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Life, Love and the American Civil War - Civil War Letters Part I

September 19, 2015

Life, Love, and the American Civil War - letters written from a soldier to his girlfriend and family back home
If you were one of the many readers of our popular blog series detailing our summer trip to Antiques Roadshow in Omaha, you have been introduced to our beloved Civil War letters. If you missed out, you can still check it out! The saga begins here.

A Civil War Letter from our Collection
We purchased the Civil War letters during a long, rainy auction back in April of 2014. The collection consists of 116 letters written between April 27, 1861 and July 23, 1865. They were written to young Elizabeth Lee from a total of 9 different men as they fought in the war. Some letters were written by siblings, cousins and other family members, but the majority of the letters are from a man named Jasper Newton Smith. We’ve created the table below so we could keep track of the letter writers:

 

 

NAME

RELATION

UNIT

# LETTERS

JASPER N. SMITH

COURTING ELIZABETH

COMPANY K 53RD INDIANA VETERAN VOLUNTEER 1ST BRIGADE, 4TH DIVISION ARMY CORPS OF TENNESSEE

92 LETTERS,  1 CO-WRITTEN

HENRY LEE

ELIZABETH’S BROTHER

ENGINEER CORPS 1ST BRIGADE, 2ND DIVISION16TH ARMY CORPS & COMPANY A 66TH REGIMENT VOLUNTEERS INDIANA

6 LETTERS, 1 CO-WRITTEN

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

JASPER’S BROTHER

COMPANY A 66TH REGIMENT INDIANA

KILLED IN ACTION

1 LETTER, CO-WRITTEN

GREGORY LEE

ELIZABETH’S BROTHER

COMPANY A 66TH REGIMENT INDIANA VOLUNTEER

9 LETTERS, 3 CO-

WRITTEN

ELIJAH MILLER

ELIZABETH’S NEPHEW

COMPANY A 140TH REGIMENT INDIANA VOLUNTEER

7 LETTERS

CP LEATHERMAN

ELIZABETH’S COUSIN

1 LETTER

ABRAHAM TENGARDEN

JASPER’S LIEUTENANT

JOHN A. SMITH

ELIZABETH’S NEPHEW

1 LETTER, CO-WRITTEN

CAM RANSOM LEE

ELIZABETH’S BROTHER

CORPORAL IN COMPANY A, 38TH INDIANA INFANTRY

ENLISTED SEPTEMBER 17, 1861

 

 

With 92 letters having been written by Jasper, this story truly belongs to him and the recipient, Elizabeth, with the others playing supporting roles. Both Jasper and Elizabeth were raised in southern Indiana, born in the 1840’s. Jasper as the son of John Andrew and Elizabeth (Broadway) Smith. Elizabeth was the daughter of Isaac and Henriette Dorothy (Leatherman) Lee.  

As we poured over these letters, we were given the opportunity to research the lives of these amazing individuals. A lot of our research lead us to one website: Find a Grave. Find a Grave is “a free resource for finding the final resting places of famous folks, friends and family members.” The site provides as much information as it has available. For many, the information is abundant. Jasper’s Find a Grave page provided us with his birth and death dates and locations, the names of his parents, siblings, spouse and children (with links to each of their own pages) and the location of his burial. After reading hundreds of pages written from Jasper’s own hand. we were thrilled to see that someone had also posted two pictures of Jasper himself.

This picture was obviously taken later in his life, but this is our beloved letter writer.  

 

Jasper Newton Smith

The picture was captioned, “Jasper Smith fishing, something he loved to do.”


Years before that picture was captured, The United States of America was facing difficult days. Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president on March 4, 1861. The decade before his presidency began, conflict grew between the northern and southern states. The conflict reached its boiling point on April 12, 1861, when Confederate soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Those cannon shots marked the beginning of the Civil War.

On February 2, 1862, shortly following his nineteenth birthday, Jasper Newton Smith arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he enrolled to join the military.  He was a Union soldier, a member of the 53rd Regiment of the Indiana Infantry. Through his heavy handed script, Jasper’s letters detail his days as a soldier in the American Civil War. As he writes, he discusses battles, war strategy and specific moments and people made famous by the war.

In the midst of bloodshed, “normal” life continues. Jasper uses his letters to court young Elizabeth Lee. It is clear that Jasper and Elizabeth (affectionately known as “Betty”) had some level of a relationship before he left for war, but we do not know anything more than that. It is also apparent that Jasper is smitten with Elizabeth. He confesses his love to her throughout each letter, amidst discussion of his current surroundings, health, friends and family, war activity, and wonderings of life back home. Often, Jasper includes a poem or song for Elizabeth’s enjoyment.

 Over the next couple of months, we will be sharing with you our collection of Civil War letters, and the lives of Jasper, Elizabeth and their families and friends. We sincerely hope that you enjoy their story as much as we have.

Today, we would like to share one of the first letters written by Jasper to Elizabeth. I will note that most men at war in this day and age were young, white, protestant farmers with very little education. If they could write, it was likely that their grammar and spelling left much to be desired. Such is the case with Jasper, and the other men who wrote to Elizabeth from the battle lines. My transcription of this letter will contain a few small corrections, making it easier for readers to follow. My main corrections in this letter will be periods at the end of each sentence; Jasper didn't seem to think they were necessary. I will leave most misspellings for your entertainment. 

Civil War Letter Page 1
March the 12th, 1862 Camp Morton Indianapolis

Dear Love,

 

I take the presant opportunity of riting you a fiw lines to let you know of my health. I am well at presant and hoping that when this comes to hand that it may find you well. I received your letters which gave me great pleasure to hear from you and to hear that you was well. Now Elisabeth you wanted me to have my likeness (picture) taken and send it to you. I will have it taken the first chance I have and send it to you. 

 

When this you see, remember me and bear me in your mind for a trusty friend is hard to find. Round is the ring that has no end my love to you shall never end. The rose is red, the violet blue, candy is sweet and so are you. You said for me not to forget my promise. I think I will not forget my promise if you don’t forget your promise.

 

We are a looking for marching orders every day. I don’t know where we will go to when we leave here. I wold like to have been there to have gone with you to the party and a hugged you a while my mind is on you all of the time. Now Elisabeth you said that Caroline Quarterman and me was going to get married when I come home. Now Elisabeth if you hear her say that her and me is going to get married when I come home you tell her that she is liar. I wold not marry her if every hair on her head was hung with gold guineas. So you not make your self nasty about her and me getting married. I swear by all the gods above that you and only I love. Now Elisabeth you must rite to me often and let me know how you are getting along.

 

I remain your true love until death
I will have my likeness taken the first time I go to town and send it to you
Jasper Smith to Elisabeth Lee
Rite Soon

 

Civil War Letter closing

 





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