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.
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 »
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 »