This blog is a publication of some of the thousands of letters written to hometown newspapers from the soldiers and sailors serving the Union during the American Civil War. The 19th century was an era when much of the news was cribbed from other newspapers, particularly from those publications in large urban areas that had access to news and information from government officials, business men, and other travelers. To have access to “News from the Front” was a brand new concept and given the high rate of literacy, in the Northern States in particular, just about every soldier from Private on up to General had the ability to share their experiences with their home front.
At the outset of the war the letters home came fast and furious. This was the “grand adventure” for many of these young men whose lives as students, tradesmen, craftsmen, merchants, laborers and farmers were interrupted to preserve the Union. With little to do in camp but drill and fatigue duty, there was plenty of time and opportunity to write letters home to family, friends and the local newspaper editor. As the war moved into a more active phase, the opportunity to write letters lessened, and during times of peak activity, letters were hardly sent at all. The number of letters written in 1861 is extraordinary, and a newspaper that printed 3, 4 or 5 such letters in one issue was not uncommon. By the time General Grant begins his Overland Campaign in 1864 the number of letters home has dropped to almost none. Soldiers just don’t have the time or energy to write as many letters as they had at the beginning of the war.
While some of these letters formed the basis for post-war regimental or personal histories, many have never been published before. It is also important to note that for the foreseeable future, the letters featured will all have been printed in Massachusetts newspapers, of which there were a considerable number in print during the Civil War.