Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers (Laundress, North)

(This is part of a series of historical fiction letters relating what life was like during the Civil War. For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

From a Laundress (North):

My dear Abigail,

My certificate of good moral standing in hand, I have acquired a place in Minnesota’s 2nd company sharpshooters where Henry has been posted. After so many battles we have lost so many men and Henry prays for their souls every night. Though I hardly think that can help, as God must have left this business of atrocity a long time ago. We suffered a monumental loss at Fredericksburg and our men will surely be missed.

Camp life seems much changed every day with the losses. So many men come to “suds row,” as they call it, to bring us their washing and perhaps bring some extra work for us such as mending or some such injury they wish us to tend. It helps in the way of earning a little extra money so I’ve begun taking on more and more of these small requests.

I think, perhaps, it cheers the men to see us and talk with us the times they are allowed to enter suds row. I think it is more that we remind them of home and a time and place beyond this space of death and sadness.

The men’s spirits are tired and homesick and the weather here is so foreign to us that are used to snow in winter that we don’t quite know how to reconcile it within ourselves. We press onward, to the end ... the end of battle … the end of life … the end of war … we know not what our end is yet to be, but after Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, we can’t forget the fragile hold mortality has upon us.

Having come along for war, I had expected battle–but nothing like what we’ve seen. The horrors are such that I cannot begin to describe them and I have not the stomach to do so without dissolving into a fit of nerves for my dear Henry, the weary man I love and the soldier whom our children idolize for his bravery and courage. I pray for his safety with my every waking minute.

Sending you all my love,
Mary Johnson

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers (Lady of the Evening, South)

(This is part of a series of historical fiction letters relating what life was like during the Civil War. For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

From a Lady of the Evening (South):

Dear Evangeline,

Having been displaced by the war and my dear William shot dead by the Yankee soldiers, I have no recourse but to follow the confederate army as they fight for land that is rightfully ours, but which has been taken by the dirty Yankees.

I have no other means of surviving and I pray to God that he will forgive me my sins on the day of judgment for what I am forced to live with in order to survive. I have made the acquaintance of several handsome officers and have captured the eye of a general. He dresses me in fine clothes and has given me money to send my dear little Emily to you. I shall come when I have the means to do so, but in the time remaining, I fear I must stay here and live the life I have reconciled myself to.

The general is a kind, jealous man, for which I am eternally grateful, since he does not allow any other man to share my favors. I get paid handsomely for not turning to other men for sources of income and for that I am thankful, for I cannot imagine how I should live with myself after my part in this mutant beast is finished – though I fear I will have a hard enough time of it as it is.

My only prayer is that Emily should not be tainted by this horror to which I am degraded to. I pray she does not start to loathe me for it, for it is for her I am doing such things.

I am shamed beyond all imagining at the fate to which I have been put to and I can begin to understand the desperation that drives these young women towards this fate. I pray you do not shun me for this decision, dear sister.

Forever yours,
Georgia Buchanan

Monday, June 10, 2013

Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers (Emancipated Slave, North)

(This is part of a series of historical fiction letters relating what life was like during the Civil War. For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

I have a quick note on this particular letter before you read it. I deliberately formatted this letter to reflect the character and life behind that of an emancipated slave. The spelling mistakes (with clarifying brackets in some places meant for your understanding), single-paragraph usage, and all, are purposeful. I hope you enjoy it!

From an Emancipated Slave (North):

My der famly,

It sems lik sich a long tim[e] since I've seen yu. My hart aches te see yer lovly faces agin. I's ritin yu dis leter. Der is a small girl who teches us new free men to read an write our leters. She use te be a slave for a gran lady who died rite befor the yoonyin soliers cam an got us free. I bin hopin dey let me fite for em but dey says dey aint got tim[e] to tech us contraban how te fite sinse dem rebs breathin down deys neck an dems runnin an movin all de tim[e]. But I's follow dem anywher sinse deys give me what a man should have from de day o his birth. I's a free man an I aim te git yall free to. Ders a kin yoonyin man her[e] dat show me a map an I askd him wher yall was. He says we not to far from yall but dat reb army is standin in de way an I ask him why I's not abl te fite fer de on[e]s I lov an he says he thunk it woud help but de comander don wan us getin guns. All I [k]nows is dis, dat I's cumin te git yall soon.

Wit lov, yur husban and fathr,
Toby Smith

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers (Southern Officer's Wife)

(This is part of a series of historical fiction letters relating what life was like during the Civil War. For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

From a Southern Officer's Wife:

 My darling Emily,

Things seem quite bleak on the front. The men are always struggling to keep dry and fed, though weapon supplies seem to be of no shortage. After the last battle in Gettysburg, I was frantic in my panic to find if my son and husband were still alive; I finally reconciled myself to visiting the farm house which had been converted into a hospital.

Oh, Emily! Such a sight met my eyes as one who was sane surely could not imagine! There was no inch of space unoccupied with dirt-spattered, bloodied men – most missing limbs from their various persons. I find myself paling at the memory even now, so awful was it – I fear the image has been engraved into my mind forever more and I shall take it to my grave still wailing and bemoaning the horrors of war.

I steeled myself to enter, all the while thinking to myself – By God! If these boys can march into the mouth of death and back, I most certainly will enter this hospital and find my boy and husband! Looking at face after face, my heart sunk with the hopelessness of the place – would no end to this dreadful war ever come?

After hours of searching with no luck of finding either of my brave, foolish men, I passed by the cot of a young boy who couldn’t have reached his seventeenth year yet. He reached out and captured my hand in a grip that defied death itself. His hold on me was so tight I feared that I might not be able to use it again and I felt all feeling swiftly retreating from my hand almost immediately. His blood stained my skin and his mouth moved as if he wanted to say something to me. I leaned down real close, but as I did so, he suddenly choked on death and it conquered him, leaving him staring up at me with big glass eyes filled with a terror so acute I scarce could move for a long while afterwards. It took two nurses to help me pry away his cold fingers from my hand and the regaining of feeling in that part of my body only served to remind me that he would never feel anything again. I wonder who he was and if his family will ever know of his death.

With tears in my eyes, I returned to camp to find my husband there, a weary and heart-sore general that mourned for all his lost men as if they were his own boys. His eyes met mine and I saw a greater horror in them than such as were surely in mine. And I knew, without him speaking of it ... I knew that my boy would not return to me just as that young boy in the hospital would never return to his mother.

With love in these darkest of days,
Isabelle Harrison

Monday, June 3, 2013

Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers (Northern General's Wife)

(This is part of a series of historical fiction letters relating what life was like during the Civil War. For an explanation of this series, please click here.)

From a Northern General's Wife:

My dearest Hannah,

I was so filled with pleasure at your last letter I’m afraid I startled poor Ulys with my sudden exclamation of delight. To hear of all the exploits of his father in the tanner’s shop made him smile, as nothing previously has done so. It made me want to dance with joy, for I’ve sorely missed seeing his handsome smile.

He has been through such a trial these past years of war, having been sent back into the fray by Lincoln. He comes back to me after battle with more cares on his shoulders than I've ever seen on anyone before this wearying war started. He puts on a brave face for me and the children, but I see through it since we have been in each other’s company as often as possible since our happy marriage day. I try to do everything that I can to ease his burden, but the weariness in the set of his shoulders gets heavier every day and my heart aches for him.

The children love being here, however awful it may seem sometimes, for they claim that they love seeing their dear father and mother rather than staying away from us for so long a time. It gives Ulys great joy in seeing their carefree, happy faces when he walks into the room.

As for me, I cannot bear to be parted with him, as you have suggested in begging me to come home to you. Poor Ulys admits he gets so lonely without me, and the children are such a comfort to him. The men have confessed to his drinking something awful when I am parted from him and I dare say he has become so dependent on my company that I cannot leave him, in all honesty, for fear of more losses on the front.

Do not fret yourself, dear Hannah, for your son is perfectly all right. We are simply surviving these bleak years; though I fear things may never be the same when we return.

With all my love and regards,
Julia Grant

Remembering 1861: the Sesquicentennial

As many of you are aware (and for those that aren't - either from a lack of news or lack of being a U.S. citizen [it's okay, we still love you!]), the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Civil War is happening right now. (If you want to check out some commemorative events going on right now, check out the Civil War Trust's website.)

I took a Civil War Literature course in university and I will never have enough words to convey how tragically awe-inspiring it was to study such a historic event in my country's history. Yes, there have certainly been plenty of events in my country's past that I've studied outside of school (what can I say, I'm a geek like that); but the Civil War truly touched the inner historian in me as no other historical event had previously dared.

I was sitting in class one day as we were reading Ambrose Bierce (if you ever get a chance to read his work, do it, he's phenomenal). As we were discussing his work in detail and depth, I swore that I could hear the sounds of battle and the tramping sound of feet running past me as cannons blasted nearby.

Maybe it was just my overactive imagination, but it made me think about time and how things that happened years in the past are still things that matter in the present.

In honor of this anniversary, I'd like to share with you part of my final project for the class. You won't be able to get all of it; I wrote and filmed a documentary-like narrative entitled "Voices of the Civil War: Camp Followers." 

I did a lot of research for this project and tried to keep everything as real as I could make it, so it's technically a work of historical fiction. I'll share the written aspect of the script and hopefully you'll get to experience a small taste of what living in America during the Civil War was like. 

You'll find links to each promised "letter" from the Civil War below (as I post them).