Monday, May 25, 2009

War, Sea Shells and Pretty Paper - Memorial Day

Recently a distant relative called and offered my family copies of documents and information she had uncovered during genealogical research over the years. She and I both have a number of relatives who were Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. Among the things she gave to me is a group of letters written by James Matthew Jordan, a private in the 27th Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, to his wife Louisa, with asides to his father and mother in some of them. I want on this Memorial Day to share a few excerpts from his letters that I think will surprise you.

Jordan was a lively and engaging corrrespondent, and reflected on topics ranging from politics, to management of his farm in his absence, to the stories of the foot soldier - fatigue, hunger, fear, rumor, health and sickness, combat and death. He loved his family desperately, and frequently expressed his pain at being away from them.

February 14, 1863
"Dear wife, and father and mother as this letter will be carried by a friend I will write some thing that I would not write if I had to send it by mail for if I was to start it by mail you might not get it and I don't like to write anything that will cause a fuss. Father, I am this day as strong a Union man as ever walked on the soil of Va. I would hate to desert but if I got a good chance I will be sure to do it. I never expect to kill a Union man. They may get me in a fight but I will not do them any good. I never intend to fight for a government that intends to enslave me and my children and all other poor children. Father, I cannot express my feelings by writing on this subject, but if I could see you I could let it all out with some satisfaction.

June 27, 1863
"Lou, you said you wanted me to write if I had shot at the Yankeys any or not. I shot away about 14 cartridges but I know I never hit nary one."

August 8, 1863
"Dear Lou, I sent you and the children some sea shells by Capt. Daughtry. I picked them up out of the waters edge of the great Atlantic. Lou, it is a grand scene to view the big water, to any one that never did."

September 10, 1863
"My dear wife, we suffered for water and something to eat and for sleep very much. We got only one meal a day to eat. Lou, turn on the next page."

March 21, 1864
"My darling one, I could extent this letter to 6 pages about first one thing and another, but I don't reckon it would amuse you much. So I must close by asking you to give Charity and Agnes [his daughters] a sweet little kiss each for me and give to them this little pretty piece of paper which I found on the battlefield dropped there by a Fed. I am, as ever your loving Mattie until death."

Three months later, James Matthew Jordan was captured at Petersburg, VA, June 16, 1864. He died in the Union prison at Elmira, NY on January 26, 1865, without having seen his beloved wife and children again.


  1. You did it. You made me cry. Tender moments of love carried through time on worn paper. Will such treasures exist from this war since most contact is digital? Will 100 years from now someone share a computer printout and feel the same when they read the silly online name of their relative and the boring generic fonts? I don't think so. You have some real gems there. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Thank you so much. I wish I could transcribe all these letters for you. The humanity of this soldier is complex and his experience moving. I saw that President Obama laid a wreath at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington, which is described as "controversial." I think it is wrong to judge men whose actions cannot be truly understood without hearing them speak for themselves.