Historic letters at Pamplin display emotion of Civil War soldiers during holidays

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Twitter: @PGJournal
Posted: January 15, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

VIRGINIA – The vast archives of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, contain countless letters and correspondence of Civil War Soldiers. These historic documents paint a picture of what day-to-day life was like for these young men during the war. Loneliness, fear, home-sickness—many of these young Soldiers were away from their homes for the first time in their lives, under the most grueling of circumstances. The traditional holiday seasons of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s only added to the misery, heartache, and hardship of the war.

Several of the letters in Pamplin’s archives are those written by Charles Hunter of the 88th Pennsylvania Infantry. Hunter enlisted in 1861, just before his 21st birthday, and worked his way up through the ranks to become a first lieutenant, before he resigned in June of 1865. During his service, Hunter endured times of serious illness, which was common on the battlefield.  He also sustained a serious injury at the beginning of the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 8, 1864. This injury left Hunter recuperating in the Mansion House Hospital, in Alexandria, Virginia, for months.

“Today’s military is still a place where ambitious and capable young soldiers like Hunter, can strive to move through the ranks and make a decent career for themselves,” said Colin Romanick, Director, Marketing & Development, Pamplin Historical Park & The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.

In December of 1864, according to Hunter himself, he left Mansion House Hospital, “by my own request,” and return to duty on the front-lines, with the 88th Pennsylvania Infantry, which by then was at Petersburg, Virginia. The 88th Pennsylvania, part of Major General Gouverneur Warren’s V Corps, of the Army of the Potomac, was camped just South of Petersburg, near the Weldon Railroad, which they had previously fought so hard to sever the previous August.

In one of the historic letters in Pamplin’s archives, Hunter wrote home to his young sister, Jane, on December 23, 1864. Hunter explained to his sister that he was expecting his Lieutenant’s commission from Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtain by the end of the month. He wrote about how he hoped everything would go alright, and that it would pave the way for a captaincy. Although Hunter had been assured that his commission was a given. “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip,” when it comes to officer’s commissions, but I guess it will be alright this time, at least I hope so,” Hunter expressed to his sister, Jane.

In this particular letter, given the time of year, Hunter’s mind quickly turned to home, as all soldier’s thoughts do during the holiday season. “So you are having a good time of it, going to balls and dancing,” he stated. Then, good-naturedly, Hunter claimed from a soldier’s perspective, “If you was down here, you would have a good time dancing too, but it would be to get your feet warm.”

Perhaps feeling a bit despondent at first, Hunter explained that there was not much chance of getting home to celebrate Christmas with the family, but he hoped he could get a furlough sometime during the winter. His mood seemed to pick up in the letter when he mentioned the possibility of his promotion to Lieutenant. “I will let you know as soon as I get the commission, as I will want something sent down in a box, that is if the paymasters come along this way.”

Hunter’s long service seems to have prepared him for the difficult times and disappointments of army life, particularly when it came to food. “The day after tomorrow is Christmas, and never a sign of turkey, But I have got so that such things as [no] turkey on Christmas don’t trouble me.” He ended his rather short letter by bestowing Christmas wishes. “I suppose you will get this on Christmas, so I send all of you a Merry Christmas, and if you don’t hear from me again before New Year’s day, a Happy New Year.” As Hunter so often did, he closed his letter with, “I remain your affectionate brother, Charles Hunter.”

“Many times we hear of soldiers thoughts of home, but those family and friends left behind are as anxious to hear from them as well,” Romanick said.

Hunter did indeed receive his promotion to First Lieutenant that winter, and fought with the V Corps through the Spring Campaigns that saw the capture of Petersburg, and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.

Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is one of “Virginia’s Best Places to Visit,” according to the Travel Channel, and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is a 424-acre Civil War campus located in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, offering a combination of high-tech museums and hands-on experiences. The park has four world-class museums and four antebellum homes. It is also the site of The Breakthrough Battlefield of April 2, 1865, and America’s premiere participatory experience, Civil War Adventure Camp. For additional information, telephone (804) 861-2408, or visit www.pamplin Historical Park.org. Pamplin Historical Park is located at 6125 Boydton Plank Road, Petersburg (North Dinwiddie), Virginia 23803.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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