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Civil War Love Letters

Explore our collection of the James E. Love Papers. When his regiment left St. Louis in June 1861, James started writing letters home to his fiancée, Eliza Mary “Molly” Wilson. James continued to write these letters throughout his entire Civil War service. Our online magazine, History Happens Here, posts these letters 150 years to the day after they were originally written.

Oct. 31, 1863: In this telegram, Molly’s brother R.B.M. Wilson, in Washington, Illinois, informs his friend in nearby Peoria, Dr. Murphy, that James was wounded and a prisoner, but all right. historyhappensher...

Oct. 24, 1863: James arrived at this prison in Richmond, Virginia. He writes to Molly, "I have thought daily & hourly of you." "Libby" From Lanier, Robert S., ed. The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes, Vol. 7. New York: The Review of Reviews Co., 1911. Missouri History Museum.

Oct. 10, 1863: After several days in a field hospital, James was transported to Atlanta, Georgia. He writes to Molly, "Here I am a prisoner & wounded in the leg twice. I am doing well — and will be as good as new — if I live to see you." Pictured: "View of Atlanta, Georgia," Harper's Weekly, November 26, 1864. Missouri History Museum.

Sept. 23, 1863: James’s division, led by Major General Jefferson C. Davis, marched across the La Fayette road and fought the Confederate forces on the other side. The thick blue arrow with Davis’s name, in the center of this map, shows the movement. “Map of the Battle of Chickamauga, early afternoon September 19, 1863” Map by Hal Jespersen, www.posix.com/CW, December 11, 2008.

Sept. 19, 1863: When James wrote this letter, he was camped near Crawfish Spring, in the lower left corner of this map, with the rest of his division, commanded by Maj Gen Jefferson C. Davis. James marched north to the 2nd location for Davis’s division, in the center of the map, facing the enemy. "Map of the Battle-field of Chickamauga, September 19th 1863." Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891–1895.

Sept. 15, 1863: James marched up and down Lookout Mountain, shown here in a drawing of a later fight. "Lookout Mountain - Sketched by Theodore R. Davis from Our Works on Chattanooga Creek - The Rebels Sheilling Our Camps." Harper's Weekly, November 14, 1863. Missouri History Museum. Read his letter to Molly: historyhappensher...

Sept. 15, 1863: James writes to Molly, "How I long for some of your sweet words... If we get to Chattanooga then we will have good communication again and I shall hear of you often again — only to think I have passed nearly a month without a word from you — but it is no fault of yours. So as the mail closes just now I bid you good bye — enclose a kiss & best wishes to you & all." Read his entire letter: historyhappensher...

Sept. 12, 1863: James continued to write about his movements during the Chickamauga Campaign. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland was spread out between Chattanooga and Alpine, while Gen. Braxton Bragg concentrated his forces at Lafayette, Georgia. Section of map of Alabama. From Colton, George W. Colton's Atlas of the World Illustrating Physical and Political Geography. New York: J.H. Colton and Company, 1856. Missouri History Museum. historyhappensher...

Sept. 6–7, 1863: James wrote about his movements in the mountains south of Chattanooga during the Chickamauga Campaign. This map shows the topography in the region, where James marched from the crest of Sand Mountain into Will’s Valley, and south to Valley Head, Alabama, approximately near the “B” in Alabama. Detail from "The Chickamauga Campaign." Plate 48 from Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891–1895.

Aug. 30, 1863: James wrote about rejoining his regiment in time for the beginning of the Chickamauga Campaign. He was in the lead boat crossing the Tennessee River, with the enemy on the other side. Detail from "Map Showing the Army Movements around Chattanooga, Tenn." Plate 97 from Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895. www.historyhappen...

Aug. 22, 1863: James tried to reassure Molly of his safety: "recollect that not one day in a month am I in danger whatsoever — usually I am as safe as you." On the way to rejoining his regiment, James stopped in Louisville, Kentucky. Ruger, A. Bird's Eye View of Louisville, Kentucky 1876. [Chicago: 1876]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. www.historyhappen...

August 21, 1863: James wrote his second letter of the day to Molly before leaving St. Louis to rejoin his regiment. He wrote, "Folks are...pleased to have the matter settled so. My dearest love dont fret now — as you love me — and I will promise to get into no danger." historyhappensher...

Aug. 21, 1863: After traveling 400 miles from Winchester, Tennessee, to St. Louis, James traveled another 200 miles from St. Louis, in the lower left corner of this map, to Washington, Illinois, in the northeastern corner of Tazewell County, to see Molly. Section from Helm, Charles J. State of Illinois map compiled from the Official Records of the State of Illinois, 1911. Missouri History Museum.

Aug. 10, 1863: James visits St. Louis on furlough. Will he convince Molly to marry him? "I have talked love before and professed it too, but I never really loved another but you, that I can prove — it is so in all honesty. I never expect to love another. I have numerous faults, more than you know of, but I hope I can & would endow you with a wealth of love — more precious than a mine of riches." Read the rest of James' letter: historyhappensher...

Aug. 10, 1863: While on leave, James stayed with Molly’s brother, William C. Wilson, who lived at 326 Morgan, near the intersection of 15th and Morgan in the right center area of this map. Today, Morgan is known as Delmar. Detail from Plate 43 of Pictorial St. Louis, the great metropolis of the Mississippi Valley: a topographical survey drawn in perspective. Compiled by Camille N. Dry, & edited by Rich. J. Compton. St. Louis: Compton & Co., 1876. Missouri History Museum.

July 25-26, 1863: James received devastating news from Molly. Is this the end? "And if I find it should be painful to you at a future time to resume our engagements, I hope I love you too well to insist! I will tell you now. I am tenacious of Love and hate! that is one of my faults." Pictured: Ruger, A. Peoria, Illinois 1867. [Chicago]: Chicago Lithographing Co., [1867]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C. www.historyhappen...

July 18, 1863: In this letter to Molly, who was visiting her oldest brother, Robert Wilson, in Washington, Illinois, James celebrates several recent Union victories. On July 4, 1863, after a six-week siege, the Confederates surrendered at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Siege of Vicksburg. Chromolithograph by Kurz and Allison, 1888. Missouri History Museum. www.historyhappen...

July 5, 1863: James describes efforts to have a 4th of July celebration, which failed due to the continued heavy rains. "Our Flag: The Fourth of July, 1864," Harper's Weekly, July 16, 1864. Missouri History Museum. www.historyhappen...

July 5, 1863: James wrote about crossing flooded streams during the final movements of the Tullahoma Campaign. This map shows the location of the Army of the Cumberland between Manchester and Tullahoma, Tennessee, including James’s division led by Major General Jefferson C. Davis. Quick Map, July 4th, 1863. Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891–1895. Missouri History Museum.

June 30, 1863: During a week of rainy, muddy marches over high hills, James traveled from Murfreesboro to Manchester, Tennessee. Section of map of Tennessee and Kentucky. George W. Colton's Atlas of the World Illustrating Physical and Political Geography. New York: J.H. Colton and Company, 1856. Read James' letter to Molly: www.historyhappen.... Missouri History Museum

June 28, 1863: While James sat on a porch in a thunderstorm, a female slave, who probably looked like the woman in this photograph, told him about the white Confederate sympathizers leaving the area. "Aunt Sukey" African American slave of Robert B. Smith family. Carte de visite by T.D. Saunders, Lexington, MO, ca. 1860. Missouri History Museum.

June 27, 1863: James wrote about the constant rain and muddy roads during the Tullahoma Campaign. The Union army had to fight for control of three primary gaps through a range of high hills, shown on this map. "Skirmishes near Liberty Gap, Tenn., June 24-26, 1863," Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891–1895. Missouri History Museum

June 23, 1863: James mentions that he claimed his captain’s commission, which probably looked similar to this commission for the captain of a Missouri regiment. Commission of Charles Bruno as captain of Company K, 17th Missouri Infantry (Union), December 16, 1863. Missouri History Museum.

June 12, 1863: James mentions that he tried unsuccessfully to exchange newspapers with the enemy pickets, a common practice during the war. "Pickets Fraternizing over Coffee and Exchanging Papers," Harper's Weekly, July 26, 1862. Missouri History Museum. www.historyhappen...

June 10, 1863: James learned that Molly's family found out about James and Molly's secret engagement. He hoped that meant that they could finally get married. James hopes for a fall or winter wedding. "Godey's Fashions for January 1865," Godey's Lady's Book. Philadelphia: L.A. Godey, January 1865. Missouri History Museum. www.historyhappen...