Thanks for being with me today Susan. Readers, Susan is giving away a copy of Cole’s Promise to one lucky commenter, so remember to leave a comment.
I’m not talking about the telegraph, used mostly by the Union Army and newspapermen to communicate news from the warfront, but the main form of communication from soldier to family back home. Letter writing.
With e-mail, instant messaging, cellular phones, as well as land-line telephones, we of the 21st century don’t need to write letters to communicate and keep in touch with friends and family. But during the Victorian era, writing long letters was an important form of communication.
In order to be considered for the ‘Love Letters’ series, Cole’s Promise, had to include a letter that changed one of the main character’s lives. I instantly thought of the Civil War soldier, desperate for news from home. But what if the news he received broke his heart?
During the Civil War, with families being separated for long lengths of time, letters became vital for both the soldiers and their families back home.
According to Bell Irwin Wiley, author of: The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, “… letter writing was one of the most pervasive of camp diversions.” Civil War regiments sent out an average of 600 letters per day.
Letter writing soldiers often had to improvise. They wrote by candlelight, sitting on the ground, using another soldier’s back or a knapsack as a writing surface. They also used such things as “… knees, tin plates, books, cracker boxes or drumheads.” – The Life of Billy Yank
Writing paper varied in quality from fancy stationery to ruled pages torn from record books. While men preferred to write with pen and ink, they often had to rely on lead pencils. – Soldiers Blue and Gray
They wrote about such things as battles, health, weather and new places and people they’d seen and met.
Soldiers also looked forward to receiving letters from home. One New Jersey soldier wrote in a letter to his family: “You can have no idea what a blessing letters from home are to the men in camp. They make us better men, better soldiers.” – Soldiers Blue and Gray
Men who felt they hadn’t received letters from their loved ones frequently enough would write angry letters home, demanding their loved ones write back to them.
Some of the most beautiful love letters were written by lonely soldiers to their wives and sweethearts.
The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Union soldier, Sullivan Ballou to his wife, dated July 14, 1861, while contemplating the possibility of his death in battle:
“But O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night–amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.” http://www.civil-war.net/pages/sullivan_ballou.asp
Click the above link for the complete letter, plus samples of others.
Another site where you can find samples of actual Civil War letters is:
People of the Victorian period were sentimental and their letters show it.
Sources: The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union by Bell Irwin Wiley
Soldiers Blue and Gray by James I. Robertson, Jr.
Blurb for Cole’s Promise: Cole Manning, a Union lieutenant serving during the height of the American Civil War, expects a letter from his best girl, Hannah, who promised to wait for him. But her post contains an unwelcome surprise. She’s marrying someone else. Heartbroken, he vows no woman will ever fool him again.
Claire Hirsch’s fiancé died in battle during the first year of the war. Because she could no longer sit at home mourning, she volunteers to assist doctors in the camps. Scarred by his death, she knows loving a soldier can only lead to heartache.
Cole and Claire find solace in each other’s arms, but is their love strong enough to overcome the fear of losing the one they love?
Her breath caught at the sight of Lieutenant Manning standing over Private Upwood’s cot. He leaned down and spoke softly to the lad. When he turned his head and straightened, his gaze caught hers.
“Miss Hirsch.” He patted the boy’s hand and stepped around the cot.
“Lieutenant, I hadn’t expected to see you back here today.”
He lifted his bandaged arm. “I’m supposed to see Doc tomorrow, but I had to see to the private. He said the boy’s taken a bad turn.”
Her heart burned at the raw pain in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I know you’ve been so worried about the lad. But it’s not your fault.”
He shook his head. “Everyone tells me that, but it’s not how I feel. Could I speak to you in private for a moment?”
Claire’s heart fluttered at the thought of being alone with him. But he obviously wanted to speak about the private out of his earshot. “Of course, Lieutenant.”
He reached for her arm and escorted her from the tent. She followed his glance. Men milled around conversing and sipping coffee. The lieutenant bit his lip.
“How about back here?” He gestured toward the rear of the hospital tent where it abutted the forest line.
Claire hesitated. “I-I suppose so.”
His gaze slid over her. “I promise to do you no harm, ma’am.”
His boyish smile reassured her. Of course he wouldn’t dare accost her in camp.
She allowed him to lead her to the rear. Great oak and hickory trees cooled the spot. A boulder sat just a few feet behind the rear of the tent. She turned toward him, thinking he’d meant for her to sit on the smooth top of the rock, but instead, he reached his good arm around her back and drew her close.
Her pulse raced. “Lieu—” Her question was cut short by his lips pressed against hers. His kiss was soft and sweet, not demanding. He pulled away, his gaze dancing over her, a small smile on his lips.
“I must apologize, Miss Hirsch, but after being in your company, I couldn’t resist tasting. I hope you don’t think me a complete scoundrel.”
Although Claire’s first impulse was to protest such improper behavior, she couldn’t resist grinning. “Not at all, unless you want me to think of you as a scoundrel,” she teased.
“In that case…” He kissed her again, more thoroughly this time.
Little moans escaped her lips as she returned his kiss. Her eyes closed, and the thrill of his touch sent her toes curling. Her knees turned to jelly in his strong grasp.
He released her lips but held her fast. “I must apologize again, I’m afraid.” His eyes smoldered, and Claire wondered what else he had in mind.
His mouth took her lips again, sending shivers down her spine.
“Call me Cole.”
“But, Lieutenant, it’s hardly proper…” Her protest died at his intense gaze.
“We’ve shared an intimate exchange, and I’d like to share much more with you. I suppose it puts us on a first name basis, at least in private.”
She hesitated, but nodded.
“I’d like to see you later, in private.”
“I-I, don’t know…”
“Miss Hirsch?” The stern voice of an older woman broke the spell. Claire’s face burned as she realized it was Mrs. Benson.
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Cole’s Promise, part of the ‘Love Letters’ series, is available today from The Wild Rose Press.
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