Posted by: Ann Myers | April 16, 2010

Other People’s Letters

On April 8, 2010, SCRC hosted a dramatic reading of a selection of letters from our collections. The event was planned and emceed by Abigail Wheetley, and we thank everyone who was able to attend. For those who were unable to attend, and for those who would like to revisit something they heard that evening, we will be posting transcriptions of the letters and introductions to them over the next few weeks.

We begin this week with a Civil War letter.

A Woman’s War

Mann Family Papers MSS 111

Many of the letters from the Civil War were sent home by soldiers and then preserved by wives, sisters and mothers, and because of this the most prominent perspective we have about this time in America is from men. The letters from women, on the other hand, were carried into battle, left out in the elements, and rarely made it through unscathed, and so half of our narrative is usually absent.  However, the Mann family took great pains to preserve all of their correspondence, and therefore tonight we get to hear a moment from the war from a woman’s perspective. Nancy Clendenin Mann was the wife of John Preston Mann, and mother of his four children. The family lived and are buried in Rockwood, Illinois. John served just over three years while Nancy stayed home with the children.

Nancy Mann, page 1

Friday, October 3rd, 1862

Dear Husband,

I wrote not in reply to yours as I have not received a letter since I last wrote you. I took up my pen with the intention of writing to James but upon consideration I concluded to write to you, I feel troubled at your long absence for many reasons, I fear have become estranged from us, and if you should be permitted to return to your home again that you will not enjoy our presence as you would have done had we not been so long separated, I know that home scenes are not fresh in our memory as when you first left. Perhaps it is better that they should not be, your absence is unavoidable and I would not have the memory of home ever before you, so as to ease your thoughts to be gloomy, for a soldier needs animation not gloom, yet I do not wish to think that time, or distance should make you love us less than you did when you was with us, the children talk  of you often and look forward with pleasure to the time when you will come home, but I do not think they have that yearning, or desire to see you that they felt the first six months after you left home, but they are always counting the days between mail days and when the mail morning comes they hear the whistle of every boat and ask whether it whistled like mail-boat and their faces wear a look of disappointment when they return from the post office without any letter. They wonder if Pa didn’t write, Nannie will say ‘yes, Pa wrote, but the old boat just wouldn’t bring the letter’ when you come home you will be dearer than ever to them, but I fear they will look strange to you. I do not perceive any change in them being with them all the time, yet know they have grown and perhaps changed otherwise, Grace has changed from a baby to a sprightly little girl, they may not be as well controlled as when you was here to help me but they are not disobedient children. Mother tells me that I am too indulgent. Well, I must stop writing tonight. Alice’s eyes are sore. She keeps turning in bed and groaning perhaps the candle light hurts them. I wonder if you have gone to bed yet. Oh how I do wish this war was ended. Do you think it will be ever?

Good night.

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