Letters from Civil War Soldiers

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson is going to discuss some of the historical importance to the letters that have been preserved from Civil War soldiers. You'll get to read some excerpts of them as well.


In most places, taking the time to sit down and write a letter to someone seems like ancient history. We call, text, instant message, and email our way through the day instead. But, in reality, it was only a very short time ago that sending a personal letter was a major, if not the only, form of long-distance communication.

This was very true during the U.S. Civil War, a time when the Union was pitted against the Confederacy in American history. Soldiers from both sides of the war would send letters that have taught us much about this time.

Historical Importance

So why bother reading the personal letters of soldiers who have been gone for well over a century?

First, it gives a personal 'face', so to speak, to a war none of us have experienced. It helps us understand what it was like on a deeply personal level. Secondly, and based on their own words, it also reveals that soldiers were almost desperate in their desire to receive letters from home for more than one reason. For instance, a lot of the time the soldiers were encamped and quite bored so receiving, reading, sending and talking about their letters gave them something to do. Additionally, the men didn't want to be forgotten and getting a letter meant you were still remembered by those who mattered most. It kind of stinks to write letters to loved ones but get nothing in reply!

Thirdly, the letters help reveal important historical facts. For example, during the Civil War, the North stopped sending letters to the Confederate states. But, as we know, some letters made it through thanks to blockade evading ships or when the letters went through foreign ports at first. This allowed families stuck on either side of the war to communicate with one another.

Fourth, the letters also reveal how poorly educated some soldiers, especially those from rural America, were. They were often rife with misspellings.

Finally, the letters sometimes reveal, in vivid details, the battles the men fought in, military strategy, and medical care they received.

Correspondence Examples

Let's take a look at some examples of letters from Civil War soldiers to understand what we can learn from them. Here's a great example that showcases how many soldiers had very little education and spelled words the way they heard them:

Dear Mother and family. I will take the pensil to let you know we are all well…Ther was 10 out of our Companny and that was myself and a nother young man, we did not hear the name of the place that they wer going to, but both James and Bob said that they would wright as soon as they wer sitteled that is they would wright home to you, ther is abut 50 sick and wounded…

Note the misspelling and general lack of grammar in the example above.

How about this example? Can you tell what it teaches us about the Civil War?

Well, Miss Han, I will tell you that I and Will has written about a dozen letters since we left home, and received but two or three letters. This is the second one that I have written to you and received no answer.

It tells us how important it was for soldiers to communicate with loved ones. It also teaches us that they sent a ton of letters but didn't always get letters from their family. This wasn't always due to their pleas for letter being ignored either. See, it was very difficult to track down a soldier a letter belonged to if they were always on the move during the war.

How about this part of a letter written by a Civil War soldier? What does it teach you about the war?

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