Letters Home . . .
Last week, we featured a letter-writing activity, utilizing common Civil War soldier expressions. To follow are the transcriptions of four real letters written home by Civil War soldiers. These can be utilized in your Language Arts curriculum for reading comprehension, and analysis.
Please note: All three of these soldiers died at the battle of Gettysburg, and are buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery there. Some of the content may not be suitable for 5th graders, so be sure to preview them. In addition, if any of your students have or had a parent or loved one in a military war zone, Letters 2 and 4 may not be suitable.
Some things to ask or note with your students before you assign the letters (or, better yet, have them read aloud in class):
● The original spelling, grammar and punctuation has been preserved in these transcriptions.
● Look for the family perspective for each soldier. Think about how this might affect their main subject matter, and level of detail about their war experiences. (One is written from father to son, one from brother to brother, and one from son to mother.)
● Think about the following as you read (or listen to) the letters: What is the main intent, or the main theme, of each letter? How are they alike, and how are they different? Do the authors provide any clues as to why they are fighting in the war?
I well know you are young yet to know the duty a son ot to have toward his father, but neveraless you are old a nuff to know from the learning that you have already got that you ot to respect your father and write a letter every week or so. Know you my son if I am far away from you that I love you and your little brother John just as much as if I was with you, but God only knows weather I will ever see either of your faces again in this world.
But my dear children I want you to be good and kind to all and go to Church as often as you can and take your little brother with you and learn him to love God and then if it is the will of God that your father don’t live to return home to you – if you be good boys the same God that taked your father from you will bless you and you both will be grate men in this world and when you die the same God will take you to his bosom where you will be happy for ever – and your kind father will pray for your good welfare as long as he lives to do so. I have been in many dangers since I left you but I put my [whole] trust in God and he had spared my life while a grate many brave men was killed by my side and I was spared.
But there are another grate battle to be fought in a few days again and your father will be in it without any doubt, and the will of God be done – and if your father falls it will be at the head of his brave company and for the Union and the peace of our Country. My dear children I will to a close by asking you to always be true to your Country as your father has ever will be.
And I pray God will bless my two sons and guide them through this world and at their death take them to heaven where troubles will end.
– Sergeant Isaac S. Osborne, 62nd Pennsylvania Infantry, date unknown
Jan. 20, 1863
I received a letter from you dated Jan. 15th, which I have not yet answered. Since we last saw each other you have no doubt altered much from what you were but I never think of you as anybody beside white-haired, rosy-cheeked Charly, busy whittling or poking around, fishpole in hand, seeking a bite or hoeing corn, fully determined not to be outdone by those who were much older and stronger than yourself. Those were happy days though we sometimes did not realize it and their memories are pleasant though we know they will not again return.
I hope you will frequently ask yourself whether or not you have been growing better and wiser as you have been growing older. Never become discouraged at your lot but by courage and perseverance be fully resolved to conquer every difficulty . . .
Above all look to God through Jesus for strength and guidance . . . God willing, I hope to meet you again on earth but on the other hand I know that you may some day hear that Philip is dead and know that I have fallen in battle and been buried in a strange land where you may never see my grave but hoping for different things, I bid you goodbye.
God be with thee, my brother,
– Sergeant Philip Rice Hamlin, First Minnesota Infantry
Camp near Harrissons Landing
July 15th 1862
I wrote to you a few days ago but as we have been paid off since I thought I would not wait for an answer but write a few lines for the sake of getting the money home as I know you must want it by this time. I suppose you buy your flour
by the barrel as it is cheaper a great deal than to buy it by the little as you want it along. I suppose Albert had plenty of fire works on the 4th of July if you could get them and Lewis too I suppose they had a good time up to the celebration on the 4th had fire works perhaps if they had any money in Salem to buy them with, for my part I heard about noise enough on the 4th to suit my ear, in the first place early in the morning the rebels sent out two big guns and a detachment of 500 men to support them and commenced shelling us one of our batteries returned the fire, while, under cover of the firing a detachment of men went through the woods and got in the rear of the rebels taking them all prisoners that discomforted the rebels and they fell back 2 or 3 miles out of danger after that the Gunboats fired a national salute of 101 guns besides 1 or two batteries of field pieces which made some noise . . .
But I must draw my letter to a close as it’s getting late and I want to mail this one tonight. I have wrote to Lewis and in his letter I spoke about a box being sent if you can send it I wold like it very much. If you send it do not put in any thing that will spoil like meat or soft cake but just things as I spoke about in his letter you may also send me a pair of Suspenders. Enclosed you will find a check as before, so good by
From your Son,
William T. Ambler
— Sergeant William T. Ambler, 57th New York Infantry
Almost exactly a year later, William Ambler’s mom received the following letter . . .
Camp 57th Regt. N.Y. Vols
July 17th 1863
Mrs. Mary A. Ambler
It is with most painful feelings, that I inform you of the death of our beloved Willie. He was killed instantly at the battle of Gettysburgh, by a solid shot entering his right shoulder and passing through his left side. He was gallantly performing his duty, and died as a soldier should die, beloved by those in command over him, and by those he commanded. He was always prompt, to do his duty, and although he enlisted as a private, he had risen to fill the position of a Sergeant, and was in a fair way of promotion. His company and officers sympathise with you in your loss, and will always remember Willie as a true and fine soldier in the support of our Glorious Country. It will be a matter of great satisfaction to you to know that we took possession of his body, and buried him in a soldiers grave, in the presence of his Cousin Liet. Meade of the 4th Michigan Vols.
Willie had some money in his possession, but before we recovered his body, the enemy had taken it from his pockets. His watch and C [chain] I delivered to Lieut. Meade, who will see that you get them. I would have written before, but this is the first opportunity that has offered. As soon as we reach camp, I shall arrange matters so that you can get pay, bounty, and pension.
Hoping that you will meet your loss with Christian resignation, and that you may feel that Willie died in a good cause, while protecting the Stars and Stripes.
I remain your Obedient Servant
Lieutenant commanding Co. D
57th Regt. N.Y.V.
Next week, for The Civil War and Language Arts, Part 3 . . . we will feature several examples of Civil War Era Poetry, and how you might use those examples with your students.