Letters from a Civil War Soldier

How can we learn about the life of a Vermont Civil War soldier?

From 1861-1865, the United States split into two parts during the Civil War. The North, or the Union states, wanted freedom for enslaved people. The South, or the Confederate states, wanted slavery to continue. After the Union army won the war, the United States government outlawed slavery.

Over 34,000(thirty-four thousand) Vermonters served in the military during the Civil War. Some of the soldiers sent letters to their families in Vermont. They wrote about life in the army.

Historians read these letters to learn about Vermont soldiers during the war. What can you learn by reading this letter? What more do you want to know?

Camp Griffin Va.
Teusday Eve Jan 28th

Dear Sister –

Still at Camp G. and still raining. Keeping the mud deep as usual. Corp. White in Hos. not expected to live – typhoid fever. I am well. Have not heard from
you since your letter of Jan 19th. May yet to night as the mail has not yet arrived, but Regt goes on Picket(guard duty) tomorrow morning. Good night.

As Ever
Your Aff. Brother
J.

When historians transcribe(to type a handwritten document) letters, they keep the same spelling as the original. Can you find the word that the writer spelled wrong?

Historians may need to fill in extra information to understand the letter. Other information lets us know that Mary Jane Spafford received this letter from her affectionate(having or showing love) brother Joseph. He wrote this letter in 1862 when he was at Camp Griffin, or Camp G., in Virginia.

Joseph writes that the rain is creating deep mud. He tells his sister that Corporal(an officer in the Army) White is in the hospital with typhoid fever. Joseph hopes to receive a letter from his sister. His regiment(large group of soldiers) will be on guard duty the next day.

You might wonder if Corporal White died from typhoid fever. In February, Joseph writes that Corporal White is a little better.

By asking questions – and reading more letters – you can learn about the life of a Vermont Civil War soldier. What else do you wonder?

Joseph Spafford got sick in March 1862. He was in an army hospital for two months. He returned home to Vermont to get better. In September, he joined the army again for another year. He survived the Civil War but died in 1866.

Joseph Spafford was 28 years old when he died. His family gave a collection of his letters to the Vermont Historical Society library. You can read these letters to learn about his life as a Civil War soldier.

Thinking About History

Historians ask questions to think deeply about history.

In another letter, Joseph Spafford wrote that he burned the letters he received. Why do you think his sister saved the letters she received?

How do you send messages today? Will historians be able to read your messages in 150 years?

Copy and paste this citation to show where you did your research.

Vermont Historical Society. "Letters from a Civil War Soldier." Vermont History Explorer. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://vermonthistoryexplorer.org/letters-from-civil-war-soldiers

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