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’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 »
On the evening of February 9, 1864, after 47 nights of digging with clam shells and case knives, 109 prisoners escaped from Libby Prison through a tunnel 8 feet below ground, 16 inches in diameter, and 50–60 feet long. Confederate prison officials realized the prisoners were missing at roll call the next day, but did not find the tunnel until the evening. Two of the escapees drowned while trying to cross the James River, 48 were recaptured, and 59 reached the Union lines. The escape from Libby Prison was one of the most successful prison breaks during the war. Read more »
I wrote on the usual day, but I afterwards suppressed the letter as I thought it w'd not go through, so outside of the fact that I am well & in good spirits I have no news to tell. I will write you as usual, but other correspondence will be small until this scarcity of items is done away with. I hope my dear girl you are well and enjoying yourself in St. Louis, and that all goes well with you and your friends. Read more »
While James endured the monotony of life at Libby Prison, he realized that Union soldiers in other Confederate prisons in Richmond and the surrounding area suffered far greater hardships. In November 1863, only half of the over 6,000 prisoners at Belle Isle Prison, located on an island in the James River, had tents for shelter. The rest had to dig holes or pile on top of each other to stay warm during a brutally cold winter. At the same time, smallpox killed over 100 prisoners at Danville Prison, located 140 miles southwest of Richmond.Read more »
For general news I must refer you to my note to Alex. I received yours of 29th Nov'r two days ago. I am in good health, and keep improving daily up to this time. I am so glad to hear good news from you, that I almost forget I am imprisoned. On comparison, I find I am no worse off now, than if I was in the field, so I take heart of grace and hope on as usual. Read more »
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