Friday, March 25, 2022

Letters Are Important to Civil War Soldiers

 What is the proof that letters were important to Civil War Soldiers?
We often hear that letters were important to soldiers serving on the field. The following excepts are from letters George P. Jarvis wrote to his sister Leonora Jarvis during the war when he served in the 3d Ohio.  The complete transcripts of all eight of his letters are in Billy Yank & Johnny Reb Letters under the Ohio section.  The complete letters are interesting reads.  I am only citing excepts from various letters that illustrate how much he treasured staying in contact with family back home through letters.  I hope you find this first hand evidence of "letters being important" enjoyable and informative.
George P. Jarvis (1842-1920). Raised in in Athens County, Ohio where his father had a mercantile business in the unincorporated town of New England. (No, not the region in the North Eastern US.)  He enlisted for three months in the 3d Ohio, then reenlisted June 1862. Wounded Oct. 1862 in the Battle of Perrysville Kentucky, he returned to his unit in late Dec. 1862 when stationed at Murfreesboro Tennessee.

Letters from home are considered a good source of news; also he mentions that he has enclosed a letter from a confederate soldier that was left behind when then they skedaddled. Letter #1:

Huntsville, Alabama
May 13th 1862
Dear Sister,
Having nothing else to do this morning, I thought I would drop you a few lines. The weather is very hot here now although it is only May and the Devil only knows how hot it will be next month. I think, however, that six or eight months will close this thing up [the war]   . . . I wrote to Charlie Collier some time since but as yet have received no reply. Haven’t had a mail for three weeks and can’t tell what is going on. About all the news we get is from a Nashville paper — a kind of a would-be Secesh if it dared to sort of a paper — and one don’t have much comfort in reading it. . . The enclosed letter is one that I picked up. The writer, it seems, was a member of Hindman’s Legion [CS Arkansas units led by Thomas Hindman that Jarvis’ unit routed] — the same we shelled at Bowling Green. It seems from his letter that they were not whipped, they only ran to prevent such a catastrophe. He is wrong as regards the number killed as there was not a person killed during the whole cannonade. It will give you a pretty good idea of Southern intellect. But I have been stretching this out longer than I at first intended and will have to close. So good bye all with kind regards to everyone. 
I remain as ever your affectionate brother, — Geo. P. Jarvis

    Letters allow “news” to flow both ways. Unfortunately, there is no copy of the captured confederate letter that Jarvis sent home.  But you can see he wants to keep his family informed of what’s going on in his life on the field.  At the same time, he relies on them to keep him updated on news, both family and national.   His letters show there is give and take between him and his family, which is an encouragement to him as he does his duty.

    This plain envelope is what he sent Letter #1 in to his sister.  Note that is it marked "Soldier's Letter" in the upper right corner.  So that is why the "due 3" is written in the lower left below the address. His sister had to pay three cents to redeem the letter.  In the upper left corned it looks like the letter was sent through the Chaplain of the 3d Ohio, who also wrote the tag Soldiers Letter.  Remember, there was no "free mail" for soldiers at this time in history.

Circumstances sometimes make writing a bit difficult Letter #2:

Murfreesboro, Tennessee  September 4th 1862
Dear ones at home,
It has been some time since I wrote home but be assured that it was not a lack of interest on my part that caused the delay, but we have been on the move almost all the time and it has been impossible for me to send a letter even if I had written one. I will give you a brief account of our march and troubles. . . My postage stamps were all stolen from me by some rascal night before last and I would like some more if you can send them just as well as not. I would say something about our movements and force but are not allowed to do so. I will write again soon. Give my love to all.
As ever, your affectionate son & brother, — G. P. Jarvis

    Being on the march can make it difficult to keep them up to date with what he is experiencing.  And that his postage stamps were stolen also doesn’t help.  Remember, postage stamps functioned as small change during the war, so the thief was likely stealing them for the money value.  But For Jarvis the frustration is that it hinders his ability to stay in touch with his family.  For more information on this see my post “Letter Writing and Postage Stamps Importance to the Civil War Soldier” May 9, 2020 in the blog archive, where I discuss the need to use stamps as money because of the coin shortage during the war.

Mail Delivery is not always the best – grumbling about delays Letters #4 & #5:

Corinth, Mississippi
May 18th 1863
Dear ones at home,
Not as yet have I heard from you, but if I don’t get a letter tonight, I shall be disappointed, and I’ll give Uncle Sam’s mail carriers thunder for I think they have had sufficient time to have forwarded a letter to me since I wrote you last. But it will come some time and if it does not come tonight, I shall not despair. Suppose I should be at home soon. Would it not surprise you? . . . Now do not make up your minds to see me for this is only my opinion, but just consider me as absent till my time is out and then if I get home before, why! you will be disappointed, that’s all.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee
June 22d 1863
Dear Ones at P. G. C.
I take upon myself the duty of answering your kind letter of the 4th and 7th ulto. received yesterday. You can’t guess how much pleasure they afforded me, they being the first of a late date I had received from home since I left Murfreesboro to go on that confounded trip into the bowels of “Dixie.” I had you — when I was at Nashville — direct to that place without reference to Company or Regiment from the fact that I did not know what moment I would leave there nor where I would go, and I thought by so doing I could get the letters sooner and it has proved I was right. The letters remaining in the office are advertised each morning and as soon as I saw my name in the advertisements I wrote to the postmaster where to forward them to. Don’t you think I was rather cute?

    Jarvis has some interesting comments in these two letters about delivery issues.  You can’t blame him for grumbling about delays since he really values the letters from home.  Yet circumstances on the field often made mail delivery to the soldiers difficult.  The second letter shows an interesting point that evidently a list was put out to units about letters that the army mail service wasn’t sure where the addresses was located.  Interesting, as I had not heard about this approach to letter delivery, but it does make sense.

    This plain envelope is from Letter #6 which I have not cited anything from, but I have included the envelope picture here because of the "Due 6" cents stamp on it.  The cost of getting letters home for the soldiers varied at times due to factors such as a long distance or the need to be sent on a ship to get delivered.  I do not know what was the cause of the additional cost in this case.  Again, notice that this time George Jarvis wrote "Soldiers Letter" himself in the upper corner.  The postmark shows the letter clearly went through Nashville, TN to be delivered to Ohio.

Constantly changing circumstances sometimes mean rewriting is necessary Letter #7:

Chattanooga, Tennessee
October 3d 1863
Dear Sister,
Your kind note of 14 Sept. came duly to hand last evening about ten o’clock. You have no idea how glad I was to hear from you for I had not heard a word for nearly a month. I have written just as often as I could send letters and even oftener. Two or three letters I have written and kept a few days and then burned them up because I had no opportunity to send them. And by the time I would get an opportunity, they would be stale and I would write again. I have not written much account of the fight [Battle of Chickamauga] because you will get it in the papers much sooner and more correctly than I could give it to you, and I have not been on the field at all, but have been in the rear all the time where we get nothing but exaggerated reports till we ourselves get a paper containing an account of the battle. And even if I had been there, I could only have described first what came beneath my immediate notice.

    Jarvis takes keeping the family updated seriously, so as things are often changing, he updates letters if he can’t send them out.  And evidently, he doesn’t want his discarded letters to be found and read by someone other than his family.  Yet he is also honest in that he realizes his perspective is often limited and may not be the total truth of what has taken place.
    As I said at the beginning, I've only cited excerpts focused on illustrating his high value of staying connected with family through the letters.  I appreciate his sense of humor and also his humility.  He is sharing what he is experiencing so they can continue to be involved in his life even though separated by hundreds of miles.  Mail Call for him was a good thing to look forward to.  And because his letters have been preserved, we also get to see into his joy of keeping connected with his loved ones back home.

Children Projects:
1)  Do you think Jarvis’ action in letter #7 in getting rid of old letters that he didn’t get sent out and so had to update by rewriting is in part due to his finding that confederate soldier’s letter he mentions in letter #1?  He doesn’t want his feelings, concerns and perspectives being read by someone other than his intended readers, his family.
2)  Explore the issue of stamps being worth money by also reading the blog I mentioned in comments on letter #2.  Today if you took in a stamp to a store would they accept it as change?  No.  Especially the “forever stamp” which has a constantly changing value.
3) Look at the envelope pictures.  They are marked “soldier’s letter”, but they were not "free".  The family had to pay the money due to redeem them at the hometown post office.  And remember “3 cents” back then was of much greater value then 3 cents is today.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Hard Crackers, Come Again No More! A Song Celebrating a Beloved Civil War Army Ration!

    Yes, the title above is being sarcastic.  John D. Billings shares his memory of a famous Civil War song that captures the “man in the ranks joy” over the army’s provisions (Hard Tack and Coffee.  Soldier’s life in the Civil War 1887).  This song that Billings remembers is a Civil War parody of a popular song from 1854 “Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster that
challenged the fortunate to remember the struggles of the less fortunate.  The Civil War song is a satirical mocking of a staple of army rations that went by a variety of names: the hard cracker, hardtack, hard bread, army crackers, worm castles, sheet-iron crackers, tooth dullers.  Billings writes:

    “For some weeks before the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo., where the lamented [General Nathaniel] Lyon fell, the First Iowa Regiment had been supplied with a very poor quality of hard bread (they were not then -- 1861 -- called hardtack).  During this period of hardship to the regiment, so the story goes, one of its members was inspired to produce the following touching lamentation:

Let us close our game of poker,
Take our tin cups in our hand,
While we gather round the cook’s tent door,
Where dry mummies of hard crackers
Are given to each man;
O hard crackers, come again no more!
Chorus:  ‘Tis the song and sigh of the hungry,
“Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more!
Many days have you lingered upon our stomachs sore,
O hard crackers, come again no more!”

There’s a hungry, thirsty soldier
Who wears his life away,
With torn clothes, whose better days are o’er;
He is sighing now for whiskey,
And, with throat as dry as hay,
Sings, “Hard crackers, come again no more!”  -- Chorus

‘Tis the song that is uttered
In camp by night and day,
‘Tis the wail that is mingled with each snore,
‘Tis the sighing of the soul
For spring chickens far away,
“O hard crackers, come again no more!”  -- Chorus

When General Lyon heard the men singing these stanzas in their tents, he is said to have been moved by them to the extent of ordering the cook to serve up corn-meal mush, for a change, when the song received the following alteration:

But to groans and to murmurs
There has come a sudden hush,
Our frail forms are fainting at the door;
We are starving now on horse-feed
That the cooks call mush,
O hard crackers, come again once more!
Chorus:  It is the dying wail of the starving,
Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again once more;
You were old and very wormy, but we pass your failings o’er,
O hard crackers, come again once more!

The name hardtack seems not to have been in general use among the men of the Western armies.”  (p.118-19)

    In sharing this memory, Billings is reminding us that he and others did their duty even though it meant having to be “creative” with less than ideal food rations as well as with finding humor in what they were dealt.  Now certainly down through the centuries it has always been the habit, and the right, of the ranks to complain about the rations provided.  You have to enjoy the creativity of this song in lamenting what was a part of life for the soldier during the Civil War.

Children’s project:
1) Make some hardtack (there are various recipes on line; this one from the site:  Emerging Civil War – “Civil War Cookin’: Hard Tack Come Again No More”.  No, haven’t personally tried to use this recipe.  Others on line have differing measurements, salt added, and cooking times etc.
    3 cups flour (can use all-purpose, but whole wheat is more authentic)
Water (1 cup)
Add enough water to Flour so the mixture is soft, but not sticky, then knead for 8 minutes to make the dough elastic.  Roll the dough out and cut into 3”x 3” squares ½” thick.  Use a nail or something to prick four holes across in four rows down into the dough, then turn over and do this again -- (this prevents the cracker from “rising” as it bakes).  Bake at 450 degrees for 7 minutes, then reduce oven to 350 and bake for additional 7 – 10 minutes. They will be hard, and get harder as they cool and dry.  Bake them for looks, not for eating as they will be hard.  Don’t put them in a sealed container because they will mold, but let them dry out completely.  Add weevils for additional flavor and realism.  What?!? Just joking.  My family has a couple of hardtack pieces that we use for living history display that were given to us almost 30 years ago.  That should tell you how “durable” hardtack is.

2) Look up the words to the song “Hard Times Come Again No More” and compare them to this Civil War song parody.  (Parody: an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect).  Explore how parody works by looking at Foster’s song which calls on the favored in society to see the distressed struggling people around them and realize their plight.  Some say Foster’s song was his way of calling on the privileged to realize the needs of “the less fortunate” around themselves.  Others see his song as expressing his personal feelings as he descended into loss in his own life.  It most likely is a mix of both.  As culture continued to divide and the Civil War came, his song was indeed a challenge needed by society to look compassionately on others in their struggles.  Now obviously the parody Civil War song “Hard Crackers Come Again No More” is making the challenge for the “privileged” well-fed officers to see the plight of the “down-trodden” man-in-the-ranks.  Some eat well in the army, while many others must make do with poor quality rations as they obey the orders of the privileged to march and fight.   The “effectiveness” (= popularity) of the Hard Crackers song is in a great degree based upon the popularity of the Hard Times song in the culture of that time.  Maybe come up with a project where your child does a parody on something that is popular to them.