Friday, February 5, 2016

Tues, March 1, Civil War Letters, Old Saybrook


Civil War Love Letter Reading
at Acton Library, Old Saybrook
Free and open to the public
Old Saybrook, Conn--The Shoreline Civil War Roundtable is hosting Lisa Saunders of Mystic, author of "Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife," which features the love letters between Charles and Nancy McDowell.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 6:30-8:30pm
Presentation: Love Letters of a Union Private and His Wife
Admission: Free and open to the public
Shoreline Civil War Roundtable
Acton Library, upstairs meeting room
60 Old Boston Post Rd, Old Saybrook, CT 06475
For more information about the meeting, contact Tom Schuch,

The Shoreline Civil War Roundtable is hosting Lisa Saunders of Mystic, author of "Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife," which features the love letters between Charles and Nancy McDowell. After discussing the research behind the book, Saunders, with the help of a "Charles and Nancy," played by Alex Young and Anna Carey of Old Saybrook High School, will read several selected passages. The story: Charles married Nancy when she was 15 years old. Enlisting as a private in the New York 9th Heavy Artillery two years later, he asked Nancy to save his letters. Despite his grueling battles and marches, he was able to save hers as well. Together, their letters tell of bullets, hangings, prostitutes, venereal disease, typhoid fever, lying injured on the battlefield for days, “clever women,” and the court marshalling of a cow. (Note: Charles fought in several battles with the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery in the Sixth Corps.)
For more information about "Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife," contact author Lisa Saunders at or visit

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lincoln's Assassination--150th Anniversary

"Abraham Lincoln November 1863"by Alexander Gardner*

The interior of the President’s Box at Ford’s Theatre. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith.
View of the President’s Box at Ford’s Theatre. Photo by Maxwell MacKenzie.
Date: April 8, 2015
Lisa Saunders
P.O. Box 389
Mystic, CT 06355

150th Anniversary of President Lincoln's Memorial Service at
Union Baptist Church

Commemorated by Civil War Love Letters and Eye-Witness Accounts of Assassination and Death

Mystic, Conn.--In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination on Friday, April 14, 1865, and memorial service hosted by the Union Baptist Church of Mystic the following Wednesday on April 19, 1865, the Union Baptist Church will present a dramatic reading of Civil War love letters plus eye-witness accounts of Lincoln’s assassination and death.  Presentation includes live Civil War era music. 
Sunday, April 19, 2015, 4p.m.
Dramatic Reading/Live Music: Civil War Letters
Union Baptist Church, 119 High St., Mystic, CT 06355
Admission:  Suggested donation of $5.00 to benefit the Union Baptist Church Historic Preservation Fund for painting and repairs scheduled for summer 2015. More info:, 860-536-9659,

About the memorial service held for President Lincoln in April 19, 1865: "This was held in the Union Baptist Church in Mystic on the Wednesday following the assassination. All business was suspended, schools were closed and the people turned out en masse to do honor to the martyred President. A procession was formed at the Liberty Pole near the bridge at 10 a.m. ...The procession moved through the principal streets to the church, where services were held at 10:30 a.m...An air of deep solemnity pervaded the whole community and the large crowd of people--estimated at from twelve to thirteen hundred--filled the house to its utmost capacity, hundreds remaining standing through the entire service."--excerpt of book "Groton, Conn. 1705-1905" by Charles Rathbone Stark (1922, p. 409).
About the play: Charles McDowell married Nancy when she was 15 on Christmas Eve of 1860. In 1862, he enlisted as a private in the New York 9th Heavy Artillery and served for three years until the end of the Civil War. Together, their letters speak of talking with President Lincoln, battles, hangings,  desertions and the court marshalling of a cow. The eye-witness account of Lincoln’s assassination is told through the letter of an attending physician from the regiment. The play uses excerpts from the book, “Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife” (Heritage Books, 2004), and article, “Widow/er History - Mary Todd Lincoln the Widow(Pathfinder - A Companion Guide to the Widow/er’s Journey, Sept. 2014), both by Lisa Saunders, the great-great granddaughter of Charles and Nancy McDowell.

Cast includes: 
Lisa Saunders of Mystic, author of Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, is an award-winning freelance writer, local TV talk show host, and part-time historical interpreter at Mystic Seaport. More info about the play: or 
Geoff Kaufman of New London, folksinger and guitarist, performs all over the world, sharing ancient ballads and poignant songs of people in struggle, giving humorous glimpses of human foibles and insights into history. More info:
Sheri Winter of Mystic is a public speaker, writer, and professional businesswoman. A member of the Union Baptist Church, Sheri supports local theater and performs voiceovers and narration for radio, television and other industrial productions.
Jane Coates of Mystic is a sophomore at the Science and Technology Magnet High School of New London. A member of Union Baptist Church, the Emerson Theater Collaborative, and the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Jane has performed in plays and musicals since 4th grade. She plays piano, violin, recorder and handbells.

For more information and images, visit:


Notes: The play first debuted in New York in 2004. The Emerson Theater Collaborative was the first to produce it in Connecticut on Valentine's Day, Feb 14, 2012.


Click on links and see below to learn more about the Mystic memorial service at the Union Baptist Church on April 19, 1865 (which began as a solemn procession from the Mystic Liberty Pole).

 About the Union Baptist Church: Excerpt from Mystic Seafarer's Trail by Lisa Saunders:

With criteria in hand, my daily wonder-seeking routine began precisely at noon so Bailey and I could stroll downtown to the bell chimes of a massive New England-style church perched precariously on the edge of a little cliff near my house. Overseeing the Mystic Valley, the former Mariner’s Free Church doubled in size when a team of oxen dragged another church building up the hill on sleds in 1861 to unite the two buildings—well in time to accommodate the 1,000 residents who gathered to mourn Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Now called the Union Baptist Church, its original steeple was destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938 and rebuilt even taller. Visible and heard throughout the valley, it’s an overwhelming presence. Should it be declared a Mystic Wonder?

More information on the Lincoln's memorial service held Wednesday following his assassination on Friday, April 14, 1865. According to the book "Groton, Conn. 1705-1905," by Charles Rathbone Stark (1922), page 409 :

"...funeral service for Abraham Lincoln. This was held in the Union Baptist Church in Mystic on the Wednesday following the assassination. All business was suspended, schools were closed and the people turned out en masse to do honor to the martyred President. A procession was formed at the Liberty Pole near the bridge at 10 a.m. in the following order:

Mystic Cornet Band
1st Division--Citizens
2nd " Charity Lodge No. 68, F. & A.M.
3rd " Citizens
4th School children
5th " Citizens in carriages

The procession moved through the principal streets to the church, where services were held at 10:30 a.m., participated in by the following clergyman: Rev. Lorenzo Sears of the Episcopal Church, Rev. Erastus Denison and Rev. A.C. Bronson of the Baptist Church, Rev. C.H. Boyd of the Congregational Church and Rev. Isaac Stoddard of the Methodist Church. Colonel Hiram Appelman also took part in the programme. An air of deep solemnity pervaded the whole community and the large crowd of people--estimated at from twelve to thirteen hundred--filled the house to its utmost capacity, hundreds remaining standing through the entire service. "


According to the following online calendar, the Wednesday following the assassination (Lincoln was shot on April 14, Good Friday) would mean the 150th anniversary of the Union Baptist Church Lincoln memorial service would be on Sunday, April 19, 2015. Here is an online calendar showing April of 1865.

Other play cast members in Connecticut have included: 

Captain Marcus John Fisk of New London, a retired Navy Captain and consultant with the Department of the Navy on Special Operations and Irregular Warfare.  He has appeared in over 30 stage productions, most recently in A Christmas Carol (Scrooge). He authored the book to the Vietnam POW musical, Four Part Harmony, slated for a 2015 NYC production and was the Technical Advisor to the Discovery Channel production, Vietnam POWs: Stories of Survival, which received the 1998 Emmy Award for Best Documentary. 


Connie Howard of Niantic, Singer/Songwriter on piano, is Grand Prize winner of the first Nashville Songwriter's Association Contest. Connie writes songs with heartfelt lyrics and infectious melodies. More info:


Pamela Collins Fisk, author of recently released memoir, The Innkeepers Diary. More info about Coastal Cottage Inn:

*"Abraham Lincoln November 1863" by Alexander Gardner - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Johnnycake (or Hoecake) Recipe

This recipe is from my book, Ever True: A Union Private and His Wifeby Lisa Saunders.

Although the following isn't exactly the best tasting meal, Private Charles McDowell liked this Confederate fare better than his steady diet of hardtack. If you want to have a taste of the past, try this:  
Johnnycakes (or Hoecakes)
1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup ground white cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
Stir together and pour by the spoonful onto greased frying pan over a medium to low heat. Flip when edges are golden brown.  Serve with butter and molasses or syrup. 

Civil War: Charles McDowell, New Year's Day 1865

A 150-Year-Old Civil War New Year's Day Letter
Melancholy voice from the past tells of bodies half buried, wounded lying on the battlefield for long periods, and Union soldiers killing their own wounded for money.
The following is a letter from my book, Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, which is also a one-act play. Private Charles McDowell, and his wife Nancy, were my great-great grandparents.

To Nancy Wager McDowell from her husband Charles McDowell (A Canadian who enlisted in the New York 9th Heavy Artillery of the 6th Corps):

DURING THE SIEGE OF PETERSBURG [Near Petersburg] January the 1-1865

Dearest Wife

Old Eighteen and Sixty Five has got around and I ain’t much sorry either. But time passes fast with us now. It soon will be spring. Now we have easy times. It is awful muddy now. The most we do is to get our wood and that ain’t very hard work. I wouldn’t care if it would keep muddy all winter.

There has been a good [many] soldiers buried around here. You may go any way you are a-mind to and you will see graves throwed up. When we went after wood the other day, we found a man's skull laying a top of the ground. He hadn’t hardly any dirt throwed over him.

I counted twenty- six ball holes in a tree about a foot through. This was done the time we took the railroad and they charged on us but they got badly whipped. Some of our regiment got taken prisoners last night. Co. M and some of the other company went out yesterday morning on picket. Our company didn’t happen to go, and about two O’clock this morning, we was waked up by the yelling and shooting of the rebs. They made a charge on them. I haven’t heard exactly how many of our regiment there was taken. They say thirty-five or forty-two killed, and five or six wounded. Our boys brought in a few of the rebs. They come on them by surprise.

There is a good many deserting from the rebs most every night and come over here. I think this war will end this winter. It looks more like it now than it ever did before since I enlisted, but we can’t tell this war business is very uncertain. But I find most every one thinks so. I hope so anyway. I would like to have it come to an end this winter.

You would have laughed to have seen us tumble out of bed when the rebs charged on our picket line this morning. We tumbled over one another pretty fast. We was soon in a line. We didn’t know but they would try our line of battle but they knowed better than to try that. If they had they would have had a nice time.

You said you would like to have me come home on a furlough. I would like to go home as well as you would like to have me come but I don’t know whether there will be any more furloughs given or not. I think it will be a pretty hard thing to get one. Isae Woodruff started for home the other day. He had a furlough for fifteen days. He has been trying for one ever since his father died and if it hadn’t been for his father dying, he couldn’t have got one.

You say we can afford it as well as any body. Well I think we could, but if we save the money that it would cost me to come home, we can have so much more to spend. You know we will want to go a- visiting some when I get there. We might happen to get back to Washington yet this winter.

When we get orders to move, we don’t stop to tell long stories. We hear Dunbar and them other fellows is coming back to the regiment. I hear that Lee has give Lucy all of his property to keep till we comes back, then I suppose he will take her too. I wonder if he washed his face since he has been home. Robert Trevor is most well. Old Jef Davis is at home now.

I helped carry Jef in when he was wounded. I couldn’t help but laugh and felt sorry for him to hear what expressions he made. He said it was too bad. He said there was a reb captain come up to him after he was wounded and commenced turning him over to search him. He asked him what he wanted and he said his money and Jef told him [he] would get it for him. He said he put his hand in his pocket and handed his pocket book and the captain took the money out and throwed the pocket book down and a boy came along and he gave him the pocket book for a drink of water.

He would almost cry when he told about that. He said he thought it was too bad after shooting him to take the last cent he had. He said they took twenty-four dollars and ninety-five cents, which he had worked hard for. And he said there was some more come up to him and said, “You are wounded, are you old fellow?” And Jef said, “Yes.” “Well,” they said, “we will be a long with the ambulances and take you to Richmond you dammed Yankees. We will give you Fishers Hill!” Now I bet you Jeff’s eyes stuck out then. And, he said, in about two hours he seen them going back pell mell as hard as they could run and the Sixth Corps after them. He said then he felt glad. This was about now he laid there on the ground till next day noon before we found him.

That is what hurts the men so, laying on the ground so long after they are wounded. They took lots of money from our boys that day. I could have made a thousand dollars if I had a-went around an got our wounded and killed and searched them, but I wouldn’t do such a thing but there is lots of them that does do it and the boys had lots of money then.

There is a good many of our wounded a- coming back to the regiment now. There was two come today that was wounded to Monocacy, besides a good many new recruits. There was one come a few days a go, just like John Tree. You know him. The one we had so much fun with when we was at Fort Foote. The boys had lots of fun with him and night before last we left and we ain’t seen him Since. I don’t think they will look for him much.

It’s a- getting so cold. I don’t know but we shall heft to set up tonight and keep a fire. It is a-freezing fast. But we had the good luck to make a haul on a couple of blankets the other night when we was guarding baggage. I find a man has to look out for himself here. If he don’t, nobody else will look out for him. My cousin was over to see us the other day. He is pretty sick of the war.

I think I must write a letter to Canada before long. I haven't wrote to them since you left. Don’t you think it is too bad it has been so long since I wrote? I feel most ashamed to write now. I shall heft to apologize pretty well. I must write within a few days. Anyway I have had three or four letter from them this summer. Uncle Hiram has been a- trading farms lately. As soon as my time is out I think I shall go and see them Sometimes when I get to thinking about my native land and what good times I have had there it makes a feeling come over me that makes me feel sad.

Little did I think when I left home that I would be gone for seven years. Oh how I long to see my sister Margaret and all the rest, and if I get out of this alive it won’t be long before I can see her. She thought [my likeness] an awful sight. She feels pretty bad about us. She is afraid we will never come home alive but I live in hopes that we will come out all right.

And I must tell you what we had to eat for News Years. We didn’t draw no rations yesterday and we hadn’t nothing for supper last night, only coffee and nothing for breakfast this morning only we got an order and went and bought some bread. So we had bread, beef and coffee, and drawed rations after breakfast. So we had hardtack, coffee and pork for dinner. ain’t that pretty good? It’s getting so cold I must draw my letter to a close hoping soon to get an answer. We expect to go on picket now every day but I hope not till it gets a little warmer. I have just heard that they only captured twenty- three of our men.

From your ever true and affectionate husband C McDowell

Note from Lisa Saunders (Charles's great-great granddaughter and author of Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife):
The above letter is one of about 150 Civil War letters I found in my mother’s attic between Charles and Nancy Wager McDowell and their families. Charles McDowell was born in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada on 15 Feb. 1837. His family later moved to Norwich, Ontario, Canada. As a young man he and his brother David McDowell moved to Geneva, NY where Charles married Nancy Wager 24 Dec. 1860 when she was just 15. Despite his father's pleas (John McDowell of Norwich, Ontario) Charles enlisted in Lyons, New York in 1862. He served in the New York 9th Heavy Artillery under Secretary of State Seward's son, William H. Seward Jr., of Auburn, NY.
The regiment was nicknamed "Seward's Pets" because the Secretary of State frequently visited his son's regiment and often brought along Lincoln. In the letters I read of a remarkable devotion to one another despite war’s infidelities, scandals and ever-present threat of death as well as Charles’s devotion to his new country. I also gained new insight into a wife's role in the camp life, a Canadian family’s views on the war and their participation, hangings, prostitution, amputations, desertions, theft and murder among Union troops, personal contacts with Lincoln and Seward (of "Seward's Alaskan Folly"), battles of Cold Harbor, Jerusalem Plank Road, Monocacy, Opequon, Fisher's Hill, Cedar Creek, the Siege of Petersburg, Moseby's Men, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. Among my family’s papers I also found photographs of most of the letter writers as well as Nancy Wager McDowell's obituary which reads:
"MRS. MCDOWELL IS DEAD - SHOOK HANDS WITH LINCOLN. With the death of Mrs. Nancy Wager McDowell...the town of Sodus probably loses the distinction of having a resident who could boast of having shaken hands and talked with the martyred Lincoln…She was married in 1860 to Charles McDowell, a native of Canada, who came to America when a young man. Mr. McDowell was a member of the Ninth New York Heavy Artillery in the Union Army and it was while stationed near Washington that his wife had an opportunity to speak with the President. Mrs. McDowell passed nearly a year in that vicinity and many were the pies she baked for the soldiers stationed at the capital. Typhoid Fever caused her to return to Alton to the home of her parents…" ("The Record," Sodus, Wayne County, N.Y. September 18, 1931) Charles McDowell died 17 April 1913. Their two children were May Belle (born 4 Aug. 1871) and Gilbert (born 6 Mar. 1883). Gilbert’s children were Gilbert and Russell (grandfather).

The letters, along with background information and era recipes are found in my book: Ever True: Civil War Letters of Seward's New York 9th Heavy Artillery of Wayne and Cayuga Counties Between a Soldier, His Wife and His Canadian Family

If you would like to see pictures of Charles and Nancy McDowell and read more letters, please visit my website at

Thursday, September 4, 2014

150-year-old Civil War Letter Warns Against the Clap!

Civil War Love Letters Written 150 years ago
As we continue to commemorate the 150-year anniversary war, here is another excerpt from my book Ever True: A Union Private and His Wife, published by Heritage Books. The following battles were fought by private Charles McDowell in September 1864:

September 19 Battle of Winchester
September 22 Fisher's Hill

Leading up to those battles are a few of the love letters between Charles and his teenage wife Nancy--my great-great grandparents from upstate New York. Nancy not only had to worry about Charles dying in battle, she also worried about "the clap!"

To Nancy from Charles:
[Tenallytown]                                                       Sept the 4-1864
Dearest Wife,
            We are at Tennallytown yet.  We are having splendid nice weather her[e] now.
            There is quite an excitement here about re-enlisting.  I bet you two thirds of the army will enlist.  Grant's army is rather getting the start of the rebs now but they ain’t whipped yet.  They are tough fellows.  I soon found that out when we went to the front.      
            You wouldn’t hardly know me now.  I hadn’t shaved since we started for the front till today and my mustache got so long I couldn’t eat molasses very well and I cut it off and most all the rest of my whiskers.  The boys don’t hardly know me. 
            John Perkins is a prisoner.  Fred Stell is killed.  We can’t hear much about the prisoners. 
            From your ever true and affectionate husband, C McDowell
To Charles from Nancy:                                                                                                                                             
Dearest Husband,                                            September 4 1864
             I have just got the letter that you wrote the fourth of July.   I don’t think purty much of that girl being so clever.   High Thompson, he found some clever ones out there.   The folks says that he has got the clap [gonorrhea] so that they can’t go in the house because he smells so bad, and they don’t think that he will live long.   They thought he was dead one day.    The doctor had been fixing him.  
             The cannons roared all night last night.   They don’t know what it was for but they think is some good news.   They say that we have taking Mobile and they think that Petersburg will be ourn in a week’s time.   I hope it is all true but I am afraid it is almost too good to be true.   They say that Old Abe says the war will end in three months. 
            You say that you go and see Miss Feaks purty often.   I wish I was there so I could go with you.  I hope that you can stay to Tennallytown till your time is out.   It seams almost like an age.  A whole year before you can come home but I am glad every time when night comes.   I think one more day has past and gone and your time is so much nearer out but it will pass off after a while. It can’t last always.
            Hank Jule is drafted.  I don’t know whether he will go or not.   They have filled up Huron’s call. They give them fifteen hundred apiece, but Sodus, they will hafto come to a draft for there has so many run too.
            The paper states that they are paying all the armies off now but I though[t] your being to Tennallytown your wouldn’t get your pay.   I would like to know if your have heard anything from Cary or not.   She hasn’t heard from him since he was…
            From your ever true and affectionate wife Nancy McDowell
To Charles from Nancy:
Dearest Husband,                                       September the 11 1864
            You spoke about the regiment enlisting again.   I hope that you won’t be so foolish to enlist again.   I had drather go with half enough to eat than have you enlist again. The big bounty I would[n’t] look at it.   I had drather have my freedom than all the money.  
            The men get from two dollars to twenty sh_______ pr day and thirty dollars pr month.  Any body can earn a living, and if you get hurt, I can work ____ get us a living.  I would work night and bet  you should have enough to eat.  I wouldn’t have you enlist again for two thousands dollars if I could have my way about it.  You said that your captain resigned and had gone home.   Who is your captain now?
             I sent you some camphor gum I would like to know if you got it.   I would like to have your likeness since you shaved.   I think I would know it.
            Am here all alone today.   All the rest has gone to meeting.   I wish you was here with me.   This makes me think of my dream last night.   I thought I was out there with you and we was up to Miss Feaks and we had a good visit and we was carrying on like everything and I laugh so loud that it woke me up.   I have thought about it all [?] morning
            Dave wrote home to know what Pa and Ma thought about his enlisting.  I think he is foolish.   He said he wouldn’t enlist for all of Verginey.   I think he turns his tune but [?] him enlist.   Don’t you?  
            I don’t suppose that [you] hafto stand guard nights now.
            From your ever true affectionate wife
To Nancy from Charles:
[Probably Tennallytown]                                   Sept the 12 - 1864
Dearest Wife
            We have had a considerable of rain lately and it is pretty cool weather here now.  They say Hammond and his wife had a quarrel and he has enlisted.
            I got the letter that had the dollar in I guess I won’t send it back for I have got it most all spent for apple dumplings and milk.  There is peddlers here all the while with them and you know how I like dumplings. I wish you was here now to make another such a batch as we had last winter.  I think I could manage some of them.  They are ten cts apiece.  Mrs. Hoxie has 25 cts apiece for pies now, 75 cts a meal.
            That fellow that [you] spoke about [the one with the “clap”] is pretty bad off.  You talk as though you thought I might get in that way. But Nat you needn’t be uneasy about that and I don't think I am quite as soft in the head as to go in such speculations as that and I don't think that you would think that I would do any such a thing.  Anyway if you do, you are greatly mistaken. 
            What does the folks think about election out there? Here the most of them thinks Old Abe will get it again and I think so and I think the war will be settled under him as quickly as any body else. The most the rebs is waiting now is election.  I think they will come to some settlement after election. They would like to have McClellan in if they could.
             I was to Mrs. Feaks today.  She is well.  I left a nice little there that I found. She wants me to give it to her but I don't know whether to give it to her or send it home.
             You said you was pretty lonesome.  I dare say you be Nat but you must keep up good courage. The time will soon run round when I can be at home again.  Sometimes I feel very lonesome, but when I think of the time and how fast it is passing, I get over it again. If I can get through the remainder of my time as well as I have the fore part I shall feel very thankful, although I have had some pretty close calls.
            I think I told you that at Monocacy a piece of shell or a ball broke my gun and Carpenter told me to throw it away and pick up another and I picked up a nice rifle. You could have picked up a gun there any place.  I was afraid I would get over heated that day for I was one of the last off of the field and I was awful warm when I came off, and then we had to take a double quick once and a while to keep out of their batteries, and I was most choked for a drink, but I doesn’t drink much.  I was so warm and another thing, we hadn't any too much time to get it.
            I ain’t doing much of anything but I get just as much pay as though I had worked hard.  I am afraid I have got in a bad place to learn how to work but I guess I can learn how when I get home again
            From your ever true and affectionate husband c. McDowell
            I hadn’t but just my letter finished when we had orders to move. We are in Washington now waiting for cars to take us to Harpers Ferry. We have got orders to fall in now.
Chapter Eleven
Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley campaign
The Battles of Opequon (or Winchester), Fisher’s Hill and Cedar Creek
To Nancy from Charles:
(Near Berrysville - 22 miles from Harpers Ferry)       Sept the 18-64
Dearest Wife,
             We lay in front of the enemy but there is no fighting on either side, and I guess there won’t be any very quick without they attack us.  All we want is to keep them here at present. 
            We are encamped in the woods. It’s a nice place but we don’t know how long we will stay here.  We are about 22 miles from Harpers Ferry near Berryville.  That letter that had that dollar in ain’t here nor them papers.  I guess that is lost.  I got your letter dated the 11 when we was at Washington.  Carpenter is acting as captain now. 
            You say you was alone.  I know you was lonesome but you must keep up good courage.  I feel in hopes that I shall soon be with you.  Now you had quite a dream.  I would have been glad if it had been true.  You said you didn’t want me to enlist.  You needn’t be scart.  I don’t [I] think shall if you didn’t want me to.  I shouldn’t anyway for all the money they can stack up. 
            From your ever true and affectionate husband C. McDowell

The above was an excerpt from my book and play, Ever True: A Union and His Wife. If you would like to see or present a reading of their letters, contact me at

Monday, June 9, 2014

Civil War Love Letters Written 150 years ago

As we continue to commemorate the 150-year anniversary war, I reread the letters between my great-great grandparents in my book Ever True, published by Heritage Books. Their following letters highlight the Battle of Cold Harbor in June of 1864 (the book also includes a letter from the doctor who amputated my long-ago cousin's arm amputation after the battle). At the battlefield site, a plaque says that the amputations caused blood to seep through the floorboards onto the family who owned the house turned hospital.

June the 6th, 1864
Near Cold Harbor, VA
Dearest Wife
            We have been fighting for most four days.  We was relieved about three hours ago to come to the rear and rest a little, but we have been for three days where we doesn’t stand up a minute without having a dozen bullets sent at us.  The first night we came here, we charged on them and took eleven hundred prisoners.  Some of our boys was so excited when the Rebs jumped upon the parapet, with both hands held up to surrender, that they fired right in them.
            Seward shows himself a man, not a coward.  In the charge he went right in.  He took one rebel with his sword and knocked him head over heels. He got one leg of his pants tore most off.  He looked pretty rough.   
            When we was on the march coming down here, I used to feel sorry for some of the women.  They cried and went on awfully.  The boys would shoot their cattle and chickens and pigs, and everything else, and go right in the house and take anything they wanted.
            Vanderbelt was shot right through the under arm.  It’s pretty bad.  Hank Porter was just shot dead.  I help carry him out.
            I hope they will give us some chance to sleep some tonight.
From your ever true and affectionate husband.
Mrs. Janet Seward:  “On the evening of the 1st of June, while sitting in the twilight, I heard my Husband call ‘Jenny.’  I jumped up, listened, and heard again, ‘Jenny,’ so distinctly that I went into the hall, and again came the voice, ‘Jenny’ so plain I looked over the railing, fully expecting to see him coming up the stairs.  There was no one there, and I went back disappointed, thinking how strange it was.  Afterwards, I found that this occurrence took place at the very hour that he was in the Battle of Cold Harbor, and came very near losing his life.”


June the 19th, 1864

Near Petersburg

Dearest Wife,

            I tell you a soldier’s life is a curious life.  Sometimes we are ordered to halt and put up our tents, and we just get them up, when we are ordered to pack up and leave.  I have seen some of the men drop right down in the middle of the road, they would be so tired.  Sometimes the dust flies so we can’t see a rod ahead of us.

            We was ordered to make a charge yesterday morning, but we got in front of their works and found them rather strong, so we had to fall back.  John Dean was shot through the head when going out of the pit to make some coffee.  He died instantly.  It was a rebel sharp shooter that done it. They are pretty good marksmen.

We had a flag of truce hoisted twice when we was there to have a chance to bury the dead.  We would go half way to meet the Rebs and change newspapers, and they talked very reasonable about the war.  They say if it wasn’t for the officers they would be all right.



Dearest Husband,

            I was very glad to hear from you.   Oh yes, I had almost give you up for dead.   It is all I ask for in the world, that your life may be spared so that you can return home.  I don’t think that anything would make me unhappy when I could have you so near me, and know that you wasn’t in such great danger. But the Lord knows best whether I shall ever see you again or not.

            My cousin Stephen Wager was in that battle [Cold Harbor] and got his right arm shot off. He had it amputated in the shoulder joint.  

            Miss Carry don’t hear anything from her man, as he can’t write. They have the story around that he is wounded.

            I bid you goodbye, hoping to hear from you again.  


Narrator:  Nancy continues to receive Charles’s letters describing his involvement in history-making battles, marches, and the destruction and theft of Confederate property.  

But Charles also writes of the mundane, the kind of information only a wife would be interested to know. Like the time he is living in Southern territory with two Confederate women.



July the 4th, 1864

Dearest Wife,

            I aint where I was last fourth, but we have got a nice place here for a day or two.

            There is two women lives here.  An old woman and a girl, and they cook for us and we fare pretty well.

            Before we guarded the house, other soldiers came before the women was up, and broke in, and took everything they had.  They was left without a thing to eat.  I don’t know what she would do if it wasn’t for us soldiers.  We give them hardtack and coffee.

            Goodbye Nancy.  I wish I was with you today.

            I will now write a few more lines to you.  The fourth is past.  I enjoyed myself very well.  That woman cooked me some more greens and they was good.  If it wasn’t for one thing, I would be most a tempted to strike up a bargain with the girl.  She is a real nice clever girl.


Nancy:  I have just got the letter that you wrote the Fourth of July.  I don’t think purty much of that girl being so clever.  High Thompson, he found some clever ones out there.  The folks says that he has got the clap so that they can’t go in the house because he smells so bad.  They don’t think that he will live long.  They thought he was dead one day.  The doctor had been fixing him.

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