Soldiers Write Revealing Letters Home

June 8, 1862/2012
Volume 3, Issue 23 (87 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

“Of bombardments, observation balloons, and Union soldiers guards for Rebel mother and children as ‘humanity demands'”

On June 8, 1862, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, wrote home from near Mechanicsville, Virginia:

Elisha Hunt Rhodes, circa 1863

Elisha Hunt Rhodes, circa 1863

“Sunday has come again, and it is unusually quiet. The cannonading which has been continuous for the past week is hushed today as if in reverence. For a week we have had queer weather. The mornings have been pleasant, but towards night we have had terrific thunder storms with heavy rains, and the men sleep in wet clothing. I wonder that we are not all sick. . . . The balloon goes up every day, and the prisoners say that the people of Richmond stand upon the street corners and watch its movement. The Rebels occasionally fire a shell at it but have not succeeded in reaching it as yet. Yesterday a heavy Battery opened on the Rebel works. In a house or shanty near our camp lives a woman with her daughter and two small sons. Her oldest is in the Rebel Army. She asked for a guard, and I went over with a corporal and a guard to investigate. They were very much alarmed and said they were afraid of our men. I left the guard. This is a sample of what we are doing in Virginia. The men are fighting against their country, and we are guarding their families and even feeding them. But humanity demands this much. . . .

– Submitted by Bill Halainen, Milford, Pennsylvania

SOURCE

Excerpted from All For The Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Vintage Civil War Library.


A Tempted Soldier Condemns Soldiers’ Morals but Praises Their Bravery

On June 13, 1862, Aldis O. Brainerd of St. Albans, Vermont wrote to his sister from near Richmond, Virginia. Brainert had resigned as quartermaster of the Fifth Vermont Infantry the previous month following an extended illness, but had returned to the battlefront as a civilian to work as a volunteer.

Dear Sister

I received your Kind Letter . . . I have not been very tuff sence I returned   not very smart to day . . . it is now tremendous hot and takes the strength all away   I have had a very pleasant time for the last 10 or 12 Days roaming around and seeing and learning what I can   I have [been] over the Batle fields but could not find any thing but old Guns & clothes but if we have another big fight I mean to go on the

Aldis O. Brainerd, courtesy Vermont Historical Society

Aldis O. Brainerd, courtesy Vermont Historical Society

ground as soon as it is over and see what I can find  . . . I sometimes think we shall be in R[ichmond] within 3 or 4 Days and at other times I think it will take a Month   I mean to stay buy for some days and see   my intentions are to go into R with the rest but if it takes all summer I think I shall go home . . . I am now willing to help what I can without pay from U.S. . . . there are many things about the Army that is verry unpleasant   the Society is so degrading   I hope that I may soon forget that part   I never realized so fulley the want of good moral and refined society as I have since my return   there is no restraint on man here and there seems to be no fear of man or God   I would not stay in the Army one year longer for any amt   I do not speak of any particular part of the Army as there seems to be but little difference   the Vtrs are as bad as any   do not make this part of my letter public but one thing I will say in the praise of the Vermonters   they are as good Soldiers as there are in the Army and I think no braver men than the Vtrs can be found . . . I have had the opertunity to see much of human nature sence I have been hear and learnt much   . . . I shall be glad to see the end of this war   oh what a sacrifice of life   think of the thousands that die from disease & of others that fall from the sword & ball slaughtered in every way. We get hardend to it here & while one is well he can get along but when sick there is but a small chance for comfortable quarters and no Friends to take care of them   it makes but little difference how many Friends he has in the army they cannot go along with the sick. . . .

your Dear Brother

Aldis . . .

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director

SOURCE

A War of the People, Vermont Civil War Letters, Jeffrey D. Marshall, ed., pp. 82-84.

INTERESTING LINKS

Vermonters in the Civil War, The University of Vermont Libraries, Center for Digital Initiatives

Vermont soldiers in the Civil War wrote an enormous quantity of letters and diaries, of which many thousands have survived in libraries, historical societies, and in private hands. This collection represents a selection of letters and diaries from the University of Vermont and the Vermont Historical Society.

A Vermont Hill Town in the Civil War: Peacham’s Story

A comprehensive history of Peacham in the Civil War, this book records the contributions and sacrifices of Peacham’s soldiers and families. The book features previously unpublished letters, diaries, personal recollections, and a rich array of period photographs and images. The Vermont Humanities Council helped fund Peacham’s effort to document, exhibit, and share the Civil War history of the town.

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