Civil War Letters

and their contribution to our understandment

Letters and Their Importance

Thanks to the number of surviving letters, the daily life of Civil War soldiers and civilians are well documented. These letters were a source of emotional support; enlisted men's wives, children, and parents asked for advice, prayed for loved ones' safety, and reported news of families and friends. They help show us the hardships Americans faced, and the toll the war took on their lives.

January of 1864, Hattie L. Carr of New York pleads to Abraham Lincoln

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. (Seidman 2001, p. 125)

This letter exemplifies the absence of men from their families. Many women counted on their husbands as providers and helpers in the home. It also shows how desperate people were for their families to be back together again.

Female family members write and embroider
With mail delivery operating slowly, but regularly, troops looked forward to news they received from home. Many of the letters expressed not only affection for the distant soldier, but also details of hardships family members endured in the absence of fathers, sons, and husbands.

Union soldier Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah on July 14, 1861.

If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready…. My courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

This letter shows how strong patriotism was. Sullivan Ballou was willing to sacrifice his live for the sake of the Union, making him an honorable and respectable man. As much as they missed their families, soldiers were still willing to risk their lives for the benefit of the Union.