Category Archives: Civil War-Related Posts

- Howdy!: The Letters of John R. Morris

Recently I was approving some transcriptions done by our virtual Library volunteers on the Making History: Transcribe website and came across a collection of letters written by the Morris family of Louisa County, Virginia. This one letter caught my attention because it was written in July 1863 and I’ve always found the Battle of Gettysburg to be fascinating. The author, John R. Morris (1835-1905), served with the 57th Virginia Infantry Regiment which was a part of General Lewis A. Armistead’s Brigade and participated in Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Morris wrote to his father Richard A. Morris (1805-1881) on 10 July 1863 recounting the news that several Colonels were killed during the battle, stating, “Pickets Division got cut all to peases [pieces]. Our regiment went in with 500 and 20 men and come out with 200 and 70 men. Tha [there] was half of our company kill [killed] and wounded and missing.”  Morris also writes about family members that were in battle noting that “John W. Morris has not bin [been] seean [seen] sence [since] the fight.”

While I find it interesting to read a letter written by someone who participated in Pickett’s Charge, what I also found so endearing about this letter, and over fifty others written, were the simple things that Morris wrote in his letters. Almost every other … read more »

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- Remaking Virginia: A New Labor System

This is the third in a series of four blog posts concerning post-Civil War Virginia and the lives of freedpeople after Emancipation. The posts precede the Library of Virginia exhibition Remaking Virginia: Transformation through Emancipation opening 6 July 2015.

 


Glimpses at the Freedmen - The Freedmen's Union Industrial School, Richmond, Va. / from a sketch by Jas E. Taylor. Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 23, 1866 Sept. 22, p. 5. Library of Congress.

In the months following the end of slavery, a new system of labor emerged under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The new system forced former slave owners to recognize former slaves not as property but as employees with whom they would have to negotiate terms of employment. The Freedmen’s Bureau administered the negotiations to ensure that the former slaves, now Freedmen, were treated fairly. The new labor system was spelled out in written contracts that in some localities were stored at the local courthouse and remained there after the Freedmen’s Bureau ended in 1872.

The contracts usually specified the dates of the expected employment, obligations of the employee to the employer, and vice-versa. The following example found in the Lunenburg County (Va.) Freedmen’s Contracts, 1865-1866, offers the usual obligations found in freedmen’s contracts. A freedman named Archer Lewis made an agreement on 2 January  1866 with A.L. Davis to be a laborer on Davis’s farm. Davis would pay Lewis one quarter of the corn, oats, wheat, and tobacco that Lewis produced from his labor. Davis agreed to furnish Lewis with the animals and farm … read more »

- Jacob Yoder and Educating Virginia’s Freedpeople after the Civil War

This is the second in a series of four blog posts concerning post-Civil War Virginia and the lives of freedpeople after Emancipation. The posts precede the Library of Virginia exhibition Remaking Virginia: Transformation through Emancipation opening 6 July 2015.

 


The Freedman's Spelling-Book  (Boston, 1865).

“It is too plain that this people still love Slavery with some blind Madness.” Jacob Eschbach Yoder (February 22, 1838–April 15, 1905), a transplant to Virginia from Millersville, Pennsylvania, had lived in Lynchburg for only a month when he noted this observation in his diary on April 28, 1866. The Civil War had ended the Confederacy’s dream of a slaveholding nation, but Yoder perceptively feared that white Southerners had “only accepted the result of this war, because they must.” A teacher who had come to Virginia after the Civil War to help educate the freedpeople, Yoder perceived that many whites “hate every measure that is intended to elevate them. Education is their only passport to distinction. Therefore the whites so bitterly oppose it.”

Shortly after the Civil War began, African Americans of all ages, both free and enslaved, quickly took advantage of any chance to gain the education that had been denied to them under slavery. Despite widespread and often violent opposition from white Virginians, opportunity came from a variety of sources. During the war, numerous religious and private organizations began sending people to Virginia to … read more »

- “Nothing but…”


Handwritten copy (page 1 of 2) of a Civil War era poem, found in the papers of the Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia. CW 150 Legacy Project.

The Runkle family of Greene County, Virginia, had seven children, among them three sons who all served in the Confederate army. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has scanned a significant number of the family’s letters and miscellany; one item is a handwritten poem which I initially theorized was the work of a Runkle daughter. No obvious identification could be made, as the poem itself was unsigned, the scanning of the object was not accompanied by further detail as to its writer, and attempts at locating more personal information about the family were unsuccessful.

This is a pity, for the poem is an enormously rich document, written by a hand quite obviously skilled in the art form. A Google search of a refrain that appears throughout the poem (“Oh, he’s nothing but a soldier”) offers some hints, revealing that the poem was in fact a widely-distributed work.  A reference to it appears in The Southern War Poetry of the Civil War, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral thesis by Esther Parker Ellinger, published by Hershey Press in 1918.  According to its listing in the book’s index, the poem is an air set to the tune of “Annie Laurie,” and is credited to “A Young Rebelle, Esq.”  Perhaps a Runkle woman was the mysterious “Young Rebelle,” but more than likely a family member copied it down … read more »

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- “Half way across the river”

Robert Cromwell (1838-1918) was a Union soldier serving in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company A. For several months during the spring and summer of 1864 he kept a diary. The Civil War 150 Legacy Project was lucky enough to scan, catalog, and digitize the diary, and numerous other papers of the Cromwell family.


Two pages from the diary of Robert Cromwell of the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment, including a 30 May 1864 entry describing the sights and sounds of battle. Cromwell Family Papers, Civil War 150 Legacy Project.

Robert’s company took part in Major General William T. Sherman’s so-called “Atlanta Campaign,” a relentless and brutally long-lasting effort to sweep through Georgia, and ultimately seize Atlanta from the Confederate army. In his 30 May 1864 entry, Robert beautifully described the thrilling grotesquerie of the battlefield, with all its horrific forms of sensory overload:

“…crack crack in our front followed by a continuous crash of small arms then increased by heavy artillery soon brought us to our feet. For 35 or 40 minutes the roar was terrific.

…The unceasing roll of musketry the concussion caused by the booming cannon and bursting shell conspired to produce indescribable sensations, mingled exultation and awe.”

But the levity and humor found in the following anecdote from 13 July 1864, is even more noteworthy. Robert’s company is encamped on one side of the Chattahoochee River, and the Confederate troops they fought mere weeks earlier are encamped across the way. As Robert states:

“Although against orders conversation will occur.  Agreed last night to xchange [sic] papers this morn

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- A “Passport for Any-Where”


Cover of G.B. Lamar Jr.'s so-called PASSPORT FOR ANY-WHERE (G.B. Lamar Jr. Papers, 1859-1867. Civil War 150 Legacy Project. Permission to publish or reproduce is required.)

Recently I stumbled upon one of the more interestingly-worded government documents that I have ever encountered. Housed in the papers of Confederate soldier G.B. Lamar, Jr., of Georgia, was a leather-bound “passport” dated 1867. But this wasn’t just any ole’ passport–embossed in gold letters on the book’s cover were the words:

Hand Book of Loyalty.  
Passport for Any-Where.

Being a holder of a passport myself, and thereby glancingly familiar with the process of attainment and the general requirements of such, I couldn’t believe that such fanciful language could accompany something heretofore seen as banal and utterly devoid of hyperbole or flights of fancy. But–here it was! A passport to anywhere!

One might argue this is just a statement of the obvious, for a United States passport is, clearly, a document allowing one to travel “anywhere.” Yet the language trumpeted on Lamar’s leather cover hints at possibility and adventure in a way that my prosaically blue passport vehemently does not.

To open the book is to be confronted with yet more extravagant jargon, for it announces these intentions:

To produce the most
Soothing Feelings of Patriotism
In the Shortest Space of Time.—Works like Magic.

It turns out this was not a passport per se, but a wryly humorous book for former Confederates who had, perhaps reluctantly and out of pure necessity, sworn their allegiance to the United States after … read more »

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- Wartime musings on God and nature


Aquilla Peyton diary entry, 19 December 1861, showing his attention to clarity as he edits his thoughts on how constant his sense of his own

In my work for the Civil War 150 Legacy Project, I recently came across the diary of Aquilla Peyton (1837-1875). A private in the Confederate Army, Peyton was a young man with a loving family living near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and an avid diarist with a spiritual nature and a naturalist bent. Peyton kept this particular diary from August 1861 to August 1863. His final days as a soldier were in December of 1862; in January 1863, he returned home and recommenced teaching school.

Peyton’s diary is quite long at 186 pages, and is teeming with quotes from the Old and New Testaments, daily logs on the weather and the changing of seasons, and achingly personal observations on the unworthiness of his character and his struggle to be a better Christian. On Wednesday, 19 December 1861, Peyton wrote:

I am constantly almost constantly disturbed by a sense of my sinfulness, and I can not be satisfied with any thing less than true religion. I view the law of God as perfect and lovely, and it seems to me that I pray sincerely for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. But so cold is my heart, and so feeble my efforts, that I can not conclude that I am a Christian. I am afraid I am devoid of the faith that works by love, purifies

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- Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom


Nast, Thomas, Emancipation, LC-DIG-pga-03898, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

With its roots in 19th-century Texas, Juneteenth has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that Juneteenth spread to other parts of the country, including Virginia. Inspired by a Juneteenth event at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum in 1992, Juneteenth celebrations were being held each year in cities and towns throughout Virginia by the end of that decade. In a 2007 resolution, the Virginia House of Delegates recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Freedom Day” in the state. Across the country, Juneteenth events now can … read more »

- “Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why hast thou forgotten me!”

The Civil War 150 Legacy Project has been travelling around Virginia and scanning privately held Civil War-related manuscript documents for the past four years. Recently, as I was cataloging some of the scanned materials, I came across a letter, written 14 August 1864 by Ole R. Dahl of the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company B. Dahl had been captured by Confederate forces and was imprisoned in Savannah, Georgia. Written to his son, Anton P. Dahl, the letter relates his suffering in prison, his concern for various family members, and his hopes for release. Dahl writes that if he knew “all the truble [sic] and suffering I since have been subject to I would rather be shott [sic] down on the spot before I would surrender.” What really caught my attention was the beautiful drawing at the top of the letter, assumedly done by Dahl. The drawing features two prisoners in camp washing and cooking, with areas labeled “the death line” and “guard line” surrounding the prison. Underneath the drawing was written ‘Oh Abraham Abraham!! Why has thou forgotten me!”


Detail view of drawing Lieutenant Ole R. Dahl, 15th Wisconsin infantry Regiment, Company B, included in his 14 August 1864 letter to son Anton P. Dahl while in a Confederate prison in Savannah, Georgia. Item scanned as part of the CW 150 Legacy Project. Original is privately owned.

According to information on the Wisconsin Historical Society website, Dahl enlisted on 9 October 1861 and was mustered into service on 13 February 1862 to serve with the 15th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company H. In March 1863 he was promoted to first lieutenant … read more »

- My dear and most affectionate lover


Letter, 16 July 1861, from George Ward to Mary Jane Ratliff. Scanned as part of the CW150 Legacy Project.

Laura Drake Davis and I spent most of 2010-2012 on the road scanning and collecting images for the CW150 Legacy Project. It was not until recently that I have had much time to study and catalog the images that we scanned. I just came across this lovely letter that was scanned in Tazewell County, Virginia, in September 2010.

What grabbed my attention was the first line: “My dear and most affectionate lover…”  What a way to start a letter–doesn’t it sound racy? But actually many letters written during the 19th century were as full of love and feelings as modern letters are. The difference is that the 19th-century term “lover” does not necessarily carry the same connotations as it does today. This was a letter written by George Ward (1837-1927) of Tazewell County on 16 July 1861, while serving with 21st Virginia Infantry Regiment, Company H, to his love interest, Mary Jane Ratliff. Ratliff (1842-1905) was the daughter of Abednego and Louisa Vicey Matney Ratliff, also of Tazewell County. George writes of his feelings for [Mary] Jane (“dear Jinnia”), his hopes to marry her, and how he hated parting from her. George mentions the possibility of his death numerous times in the letter, ending it with his hopes that they meet in heaven should he not survive the war.

Transcript of George Ward letter

I … read more »