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George Martin Trowbridge papers, 1863-1865

238 letters

The George Martin Trowbridge papers contain Trowbridge's description of his military service with the 19th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War, including religious, medical, and social aspects of soldier life.

The George Martin Trowbridge papers contain a total of 238 letters, 47 of which are written on earlier letters in order to conserve paper. Trowbridge wrote 191 of the letters to his wife, Lesbia ("Lebbie") during his Civil War service with the 19th Michigan Infantry. When his supply of stationery ran low, he reused incoming letters, interlining them with his own writings, and thus 42 letters from Lebbie and 5 from George's friends are also preserved with the collection. The letters span October 9, 1863, to June 22, 1865. Trowbridge apparently intended his wife to preserve these letters for posterity, because he wrote exceptionally detained accounts of the latter part of the Civil War, totaling 1,089 pages of correspondence.

Early letters in the collection describe camp life in McMinnville, Tennessee, which the 19th Michigan occupied for six months from October 1863 to April 1864, with very little to do. Trowbridge was considerably anguished at being separated from his wife, and his long answers to her letters included attempts to govern his household from a distance of several hundred miles. Trowbridge's relationship with his wife emerges with great complexity in their correspondence. George repeatedly discussed the place of women and proper parenting, and he appears to have harbored a nagging suspicion during the first several months of his service that his wife might have been unfaithful to him. His frequent condemnations of adultery, pointed comments concerning infidelity on the part of soldiers' wives, and assertions that he would personally drop a wife who was guilty of infidelity, eventually brought Lebbie to exasperated protests; by the opening of the Atlanta Campaign, references to the subject ceased completely. An evangelical Christian, Trowbridge wrote letters during the occupation period that revealed his interest in the spiritual lives of his fellow soldiers; he described prayer meetings and theological debates. He also frequently criticized the military's secular treatment of the Sabbath, especially in a letter of November 22, 1863.

After the spring of 1864, the unit began its participation in the Atlanta Campaign and in his letters, Trowbridge increasingly discussed military engagements, medical work, duties, and the places and people that the regiment encountered. Of particular note is Trowbridge's 36-page account (November 11-December 17, 1864) of Sherman's March to the Sea, detailing the Union army's destruction of plantations, railroad tracks, and cotton storage facilities. It also provides an excellent description of slavery in Georgia, including working conditions of half-clothed young slaves, the sexual advantage that masters took with their female slaves ("there is white blood in most"), and the illegality of slave literacy. Other topics mentioned include the historical significance of the march, Confederate resistance near Savannah, and the production of "Sherman ties" made by winding heated railroad track pieces around trees. Trowbridge also wrote a 56-page narrative of the March through the Carolinas, dated February 2-March 26, 1865. In this, he gave an account of further destruction of homes, cotton, and infrastructure; of Sherman's reputation as a fighter; of the capture of bank safes in Charleston and Camden; and of the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville.

Toward the end of the war, when stationery got scarce, Trowbridge began writing on letters which Lebbie and others had written to him. Thus over 40 of her letters are preserved. Lebbie's letters, which are still largely legible in spite of the fact that George wrote between the lines of her letters, provide ample family news and many details of life on the homefront. Of particular interest is her description of reactions to Lincoln's assassination in Michigan (on George's letter of May 23, 1865), as well as her discussion of alcohol use by her neighbors (August 28, 1864). Both George and Lebbie comment upon the failed love life of Lebbie's sister, Gertrude A. Fox (b. 1843), who for a time was engaged to her first cousin.


Mead family papers, 1861-1862

28 items

The Mead family papers primarily document the Civil War experience of Henry Mead, of the 10th Connecticut Infantry, up to his death from typhoid fever in April 1862. Mead’s letters describe informal religious meetings, the battles of Roanoke and Newbern, and camp life.

The Mead family papers contain 28 letters written between October 10, 1861, and July 17, 1863. Henry Mead wrote 21 of the letters to his parents and siblings during his service in Company I, 10th Connecticut Infantry. Other letter writers include Henry’s friend William Long, who was also a member of Company I, as well as a soldier named Willis, likely Willis Mead of the 6th New Hampshire Infantry, and Henry’s father, Sanford Mead. George Pease, “Nellie,” and “Deak” contributed three additional letters; their connection to the Meads is unclear.

Henry Mead’s letters shed light on his six months of service with the 10th Connecticut Infantry, before his death from typhoid fever in April 1862. He provided details of camp life, drilling, sailing on the schoonerE.W. Farrington , and the religious activities of soldiers. He was a dedicated participant in informal religious “meetings” held in tents, and discussed them throughout his correspondence. On December 10, 1861, he wrote, “there was one thing that made the meeting rather more solom to night was the loosing of our men last night… It made a deep thought on my mind for I thought why was it not I instead of him.” In his letter of October 29, 1861, he described getting his photograph taken in uniform and having money stolen from his pocketbook. Although Mead’s battle descriptions are sparse, he frankly expressed his anxiety and fear of death before fighting at Roanoke (February 8, 1862).


Thomas Dwight Witherspoon papers, 1861-1871 (majority within 1861-1864)

32 items

Chaplain Thomas D. Witherspoon wrote these letters to members of the Witherspoon and Rascoe families during his Civil War service in the 2nd, 11th, and 42nd Mississippi Infantry Regiments.

The surviving letters of Thomas D. Witherspoon, most addressed to members of the Rascoe family, include a small number of insightful Confederate letters. There are, unfortunately, large gaps in the correspondence, most notably between July, 1862, and 1870, interrupted by only one letter from Witherspoon, January 7, 1864, and this lacuna conceals the entirety of Witherspoon's imprisonment, the end of the war, his departure from the service, and his adjustment to civilian life and Reconstruction. The surviving correspondence, however, forms an interesting and surprisingly fleshed-out portrayal of one man's service as a Confederate chaplain during the earliest stages of the war.

As an educated, clear-thinking, and utterly committed man, Witherspoon is an ideal correspondent. His letters are filled with emotion, driven by a sense of purpose in his military service, and ordered by a strongly held code of morality. His religious leanings and training make him particularly sensitive to the moral state of the Confederate army, and somewhat prone to viewing the conflict as an almost Manichean struggle between southern Good and northern Evil. The scattered letters written during the late spring and summer, 1864, include additional comments on organized "Christian" relief during the war, including a particularly interesting comment from Witherspoon that the (northern) Christian Commission does more to crush the rebellion than the entire Army of the Potomac through their intrigues and trickery in getting sick and wounded men to take the oath of allegiance (1864 January 7).

After the war, Rev. Witherspoon settled in Memphis, Tennessee, and published at least two works: Children of the Covenant (Richmond, Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1873) and The Appeal of the South to its Educated Men (Memphis: The Association, 1867). He also contributed an essay, "The doctrinal contents of the confession" to the Presbyterian Church's Memorial volume of the Westminster assembly, 1647-1897 (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897).

Witherspoon was also author of "Prison Life at Fort McHenry." Southern Historical Society Papers 8 (1880): pp. 77-82, 111-119, 163-68.