Civil War



Civil War soldiers spent the overwhelming majority of their time in camp, fighting boredom and loneliness. The men had ample time to fill, spending about 50 days in camp for every 1 day in battle. Encampments stretched for weeks at a time over the winter, when bad weather made the logistics for launching and sustaining a campaign too difficult an undertaking. Military drill occupied several hours each day over the winter, weather permitting. Otherwise, soldiers were left to entertain themselves. Soldiers filled the time by writing letters, singing songs, thinking about food, and playing baseball, cards, and other sports and games.

3 February 1863

In the following letter, Union Corporal Frederick Pettit describes camp life around Fredericksburg, Virginia. A 20-year-old man living on the family farm, Pettit had enlisted in the 100th Pennsylvania during the late summer of 1862.

Dear parents, brothers, and sisters:

As I am at a loss for employment on this cold day I will commence writing you a letter. Now don't think because it is to all of you that no one need answer it, but all answer it. Let each one write a little at least no difference how poorly. The last letter I received from you was written by mother and Margaret Jan. 23rd. There were several things in it I forgot to mention in Mag's letter, and first I must say I did receive a Christmas present in a letter from you. All I can say of it is that it was small but sweet. I was glad to hear in mother's that Albert had commenced to read small words. I think he will soon be able to write me that letter. You must be taking uncommon interest in the school this winter. I think you are very fortunate in getting a good teacher. How are Wirtenberg, Hope Dale, and the other schools getting along?

Our hardest work is getting wood. We carry most of it half a mile. Though when not too stormy it is good exercise.

Lieutenant Critchlow told me there are 2 pounds of butter on the way for me. He said he received the key of the box Sunday night. He did not say who sent it but I think I can guess. It will be a great luxury for me when I get it.
None of [us] have received any word of our books except what Mag. wrote, but we suppose you intend to send them. We can buy many things at the sutlers here but they are very dear. Butter 50 and 60 cts per lb. Sugar 20 to 30 cts and scarce, ham 25 to 30 cts. Dried Beef 20 cts lb. Air tight peaches and tomatoes in quart cans from 75 cts to $1.00. As a soldiers pay is but $13.00 per month you can calculate how many of the luxuries he can afford to buy. Bread sells at 25 cts per lb., and crackers and cakes about the same. We can get plenty of newspapers here but they cost 10 cts apiece.

I cannot think of anything more that would interest you. Write soon a long letter.

Pettit was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter outside Petersburg, Virginia, two years later.


In this letter, Pettit does not have much to write about his everyday life in the army displaying how uneventful military life could be. He also shows his grieving from being away from his family when asking each person if they could write something to him, no matter how small. His military experience was lonely and Frederick Pettit used letters to connect with his distant family.

10 May 1863

In the following letter J.C. Morris wrote his wife, Amanda, while in Camp somewhere near Lanjer, Arkansas.

My Dear Amanda,

It has been a long time since I had an opportunity of writing to you, and I gladly avail myself of the present opportunity. I am not certain that I will have a chance of sending this but I will write a few lines any how and try and get it off to let you know that I am among the living.

We have been on a raid into Ms. but I have not time to give you the particulars of our trip. I will write in a few days if I can get a chance to send it and write you a long one. I just came off of picket and found the boys all writing to send by a man that has been discharged who is going to start home this morning. I was quite sick three or four days while in Mo. but have entirely recovered. We captured a good many prisoners while in Mo. and killed a good many. We went up as high as Jackson 8 or 10 miles above Cape Girardeau. We fought them nearly all day at the Cape on Sunday two weeks ago today. The yanks boasted that we would never get back to Ark but they were badly mistaken, for we are back again and have sustained but very light loss, we never lost a man out of our company and only one or two out of the regt. I wish I had time to give you a full description of our trip. It would be very interesting to you I know; but you will have to put up with this little scrawl for the present. I am in hopes that I will get a whole package of letters from you in a few days. I never wanted to see you half as bad in all my life as I do now. I would give anything in the world to see you and the children. I have no idea when I will have that pleasure. We can't get any news here - do not know what is going on in the outside world. The boys will all write as soon as they get a chance to send them off.

We will remain in this vicinity, I expect for some time to recruit our horses. Our horses are sadly worsted. We found plenty to eat and to feed our horses on in Mo but hardly even had time to feed or eat as we traveled almost insesantly night and day. We could get any amount of bacon of the very best kind at 10 cts and every thing else in proportion.

I must close for fear I do not get to send my letter off. Write offten I will get them some time. I will write every chance, do not be uneasy when you do not get letters, for when we are scouting around as we have been it is impossible to write or to send them off if we did write. Give my love to the old Lady and all the friends. My love and a thousand kisses to my own sweet Amanda and our little boys. How my heart yearns for thou that are so near and dear to me. Goodbye my own sweet wife, for the present. Direct to Little Rock as ---.

As ever your devoted and loving Husband, J.C. Morris.

Mrs. A.N. Morris.


This letter shows how J.C. Morris misses his wife and children. When he says, "I am in hopes that I will get a whole package of letters from you in a few days. I never wanted to see you half as bad in all my life as I do now. I would give anything in the world to see you and the children. I have no idea when I will have that pleasure," he shows his desperation to be home. Also when he writes, "We can't get any news here - do not know what is going on in the outside world," it shows how lonely the life can be, almost isolated from the outside world. Morris uses letters to communicate with his family to both let them know that he is well and alive and to recieve news of life at home.

1 November 1863

The following is a letter from Harvey Black to his wife Mary, whom he affectionately calls 'Mollie.' It was written while he was stationed at Brandy Station, Virginia.

My dear Mollie

I rcd a letter today from a very handsome lady to play cupid. Although not accompanied by her likeness yet her image was so indelibly impressed upon my mind that the likeness itself could not recall the features more vividly than they are impressed. I first met her in a village in Western Va when I was about 17 years old and she 8. I afterwards saw her frequently and occasionally was in her company, and nonwithstanding the disparity of our ages, I became so favorably impressed with her fair face and gentle manners that I frequently said to myself that I wished she was older or I younger.

In 3 to 4 years she had grown so much that the disparity in age seemed to grow less. Never did a lady witness the budding of a flower with more requisite pleasure than did I the budding of that pretty little girl into womanhood. She made much of my thoughts while in Mexico and more upon my return home. While at the University of Va., I not infrequently found my thoughts wandering from the dry textbook to contemplate by the aid of memory the features and form of this little girl.

After I completed my studies, I traveled in the west and expected to find a home in some western state, but not finding a place to suit me, together with the persuasions of that fair face, induced me to return.

I entered, as you know, actively into the pursuit of my profession with the determination to make at least a fair reputation and tried to withdraw my thought from everything else, but I found this little fairy constantly and pleasantly intruding into all my plans, whether of pleasure or interest. At this period she met me politely and respectfully but seemed to grow more distant, coy & reserved, so that I frequently thought that even the ordinary attentions of common politeness & courtesy were no special source of pleasure to her.

In a few instances when she has arrived at about the age of 15 this shyness and reserve seemed to be forgotten, and I would pass an hour or two in the enjoyment of her company with great pleasure to myself and I imagined with at least satisfaction, if not enjoyment, to her. I began to think that my happiness was identified with hers. I began to pay her special visits or at least seek opportunities by which I might be in her company. I sought her society on pleasure rides and thought it not a hardship to ride 65 miles in 24 hours if part of the time might be spent with her. She always exhibited or observed the decorum of modest reserve which might be construed into neither encouragement nor discouragement.

After the delibertation & reflection which I thought due to a matter which involved my happiness for life, I felt that her destiny and mine were probably intended to be united, and that all the adverse counsel which I could give myself could bring no objections. I felt that I ought both as a matter of duty and happiness give my whole life to her, who for 9 years had my attention and devotion, though concealed love.

After a few little billets and interviews, and with a full declaration of the love I desired to bestow, I received a measured and loving response and was made most happy in the anticipation of the celebration of the nuptials fixed at some 6 months hence. This time glided nicely & happily, though not too rapidly, away from me. The hours of leisure were spent with her and my visits were always welcomed with that cordial welcome, that maiden modesty, so much to be admired. Tis true that on one occasion she did rest her elbow upon my knee and look with confidential pleasure in my face and made me realize that indeed I had her whole heart.

Suffice it to say, the happy day of our marriage arrived and since then, hours, days, and years of time, confidence & happiness passed rapidly away, and only to make us feel that happy as were the hours of youthful days, they compare not with those of later years and perhaps even these may not be equal to that which is in reserve for us.

I dont know how much pleasure it affords you to go over these days of the past, but to me they will ever be remembered as days of felicity. And how happy the thought that years increase the affection & esteem we have for each other to love & be loved. May it ever be so, and may I ever be a husband worthy of your warmest affections. May I make you happy and in so doing be made happy in return. A sweet kiss and embrace to your greeting.

But maybe you will say it looks ridiculous to see a man getting grayhaired to be writing love letters, so I will use the remnant of my paper otherwise...

Yours affectionately H Black


In the letter, Harvey Black is writing to his wife, telling the tale of their first encounter and his captivation with her since then. He talks about how happy she has made him and how he hopes that he is worthy of her love. This letter shows how deeply he misses her, bringing out his sentimentality. Letters made it possible for him to feel close to her whenever loneliness pervaded through the camps.


Brown, Ray, and Lawerence Kreiser. "Frederick Pettit's Letter to His Family (February 3, 1863)." Daily Life through History. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 6 May 2013.

"Civil War Love Letters-- Harvey Black." Special Collections, University Libraries, Virginia Tech. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2013.

"Civil War Love Letters--J.C. Morris." Special Collections, University Libraries, Virginia Tech. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2013.