Saturday, October 26, 2013

Soldier's Letter 3d Maine Volunteer Infantry Envelope

    Was there free mail for the Civil War soldier to write home?  The simple answer is "no".  I remember thinking how sad that was for the soldiers back then not to have that simple privilege extended to them as they faced life and death fighting for their cause & country.  Letter writing was an important part of the typical soldier's life.  Far from home, letters were the only way to stay connected with family & friends.  They would never get enough letters from home.  They stayed connected with home through the letters they sent back.  
    I recently picked up the Union Soldier's Letter Cover shown here.  I admit its not an impressive envelope and there was no letter inside to give additional details about the soldier who sent it.  It does have the basic notation in the upper right corner of "Soldier's letter" along with the unit designation (3d Maine Regiment Volunteers, possibly company H in the third line down).  The cover is stamped with an Alexandria VA cancellation.  The 3d Maine fought at first Bull Run July 1861, the Peninsular Campaign of 1862 and through the rest of the war.   As beat up as the cover is, I bought it because its an interesting reminder of an unknown soldier's attempt to stay connected to "normal" in the midst of "uncertainty".
Civil War "Soldier's Letter" Envelope
3d Maine Reg. Vols.
Addressed to Mrs Mr J Greenleaf? Bath, Maine
  The designation "Soldier's letter" recognized the reality that often the active duty soldier might not have access to a 3 cent stamp or have the money on hand to buy one even if stamps were available.  Though the letter would be delivered to the addressee, they would have to pay the 3 cents postage due to get the letter.  If the soldier did not tag the envelope with "Soldier's letter" along with his unit designation, then the family would have to pay 3 cents for the letter and 3 cents additional penalty for a total of 6 cents to redeem the letter.  This particular envelope is not stamped "DUE 3" but the Alexandria VA cancellation mark shows it went via the postal system, so maybe the postal clerk knew the family member who picked it up in Bath, Maine?  Don't know.  Like I said its not a perfect example with all the "expected" details of a Union "Soldier's letter".  This envelope's conformity with deviations shows we need to be careful in making broad statements of "this is how they did it. . ." 
    Harry K. Charles, Jr. wrote an informative paper on "American Civil War Postage Due:  North and South" for the Postal History Symposium, Nov. 2012 which has a good section on Soldier's letters.  Both Union and Confederate soldiers could send letters home, postage due (the family needed to pay to redeem them).  Charles says the proper designation needed to be "Soldier's letter" with his rank and unit designation, and possibly unit commander's signature.  The above cover does not have the soldier's name and rank listed; only his unit designation.  As with all things, there was some flex in how things were designated.  The Confederate soldier's letter would have "Due 5" or "Due 10" depending on what the rate was at that time in the war.
    Since letters to home were so important to the soldiers, they came up with various ways outside of the postal system to send letters back to their family.  Anyone going back on furlough was given letters and notes to take with them.  United States Christian Commission delegates would collect letters and carry them back home whenever they could.  The USCC handed out free envelopes and stationery because they realized the importance of keeping the soldiers connected with family.
    So how might knowing some of these details help us do better living history?  Those representing civilians at home could have covers showing an envelope marked "Soldier's letter" with the details of your soldier on it as part of your living history display.  Again, you could mark it PAID 3/ or PAID 5 or 10 to help you explain to spectators what you have to do to keep in touch with your soldier.  For a soldier impression, you could have a letter written up with the envelope labeled correctly that you are "planning on mailing out as soon as possible" to explain to spectators the details and the importance of keeping connected with your family.  You can use patriotic or plain covers.  You can use a USCC or USSC cover which has "Soldier's Letter" printed on it.  Just remember that you as a soldier would not have a Soldier's letter mailed to you from the folks back home.
    At the tent I hand out  to the reenactors who visit us a gift of a USCC or a Plain cover stationery set.  If you are a reenactor, and if you place a regular order just tell me what you portray (US or CS and unit type) and I'll include with your order a gift of  a stationery Mail Kit that you can use for your impression.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Minooka, Illinois Reenactment Report Oct 2013

    Our last reenactment of the 2013 season was an enjoyable opportunity to spend time with our reenactor friends while educating the spectators about the U.S. Christian Commission.  The 17th Illinois Medical Unit saved us a choice spot for setup right across from their tents.  Joshua helped Vicki bake before hand, as well as serving at the tent throughout the day.  Shelia, Heidi, and Hanna Phillips also diligently helped at the tent throughout the day.  This year the Confederates were downhill encamped near us, but we still had a good flow of Union troops coming down from the hill to stop in for a bite to eat.
    Saturday was a cool fall day.  When the sun occasionally came out it even got "warm" . . . almost.  We actually did much better on passing out the "ice cold" lemonade, mint tea and sarsaparilla tea than I thought we would.  Of coarse the goodies Vicki baked went well too.  Vicki was in a "pumpkin mood" for this event.  She tried out a pumpkin pan pie -- basically pumpkin pie baked in one of our cookie sheets, a bit thinner than a regular pie but with all the flavor.  It went well.  She also did a pumpkin cookie with chocolate chips.  And for the biscuits she did pumpkin butter, which had really good flavor.  Of coarse these supplemented the usual items like the molasses cookies, snicker doodles, brownies, mixed nuts squares etc.
Tom George found enough to eat at our tent
and we still had some left for others who came after him.
    I want to share one incident that illustrates the kindness of the reenactors toward us.  During the day we put out biscuits with the pumpkin butter and honey in jars for topping options.  One young woman reenctor was helping herself to the biscuits, adding a dab of honey and part of the biscuit crumbled off and fell into the honey jar.  She was apologetic and told me about it.  I assured her that it was not a big deal, and forgot about it.  Later in the day Heidi said a woman reenactor had stopped by and brought us jar of honey she had bought from the gift shop on site to replace the one she had dropped the biscuit in earlier in the day. Heidi assured her it was no problem, but she insisted on sharing it with us to help out.  My point?  Yes, we give away what we bring -- "God's love is free, so is this food, come on in".  But we get 'thank you's along the way which remind us encouragement goes both ways.
    The gift table was classed up for this event.  Vicki had bought a new collapsible table that would be a bit bigger and higher in order to better display the Civil War pattern quilt made for us years ago.  The better display seems to have worked because a few quilters stopped by to investigate  the quilt and educate me about its details I only know in general.  I always enjoy interacting with the reenactors who come to look through what we've put out as gifts on the table, from the matches & mail kits to the cough medicine boxes and salt & sugar packs.  One lady said the cough medicine box (a match box covered with a 1800s medicine label) would be helpful for her to hide the aspirin she needs to keep with her.  She gave me the gift of satisfaction that my time and energy were well spent.  The mail kits went well as usual.  I did get some feedback about how the guys use them. Typically either for living history display or to write a note to some who is not at the reenactment with them. This year Vicki had sewn some pocket handkerchiefs.  The reaction to the challenge note to pass along the encouragement was positive (cf. August 2013 post for details about the challenge note).  Vicki and I will never see the way each person says 'thank you' for the pocket handkerchief, but God will see and be pleased, and isn't that what the USCC is really all about?
    So another season ends, and we say "so long" to friends til next year. . . Lord willing and the creeks don't rise.