“And better than all, these Sunday resting spells give the soldier an opportunity to write letters”
Civil War Correspondence on Chronicling America
Civil War soldiers did not spend every day at war engaged in combat, and, on Sunday, June 14, 1863, the men of Battery C of the First Ohio Light Artillery Regiment, stationed at Triune Hills on the Harpeth River in Tennessee, enjoyed a quiet day “off.” Harry D. spends part of this day writing to the Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph and says, in contrast to the usual activity at the encampment, “…today matters have assumed a Sabbath day quietude; not even an inspection to mar the tranquility of repose and season of reflection. And better than all, these Sunday resting spells give the soldier an opportunity to write letters.”
Writing letters was one way in which soldiers could stay connected to their homes. As much as their family, friends and neighbors missed them, the soldiers also experienced bouts of homesickness which could be, in part, remedied by these quiet times spent composing notes to their loved ones.
“Look which ever way you will there sits your lad with a shingle on his knee, perhaps an upturned plate, busily chalking down the talk on paper to the dear one perhaps, the one above all price inestimable,” Harry D.’s letter continues. “Or it may be to a mother whose all of hope and joy he is, and whose loss to her would make her evening of life a chilling blank, a woeful chaos of grief. On the face of another scribe you may note the glow of strong manly devotion for the wife in the far off northern home, and the tenderness and truth of filial love on the open page of still another face. Such is the study of faces, the lesson to be learned from the tablet of each one’s heart is more difficult to get.” The image rendered by his words is poignant and reminds us of one of the many hardships of war experienced by those both on and off the battlefield: being separated from the people and places you know and love.
Ohio newspapers often printed correspondence like this written by their local soldiers. By reading these letters, their loved ones back home received firsthand accounts of their experiences in the war—and not just what happened in the battle they had most recently fought, but how they were feeling and how they spent their free time.
In addition to sending letters home, soldiers also wanted to receive them. Harry D. tells his readers that those “who feel an interest in the members of Southwick’s Battery could not much better please them than by writing letters.” These letters, he says, “should be kind and encouraging ones, not hissing with copperhead politics, or fault-finding with the Administration, or any thing in the least degree tainted with treason.” It is no surprise that Harry D. and his fellow soldiers wanted letters from home that showed support for the Union cause for which they were risking their lives. The soldiers were proud to have joined the Union Army, and, at the end of his letter, Harry D. declares, “We are ready for the bloody work of war, and it when it comes to us, you will not feel ashamed of Battery C.” These sentiments were surely echoed by military regiments all over the nation.
Interested in reading more Civil War correspondence? You’re in luck! With the Ohio Historical Society’s latest contributions to the National Digital Newspaper Program and Chronicling America, there are now over 17,000 more keyword-searchable pages available on the website!
Issues from the following Ohio papers are now online and freely available at Chronicling America:
- Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph (1853) from 1858 to 1873
- Ashtabula Telegraph from 1873 to 1880
- Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph (1880) from 1880
- Daily Press (Cincinnati) from 1859
- Cincinnati Daily Press from 1860 to 1862
- Cleveland Morning Leader from 1858 to 1865
- Cleveland Leader from 1865
- Cleveland Daily Leader from 1865 to 1866
- Cleveland Tri-Weekly Leader from 1861 to 1864 (scattered issues)
These papers join nearly five million newspaper pages and more than 700 newspapers from all over the nation, including over 30 from Ohio, to chronicle United States history from 1836 to 1922.
To find more letters written by Ohio’s soldiers, use the “Advanced Search” feature of Chronicling America to do a phrase search for (excluding the brackets) <army correspondence>. To narrow your results, combine that search term with a specific regiment or name of a soldier, battle, location or camp. Also, don’t forget to take advantage of newspaper title limits to find correspondence from a military unit originating from that area of the state! For more search tips, see the Civil War Correspondence Subject Guide, now available through the Ohio Digital Newspaper Portal, a resource that connects you to Ohio’s digitized newspapers!
Over the coming months, more of Ohio’s Civil War newspapers will become digitized and freely-available on Chronicling America through the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio.
The National Digital Newspaper Program is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress and state projects to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922. NEH awards support state projects to select and digitize historically significant titles that are aggregated and permanently maintained by the Library of Congress. As part of the project, the Ohio Historical Society contributed 100,000 newspaper pages to the project over a two year period ending June 2010 and will contribute an additional 100,000 pages by the end of August 2012.
Project Coordinator, NDNP-OH