire the Jesuits. Its wealth of information makes it a must for others whose concern is the Confederate soldier and his God."
“The well-written and candid letters of a reasonably articulate Southern officer, who paints a lucid picture of everyday life in the Confederate army in a little-known theater… Williams’s letters, personally written and shot through with his sharp sense of humor and folksy artwork, provide an excellent account of a long neglected theater of the American Civil War.” – Western Pennsylvania History
For men in the Union and Confederate armies and their families at home, letter writing was the sole means to communicate. Taking pen to paper was a new and daunting task, but Christopher Hager shows how ordinary people made writing their own, and how they in turn transformed the culture of letters into a popular, democratic mode of communication.
William Vermilion (1830-1894) served as a captain in Company F of the 36th Iowa Infantry from October 1862 until September 1865. Although he was a physician in Iconium in south central Iowa at the start of the war, after it ended he became a noted lawyer in nearby Centerville; he was also a state senator from 1869 to 1872. Mary Vermilion (1831-1883) was a schoolteacher who grew up in Indiana; she and William married in 1858. In this volume historian Donald Elder provides a careful selection from the hundreds of supportive, informative, and heart-wrenching letters that they wrote each other during the war—the most complete collection of letters exchanged between a husband and a wife during the Civil War.
This rare correspondence between a soldier and his wife relates in poignant detail the struggle for survival on the battlefield as well as on the home front and gives voice to the underrepresented class of small farmers
Most surviving correspondence of the Civil War period was written by members of a literate, elite class; few collections exist in which the woman's letters to her soldier husband have been preserved. Here, in the exchange between William and Emily Moxley, a working-class farm couple from Coffee County, Alabama, we see vividly an often-neglected aspect of the Civil War experience: the hardships of civilian life on the home front.
Emily's moving letters to her husband, startling in their immediacy and detail, chronicle such difficulties as a desperate lack of food and clothing for her family, the frustration of depending on others in the community, and her growing terror at facing childbirth without her husband, at the mercy of a doctor with questionable skills. Major Moxley's letters to his wife reveal a decidedly unromantic side of the war, describing his frequent encounters with starvation, disease, and bloody slaughter.
To supplement this revealing correspondence, the editor has provided ample documentation and research; a genealogical chart of the Moxley family; detailed maps of Alabama and Florida that allow the reader to trace the progress of Major Moxley's division; and thorough footnotes to document and elucidate events and people mentioned in the letters. Readers interested in the Civil War and Alabama history will find these letters immensely appealing while scholars of 19th-century domestic life will find much of value in Emily Moxley's rare descriptions of her homefront experiences.
Blood and anger, bragging and pain, are all part of this young Iowa soldier's vigorous words about war and soldiering. A twenty-year-old farmer from Council Bluffs, Charles O. Musser was one of the 76,000 Iowans who enlisted to wear the blue uniform. He was a prolific writer, penning at least 130 letters home during his term of service with the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.
Soldier Boy makes a significant contribution to the literature of the common soldier in the Civil War. Moreover, it takes a rare look at the Trans-Mississippi theater, which has traditionally been undervalued by historians.
Always Musser dutifully wrote and mailed his letters home. With a commendable eye for historical detail, he told of battles and marches, guerrilla and siege warfare, camp life and garrison soldiering, morale and patriotism, Copperheads and contraband, and Lincoln's reelection and assassination, creating a remarkable account of activities in this almost forgotten backwater of the war.
Elizabeth Blair Lee was raised in Washington's political circles, and her husband, Samuel Phillips Lee, third cousin to Robert E. Lee, commanded the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron during the Civil War. When they married, Elizabeth promised to write every day they were apart. Of the hundreds of letters with which she kept her promise, Virginia Jeans Laas has edited a choice selection that illuminates the functioning of a nineteenth-century family and the Mrs. Lee's unique perspective on the political and military affairs of the nation's beleaguered capital.
“Unlike many of his fellows, [James Newton] was knowledgeable, intuitive, and literate; like many of his fellows he was cast into the role of soldier at only eighteen years of age. He was polished enough to write drumhead and firelight letters of fine literary style. It did not take long for this farm boy turned private to discover the grand design of the conflict in which he was engaged, something which many of the officers leading the armies never did discover.”—Victor Hicken, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society
“When I wrote to you last I was at Madison with no prospect of leaving very soon, but I got away sooner than I expected to.” So wrote James Newton upon leaving Camp Randall for Vicksburg in 1863 with the Fourteenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Newton, who had been a rural schoolteacher before he joined the Union army in 1861, wrote to his parents of his experiences at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, on the Red River, in Missouri, at Nashville, at Mobile, and as a prisoner of war. His letters, selected and edited by noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose, reveal Newton as a young man who matured in the war, rising in rank from private to lieutenant.
A Wisconsin Boy in Dixie reveals Newton as a young man who grew to maturity through his Civil War experience, rising in rank from private to lieutenant. Writing soberly about the less attractive aspects of army life, Newton's comments on fraternizing with the Rebs, on officers, and on discipline are touched with a sense of humor—"a soldier's best friend," he claimed. He also became sensitive to the importance of political choices. After giving Lincoln the first vote he had ever cast, Newton wrote: "In doing so I felt that I was doing my country as much service as I have ever done on the field of battle."
The Wounded River takes the reader back more than 130 years to reveal a marvelous, first-hand account of nineteenth-century warfare. In the process, the work cuts the legends and mythology that have come to frame and define accounts of America's bloodiest war. Of equal significance, Peter Josyph's editorial work on this superb collection of letters from the Western Americana Division of Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library enhances and clarifies Lauderdale's experinces as a surgeon aboard the U.S. Army hospital ship D. A. January.
The reader looks on while Lauderdale, a New York civilian contract surgeon, operates on hundreds of Confederate and Union wounded. The young doctor's clear writing style and his great compassion for these unfortunate men whose bodies were ripped apart by bullets, shell fragments, and bayonets permits us to catch a disturbiing glimpse of what modern warfare does to humanity. Finally, we learn of Lauderdale's motives for volunteering, his impressions of the "hospital ship" D. A. January, Confederate morale, the Abolitionist cause, and black slavery. The Wounded River is a must read for anyone interested in the real American Civil War.
In many ways, John H. Black typified the thousands of volunteers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Born in 1834 and raised on his family’s farm near Allegheny Township, Pennsylvania, Black taught school until he, like many Pennsylvanians, rushed to defend the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. He served with the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry, one of the Union’s most unruly, maligned, and criticized units.Consistently outperformed early in the conflict, the Twelfth finally managed to salvage much of its reputation by the end of the war. Throughout his service, Black penned frequent and descriptive letters to his fiancée and later wife, Jennie Leighty Black. This welcome volume presents this complete correspondence for the first time, offering a surprisingly full record of the cavalryman’s service from 1862 to 1865 and an intimate portrait of a wartime romance.
In his letters, Black reveals his impassioned devotion to the cause, frequently expressing his disgust toward those who would not enlist and his frustration with friends who were not appropriately patriotic. Despite the Twelfth Pennsylvania’s somewhat checkered history, Black consistently praises both the regiment’s men and their service and demonstrates a strong camaraderie with his fellow soldiers. He offers detailed descriptions of the regiment’s vital operations in protecting Unionists and tracking down and combating guerrillas, in particular John Singleton Mosby and his partisan rangers, providing a rare first-person account of Union counterinsurgency tactics in the Lower Shenandoah Valley. In the midst of portraying heated and chaotic military operations, Black makes Jennie a prominent character in his war, illustrating the various ways in which the conflict altered or nurtured romantic relationships.
One of the few compilations of letters by a long-term Yankee cavalry member and the only such collection by a member of the Twelfth Pennsylvania, A Yankee Horseman in the Shenandoah Valley provides new insights into the brutal, confused guerrilla fighting that occurred in northwestern Virginia. Moreover, these letters make a significant contribution toward an emerging consensus that Yankee cavalry—often maligned and contrasted with their celebrated Confederate foes—became a superior fighting force as the war progressed.
David J. Coles, professor of history at Longwood University, is the associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Civil War, coauthor of Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray, and coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the American Civil War.
Stephen D. Engle, professor of history at Florida Atlantic University, is the author of Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel, Don Carlos Buell: Most Promising of All, and Struggle for the Heartland: The Campaigns from Fort Henry to Corinth.