Civil War-era photograph of an unidentified woman (Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress. http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ppmsca.26993/ )
I love a good war story, but if I am honest the military details are not what captures my attention. For me, a story comes alive when it is told in the context of personal relationships – and romantic relationships in particular.
Enter the Archives of Michigan. We have numerous Civil War letters digitized and available on seekingmichigan.org. They can be found in “Discover,” under “Civil War Manuscripts.” The letters contain details of battles and regimental movements, but they also provide unique insight into how soldiers cultivate and maintain personal relationships. Some of these personal relationships are of a romantic nature.
Leonard G. Loomis’ Civil War letters provide a case in point (The Archives of Michigan houses transcripts of Loomis’ letters.). During his service in Company E of the 42nd Ohio Infantry, Leonard frequently writes to Miss Elizabeth Abbott of Bryon, Michigan. His correspondence with Elizabeth begins in friendship but develops into a stronger attachment. At first he addresses her as “Miss Abbot.” As time goes on, she becomes “Dear Friend,” then “Dearest Elizabeth.”
Pictures are exchanged between Leonard and Elizabeth, another sign of their deepening relationship. He writes, “I did not feel like going away without leaving some token of regard for you.” Upon receiving her picture, he states that “you have indeed conferred a great favor on one who never before had the impudence to ask a young lady for her likeness” (To read more, click full transcript of this letter.).
Among his travel descriptions and experiences at camp, Leonard expresses his longing for Elizabeth’s company. “There had not been a day passed, but what you have been remembered,” he writes. He adds that “many times have I taken a picture out of my pocket, looked at it and wished that we might soon be where at least friendly correspondence might be carried on.” (To read more, click full transcript of this letter.).
Nothing makes the Civil War more real to me than reading through letters like Leonard’s. Here is a devoted Union soldier during the siege of Vicksburg, writing about his experiences, thoughts, and feeling regarding the war to the girl back home. A straight forward military history will explain the events that transpired during the siege of Vicksburg – the who, what, when, where and how – but not what Vicksburg looked like from the swamps or how it felt to walk around the city after it surrendered. These letters are an amazing resource as soldiers shared their personal experiences with their loved ones. I only hope that you can find a story that captures your interests and pulls at your heartstrings as Leonard’s did for me.
The reverse side of the photo above (Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.26992 )