Love Letters of the Civil War - A Confederate Example in Context

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

26 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

I. The American Civil War – Historical Setting, Reasons and Implications
I.1. An Approach to the Ontology of the American Civil War
I.2. The Inevitable Course to War

II. An Outline of Letter Communication
II.1. Keeping in Touch: An Ontology of Letter Communication
II.2. Reflections on Letter Analysis

III. A Letter of Love
III.1. J. C. Morris´ Letter to his Wife Amanda
III.2. Textual Analysis

IV. Conclusion: Letters – An Anachronism in the Era of Modernity and Postmodernity ?



I. The American Civil War – Historical Setting, Reasons and

I.1. An Approach to the Ontology of the American Civil War

The American Civil War as the major turning point in American history has always evoked controversial attitudes among both scientists and the common people, thus offering a prolific field of research waiting to be studied from perspectives of various science subjects. There is hardly an event in the history of the United States of America that turned out to be so decisive regarding the further development of the nation like the Civil War – a war, that “[…] was the only war fought on American soil by Americans[1] ”, a war that has forever changed racial relations among the people of the U.S. and, furthermore, is considered to have changed warfare ever since – with its attribution of being the first modern war.[2]

Consequently, several inventions made in those days, such as the railroad, were subject to examination assessing their military suitability.[3] In case of the railroad, which had already been in use for about thirty years, the military eligibility concerning the movement of men and equipment was more than obvious. Additionally, airballoons were used for the first time to observe the enemy troops in order to assess their power, their strategy and movements.[4] Furthermore, revolutionary means of communication such as the invention of the telegraph and photography accelerated the transmission of messages and refined coverage by visual realism. Henceforth the very task of newspaper reporters of informing the public has been facilitated significantly with unprecedented rapidity and authentic accuracy.[5] Apart from that writing letters remained the most common way of uttering private thoughts – practised by both commanding officers and ordinary soldiers. The main part of this paper will examine this most personal means of conveying affection to the beloved spouse at home. For these love letters linked the fighting forces to their families and caring wives they provided a source of mental repose, a way of recreation after physical and mental exhaustion and a psychological resort to keep up confidence and strength needed to pursue the cause on either side. Despite the fact that not all letters reached their addressees they had a very important function of an indirect connection – the only one feasible to bridge the loneliness of all literate men enlisted.

One of the most important side effect of the Civil War was an advancement in almost every domain of technological development which established a basis for a thriving economy that was to become the most powerful in the world – even though this upsurge was initially limited to the states loyal to the Union. With their industrial capacity[6] and infrastructure ten times[7] as powerful as the southern output the North had experienced a tremendous push on its way to modernity since the 1820s, accompanied by an incessant prosperity throughout the war and beyond. Ironically the war gave rise to a growth of economy[8] so unprecedented and irrevocable that since then mass-production and mass-consumption have been part of the U.S. self-conception of being a paradigm of capitalist economy giving way to an unrestrained pursuit of wealth. Accordingly the Civil War occurred within a crucial period of progress. The decades prior to the martial clashes between North and South had already seen profound change. An undisputed implementation of scientific methods helped fostering the process of industrialization then providing the basis for this first modern war that has introduced some techniques, weaponry and equipment still in modified use today.[9] Fortunately, this beneficial condition was to be maintaining and substantiating the subsequent Gilded Age[10] in the northern and northwestern part of the United States.

The so-called Old South, however, ceased to exist. It suffered considerably during the post-war period termed Reconstruction[11], which in part seems to be continuing in some areas of the southern states today. The eagerness to uphold racism and slavery as being the two major reasons for the states of the Confederacy to secede equally proved an incentive for the North to defend the idea of an indivisible nation. A new picture of man with regard to the ideas of enlightenment gave particular rise to this philosophical vindication that put the South into a severe dilemma.[12] The South keenly struggled to defend its attitude in an effort to promote a distinctive world view where black people are not equal by divine law[13] and according to widespead notions in order to prevent shiftings of society and economy experienced by the North in those days. Therefore, the states of the Confederacy embodied a counterdraft of all the morals and values, achievements and progress the North in contrast claimed to stand for. As far as southern states are concerned today, inequality is still marking the contemporary situation in several sections of political and social life where African Americans, descendants of former slaves, find it hard to succeed or even to get the chance to take advantage of some of their constitutional rights.

Thus, the succession of battles between 1861 and 1865 followed by the eventual defeat of the ill-fated concept of a Confederation transformed the young nation and created a collective psychological focal point in the shape of the myth of a “rebirth of […] [the American] nation[14] ” – a notion that holds true for most Northeners who were able to let their moral convictions and political goals prevail.[15] The victorious states of the Union saw their just course confirmed and their values defended. Most historians consider that attitude a major reason for both contempt and neglect the northern states showed when dealing with the postwar South, which in turn had often felt abused and oppressed by virtual occupiers.

Although the Civil War was an experience perceived from very different points of view depending on a person´s degree of direct or indirect involvement it also created a collective attitude towards the entire succession of war events.[16] The perception in the states which had abandoned their ties to the Union was, of course, completely different from the northern one. So the war in its diversity had both a private and a public face. The impact of the Civil War was tangible in almost every family and often affected more than one male member who either assumed his patriotic duty as a volunteer or was compelled by drafting.[17] This holds true for both North and South but it must be stated that drafting or, in other words, compulsory service enforced by an executive order in the shape of a conscription law[18], did not always prove an effective way to convince men of the crucial cause both sides claim to defend. By the way, desertion was common[19] particularly in the last two years of the Civil War. Last but not least, there was the controversial possibility to send a substitute which excluded several wealthy men from both North and South from assuming their duty. So rather poor white men on both sides as well as black men made up most of the fighting troops. However, direct conscription was always not as effective as making use of the plain determination of a major part of the soldiers[20] because the American spirit despised compulsory service for a government. Voluntarism was cherished and depicts the American notion of individualism without submission.[21] This trait of pride and determination becomes apparent in the written correspondence of many of those men fighting for their convictions. Besides, these volunteer soldiers that served in both armies left behind a rewarding range of innumerable scripts and proved very productive during the war years. This valuable source of writs and papers contains a spectrum of letters that are worth to be examined as it is the objective of this work.

For it is this paper´s aim to contribute to the revelation and exploration of personal fates in comparison to the collective course of history the reader must at first be acquainted with the reasons that finally made the war necessary and aimed at settling the two major quarrels once and for all. Nothing less than the integrity of the Union itself was at stake. In addition, the institution of slavery, which eventually turned into the casus belli, vanished, too. Before and during the war the problem of keeping the states united and the crucial theme of whether or not deeming human beings possible objects of trade had also attracted the interest of scholars and politicians. War results were quickly transformed into new laws whose territory of legal force was of course to be extended comprising the entire country including the defeated South.[22] Actually, there were as well legal disputes of how the federal government is conjoined with the single states. Above all, an entirely new relationship between the two main races of the United States was stipulated by adding an amendment to the United States Constitution. Since the day the XIIIth amendment[23] was effective the U.S. have theoretically consisted of free men regardless of their skin color. Secondly, the country now displayed an undissolvable dualism of federal and state sovereignty without the option of one or more states to secede. This fact has not been casted doubt on and has not been questioned by any group of society ever since. The idea of a tight cohesion of separate and powerful states has prevailed.

When it comes to the North the notion of the U.S. as an indivisible nation was even a non-negotiable truth before the war but apparently this war was needed to underline this conviction due to the Southern denial of that basic principle of legal interpretation[24]. In this respect, Lincoln spoke of an “implicit” and “explicit” fixation of the “indissolubility”[25].

Taking these facts into consideration it becomes obvious that all these major and minor historical events were shared by each and every participant of the war. Actually, the whole population – comprising soldiers and civilians – were involved and thus participated in the truest sense of the word. Their private views as a share of the whole subject matter, their immediate reflections and hopes are a significant contibution to an illuminative insight of an individual´s emotional state. All these thoughts, experiences and personal accounts can be explored by studying letters of this period. Here, this endeavor will be limited to a love letter written by a soldier of the Confederate Army. By concentrating on a first introductory analysis of this love letter two related aspects might be encountered: the aspect of missing and being missed. This aspect implies a mood of being somehow displaced accompanied by a feeling belonging to a distant place where the soldier is longingly missed by a presumably anxious woman who is expecting the soon return of the letter writer. Altough this superficial supposition might hold true for either side of the fighting parties it is particularly interesting to pay attention to how the contents of each letter reflects an individual state of mind depending on the kind of war events experienced so far.

Apparently, the American Civil War can be explored, explained and interpreted from different angles. Apart from the characteristics of the era, the interrelation between technical advance, industrial progress and the eventual outcome of the Civil War, which has been analysed so far, it is imperative to deliver an appropriate definition of the term itself in order to continue in due form. An apt approach to define the term civil war, the specific reasons that unavoidably led to it and, above all, the distinct properties and factors that especially mark the American example will help to better understand the letter of love on which this paper is based.

I.2. The Inevitable Course to War

What are the characteristics of a war that is fought within a country? How is the concept of civil war interrelated to the immediate demand for secession? These questions must be answered in order to understand the complex causes that finally led to violence. According to a scientific definition the state of civil war designates a war between opposing groups within a country[26] thus jeopardizing its interior peace and political stability. The unfortunate state of civil war can easily be confirmed


[1] [13.08.2006]

[2] Rogers, H. C. B., The Confederates & Federals at War, New York: 1975, p. 9; Tindall, G. B./ Shi, D. E., America – A Narrative History, New York: 1997, p. 497, 498

[3] Sautter, U., Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika, Stuttgart: 1991, p. 217

[4] [01.09.2006]

[5] ibid.

[6] Nevins, A./ Commager, H. S. (ed.), A Pocket History of the United States, New York: 1992, p. 217

[7] Junkelmann, M., Der amerikanische Bürgerkrieg 1861 - 1865, Frankfurt a. M./ Zürich: 1993, p. 93

[8] Raeithel, G., Geschichte der nordamerikanischen Kultur – Bd.2: Vom Bürgerkrieg bis zum New Deal 1860 –

1930, Frankfurt a.M.: 1995, p. 21; Nevis/ Commager (ed.) (1992): p. 224

[9] [03.09.2006]

[10] term coined by Mark Twain and Charles D. Warner as publishers of a book titled The Gilded Age – A Tale of Today (1873); from: [03.09.2006]

[11] Sautter (1991): p. 230, 233

[12] Nevins/ Commager (ed.) (1992): p. 219, 229

[13] Sautter (1991): p. 204; Junkelmann (1993): p. 44, 46

[14] title of a book written by Joseph E. Stevens in 2000: 1863 – Rebirth of a Nation

[15] [30.08.2006]

[16] Raeithel (1995): p. 23, 24 et sqq.

[17] Junkelmann (1993): p. 97, 100

[18] The Oxford History of the American People, New York: 1965, p. 666, 667; first conscription acts passed in the South: April 1862; in the North: March 1863

[19] Junkelmann (1993): p. 100; Hakim, J., A History of Us: War, Terrible War – 1855 – 1865 (Book Six), New York: 2003, p. 53 et sqq.

[20] Sautter (1991): p. 224

[21] Raeithel (1995): p. 22

[22] the most prominent example is the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 granting freedom to all slaves with the intention to become effective on the entire territory after the final defeat of the disloyal Confederates

[23] Constitution of the United States of America; source:

[24] Raeithel (1995): p. 19, 20

[25] ibid.

[26] [03.09.2006]

Excerpt out of 26 pages


Love Letters of the Civil War - A Confederate Example in Context
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institut für Anglistik/ Amerikanistik)
HS: Narratives of the Civil War
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ISBN (Book)
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A literary analysis of a love letter written by a Southern soldier with special emphasis on the historical background accompanied by thourough considerations on communication (linguistic aspect) and the situation of communication in those days compared to contemporal possibilities.
Love, Letters, Confederate, Example, Context, Narratives, Amerikanischer Bürgerkrieg, Civil War, Letter Analysis, American Civil War, Communication, Briefanalyse
Quote paper
Oliver Gebel (Author), 2006, Love Letters of the Civil War - A Confederate Example in Context, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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