Throwback Thursday: Civil War Letters

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

Letters are among my favorite things that we find in our collections. A lot of historical research involves looking at very dry, factual documents: birth records, death records, census records, etc. Those pieces are vital for piecing together a history, don’t get me wrong, but there is something very special about finding a first-person account. Not everything the writer records may be true (it’s wise to be cautious!) but letters, diaries, and notes provide a more personal glimpse into bigger historical events.

Civil War Letter 1

In the John Martin Smith Collection, we are fortunate to have a collection of almost 30 letters, all written by the same man: Wilbur F. Hodge, a Union soldier in the Civil War and the brother of DeKalb County resident Chester P. Hodge.

The letters start on November 10, 1862, and continue on until June 3, 1865, about a month after the war had officially ended. Most of the letters are written either to Chester P. Hodge or to Chester’s wife, Julia Mott Hodge, and some are written to both.

Wilbur Hodge was a member of the 86th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Company H. His letters discuss everything from personal matters—his father’s health, his sister’s education, the likelihood of him ever marrying, etc.—to his experiences on and off the battlefield. Though he describes victorious military encounters and tells the occasional funny story, Hodge notes that the “adventurous” life of a soldier is overly romanticized:

“With the sound of the first bullet that whistled by my ear at Perryville the romance of soldiering died out and gave place to the realities of the bitter experience to which this Army has been subject to. It is a hard matter to see the fun in all this, isn’t it?”

Hodge’s letters have been partially transcribed, but if you’d like to see more Civil War letters in the meantime, feel free to stop by the Genealogy Center to look through Letters to Samantha, a series of letters written by Union soldier Josiah Kimes to his wife, Samantha, back home in DeKalb County.

Want to see more? Click here to search our online photo database, or check out the official Willennar Genealogy Facebook page here.

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About Chelsea

I've been working at Willennar Genealogy Center for over two years now, and I've loved every minute of getting to learn more about the stories of DeKalb County and the surrounding area. I'm interested in all kinds of history, but I'm especially fond of the early film industry, old letters and journals, the DeKalb County Fair, and the Interurban line.
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