A friend loaned me a collection of priceless letters written during the Civil War by one of his ancestors. Reading these original, hand-written letters just as they were penned and sent is an overwhelming experience.
The soldier, Joseph Theordor Betts, was born in New York City on March 12, 1843. He enlisted in Company E, 2nd Regiment, of the D.C. Volunteers on March 5, 1862., at the age of 18. He was discharged in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 1865. He was a drummer.
Betts’ letters were mostly to his parents. He wrote of things that a young soldier often writes about — missing home, favorite foods, his pay, the latest news. He asks about relatives and friends at home. He expresses love and appreciation for the letters he receives.
The rich descriptive detail of his life as a Union soldier in these horrific times is extraordinary. They provide deeper insight into the life of a young soldier during the Civil War. On top of all that, the fact that his original letters survived to be read in 2009 is amazing.
Another aspect of Betts’ letters home is the incredible quality of his penmanship. A lost art these days, Betts penmanship is calligraphy by today’s standards. His letters are simply beautiful. Though stained, faded, and worn, the beauty of his writing shines through.
One particular letter moved me. It was dated December 2, 1863, and was written to his parents from a camp near my hometown of Vienna, Virginia.
This collection of letters is a remarkable gift to be handed down through the ages in my friend’s family. I can’t help but think of today’s correspondence. Will someone one day tell his or her daughter, “Honey, here is a collection of your great, great, great grandfather’s Tweets from when he was stationed in Afghanistan.
That just does not have the poignancy of these hand-written letters. Sadly, hand-written letters are a lost art. The U.S. Postal Service is currently closing offices and cutting back service due to lower volumes of mail. We love the immediacy of email, Twitter, etc. I do, too. But I keep my collection of fountain pens and inks and still get satisfaction from writing real correspondence.