Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"The Soldier's Pen" - Part II - Excerpts from the "Schmidt Collection"

In his book, The Soldier's Pen, Robert Bonner admits to the thrill that comes in "reading other people's mail." I'm afraid I have to admit to the same, and to that end, I have begun a collection of soldier correspondence of my own - gathered through online auctions or antique dealers.

While my collection is presently small - a few letters from the Civil War, a handful from WWI, and a few dozen from WWII - it is cherished and growing. I especially like it when I can gather more than one letter from a particular soldier and like it even more when I can get letters to and from a soldier - including sweethearts, family, etc.

Bonner also makes the excellent point that Civil War correspondence is unique in that it is free from the censor's touch (or threat thereof) that marks letters from WWI and WWII. Still, though, I have been fortunate enough to acquire some 20th-century correspondence from officers, who were often censors themselves and/or were given some leeway to self-censor (which they didn't always do).

My collection of Civil War correspondence includes about a half-dozen letters to and from Charles Ramsay - a musician-soldier in the 44th Ohio Infantry - and his wife Kate, pregnant at home with their first child. The few that I own are just a part of many dozens exchanged between the two. About thirty of these letters - including the ones in my possession - are featured at Chris Wehner's excellent website at http://www.soldiersstudies.org/

I decided to use some of the correspondence between Charles and Kate to introduce one of the subjects in my forthcoming book, Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War (Edinborough Press, 2008). The particular chapter describes the role that Gail Borden's condensed milk played in the war and I introduce the topic with an early exchange of letters between Charles and Kate because he comments frequently on the state of his diet. Here are excerpts from the four letters in my collection:

October 19, 1861 (Kate to Charles)

“My Dear, Dear Husband - I cannot tell you how happy I was receiving your letter this afternoon for I had missed you so much and was longing to hear from you…I feel that I can now say go where duty calls and God be with you to bless and protect you…Peace shall again spread her angel wings over the land…I expect I shall have some sad and lonesome hours as I have already felt the loss of your company…I am like the Dove that has lost its mate, wandering around from place to place looking for something, I hardly know what…but it will all be right by and by if I can only hear often from you…Your loving wife, Kate”

October 20, 1861 (Kate to Charles)

“My darling Husband, This has been a beautiful pleasant day. Oh! I do feel so much like resting awhile on my love’s lap tonight…Mother is going with me for dinner. We have our knitting with us as we are making socks for the Soldiers. It would be a good plan for you to wear cotton ones under the woolen ones…O how time flies. Tomorrow you will be gone two weeks but I am anxious the time should pass around so I can again see my husband…You do not know how I miss you at night to keep me warm…I will adopt for my motto, ‘hope on, hope ever,’ and with a goodbye kiss I close for this time. Your ever loving wife, Kate

November 9, 1861 (Kate to Charles)

“Another lonely Sabbath has passed away… Need I tell you where my thoughts were?! On my dear husband - wishing him with me just there - for you do not know how lonesome I am at times for you…I want to go this evening to hear Mr. Clokey once again…I only wish my love was here to go with me when I see other wives with their husbands. You don't know how I feel…Earl wrote if he had not enlisted he never would again. He has not a cent yet and has been sick and his mother is needy…Do you know how much you are to get a month? Did you pay for your horn or is it to be taken out of your month's pay? “Now my darling, I must have another kiss and say good night…Kate”

November 11, 1861 (Charles to Kate):

“Raining as usual…and as usual I take advantage of the day to write…I know you must have enjoyed your visit to the country and hope you remembered me when you was partaking of the many good things for here we only have them mentioned as things that are in existence in some parts of the world yet we have plenty of what we have though I must confess we have some huge pigs in the band…It is wonderful what hogs some men make of themselves… Charles”

I will provide excerpts from other pieces of correspondence in my collection from time-to-time. Enjoy.

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