Update to a Surprising Find

Not too long ago I posted a story about how I had come across letters from the civil war in some of my mother’s old things and how I had no idea how my family connected to the author of the letters. In researching this little mystery I’ve discovered that what I have are not copies of the letters themselves, but copies of the letters made by the person who holds the actual letters.
Mike found the letters in a manner similar to me except that his mother was alive when he found the letters. Unfortunately he never got around to asking his mother why the family had the letters. The letters are, as you might expect, fragile and Mike is reluctant to do anything with them except keep them in an acid free environment and away from light so that the writing doesn’t fade any further than it has.
Since talking to Mike I’ve made some progress in tracking down the family of Joseph Thompson. Joseph joined the Illinois 38th Infantry with his brother John in 1861. Joseph was wounded severely early on in the war and spent most of it in a hospital. Most of the letters we have are from John, but John didn’t survive the war. I’ve made significant progress in tracking down Joseph’s descendants and finally found someone who is a living descendant. I sent them a note via Ancestry.com last night and I hope to hear from them soon, and maybe then I can put to rest the mystery of how Mike and I connect to these letters.

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A Surprising Find

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.