The Civil War

Letters from Home

Background Information

The American Civil War, which began in 1861, was a result of a great divide between American states. The primary means of communication during this time was the written word. Soldiers and their families often wrote back and forth, allowing the roles of both civilians and those who fought in the war to be well-documented today. Soldiers could be known to write and read letters to loved ones during breaks from battle, and letters and journals can be traced back to the very beginning of the war. Despite differences between the northern and southern states, both sought to keep in touch with their families throughout the course of the war.


"It went hard to see him go…for he is more than life to me. When he told me that he had enlisted, I felt an indescribable heaviness in my heart…. We prayed earnestly over it. I became calm & felt more resigned, at times still I am overcome, tears relieve me very much, my heart always seems lighter after weeping freely[.] In daytime I get along very well but the nights seem very long."

--Rachel Bowman of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in a journal entry about her husband


This letter was written in September of 1862 by Rachel Bowman following her husband's enlistment in the Sulenbergers Cavalry company. This letter is similar to many others during the time period in their shared themes of loneliness and despair at the initial thought of their loved ones fighting in the war. Families often suffered following the sudden loss of loved ones and found it quite difficult to adapt to these changes. Written from the Union state of Pennsylvania, this letter demonstrates how difficult it could be to let one's family go to war.


"Honored Sir…I come with a request trusting that out of the goodness of your heart you will grant it. It is but a breath to you. While to me [it is] as life and death. I beg you for the discharge of my Husband…. He has faithfully served our common cause for eighteen long months, while I have struggled with sickness and poverty at times[.] I can do that no longer, for I am sick—dying, for the sight of that dear face[.] I can labor no more and I could starve [for] I am alone and friendless."

--Hattie L. Carr of North Evans, New York in a letter to Abraham Lincoln


This excerpt was taken from a letter written in January of 1864 by a grieving wife who wished for her husband to be discharged from his service in the war. She laments her sickness and poverty following her husband's enlistment, going so far as to write a letter to the President of the United States simply to ask for her husband to return home. This letter demonstrates the numerous emotional and physical tolls that the war had upon those who had family members taken from them. It has also been shown that several distressed wives wrote to political figures asking for help during this time.

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"My opinion of the war is that it is an abolition war got up for the purpose of abolishing slavery and that God is its author…. and the object is to abolish slavery and punish the nation for its sins, especially that of slavery and to install the black man in to his natural and inalienable rights, and the sooner the government [and] army recognize this aspect and act upon it the sooner we will have peace…. But if we as a nation refuse to acknowledge the rights of the black man then it may cost us our national existence."

--Henry A. Ritner in a letter to his son Jacob, a captain in the First Iowa Infantry


This letter, written from father to son, expresses one of the large variety of opinions that were held regarding the war. Henry A. Ritner, who was writing to his son in the First Iowa Infantry, was not the only person to express his political beliefs on the war and slavery through letters. It was quite common during the time to write letters sharing opinions surrounding political and military matters. Ritner addresses the institution of slavery in this excerpt, stating that "refusing to acknowledge the rights of the black man" could cost the country its "national existence."


"Diaries and Letters from Home." Gale Library of Daily Life: American Civil War. Ed. Steven E. Woodworth. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2008. 168-171. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 May 2013.

"Literature: Civil War and American Letters." American Eras. Vol. 7: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 32-34. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 May 2013.

Zboray, Ronald J., and Mary Saracino Zboray. "Letters." American History Through Literature 1820-1870. Ed. Janet Gabler-Hover and Robert Sattelmeyer. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. 644-648. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 May 2013.