The American Civil War 1861-1865: Letters and Journals

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The American Civil War 1861-1865: Letters and Journals

Three letters written by Frederick Spooner, John Hines, and Thomas Freeman reveal the diverse experiences of Civil War front-line soldiers. All three authors depict the hardships and dangers of war, but their individual experiences and perspectives differ. In his 1861 essay, Spooner compares the excitement of battle to the monotony and discomfort of camp life. In a piece he wrote in 1862, Hines describes the horrors of war, such as friends’ deaths and the brutality of Confederate soldiers. In 1864, Freeman wrote that he was tired of the war and wanted to go home. These letters demonstrate that soldiers encountered various challenges and emotions on the battlefield, including boredom, fear, and exhaustion. The letters share a common theme despite these differences: the physical and mental toll that war took on soldiers’ well-being. These letters show, taken together, the variety and complexity of soldiers’ Civil War experiences.

A glimpse into the day-to-day life of a soldier in 1861 is provided by Spooner’s letter. He talks about the routines of camp life, like drills and guard duty, and how uncomfortable it is to sleep in tents and that you don’t have any privacy. Spooner also talks about battle excitement, describing his adrenaline rush from a recent skirmish. He writes, “I felt more alive than ever when the balls whistled past our ears.” According to this enthusiasm for battle, the war provided some soldiers with a sense of adventure and purpose. The young Union soldier had a very optimistic perspective on war. The South receiving its “just desserts” for the crime of slavery was his primary concern. He also thought the North was better than the South in almost every way. He has nothing to complain about, so this demonstrates that the Union troops were well-supplied.

In his letter from 1862, Hines presents a starkly different perspective on war. He talks about how brutal Confederate soldiers were, saying they “murdered and butchered” Union soldiers in a recent battle. Hines also laments the emotional toll the war has taken on him and the loss of friends. “I am so sick and tired of this war,” he writes. It truly saddens me.” The emotional and physical trauma soldiers endured on the battlefield is brought to light in Hines’ letter. Some of Frederick’s claims that the Confederate army lacked supplies appear to be supported by this account. John reveals that many soldiers are starving and have not eaten in 36 hours. He had to steal supplies from a Union tent to have dinner and pay his teamster.50, or nearly $13 in 2019 dollars, for a biscuit. John reveals that they also had high hopes before the battle, but the brutal and shocking facts of the battle shock them.

In his letter from 1864, Freeman shows a soldier who is sick of fighting and wants to go home. He expresses dissatisfaction over the physical toll of his military service and the lack of progress in the war effort. “I’m sick of marching, fighting, and being away from my family,” Freeman writes. The strain that the war imposed on soldiers and their families, as well as the desire for normalcy, are exemplified in his letter. Thomas demonstrates that men of colour are treated like slaves in the military. They are sent to fight and are paid nothing for doing a lot of manual labour for the white soldiers. A white man will slash them in the head with a sword if they disrespect their position in any way.

These letters show that soldiers’ war experiences were influenced by various factors, including their personalities, their particular military assignments, and the war’s larger historical context. Hines was traumatized by the brutality of the Confederate soldiers he encountered, whereas Spooner found excitement in the heat of battle. On the other hand, the prolonged conflict had worn Freeman down. These letters show that soldiers’ experiences at the front were complicated and varied, and each had a different story. However, despite these distinctions, the letters also have one thing in common: soldiers’ physical and emotional suffering due to the war.

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