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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