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.
James continued to hear rumors of an exchange arranged by Union general Benjamin F. Butler, commander at Fortress Monroe and special agent for the exchange of prisoners. These rumors proved false, but in March 1864, Confederate general John H. Winder, provost marshal for the city of Richmond, Virginia, ordered the evacuation of most prisoners in the city to prisons in Georgia. Winder gave this order after attempted escapes, and a failed rescue by Union brigadier general H. Judson Kilpatrick.Read more »
In this letter, James refers to an expected exchange, and hopes that he will be in St. Louis before Molly received the letter. Unfortunately, there was not an exchange at that time. James also mentions Molly’s “Fair” work. In spring 1864, women in St. Louis, including Molly and her sister, Sallie, started preparations for a fair to benefit the Western Sanitary Commission, which provided hospital supplies for sick and wounded soldiers. The Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair was held in St. Louis in May 1864.
By the time James wrote this letter, he had been a prisoner for six months, and, based on the tone of the letter, the time started to take a toll. General exchanges of prisoners had stopped the previous summer, largely due to disagreements over the exchange of black Union soldiers that were held by the Confederates. James’s only hope was to obtain a special exchange.
While James remained in Libby Prison still hoping for an exchange, his regiment, the 8th Kansas Infantry, returned to St. Louis on furlough. Since the Battle of Chickamauga, where James was wounded, the regiment had participated in the siege and battle of Chattanooga, and several other battles in the area. On February 20, 1864, they arrived in St. Louis, where they reunited with their former commander, General William S. Rosecrans, and had a dinner prepared by the citizens of the city. After a few days in St. Louis, the regiment left to return home to Kansas.Read more »
James’s hopes of getting out of Libby Prison were briefly lifted by two events, an exchange of prisoners and an expedition to release Union soldiers held in Confederate prisons in Richmond, Virginia, including Libby. In early February 1864, Union brigadier general H. Judson Kilpatrick met with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who approved Kilpatrick’s plan for a raid on Richmond. Kilpatrick and his detachment of approximately 3,000 troops reached the city on March 2 after destroying Confederate rail lines on the way.Read more »
I expect to hear from you again about Tuesday as a mail has arrived but is not yet distributed, but I must write today or lose a week — as we are only allowed to write one letter of six lines each Monday. I am well, thank God but it has been excessively cold during the week, and much suffering is the consequence among us. It is now moderating and I suppose Spring will soon be on hand. Nothing new here. Glad to hear such a good report from St. Louis. Read more »
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