Friday, February 1, 2008

The Home Front

Sample article from the Society's February 2001 Update newsletter.
A Lynches Creek Civil War Letter

By Harvey S. Teal

When recording the history of wars, it is the details about battles, strategy, troop movements, exploits of particular individuals, casualty counts, and other military matters that receive the giant share of interest and treatment by historians and others. Often left undiscussed or inadequately treated are matters pertaining to the home front. This approach and attitude is often also reflected by what collectors value and collect from these wars.

The War Between the States is a good example. Letters and other items from that war that have to do with fighting or battles command prices many times higher than similar letters describing matters back home.

Fortunately many historians and others have begun to realize this deficiency. Due to a heightened appreciation of the historical value and worth of these items, many are now collecting civilian letters that illuminate conditions on the home front and the emotions and feelings of those back home.

A “home front” letter from my collection datelined Lynches Creek, July1, 1862, from J. M. Kirkley and his mother to their brother and son, Dan Kirkley, illustrates how these letters contribute to a fuller understanding of the war. Dan was in Richmond, Virginia, at the time and was recuperating from a wound. Historic Camden, Nineteenth Century lists a Daniel M. Kirkley as a private in the Flat Rock Guards, Company G, 2nd South Carolina Volunteers and describes him as having been wounded. It is assumed this Dan is the subject of this letter.

A transcription of the letter follows. Misspelled words have been corrected and some punctuation marks added. Otherwise the letter appears as written.

Dear Brother—I received a letter from you June 30th dated June 22 [1862]. I was happy to hear from you that you were able to be up and about one time more. Dan, these few lines leave father and mother well at present. My family are well, except myself, hoping they may find you enjoying the same blessing. Dan I have not been, to say, well, since I left Richmond. I have been up and about until ten days ago when I was confined to my bed. I am better now, able to be up and about the house. We have been very uneasy about you since I left you at Richmond. You say we must excuse you for not writing to us. If I had hold of you I would excuse you the right way.

The conscript [draft notice] are ordered to me at Camden today. I was not able to go. I don’t know what they will do with me. I intend to get off if I can.

Dan, crops are very sorry, generally speaking. I got behind [with] mine when I was in Richmond and stayed two weeks with you. Left there Monday and never got home until Saturday evening. We are suffering much for rain. At present, it has been three weeks since we have had any rain. Dan, If you can’t get a furlough to come home you must stay where you are until you get perfectly well before you go to camp. If you want a Negro to cook for you, pa says you shall have one.

You must write to some of us every week as I am not able to write much. I must close, asking you to excuse me for not writing no more, but still remain your affectionate brother until death.

J. M. Kirkley

Dear Son—Was glad to hear from you [and ]that you are getting well. I have been uneasy about you. We have been looking for a letter from you ever since James came home. I thought you would of wrote us as soon as you was able to write to let us know how you was. We have been looking for you to come home, but I suppose you can’t get a furlough. My son, if you can’t come home, I want you to stay there until you get well before you are to come. [You] wrote that you [would] be glad of some mens clothing. I have clothes [I] would send to you if I had any way to send them to you. I want you to write as soon as you can. I want you to write if you are getting off your cot. You must take care of yourself as well as you can. So nothing more at present, but remain your affectionate Mother until death.

Nancy Kirkley

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