My Books!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Letters From The Front

I recently made a trip to our local library and found a civil war novel that looked pretty good. It’s called Hallum’s War, and it was written by Elisabeth Payne Rosen. I did enjoy the book, but it made me think about what it might have been like to have lived during the Civil War. Of course there was always the risk of losing a loved one, but just think of the families that split over the issue with one side picking the North and the other the South. Talk about a family feud.

Anyway, I decided I’d do a series of posts on the Civil War. I found a book titled The Confederacy Is On Her Way Up The Spout. The book is filled with letters written by Confederate soldiers. In previous wars before censorship, email, and cell phones, their letters were often a source of information about the progress of a war. They also explained how a soldier spent his days and nights.

Between the years 1861 and 1864 Jesse McMahan and Lucretis Caroline Barrett McMahan of Pickens County, South Carolina, received numerous letters from a family of Confederate soldiers-three brothers and a brother-in-law. The soldiers were yeoman farmers whose education was limited as you can see from their spelling and punctuation. Unhappily, none of the four survived the war.

Here are some excerpts from the letters. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. The last letter explains how the book I used got its title.

August 11, 1861
Richmond, VA

Dear Brother and Sister

…a sholger nows but little moar what is a goin on than you do only in his own ridge ment or when he receves orders to march and than he don’t know whether hit is for a fight or to change en campements til he sees the enemy. Only by the movements of the armey he can give a perty close gest. i know that tha is fifey Thousand shoulgers in camp hear and sixteen Hundred yankee prisoners hear but I don’t know ho long we wil stay her nor wher we will go to next.

Oct 14, 1861
Camp Winder, Richmond

Dear Brother and Sister-Thrue the kind provadents c. and all wise god I am enjoying good health while many of my Brother solgers has sicken and dide hoping thes lines may find you all well.

November 1, 1861
Goldsboro, NC

every thing seams still today. The same auld tail keep two days rashon cook. we have bicets that is so hard I could nock a bull down with one. hit is raining this eaven an the wind a blowing a prospeck of a stormey night.

April 11, 1862
Ashland, VA

It a snowing on the morning of the eight long be for day. the role beat we was up and on march by six. the snow had turn in to heavy rain. it continued to rain all day. ten thousand of us on march the mud and water nea deep in a heap of places and small stream to wade.

May 13, 1862
Kent County vergina

the Yankees made a heavy actact on williamsburg at 11 on monday. tha was 3000 ingage on boath sides. the fight lasted tel 6 in the even. the Yankees reinforce all the time and no reinforce got to our toops tel five in the even. our troops won the fight. drove the yankees back with grate slaughter. hit was a hard and bloody battle.

January 28, 1863
Fredericksburg, Va.

it was a sight to see the battlefield, the dead was a lying thick over a bout one hundred achors of ground and strange to tel but no les strange than true the heaps of the dead to make brest works to sight behind.

June 5, 1863
Hampton Legion
South Quay, Va.

There is nothing more but Sorrows & trubles to be seen. Oh I will be glad when it is gods will to restore Peace to our unhappy & distressed country.

July 18, 1863
Camp Neare Richmond

the soldiers has a by word when any body dies or anything lost saying its gone up the spout. tell Washington that I say the Confederacy is on her way up the spout. nothing more.


  1. This was awesome to read the letters of men who died in the Civil War. How did you come by these letters? Fantastic topic.

  2. Hi, Sarah,

    I'm so glad you liked the letters. I was enthralled the minute I picked up the book. They came from a book by J. Roderick Heller and Carolynn Ayres Heller. The book is titled The Confederacy Is On Her Way Up The Spout. It's published by The University of Georgia Press.

  3. Hi Elaine,
    I thought these were to be posted on Friday. I am totally fascinated by anything to do with the Civil War. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the letters you shared. If you read them aloud, you can hear the accent of the soldier writing them, because he spelled everything phonetically. It makes him so much more real. I'm sure he never imagined that more than 150 years later we'd be reading them. Kind of surreal to think about.
    I have a book, Letters from a Sharpshooter, and it is an extensive collection of letters and journal entries for Pvt. William B. Greene, Co. G. He enlisted at 17 and as a sharpshooter was in the front lines of some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Amazingly he survived all four years. Don't mean to go on, but if you enjoy this kind of read, I recommend this book. Thanks for sharing these letters.

  4. Awesome, Elaine! I love to read first hand accounts from both soldiers and civilians during the war years.

    It really helps me to get into the heads of my fictional characters.

  5. Wow, very moving. Nothing like hearing the story from the people who lived it. Those old photos bring it to stark life too. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I just love the way they wrote back then. The letters are wonderful. I have a book of letters from a Union soldier during the Civil War called "Infantryman Pettit, The Civil War Letter of Corporal Frederick Pettit." About 125 letters from Frederick to his family in Beaver Co, PA are in this book. The letters were sometimes heartbreaking from this 20-year old soldier to his mother, father, brothers, and sisters went out almost once a week. Sadly, he died in the war and never made it home.

    Thanks for sharing yours, Elaine.


  7. Kathy and Dianne,

    I'll check out those books. It would be nice to have letters from both sides to include.

    Susan and Cate,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm glad you liked the letters.

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