The Missouri History Museum Archives has many collections that provide first-hand accounts of the Civil War. One such collection is the James E. Love Papers. James enlisted with a Union regiment in St. Louis in May 1861. When his regiment left St. Louis in June 1861, James started writing letters home to his fiancée Eliza Mary “Molly” Wilson. James continued to write these letters throughout his entire Civil War service. We believe this collection is unique because it documents not only one man’s experiences during the war, but also the great love story of James and Molly.
For some reason, two lines were cut from the end of this letter. During the Civil War, mail to and from soldiers in prison camps was inspected. However, there is no evidence that any of James’s other letters from prison were censored. Since the lines were cut from the end, most likely they would have contained only his closing and signature.
In this letter, James mentions that he was paroled with 600 other officers a few days earlier. The exact reason and circumstances for his parole are not known. However, it may have related to the Union shelling of Charleston, which started in 1863, and the resulting movement of prisoners, by both sides, to the area under fire. In June 1864, Confederate major general Samuel Jones requested the transfer of 50 Union prisoners to Charleston, to be placed in the area of the city that was being shelled by the Union. He hoped this action would encourage the Union to stop bombing the city.Read more »
Since his last letter, James was one of many prisoners moved from Camp Oglethorpe in Macon, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina. The first group of 50 officers left Macon on June 10, 1864, and arrived in Charleston two days later. They were jailed near the wharf, under fire from Union guns on nearby Morris Island, in an attempt to stop the shelling of the city. As James mentions in this letter, the officers in this group were exchanged on August 3. James was part of a second group of 400 officers moved to Charleston. By this time, Union general William T.Read more »
At the end of this letter, there is a note from Molly’s brother William C. Wilson, dated June 22, 1864. William forwarded this letter and others to Molly, who was presumably visiting her family and friends in Illinois at the time. In 1864, William owned a steam bakery, Wilson & Atwell, in St. Louis.
Camp Oglethorpe Macon Ga. June 6th 1864
I understand a mail will leave to day so I hasten to improve the opportunity. We hope to hear from St. Louis soon. We get news from our armies every day, but none from home for over a month. Read more »
In this letter, James again mentions Molly’s “grand fair,” a reference to St. Louis’s Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair, which raised money for the Western Sanitary Commission to buy hospital supplies for sick and wounded soldiers. The fair opened on May 17, 1864, closed a few weeks later, and raised over $550,000. Molly and her sister Sallie were in the Floral Department.
We were moved from “Danville” on the 12th inst. and arrived here yesterday after a most unpleasant ride and a short march in mud and rain. We are camped inside what was the fair grounds, in rather warm quarters, and exposed to the weather, but we expect to build sheds in a day or two and then I will much prefer it for the summer and fall to Libby. We have no longer any hopes of immediate Exchg. unless all our friends in the North unite to bring pressure to bear on our Government. Read more »
Since his last letter, James left Libby Prison, which had been his home for just over six months. In March, Confederate authorities in Richmond, Virginia, had ordered the removal of most prisoners from the city. By early May, it was James’s turn to move. On May 6, 1864, James, along with several hundred other prisoners, traveled by train to a prison in Danville, Virginia.
While James remained in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, the war progressed nearby. In March, General Ulysses S. Grant became commander of all Union forces, and in early May he launched a campaign against the army of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Grant traveled with the Army of the Potomac, which crossed the Rapidan River on May 4, and planned to move between Lee’s army and Richmond, to the north of the city. The day after crossing the river, they met Lee’s forces in the Battle of the Wilderness. Meanwhile, Union general Benjamin F.Read more »
On April 17, 1864, Confederate forces attacked Plymouth, North Carolina, in an attempt to recapture the port that they lost to the Union two years earlier. The Confederates captured Plymouth three days later, and Union general Henry W. Wessels, commander of the garrison at Plymouth, surrendered his forces. He was taken prisoner, and arrived at Libby Prison on April 26. As James mentions, Read more »
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