This is an incredible collection of handwritten letters from a Union Soldier from the battle lines of the Civil War. The letters detail his service, time spent as a prisoner of war, release, and many significant historical references concerning the war.
On a rainy day in April of 2014, we acquired a collection of 116 letters written during the Civil War. We knew that we had something special, but we didn’t know just how special until we began to read. The letters were all written to Elizabeth (Lee) Smith, primarily by a man named Jasper Newton Smith.
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 (COMPANY K 53RD INDIANA VETERAN VOLUNTEER 1ST BRIGADE, 4TH DIVISION ARMY CORPS OF TENNESSEE). 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. We were gleefully surprised to also find a love story unfolding between a Union soldier and a woman back home.
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 was the son of John Andrew and Elizabeth (Broadway) Smith. Elizabeth was the daughter of Isaac and Henriette Dorothy (Leatherman) Lee.
The letters detail Elizabeth and Jasper’s courtship, which leads to their marriage in the middle of the war. They share the struggles of life on the move in a war-torn country. We read of the capture and assumed death of Jasper, only to be reunited with his words and the story of his survival. These letters have captured our attention and our hearts.
In the midst of bloodshed, “normal” life continues. Jasper uses his letters to court young Elizabeth Lee. 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 in his letters for Elizabeth’s enjoyment.
Throughout the letters, we hear mention of many people and places significant to the Civil War. We specifically hear of orders to reinforce General Grant, being "in the care of" Captain Reaves and Pennington, guarding 3000 rebel prisoners, description of the Battle of Hatchie's Bridge, General Price advancing on them, and more. He speaks in one letter of hearing a speech by the Agent General of the United States, and of seeing many other "big officers." We do have a detailed summary of the collection of letters, and would be happy to provide it to interested parties.
The letters have been carefully placed in clear, plastic pockets and stored in binders. Each letter has been transcribed word for word (to the best of our ability). Each transcription has been printed and included next to the original letter. 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. We have stayed true to their spelling and grammar within the letter transcription.
The condition of the letters is pretty astounding when you consider just how old they are. They were folded for many years, and most still have crease lines. The edges have varying degrees of wear and tear. Most of the pages have yellowed, and some have stains or fading. Overall though, I would say that this collection is in excellent condition.
A deeper look at the letters:
The other 24 letters included in this collection were written by the following people:
Elizabeth’s brother, Henry Lee (ENGINEER CORPS 1ST BRIGADE, 2ND DIVISION 16TH ARMY CORPS & COMPANY A 66TH REGIMENT VOLUNTEERS INDIANA)
Jasper’s Brother, Christopher Smith (COMPANY A 66TH REGIMENT INDIANA) who was killed in action
Elizabeth’s brother, Gregory Lee (COMPANY A 66TH REGIMENT INDIANA VOLUNTEER)
Elizabeth’s nephew, Elijah Miller (COMPANY A 140TH REGIMENT INDIANA VOLUNTEER)
Elizabeth’s cousin, CP Leatherman
Jasper’s Lieutenant, Abraham Tengarden
Elizabeth’s nephew, John A Smith
Elizabeth’s Brother, Cam Ransom Lee (CORPORAL IN COMPANY A, 38TH INDIANA INFANTRY)
The locations the letters are written from are as follows:
Rolla, North Carolina
Camp Noble in Tiffin, Ohio
Camp Morton in Indianapolis, Indiana
Pittsburg Landing near Corinth, Mississippi
Grand Junction, Tennessee
Somewhere in the woods on Picket (near Hatchie River)
Holly Springs, Mississippi
New Carthage, Louisiana
Grand Gulf, Mississippi
Camp Grissom, Tennessee
Camp near Big Black
Near Elk River, Alabama
Camp Hebron, Mississippi
Lime Stone County, Alabama
New Albany, Indiana
Birds Point, Missouri
Near Atlanta, Georgia
Camp near the Chattahoochee River
Beaufort, South Carolina
Washington City (Washington DC)
Pocotaligo Station, South Carolina
Goldsboro, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
Headquarters 14th Army Corps Louisville, Kentucky