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.
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 »
I on Thursday rec'd yours of the 15th, 20th and 27th March and words cannot express how welcome they were, or what a tonic they proved from failing health, and repeated dissapointment in our hopes of Exchange. I was almost despairing, while the beautiful Spring weather tantalized me so I felt I w'd go crazy. Read more »
Sunday evening finds me as usual pen in hand. We are at last quite sanguine of an early Exchange and so I have got over the blues for the present. I have therefore but little news for you, and only write to say I am coming, and I love you and hope to steal a kiss and hear your merry laugh ring out very soon and in the merry May days then to come. I hope soon to get Read more »
It is Sunday once more and of course I must write if it is only to pass time but what to write is the question. I am so dreadfully dispirited and Home-sick that I fear I shall become sick in reality. The weather has its depressing influence. It is balmy and springlike at times, but April Showers are almost continuous and heavy. The grass begins to come out green under the influence of Sun & Showers, and the Willows across the “James” to sprout. Read more »
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 »
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