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What does a father write to his wife and young children when he's gone to war? Does he explain why he left them? How does he answer their constant questions about his return? Which of his experiences does he relate, and which does he pass over? Should he describe his feelings of separation and loneliness?
Over 150 years ago David Brainard Griffin, a corporal in Company F of the 2nd Minnesota Regiment of Volunteers, wrote to those he left behind on the family's Minnesota prairie homestead while he fought to preserve the Union.
My Dear Wife
Civil War Letters
From a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer
- David Brainard Griffin
Camp near Corinth, Miss.
May 14th 1862
"I wish that you could see us today. I am sitting by the side of a tree in the shade while
I can look around me upon all sides and see the men, some under bough houses, some
under shade of the trees, some a writing, some reading, some playing cards, some
sleeping, some cooking, some a washing their clothes, and others a loitering about camp,
whilst I can hear the sound of the bugle and drum...such is camp life. All is joy, but who knows how soon we may be called forth to the battle field, amid the roar of the cannon and the muskets. I hope that it will soon cease, then we will learn war no more. I must draw to a close for the want of more room and the lack of anything to write about, so I will bid you all goodbye again. Kiss all of the children for me."
Several weeks ago I listened to the podcast, "Civil War Talk Radio," in which you were a guest and talked about your book. Listening to you talk about your great-grandfather, I knew this was a story that I had to read. I purchased the book and finished it this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I knew of his fate, I couldn't help but feel sad when he's killed at Chickamauga, knowing that he'd never return to his "Nerva" and the children whom he clearly loved very much.
Several years ago I became a member of the Civil War Trust. One of the first places that I gave a donation to help preserve was land at Reed's Bridge. This April I will be in Georgia, and hopefully will be able to take my first visit to the Chickamauga battlefield. Seeing Reed's Bridge and the land around it will be even more significant now, thanks to the story about your great-grandfather. Thank you for writing it!
I've been working my way through this book lately, a few letters at a time...
What interested me the most as I read the letters was the gradual shift in his mental state over the years.
At first, he's terribly homesick; almost every early letter features a few tears as he reads letters from home or thinks about his children. And like most people on both sides of the conflict, he entered it with confidence that the war would be over by springtime. But as the war drags on and his regiment pushes farther south, the flush of confidence wanes.
Like many on the Northern side, Griffin entered the war with little more than a general distaste for the institution of slavery, thinking more about the preservation of the Union. But after the Emancipation Proclamation, he gradually comes around to the belief that slavery should be abolished...
The human emotions of these letters, and the rich detail of camp life they reveal, will make them a useful resource for writers and amateur historians seeking an in-depth understanding of daily life in the Western Theater.
These letters bring to life a turbulent time in North American history. The corporal's vivid accounts of his daily life, the long marches, the gruesome battles, his unspeakable homesickness, make the facts of history all that more real.
Emily-Jane Hills Orford
I must admit that I slowed my reading as I approached the end of the book. Knowing that he died at Chickamauga, I wanted to keep him alive and well. But, that was simply an indication of how emotionally involved in Brainard's life a reader can become. Nicely done...