Civil War Letters Are A Mystery

You hit a lot of brick walls when you try to dig into your families past. There were secrets they never spoke about and in the grind of daily life most didn’t leave diaries or personal histories; unless you’re into genealogy most of us don’t have diaries or personal journals. Every once in while though you find something you didn’t expect to find and renews your excitement in genealogy.

This happened to me a few days ago. I was going through a drawer in a cabinet in my late mother’s place and found a large manila envelope. There wasn’t anything written on it but I opened it anyway. Inside I found several copies of a newspaper from 1801 and copies of letters written during the civil war.

The letters are written by two brothers, 19 year old John and 18 year old brother Joseph Thompson, who joined the Illinois 38th Infantry, company B in 1861. The first letters are written from Camp Butler. The letters are all written by John; all but one letter from Joseph are written while he is at a hospital recovering from wounds to his arm and chest – prior to that it is always John who writes on behalf of both the brothers.

The letters from John contain the expected descriptions of battles he’s been in, he talks about beating the secessionist back and how he believes the war will end soon. He seems to enjoy army life for the most part; he doesn’t really complain about anything except the mail and how he isn’t getting regular letters from home. Perhaps my favorite letter is one dated August 28, 1863, just few months before he is killed in the battle of Chickamauga. In it he plays the role of protective big brother telling his sister, “I want  you to quit writing to William Pearson for he don’t think anything of you and he burns every that he gets from you as quick as he gets them and then says that he wouldn’t give a dam for no such letters.”  

I have no idea yet exactly why we have these letters; I suspect they used to belong to my great grandmother whose married name was Thompson. It something I will have trying to determine.

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