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For a project at my school I need to make a 'letter home' of a Canadian soldier that participated in the Second Boer War. I need to draw from primary sources and I'm not having luck finding any. Does anyone know where to find letters written by soldiers in the Second Boer War. (I can find stuff on the life of soldiers in the war no problem, but actual letters are kind of hard).
Here's one site that has a few. I hope you'll be using these as inspiration to write your own letter, not just copying them. Good luck!
Postal censorship is the inspection or examination of mail, most often by governments. It can include opening, reading and total or selective obliteration of letters and their contents, as well as covers, postcards, parcels and other postal packets. Postal censorship takes place primarily but not exclusively during wartime (even though the nation concerned may not be at war, e.g. Ireland during 1939–1945) and periods of unrest, and occasionally at other times, such as periods of civil disorder or of a state of emergency. Both covert and overt postal censorship have occurred.
Historically, postal censorship is an ancient practice it is usually linked to espionage and intelligence gathering. Both civilian mail and military mail may be subject to censorship, and often different organisations perform censorship of these types of mail. In 20th-century wars the objectives of postal censorship encompassed economic warfare, security and intelligence.
The study of postal censorship is a philatelic topic of postal history.
Primary Sources: Dolley Madison’s Letter to Her Sister About the Burning of the White House
As the grand dame of Washington society for more than two decades, the vivacious Dolley Madison was exalted by many in the early nineteenth century as “Lady Presidentress.” Graced with a warm, friendly demeanor and a natural instinct for skillful entertaining, Dolley’s years as first lady made her a legend. Yet Dolley is not only remembered for her social skills. She is also celebrated for having saved priceless White House artifacts from the White House before they were destroyed by British troops during the War of 1812. Though others pleaded with her to leave the executive mansion immediately when the sounds of battle approached, Dolley insisted on gathering what she could—her husband’s letters, the national seal, and the portrait of George Washington. Or so the legend goes. Just what happened that day on August 24, 1814, in the frightful hours before the British troops burned down the White House?
Dolley wrote in a letter to her sister: “I insist on waiting until the large picture of Gen. Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. This process was found too tedious for these perilous moments I have ordered the frame to be broken, and the canvass taken out it is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safe keeping.”
Although Dolley states that she supervised the removal of Washington’s portrait, other stories suggest that Dolley actually removed the portrait herself. President Madison’s personal servant Paul Jennings, who was at the White House with Dolley the day the British arrived, insists in his own memoirs that stories crediting Dolley with the rescue of the portrait are untrue. According to Jennings, “It has often been stated in print, that when Mrs. Madison escaped from the White House, she cut out from the frame the large portrait of Washington (now in one of the parlors there), and carried it off. This is totally false. She had no time for doing it. It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and were expected every moment. John Susé (a Frenchman, then door-keeper, and still living) and Magraw, the President’s gardener, took it down and sent it off on a wagon, with some large silver urns and such other valuables as could be hastily got hold of.”
Understanding the Legend Using Multiple Sources
Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out includes several illustrations and literary pieces that focus on the War of 1812, such as Wendell Minor’s stunning painting of the early White House engulfed in flames, Ralph Ketcham’s discussion of President Madison’s struggle to preserve peace and national dignity, and Susan Cooper’s poignant letter imagined from the perspective of a British soldier. Careful reading of the War of 1812 material in Our White House will reveal that some of it actually contradicts itself. This is by design. Both the Our White House book and website purposely juxtapose contradictory primary and secondary historical sources so that young people can experience what historians often discover in their search for objective truth—that multiple points of view provide various perspectives and contradictory material. So, Our White House readers will find not only Paul Jennings’ side of the story in an excerpt from his memoirs, but also Don Brown’s take on the legend executed in watercolor and accompanying story titled “Dolley Madison Rescues George Washington.” Completing the section about the War of 1812 is Meg Cabot’s time-slip narrative, “Another All-American Girl.”
So that young people can gain an even wider perspective, we have included below the complete and exact text of a letter written by First Lady Dolley Madison. Although the letter reads as if Dolley wrote it contemporaneously to the events described, historians believe that the formal tone of this particular letter suggests that Dolley rewrote its content in the years after the war knowing that it would be published and serve as an historical account.
Insight from the White House Historical Association
The White House Historical Association includes the following information on its website, WhiteHouseHistory.org, in the lesson plan titled “Saving History: Dolley Madison, the White House and the War of 1812.”
“The extract of the letter Dolley Madison wrote to her sister describing the events leading up to her White House escape is dated August 23 and 24, 1814. Because the richly detailed letter is unique as a record of these critical events and was written by one of the few White House witnesses present, historians have used the contents of the letter over and over again in their histories of the period and in biographies of Dolley Madison. Recent research by historian David Mattern, who is also an editor of James Madison’s papers, revealed some interesting findings. He explains that the original letter does not exist. What historians use is a transcript or extracts of the letter that Dolley Madison copied from a book, The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, published in Philadelphia, 1837-1846. Twenty years after the White House burned, Mrs. Madison was asked to select some letters from the past to be published in this book. The letter to her sister was the only one selected to be printed. At some point in time, Mrs. Madison then copied it out of the book in her own handwriting. This transcription is the only record of the letter in her handwriting.
“Although the letter begins with, ‘Dear Sister,’ there is no indication which sister she meant: Lucy Todd Washington or Anna Cutts. It was customary to make a handwritten copy of a letter for the record before you mailed the original in her haste, Mrs. Madison probably did not. Therefore, she would have had to retrieve the letter from her sister in order to send it to the publisher. Because sister Anna lived near Dolley, and it would be convenient to retrieve the letter, it is thought that Anna was the recipient. (It was not at all unusual to keep letters for long periods).
“While Mrs. Madison regularly corresponded with friends and family, this particular letter differs in its tone and formality. She provides details that do not seem to be necessary to add, if she were simply writing to her sister. Did she re-write it later, for a broader audience? What is not in question, however, is the accuracy of the information. Another Madison letter written to Mary Latrobe, December 3, 1814, does not contradict the details.”
First Lady Dolley Madison’s Letter to Her Sister
Extract from a letter to my Sister published in the sketch of my life written for the “National Portrait Gallery.”
My husband left me yesterday morng. to join Gen. Winder. He enquired anxiously whether I had courage, or firmness to remain in the President’s house until his return, on the morrow, or succeeding day, and on my assurance that I had no fear but for him and the success of our army, he left me, beseeching me to take care of myself, and of the cabinet papers, public and private. I have since recd. two despatches from him, written with a pencil the last is alarming, because he desires I should be ready at a moment’s warning to enter my carriage and leave the city that the enemy seemed stronger than had been reported, and that it might happen that they would reach the city, with intention to destroy it. . . . I am accordingly ready I have pressed as many cabinet papers into trunks as to fill one carriage our private property must be sacrificed, as it is impossible to procure wagons for its transportation. I am determined not to go myself until I see Mr Madison safe, and he can accompany me, as I hear of much hostility towards him, . . . disaffection stalks around us. . . . My friends and acquaintances are all gone Even Col. C with his hundred men, who were stationed as a guard in the enclosure . . . . French John (a faithful domestic,) with his usual activity and resolution, offers to spike the cannon at the gate, and to lay a train of powder which would blow up the British, should they enter the house. To the last proposition I positively object, without being able, however, to make him understand why all advantages in war may not be taken.
Wednesday morng., twelve o’clock. Since sunrise I have been turning my spyglass in every direction and watching with unwearied anxiety, hoping to discern the approach of my dear husband and his friends, but, alas, I can descry only groups of military wandering in all directions, as if there was a lack of arms, or of spirit to fight for their own firesides!
Three O’clock. Will you believe it, my Sister? We have had a battle or skirmish near Bladensburg, and I am still here within sound of the cannon! Mr. Madison comes not may God protect him! Two messengers covered with dust, come to bid me fly but I wait for him. . . . At this late hour a wagon has been procured, I have had it filled with the plate and most valuable portable articles belonging to the house whether it will reach its destination the Bank of Maryland, or fall into the hands of British soldiery, events must determine.
Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is in a very bad humor with me because I insist on waiting until the large picture of Gen. Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. This process was found too tedious for these perilous moments I have ordered the frame to be broken, and the canvass taken out it is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safe keeping. And now, dear sister, I must leave this house, or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it, by filling up the road I am directed to take. When I shall again write you, or where I shall be tomorrow, I cannot tell!!
Editor’s Note: The letter was not signed.
- An online version of Paul Jennings’ memoirs, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison, and digital images of his original book, are included on the Documenting the American South website.
- “The Life, Letters, and Legacy of Dolley Payne Madison” on the Virginia Center for Digital History website includes letters, drawings, maps, and more.
- Biographical information, as well as research resources, regarding both James and Dolley Madison are available on the Montpelier website.
- The article “A First Lady Flees to the Sanctuary of Dumbarton House” on the Dumbarton House website provides information about Dolley Madison’s flight from the White House.
- Information about manuscripts for Dolley Madison is provided on the National First Ladies’ Library website.
- A lesson plan including information on Dolley Madison titled “Remember the Ladies: The First Ladies” is available on the NEH EDSITEment! website.
- Additional primary sources regarding the War of 1812 are included in the Our White House article “Primary Sources: The War of 1812.”
Discussion Questions for Young People at Home and in the Classroom
- Put yourself in Dolley Madison’s shoes, and think about what you might do in similar circumstances. Would you stay at the White House with the sounds of battle approaching? Or, would you leave as soon as possible? Why? Was it right for Dolley to risk her safety in order to save physical objects? Do you think of Dolley as a hero?
- Dolley Madison’s letter to her sister begins by stating that her husband “enquired anxiously whether I had courage, or firmness to remain in the President’s house until his return.” Scholars suggest that Dolley’s letter is all about courage and defiance—not just her own, but that of the young nation fighting to maintain its independence. Find other instances throughout the letter that exhibit Dolley’s defiant tone.
- We know that Dolley most likely rewrote this letter in the years after the war. What do you think she intended for future readers to believe about her actions? Do you believe it was appropriate for Dolley to rewrite her original letter before it was published? Why or why not?
- Is Dolley’s letter important to our understanding of these events? Why or why not?
- A legend typically relates the adventures of a human cultural hero. Legends sometimes exaggerate the hero’s actions, but they are usually based on historical fact. Would you consider the story of Dolley Madison’s actions to save items from the White House to be a legend? Why or why not? Can you think of other stories of American heroes that are considered to be legends?
Activity Suggestions for Young People at Home and in the Classroom
- Read Paul Jennings’ memoir in Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out or on the Documenting the American South website. Compare and contrast the tone and content of Jennings’ memoir and Dolley’s letter. Do the two pieces support each other? Do they provide opposing views? What is different and the same in both?
- Read either Don Brown’s “Dolley Madison Rescues George Washington” or Meg Cabot’s “Another All-American Girl” in Our White House. How do the events described in Jennings’ memoir and Dolley’s letter compare to the events that are portrayed in Brown’s or Cabot’s stories? What parts of Brown’s or Cabot’s stories vary from the primary sources? Who is the hero in Brown’s and Cabot’s stories? Do you believe Brown and Cabot portrayed the story accurately enough? Why or why not?
Mattern, David B. “Dolley Madison Has the Last Word: The Famous Letter.” White House History, Fall 1998.
Medieval Sourcebook: Crusader Letters
TO his reverend lord M., by God's grace archbishop of Reims, A. of Ribemont, his vassal and humble servant - greeting.
Inasmuch as you are our lord and as the kingdom of France is especially dependent upon your care, we tell to you, our father, the events which have happened to us and the condition of the army of the Lord. Yet, in the first place, although we are not ignorant that the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord, we advise and beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus to consider what you are and what the duty of a priest and bishop is. Provide therefore for our land, so that the lords may keep peace among themselves, the vassals may in safety work on their property, and the ministers of Christ may serve the Lord, leading quiet and tranquil lives. I also pray you and the canons of the holy mother church of Reims, my fathers and lords, to be mindful of us, not only of me and of those who are now sweating in the service of God, but also of the members of the army of the Lord who have fallen in arms or died in peace.
But passing over these things, let us return to what we promised. Accordingly after the army had reached Nicomedia, which is situated at the entrance to the land of the Turks, we all, lords and vassals, cleansed by confession, fortified ourselves by partaking of the body and blood of our Lord, and proceeding thence beset Nicaea on the second day before the Nones of May. After we bad for some days besieged the city with many machines and various engines of war, the craft of the Turks, as often before, deceived us greatly. For on the very day on which they bad promised that they would surrender, Soliman and all the Turks, collected from neighboring and distant regions, suddenly fell upon us and attempted to capture our camp. However the count of St. Gilles, with the remaining Franks, made an attack upon them and killed an innumerable multitude. All the others fled in confusion. Our men, moreover, returning in victory and bearing many heads fixed upon pikes and spears, furnished a joyful spectacle for the people of God. This was on the seventeenth day before the Kalends of June.
Beset moreover and routed in attacks by night and day, they surrendered unwillingly on the thirteenth day before the Kalends Of July. Then the Christians entering the walls with their crosses and imperial standards, reconciled the city to God, and both within the city and outside the gates cried out in Greek and Latin, "Glory to Thee, O God." Having accomplished this, the princes of the army met the emperor who had come to offer them his thanks, and having received from him gifts of inestimable value, some withdrew, with kindly feelings, others with different emotions.
We moved our camp from Nicaea on the fourth day before the Kalends of July and proceeded on our journey for three days. On the fourth day the Turks, having collected their forces from all sides, again attacked the smaller portion of our army, killed many of our men and drove all the remainder back to their camps. Bohemond, count of the Romans, [Should be "Normans"] count Stephen, and the count of Flanders commanded this section. When these were thus terrified by fear, the standards of the larger army suddenly appeared. Hugh the Great and the duke of Lorraine were riding at the head, the count of St. Gilles and the venerable bishop of Puy followed. For they had beard of the battle and were hastening to our aid. The number of the Turks was estimated at 260,000. All of our army attacked them, killed many and routed the rest. On that day I returned from the emperor, to whom the princes bad sent me on public business.
After that day our princes remained together and were not separated from one another. Therefore, in traversing the countries of Romania and Armenia we found no obstacle, except that after passing Iconium, we, who formed the advance guard, saw a few Turks. After routing these, on the twelfth day before the Kalends of November, we laid siege to Antioch, and now we captured the neighboring places, the cities of Tarsus and Laodicea and many others, by force. On a certain day, moreover, before we besieged the city, at the "Iron Bridge" we routed the Turks, who bad set out to devastate the surrounding country, and we rescued many Christians. Moreover, we led back the horses and camels with very great booty.
While we were besieging the city, the Turks from the nearest redoubt daily killed those entering and leaving the army. The princes of our army seeing this, killed 400 of the Turks who were lying in wait, drove others into a certain river and led back some as captives. You may be assured that we are now besieging Antioch with all diligence, and hope soon to capture it. The city is supplied to an incredible extent with grain, wine, oil and all kinds of food.
I ask, moreover, that you and all whom this letter reaches Pray for us and for our departed brethren. Those who have fallen in battle are: at Nicaea, Baldwin of Ghent, Baldwin Chalderuns, who was the first to make an attack upon the Turks and who fell in battle on the Kalends of July, Robert of Paris, Lisiard of Flanders, Hilduin of Mansgarbio [Mazingarbe], Ansellus of Caium [Anseau of Caien], Manasses of Claromonte [Clerr"t], Lauclunensis.
Those who died from sickness: at Nicaea, Guy of Vitreio, Odo of Vernolio [Verneuil (?)], Hugh of Reims at the fortress of Sparnum, the venerable abbot Roger, my chaplain at Antioch, Alard of Spiniaeco, Hugh of Calniaco.
Again and again I beseech you, readers of this letter, to pray for us, and you, my lord archbishop, to order this to be done by your bishops. And know for certain that we have captured for the Lord 200 cities and fortresses. May our mother, the western church, rejoice that she has begotten such men, who are aspiring for her so glorious a name and who are so wonderfully aiding the eastern church. And in order that you may believe this, know that you have sent to me a tapestry by Raymond "de Castello""
Count Stephen to Adele, his sweetest and most amiable wife, to his dear children, and to all his vassals of all ranks - his greeting and blessing,
You may be very sure, dearest, that the messenger whom I sent to give you pleasure, left me before Antioch safe and unharmed and through God's grace in the greatest prosperity. And already at that time, together with all the chosen army of Christ, endowed with great valor by Him, we had been continuously advancing for twenty-three weeks toward the home of our Lord Jesus. You may know for certain, my beloved, that of gold, silver and many other kind of riches I now have twice as much as your love had assigned to me when I left you. For all our princes, with the common consent of the whole army, against my own wishes, have made me up to the present time the leader, chief and director of their whole expedition.
You have certainly heard that after the capture of the city of Nicaea we fought a great battle with the perfidious Turks and by God's aid conquered them. Next we conquered for the Lord all Romania and afterwards Cappadocia. And we learned that there was a certain Turkish prince Assam, dwelling in Cappadocia thither we directed our course. All his castles we conquered by force and compelled him to flee to a certain very strong castle situated on a high rock. We also gave the land of that Assam to one of our chiefs and in order that he might conquer the above-mentioned Assam, we left there with him many soldiers of Christ. Thence, continually following the wicked Turks, we drove them through the midst of Armenia, as far as the great river Euphrates. Having left all their baggage and beasts of burden on the bank, they fled across the river into Arabia.
The bolder of the Turkish soldiers, indeed, entering Syria, hastened by forced marches night and day, in order to be able to enter the royal city of Antioch before our approach. The whole army of God learning this gave due praise and thanks to the omnipotent Lord. Hastening with great joy to the aforesaid chief city of Antioch, we besieged it and very often had many conflicts there with the Turks and seven times with the citizens of Antioch and with the innumerable troops coming to its aid, whom we rushed to meet, we fought with the fiercest courage, under the leadership of Christ. And in all these seven battles, by the aid of the Lord God, we conquered and most assuredly killed an innumerable host of them. In those battles, indeed, and in very many attacks made upon the city, many of our brethren and followers were killed and their souls were borne to the joys of paradise.
We found the city of Antioch very extensive, fortified with incredible strength and almost impregnable. In addition, more than 5,000 bold Turkish soldiers had entered the city, not counting the Saracens, Publicans, Arabs, Turcopolitans, Syrians, Armenians and other different races of whom an infinite multitude had gathered together there. In fighting against these enemies of God and of our own we have, by God's grace, endured many sufferings and innumerable evils up to the present time. Many also have already exhausted all their resources in this very holy passion. Very many of our Franks, indeed, would have met a temporal death from starvation, if the clemency of God and our money had not succoured them. Before the abovementioned city of Antioch indeed, throughout the whole winter we suffered for our Lord Christ from excessive cold and enormous torrents of rain. What some say about the impossibility of bearing the beat of the sun throughout Syria is untrue, for the winter there is very similar to our winter in the West.
When truly Caspian [Bagi Seian], the emir of Antioch - that is, prince and lord - perceived that he was hard pressed by us, he sent his son Sensodolo [Chems Eddaulab] by name, to the prince who holds Jerusalem, and to the prince of Calep, Rodoarn [Rodoanus], and to Docap [Deccacus Ibn Toutousch], prince of Damascus. He also sent into Arabia to Bolianuth and to Carathania to Hamelnuth. These five emirs with 12,000 picked Turkish horsemen suddenly came to aid the inhabitants of Antioch. We, indeed, ignorant of all this, had sent many of our soldiers away to the cities and fortresses. For there are one hundred and sixty-five cities and fortresses throughout Syria which are in our power. But a little before they reached the city, we attacked them at three leagues' distance with 700 soldiers, on a certain plain near the "Iron Bridge." God, however, fought for us, His faithful, against them. For on that day, fighting in the strength that God gives, we conquered them and killed an innumerable multitude - God continually fighting for us - and we also carried back to the army more than two hundred of their heads, in order that the people might rejoice on that account. The emperor of Babylon also sent Saracen messengers to our army with letters, and through these he established peace and concord with us.
I love to tell you, dearest, what happened to us during Lent. Our princes had caused a fortress to be built which was between our camp and the sea. For the Turks daily issuing from this gate, killed some of our men on their way to the sea. The city of Antioch is about five leagues' distance from the sea. For this reason they sent the excellent Bohemond and Raymond, count of St. Gilles, to the sea with only sixty horsemen, in order that they might bring mariners to aid in this work. When, however, they were returning to us with those mariners, the Turks collected an army, fell suddenly upon our two leaders and forced them to a perilous flight. In that unexpected flight we lost more than 500 of our foot soldiersto the glory of God. Of our horsemen, however, we lost only two, for certain.
3. The Patriarch of Jerusalem to the Church in the West
The Patriarch of Jerusalem and the bishops, Greek as well as Latin, and the whole army of God and the Church to the Church of the West fellowship in celestial Jerusalem, and a portion of the reward of their labor.
Since we are not unaware that you delight in the increase of the Church, and we believe that you are concerned to hear matters adverse as well as prosperous, we hereby notify you of the success of our undertaking. Therefore, be it known to your delight that God has triumphed in forty important cities and in two hundred fortresses of His Church in Romania, as well as in Syria, and that we still have one hundred thousand men in armor, besides the common throng, though many were lost in the first battles. But what is this? What is one man in a thousand? Where we have a count, the enemy have forty kings where we have a company, the enemy have a legion where we have a knight, they have a duke where we have a foot soldier, they have a count where we have a camp, they have a kingdom. However, confiding not in numbers, nor in bravery, nor in any presumption, but protected by justice and the shield of Christ, and with St. George, Theodore, Demetrius, and Basil, soldiers of Christ, truly supporting us, we have pierced, and in security are piercing, the ranks of the enemy. On five general battlefields, God conquering, we have conquered.
But what more? In behalf of God and ourselves, I, apostolic Patriarch, the bishops and the whole order of the Lord, urgently pray, and our spiritual Mother Church calls out: "Come, my most beloved sons, come to me, retake the crown from the bands of the sons of idolatry, who rise against me - the crown from the beginning of the world predestined for you." Come, therefore, we pray, to fight in the army of the Lord at the same place in which the Lord fought, in which Christ suffered for us, leaving to you an example that you should follow his footsteps. Did not God, innocent, die for us? Let us therefore also die, if it be our lot, not for Him, but for ourselves, that by dying on earth we may live for God. Yet it is (now) not necessary that we should die,' nor fight much, for we have (already) sustained the more serious trials, but the task of holding the fortresses and cities has been heavily reducing our army. Come, therefore, hasten to be repaid with the twofold reward - namely, the land of the living and the land flowing with milk and honey and abounding in all good things. Behold, men, by the shedding of our blood the way is open everywhere. Bring nothing with you except only what may be of use to us. Let only the men come let the women, as yet, be left. From the home in which there are two, let one, the one more ready for battle come. But those, especially, who have made the vow (let them come). Unless they come and discharge their vow, I apostolic Patriarch, the bishops, and the whole order of the orthodox, do excommunicate them and remove them utterly from the communion of the Church. And do you likewise, that they may not have burial among Christians, unless they are staying for suitable reasons. Come, and receive the twofold glory! This, therefore, also write.
August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 142-44
To his lord and father, Manasses, by grace of God venerable Archbishop of Reims, Anselm of Ribemont, his loyal vass and humble servant greeting.
Let your Eminence, reverend father and lord, know that, even though absent and not present, we are daily asking aid . our hearts from you- not only from you, but, also, from all the sons of the Holy Mother Church of Reims, in whom we have the greatest faith. Likewise, inasmuch as you are our lord, and the counsel of the whole kingdom of France is especially dependent upon you, we are keeping you, father, informed of whatever happy and adverse events have happened to us. Let the others, moreover, be informed through you, that you may share equally in our sufferings, and rejoice with us in our success.
We have informed you how we fared in the siege and capture of Nicaea, in our departure thence and our journey through all Romania and Armenia. It now remains for us to tell you a little about the siege of Antioch, the many kinds of danger we there tasted, and the innumerable battles which we fought against the King of Aleppo, the King of Damascus, and against the adulterous King of Jerusalem.
Antioch has been besieged by the army of the Lord since the thirteenth day before the Kalends of November with exceeding valor and courage beyond words. What unheard of battles you might have perceived there at a certain gateway to the west! How marvelous it would seem to you, were you present, to see them daily rushing forth through six gates - both they and ourselves fighting for safety and life! At that time our princes, seeking to enclose the city more and more closely, first besieged the eastern gate, and Bohemund, having built a fort there, stationed a part of his army in it. However, since our princes then felt somewhat elated, God, who chasteneth every son whom he loveth, so chastened us that hardly seven hundred horses could be found in our army and thus, not because we lacked proven and valiant men, but from lack of horses, or food, or through excessive cold, almost all were dying. The Turks, moreover, supplied with horses and all necessities in abundance, were wont daily to ride around our camp, a certain stream which lay between serving as a wall. There Was likewise a castle of the Turks almost eight miles away and these Turks were daily killing many of our men, who were going back and forth from our army. Our princes went out against them and with God's help put them to flight and killed many of them. Therefore the ruler of Antioch, seeing himself afflicted, called the King of Damascus to his aid. By God's providence, this King met Bohemund and the Count of Flanders, who bad gone to find food with a part of our army, and, God's help prevailing, he was defeated and routed by them. The ruler of Antioch, still concerned about his safety, sent to the King of Aleppo and aroused him with promises of very great wealth, to the end that be should come with all his forces. Upon his arrival, our princes went forth from camp, and that day, God being their helper, with seven hundred knights and a few foot soldiers they defeated twelve thousand Turks with their King, put them to flight, and killed many of them. Our men regained not a few horses from that battle, and returned rejoicing with victory. Growing stronger and stronger, therefore, from that day our men took counsel with renewed courage as to bow they might besiege the western gate which cut off access to the sea, wood, and fodder. By common agreement, therefore, Bohemund and the Count of St. Gilles went to the coast to fetch those who were staying there. Meanwhile , those who had remained to look after the possessions, seeking to acquire a name for themselves, went out incautiously one day after breakfast, near that western gate from which they were ingloriously repulsed and put to flight. On the third day after this, Bohemund and the Count of St. Gilles, on their way back, sent word to the princes of the army to meet them, (intending) together to besiege the gate. However, since the latter delayed for a short time, Bohemund and the Count of St. Gilles were beaten and put to flight. Therefore all our men, grieving and bewailing their disgrace, as well, for a thousand of our men fell that day, formed their lines and defeated and put to flight the Turks, who offered great resistance. On this day, moreover, almost fourteen hundred of the enemy perished both by weapons and in the river, which was swollen with winter rains.
And so, when this had been accomplished, our men began to build the fortress, which they strengthened, also, with a double moat and a very strong wall, as well as with two towers. In it they placed the Count of St. Gilles with machine men and bowmen. Oh, with what great labor we established the fortress! One part of our army served the eastern front, another looked after the camp, while all the rest worked on this fortress. Of the latter, the machine men and bowmen kept watch on the gate the rest, including the princes themselves, did not stop in the work of carrying stones, and building the wall. Why recount the trials of many kinds, which, even if passed over in silence, are sufficiently evident in themselves - hunger, intemperate weather, and the desertion of fainthearted soldiers? The more bitter they were, the more ready our men were in enduring them. Yet, indeed, we think that we should by no means pass in silence the fact that on a certain day the Turks pretended that they would surrender the city and carried the deception so far as to receive some of our men among them, and several of their men came out to us. While this was going on in this manner, they, like the faithless people that they were, set a trap for us in which Walo, the Constable, and others of them as well as of us were destroyed. A few days after this, moreover, it was announced to us that Corbara, chief of the army of the king of the Persians, had sworn to our death, and had almoreover, it was announced to us that Corbana, chief of the army God, however, who does not desert those who place their trust in Him, did not abandon His people, but on the Nones of June compassionately gave to us the city of Antioch, which three of its citizens betrayed. We, however, devastated the city, and on that same day killed all the pagans in it, except some who were holding out in the castle of the city.
August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 157-60
To the primates, archbishops, bishops, and other rectors, and to all the faithful of the lands of Christ anywhere the clergy and people of Lucca (send) greeting full of peace and gladness in the Lord.
To the praise and glory of the Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, we are truly and faithfully making known to all (the news) which we received truly and faithfully from participants in the affairs tbemselves - at what time, with what great triumph, the most mighty right band of Christ gave complete victory over the pagans to our brethren, His champions, after trial and perils. A certain citizen of ours, Bruno by name, known and very dear to all of us, in the year preceding this, went with the ships of the Angles even to Antioch itself. There, as a partner in work and danger, sharer of triumph and joy, be fought along with the fighters, starved with the starving and conquered, also, with the conquering and when the complete victory had already been achieved, and he had rejoiced three weeks there with all, be returned to us, after a happy voyage. Placing him in our midst, we received from him the pure and simple truth of the matter - lo! in his own account, as follows:
"When we who were voyaging by sea bad come to Antioch, the army, which bad gathered together from everywhere by land, bad already surrounded the city in siege, though not very well. On the following day, our princes proceeded to the sea, for the sake of visiting us. They urged us to get together an abundant supply of wood for the construction of war engines, which we did at great expense. On the third day, moreover, before the Nones of March, that is the first Friday, our princes decided to erect a fortress at the western gate of the city. This fortress, a very short ballista-shot away (from the city), is now called by the name of the Blessed Mary. There, on that same day, in an attack of the Turks, in which they killed 2,055 of our men, we killed 800 of the enemy. From the third day, moreover, when the fortress had been erected, until the third day before the Nones of June, our men endured many hardships, and, weakened by hunger and the sword, they toiled there at great cost. However, on this day the city was captured in the following manner: Four brothers, noble men of Antioch, on the second day of June promise to surrender the city to Bohemund, Robert Curtose, and Robert, Count of Flanders. These, however, with the common assent of all our princes, at nightfall conduct the whole army to the wall of the city, without the knowledge of the Turks. And in the morning, when the citizens of Antioclio open the gates to receive the three named princes alone, according to promise, all of our men suddenly rush in together. There is the greatest clamor: our men obtain all the fortified places, except the very high citadel the Turksthese they kill, those they hurl to destruction over the precipice."
To Lord Paschal, pope of the Roman church, to all the bishops and to the whole Christian people, from the archbishop of Pisa, duke Godfrey, now, by the grace of God, defender of of the Holy Se ulchre, Raymond, count of St. Gilles, and the whole army of God, which is in the land of Israel, greeting.
Multiply your supplications and prayers in the sight of God with joy and thanksgiving, since God has manifested His mercy in fulfilling by our bands what He bad promised in ancient times. For after the capture of Nicaea, the whole army, made up of more than three hundred thousand soldiers, departed thence. And, although this army was so great that it could have in a single day covered all Romania and drunk up all the rivers and eaten up all the growing things, yet the Lord conducted them amid so great abundance that a ram was sold for a penny and an ox for twelve pennies or less. Moreover, although the princes and kings of the Saracens rose up against us, yet, by God's will, they were easily conquered and overcome. Because, indeed, some were, puffed up by these successes, God opposed to us Antioch, impregnable to human strength. And there He detained us for nine months and so humbled us in the siege that there were scarcely a hundred good horses in our whole army. God opened to us the abundance of His blessing and mercy and led us into the city, and delivered the Turks and all of their possessions into our power.
Inasmuch as we thought that these had been acquired by our own strength and did not worthily magnify God who bad done this, we were beset by so great a multitude of Turks that no one dared to venture forth at any point from the city. Moreover, hunger so weakened us that some could scarcely refrain from eating human flesh. It would be tedious to narrate all the miseries which we suffered in that city. But God looked down upon His people whom He had so long chastised and mercifully consoled them. Therefore, He at first revealed to us, as a recompense for our tribulation and as a pledge of victory, His lance which had laid hidden since the days of the apostles. Next, He so fortified the hearts of the men, that they who from sickness or hunger had been unable to walk, now were enbued with strength to seize their weapons and manfully to fight against the enemy.
After we had triumphed over the enemy, as our army was wasting away at Antioch from sickness and weariness and was especially hindered by the dissensions among the leaders, we proceeded into Syria, stormed Barra and Marra, cities of the Saracens, and captured the fortresses in that country. And while we were delaying there, there was so great a famine in the army that the Christian people now ate the putrid bodies of the Saracens. Finally, by the divine admonition, we entered into the interior of Hispania, and the most bountiful, merciful and victorious hand of the omnipotent Father was with us. For the cities and fortresses of the country through which we were proceeding sent ambassadors to us with many gifts and offered to aid us and to surrender their walled places. But because our army was not large and it was the unanimous wish to hasten to Jerusalem, we accepted their pledges and made them tributaries. One of the cities forsooth, which was on the seacoast, bad more men than there were in our whole army. And when those at Antioch and Laodicea and Archas heard bow the hand of the Lord was with us, many from the army who had remained in those cities followed us to Tyre. Therefore, with the Lord's companionship and aid, we proceeded thus as far as Jerusalem.
And after the army had suffered greatly in the siege, especially on account of the lack of water, a council was held and the bishops and princes ordered that all with bare feet should march around the walls of the city, in order that He who entered it humbly in our behalf might be moved by our humility to open it to us and to exercise judgment upon His enemies. God was appeased by this humility and on the eighth day after the humiliation He delivered the city and His enemies to us. It was the day indeed on which the primitive church was driven thence, and on which the festival of the dispersion of the apostles is celebrated. And if you desire to know what was done with the enemy who were found there, know that in Solomon's Porch and in his temple our men rode in the blood of the Saracens up to the knees of their horses.
Then, when we were considering who ought to hold the city, and some moved by love for their country and kinsmen wished to return home, it was announced to us that the king of Babylon bad come to Ascalon with an innumerable multitude of soldiers. His purpose was, as be said, to lead the Franks, who were in Jerusalem, into captivity, and to take Antioch by storm. But God had determined otherwise in regard to us.
Therefore, when we learned that the army of the Babylonians was at Ascalon, we went down to meet them, leaving our baggage and the sick in Jerusalem with a garrison. When our army was in sight of the enemy, upon our knees we invoked the aid of the Lord, that He who in our other adversities had strengthened the Christian faith, might in the present battle break the strength of the Saracens and of the devil and extend the kingdom of the church of Christ from sea to sea, over the whole world. There was no delay God was present when we cried for His aid, and furnished us with so great boldness, that one who saw us rush upon the enemy would have taken us for a herd of deer hastening to quench their thirst in running water. It was wonderful, indeed, since there were in our army not more than 5,000 horsemen: j and 15,000 foot soldiers, and there were probably in the enemy's army 100,000 horsemen and 400,000 foot soldiers. Then God appeared wonderful to His servants. For before we engaged in fighting, by our very onset alone, He turned this multitude in flight and scattered all their weapons, so that if they wished afterwards to attack us, they did not have the weapons in which they trusted. There can be no question how great the spoils were, since the treasures of the king of Babylon were captured. More than 100,000 Moors perished there by the sword. Moreover, their panic was so great that about 2,000 were suffocated at the gate of the city. Those who perished in the sea were innumerable. Many were entangled in the thickets. The whole world was certainly fighting for us, and if many of ours had not been detained in plundering the camp, few of the great multitude of the enemy would have been able to escape from the battle. And although it may be tedious, the following must not be omitted: On the day preceding the battle the army captured many thousands of camels, oxen and sheep. By the command of the princes these were divided among the people. When we advanced to battle, wonderful to relate, the camels formed in many squadrons and the sheep and oxen did the same. Moreover, these animals accompanied us, halting when we halted, advancing when we advanced, and charging when we charged. The clouds protected us from the beat of the sun and cooled us.
Accordingly, after celebrating the victory, the army returned to Jerusalem. Duke Godfrey remained there the count of St. Gilles, Robert, count of Normandy, and Robert, count of Flanders, returned to Laodicea. There they found the fleet belonging to the Pisans and to Bohemond. After the archbishop of Pisa had established peace between Bohemond and our leaders, Raymond prepared to return to Jerusalem for the sake of God and his brethren.
Therefore, we call upon you of the catholic church of Christ and of the whole Latin church to exult in the so admirable bravery and devotion of your brethren, in the so glorious and very desirable retribution of the omnipotent God, and in the so devoutedly hoped - for remission of all our sins through the grace of God. And we pray that He may make you - namely, all bishops, clerks and monks who are leading devout lives, and all the laity - to sit down at the right hand of God, who liveth and reigneth God for ever and ever. And we ask and beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus, who has ever been with us and aided us and freed us from all our tribulations, to be mindful of your brethren who return to you, by doing them kindnesses and by paying their debts, in order that God may recompense you and absolve you from all your sins and grant you a share in all the blessings which either we or they have deserved in the sight of the Lord. Amen.
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall December 1997
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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]
Sources and further reading:
P. Dennis, J. Grey, E. Morris, R. Prior, and J. Connor, The Oxford companion to Australian military history, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1995
Kit Denton, For Queen and Commonwealth: Australians at war, vol. 5, Sydney, Time–Life Books Australia, 1987
L. Field, The forgotten war: Australian involvement in the South African conflict of 1899–1902, Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1979
J. Grey, A military history of Australia, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Craig Wilcox, Australia’s Boer War: the war in South Africa, 1899–1902, Melbourne, Oxford University Press 2002
World War II Letters
Eventually, President Roosevelt’s relief efforts began to have some effect, and conditions improved in the United States. The event that really pulled America from the grip of the Depression, however, was the advent of World War II. All manner of weapons and vehicles were necessary for the war overseas, and American factories were kept busy making them long before the country became involved in the fighting. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, however, circumstances changed yet again. Now American weapons and supplies were not the only things traveling overseas to war—the nation’s sons and daughters signed up and shipped out, determined to defend the home front to the best of their abilities.
Example of V-mail, dated August 28, 1944
As had been the case during the First World War, letters quickly became the most important means of communication between families at home and their loved ones serving overseas. So many letters were written, in fact, that the military post began to have a problem. As important as regular mail was to the morale of American troops, military supply ships were often swamped with bags and bags of letters needing to be delivered. Cargo space taken up by the mail was desperately needed for war materials. To combat this difficulty, the American military post popularized an imaging technique that originated in England. Called “V-mail” by the Americans, the process consisted of microfilming letters sent to and from military personnel, transporting them by ship in microfilm form, and blowing them up again at specified locations before delivering them to their addressees. Sending the letters as thumb-sized images on microfilm allowed the military to conserve precious space in their cargo ships while still arranging for the delivery of morale-boosting letters. Though specially designed sheets of writing paper were needed to send V-mail, soldiers in all branches of the armed forces were provided with these sheets free of charge. It was also free for soldiers to send V-mail, though Americans at home had to pay to use the service.
Soldiers writing letters home not only had to confine their words to a single sheet if planning to send them by V-mail, but they also had to be careful about the sensitivity of the information they included in their letters. Censors carefully removed any sections of stateside-bound letters that might give away the position or plans of the troops. Despite the enforced restrictions, however, letters from soldiers far from home became cherished objects once they reached their recipients. Soldiers were often gone from home so long that the correspondence they exchanged with their families and friends became the only way of maintaining those relationships. Many young couples, married or about to be, found it impossible to maintain the intimacy they had once shared. The number of “Dear John” letters received by soldiers whose place in a girl’s affections had been taken by the guy who stayed at home is heartbreaking.
Sometimes, however, letters exchanged during the war served to bring couples even closer together. The letters that served as a bridge between them can provide endless insight into their individual characters as well as their relationship, and today many Americans are able to learn the unspoken thoughts of their young parents or grandparents by reading romantic correspondence written during the war. 2 nd Lt. Sidney Diamond and his fianc ée, Estelle Spero, wrote extensively to each other over the course of Sidney’s three years in the South Pacific. Their letters range from funny to sad, from sweet to lonely and back again, but the love they shared was the correspondence’s overarching theme. In a letter from May of 1943, Sidney addresses the couple’s future: “Here’s the story and let’s settle it once and for all time—and by heaven’s let’s not continue discussing this matter—I want to marry you—to spend the rest of my life with your telling me to stop biting my fingernails—when?—tomorrow, if it were possible—the day after the ‘duration plus six months’ definitely!” Shortly after this letter reached Estelle, Sidney got a temporary pass to go home, and the couple became engaged.
But even Sidney’s Diamond’s cheerful spirit couldn’t always withstand the despair of war. On Christmas Day, 1944, he wrote to Estelle, “Yes, today we had a community of thought. All the men—together—in a community of homesickness—Do not think harshly—or scoff at our childishness—We have so little—so little else but dreams—.” He ends the same letter with a fervent protestation: “I love you darling.—whatever happens—be happy—that’s my only request . . . . Stelle, it’s not weakness, it’s not softness—it’s a fact—I need you!!” Sadly, the promise of a sweet life together, captured so beautifully in these letters, was never to be fulfilled. On March 5, 1945, Estelle returned to the boarding house where she was living during graduate school to discover a plain white envelope addressed to her. Inside it there was no letter, nothing to explain or soothe or even distract her from what the envelope did contain: a small newspaper clipping informing her of Sidney’s death more than a month before.
Letters written during wars can also be seen as significant historical documents, especially if they describe events that later become famous. Twenty-eight-year-old Staff Sgt. Eugene Lawton was one of the thousands of Allied soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy, and several months after the invasion he wrote a letter to his parents in Pennsylvania describing the experience. “Long before we landed on enemy soil, [I] saw that here was what my years in [the] Army had come to,” wrote Lawton, aware that he and his fellow soldiers were actively shaping the course of world events. “You can readily see why no one slept that night. For right here was history in the making. Events taking place that kids will be reading about in future at school. Yes, I for one was proud that I had the honor of helping in my small way in this present conflict.”
Lawton’s detailed description of the Normandy invasion culminates with the moment when German aircraft began to approach the beaches, intending to rain fire from the sky upon the Allied invaders below. Suddenly, a tremendous amount of anti-aircraft fire burst forth from the Allied ships in the harbor. Lawson wrote, “The amazing sight of these tracers going up into the sky left it a complete mass of red death to any plane within this protection circle of anti-aircraft fire. It was a beautiful sight from our point of view but to the Jerry it was something beyond his own imagination . . . . Yes, it was beautiful, but a kind of beauty only a soldier can understand.” This letter, received and preserved by Lawton’s parents, was one of his last letters home. He was killed several months later in Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. Letters like Lawton’s, however, continue to draw readers into one of the most famous battles of all time, and into the minds and hearts of the soldiers who fought there.
The war begins
Frank Eyde in a letter home Dec. 10, 1941
“We have been called out on air raid alarms the last few days, but you know as much about what was happening as I do, the radio is the only dope we get as well as you about them Japs and nasty Germans. Bastards are what they are, raiding without warnings, sneaking up at night and such wrong methods of a clean fight.”
I received your charming letter John and Sanford of the 8th.I heard there will be no more air mail letters sent, I don’t know but I am sending this one airmail on 10th so you can tell when it comes to send only telegrams and 3¢ stamps on letters from now on. I am well pleased with your fine letters, too bad that Ralph’s leave from Camp Ord was cancelled as we will have our hands full now to protect America from invasion. We have been called out on air raid alarms the last few days, but you know as much about what was happening as I do, the radio is the only dope we get as well as you about them Japs and nasty Germans. Bastards are what they are, raiding without warnings, sneaking up at night and such wrong methods of a clean fight. They don’t know how to fight clean. John, you must have had a swell time in Chicago shopping as well as seeing the sights – over Yes, I will be able to handle myself against those forces which try to sneak upon us. Ralph has not been away from home so long and the Films of both of us taken in L.A. are something to keep. John there’s always a chance for you anyplace you want to go. You are a good mechanic and they always need good men for defense jobs. Well John my part so far has been coast defense as San Diego is always close for invasion and we are all armed at all times for action at any place any time. I am well and healthy and feel just fine, smiling and enjoying the rain we just have had. Camp is now a lake and water and mud don’t mix. Thanks for your swell thoughts and I know we will all stick together in this war to the end. If you don’t hear from me -- don’t you worry. We can’t tell you when we leave, so if no mail comes you will have known I have been sent someplace. You can write me and I will receive your mail though. Dear Musha: Glad to know you are all right and always thinking of me as I am of all of you. I sent Sigie 20.00 M.O. on loan and hope he gets it safe. I thank you for the two dollars and tell you I am getting enough money now so please use it for home repairs and the hot water in the house for my little Musha needs such. Love and Keep Smiling – Frank. Dear Dad: Ain’t it the truth we study the war news over the radio and there’s 100 nations in this war. I hope you will keep up your good work at the factory and see that Musha takes things easy. Dear Sanford: So you spent 20.00 shopping and had a good time buying yourself things you wanted. Yes I will follow Elect. and always thinking of you and our baseball days together. I will say Sigie: Your letters are so good I have to read them over and over and always enjoy them. So when I send one it is always short and cold but your English has been much better than mine. We are now in the Barricks at Camp and has fine sleeping Quarters. We have a lot of rushing lately never knowing when we will get the call to leave. I am at present getting ready for chow so I must close with Happy Thoughts of you and the gang. As ever, your Sank, The Salesman Frank.
“ We have been called out on air raid alarms the last few days, but you know as much about what was happening as I do, the radio is the only dope we get as well as you about them Japs and Nasty Germans. Bastards are what they are, raiding without warnings, sneaking up at night and such wrong methods of a clean fight .” — Frank Eyde, in a letter home, Dec. 10, 1941.
Lorentz Eyde and Margaret Larsen separately came to the United States from Norway and married in Rockford in 1908. He was a cabinetmaker, she a homemaker, and they settled in a small three-bedroom home on tree-lined Fremont Street.
Frank, the eldest child, graduated from Rockford Central High School in 1933, the same year that Adolf Hitler became German chancellor. Frank had a wide smile and thick, dark hair, and worked as a traveling soap salesman for Procter & Gamble. His three younger brothers called him “The Salesman,” even though the career didn’t stick.
Frank enlisted as a Marine in October 1939 at age 26, shortly after Germany invaded Poland. Two years later, Frank’s younger brother, Ralph, quit his factory job at George D. Roper Corp. to enlist as an Army infantryman at age 23.
In a stroke of good luck, both brothers were stationed in California — Frank with the 2nd Marine Division’s 2nd Tank Battalion at San Diego’s Camp Elliott, and Ralph with the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, a sprawling installation near Monterey.
An undated photo of Frank, Sanford, Ralph and John Eyde in boyhood in Rockford, Ill. Their parents emigrated from Norway. (Courtesy of Joe Alosi) Sanford and Frank Eyde on graduation day, June 2, 1933. When the war began, Frank was already in the Marines and Sanford was working at the Woodward Governor factory. (Courtesy of Vicki Venhuizen)
Conflict in Europe and Asia seemed far away. “All this falseness of war, it’s hooey!” Frank wrote home in November 1941. He had just been to Los Angeles and spotted Hollywood stars Margaret Lindsay, Betty Grable and Claire Trevor. “Could have dated your choice if I had the dough, say me,” he boasted.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. U.S. troops up and down the California coastline began pulling patrols to watch for enemy bombers, as well as preparing to deploy to the Pacific. An attack on the mainland seemed entirely possible.
Letters from War: A podcast chronicling the story of the Eyde brothers as told through their letters, in their own words. Brought to life by modern veterans.
Have a collection of war-time letters from family or friends? Send in your story.
“No telling when I’ll go home now,” Ralph wrote to his brother John, the youngest sibling, on Dec. 18. “Won’t even get Christmas off. Stood five and a half hours of straight guard last night. Shoot anyone suspicious lurking around in wee hours of morning.”
Frank described the changes in San Diego.
“All the shops are putting black paper on their windows and when the alarm goes, all lights will have to go out except those on the inside that can’t be seen from the street,” he wrote four days after the attack. “There is talk of 4,000 Japs organizing along the Mexican border and the paper says fishing boats bring some in dock to be searched.”
In Rockford, the other two brothers — Sanford, the second oldest, and John — considered what they might do in the military. Sanford, 26 when the war began, worked at the Woodward Governor factory as a carpenter, and received a deferment.
Ralph urged John, 21, who ran a lathe at Roper Corp., making aircraft parts for the military, to enlist but avoid a job in the combat arms.
“If you want my true thoughts on your best bet, it’s the aviation mechanical line on airplane motors. Best pay, course you study while you work + when you get out, you’ve a high paying trade,” Ralph wrote. “That’s my advice, John. Stay out of the infantry with your keen mechanical mind. No pay, too much danger, learn nothing valuable for civilian life.”
4 Malcolm X To Martin Luther King Jr.
Although Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. fought for the same cause, they were barely friends. While King took a nonviolent approach, Malcolm X went the militant route. Their rivalry got to the point where Malcolm X allegedly referred to King as &ldquoReverend Doctor Chicken-wing.&rdquo Malcolm X sent two letters to King, one in 1963 and the other in 1964.
The first letter was to request King&rsquos presence and support in an outdoor rally. In the letter, Malcolm X told King that if President John F. Kennedy, a capitalist, and Russian leader Khrushchev, a communist, could find something in common, then the two of them could also find something in common. Malcolm X also suggested to King that if he could not make it in person, he should send a representative.
The other letter, dated June 30, 1964, was a violent suggestion by Malcolm X. In the letter, he told King of the plight of the people of St. Augustine. He also threatened that if the government did not intervene soon, he might be forced to send some of their brothers to give the Ku Klux Klan &ldquoa taste of their own medicine.&rdquo
The Unprecedented Effort to Preserve a Million Letters Written by U.S. Soldiers During Wartime
Andrew Carroll is never far away from the slim black portfolio he calls “the football.” Inside are more than two dozen original letters, creased and faded, bullet-torn and tear-stained, spanning 225 years of American war history, from the early days of the Revolution to 9/11. Each page is sheathed in a protective plastic sleeve, and for added security, there are the handcuffs. Carroll locks the case to his wrist when he travels, which he does almost constantly. By his own count, he was on the road almost 200 days last year, using this remarkable sampling of letters to convince anyone who will listen how important—and ephemeral—such documents are. It’s all part of the historian’s ambitious effort to rescue these eyewitness accounts from attics, basements, garage sales and trash bins.
Staff Sgt. Horace Evers wrote about the horrors of Dachau on Hitler’s stationery while sitting at the dictator’s desk. (Greg Powers)
The letters he carries to make his impassioned plea—and the tens of thousands more he donated to establish the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California—are the personal stories of war, intimate descriptions of the battlefield and the home front that often get overlooked by history books focused on troop movements and casualty counts. They are also a democratization of history: Hundreds of handwritten missives of a World War II Air Force pilot remembered only by his family will be preserved as carefully as the previously unheard audio recordings created by then Army Col. George Patton IV, of the famed Fighting Pattons, in his command tent in Vietnam. (Listen to one of his letters below)
On a tape from Vietnam, then Col. George Patton IV admitted he would “miss my chopper with all the bullet holes in it." (Courtesy Ben Patton)
“These letters are America’s great undiscovered literature. They give insight into war and into human nature,” says Carroll. “We can’t lose this kind of history.” He calls his project the Million Letters Campaign—but he still has a long way to go.
The first letter in Carroll’s collection arrived about 30 years ago.
In December 1989, a fire destroyed the Carroll family home in Washington, D.C. No one was injured, but everything they owned was lost, including family photos and other mementos. “That’s the hard part,” Carroll, then 20 years old, told a cousin he barely knew, who had called to check in on his relatives. His cousin, James Carroll Jordan, responded by sending a surviving piece of family history, a letter Jordan himself had written as a pilot in World War II. It was dated April 21, 1945, three weeks before Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces.
“I saw something today that made me realize why we’re over here fighting this war,” Jordan wrote to his wife, Betty Anne. That day he had been tasked with visiting Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp, which had been liberated a few days earlier. “When we first walked in we saw all these creatures that were supposed to be men,” Jordan wrote. “They were dressed in black and white suits, heads shaved and starving to death.” His descriptions of this almost unbelievable scene are vivid and brutal, though he told his wife he had spared her the worst of it. Finally, he wrote, “our time was up, so we boarded our truck and rode home, just thinking.”
The letter stunned Carroll, who was about the same age Jordan had been when he wrote it. He was surprised again at his cousin’s reaction when he offered to mail it back. “He said, ‘Just keep it, I probably would have thrown it out.’”
The 1942 letter that Gene Sobolewski, of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, mailed to her fiancé, Pvt. John Harshbarger, was returned to her. That is how she learned of his death. (Greg Powers)
For Carroll, a student at Columbia University who previously had no interest in history, Jordan’s letter was the start of a three-decade quest to collect these memoirs. He started by asking friends and family, teachers, coaches, everyone he encountered. Most were happy to have him take some letters, often written by relatives they didn’t even remember. For a while, it was just a hobby for Carroll, whose full-time job was working with Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky to launch the American Poetry & Literacy Project, a foundation-funded nonprofit with the goal of distributing one million free books of poetry. It wasn’t until the fall of 1998 that he turned his attention fully to the letters he was amassing and envisioned another enormous undertaking. He wrote to Dear Abby, asking the syndicated advice columnist to promote what he decided to call the Legacy Project.
Her column, which appeared on Veterans Day 1998, described Carroll as “a young man on a mission” and the project an “all volunteer, national effort,” which was true, though Carroll was the only volunteer. The columnist asked readers to send copies of war letters to a post office box in Washington, D.C. Four days later, the post office called Carroll: There were bins of letters everywhere. Many people had sent original family heirlooms to a stranger they knew only through Dear Abby. Carroll wasn’t prepared for that kind of trust—or for challenges of storing thousands of letters.
Over the next 15 years his collection ballooned— 5,000 letters, then 10,000, then 50,000. Carroll published a small percentage of the letters in a series of books, which have helped to fund the endeavor. A handful was featured in a documentary others appeared in a play a few more were exhibited at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. But most of the letters remained crammed into storage crates in the basement of Carroll’s D.C. apartment tower. By 2013, there were an estimated 100,000 letters down there—the largest nongovernmental collection of war correspondence in the country.
Archivists discovered a WWI missive that mentions, in startling detail, the wounds suffered by a then-unknown Illinois man named Ernest Hemingway. (Greg Powers)
Today, the bulk of the archive is stored at the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University, where Carroll now serves as the director of the Center for American War Letters. The school has dedicated storage and exhibit space to the project, as well as the resources to process the collections. Each letter is opened and read. Sometimes the archivists uncover a surprise: “I went out with a Red Cross lieut. named Hemingway, who comes from Oak Park,” Army Lt. Walter Boadway wrote in 1918 of a 19-year-old, first name Ernest. “He has been here in the hospital 4 months and has some time to go yet. He was out in the trenches one night when a trench mortar shell blew their cover away and left them exposed to machine gun fire. He got 247 wounds from the mortar shell and machine guns. He has a couple of pounds of metal they have carved out of him. Luckily he got most of it in his legs and not in a vital spot.” Carroll believes it to be among the first references to Hemingway’s World War I service.
After archivists open every envelope, the often-fragile pages are both scanned and physically preserved. Taken together, the letters can tell the story of economic changes on the home front or of advances in the postal infrastructure, to name just two research projects. But it is time consuming. About 30 percent of the collection has been processed, according to Charlene Baldwin, the library dean.
And the letters keep coming in. Two years ago, again with the Dear Abby column’s help, Carroll relaunched his collection effort, rebranding it the Million Letters Campaign to underline the urgency. The last veterans of World War I have died and those who served in World War II are in their 90s will their descendants value the letters? Carroll also worries about the stories service members send home from the United States’ current wars. There may be something precious about an old letter, but emails and texts, which he also collects, are not given the same reverence. Since 2017, Carroll estimates the archive has grown to about 150,000 letters. The bespectacled academic is a fast-talking optimist, but even he seems momentarily cowed by the archive’s potential size: “There’s millions more out there,” he says.
Along with hundreds of letters from First Lt. Edward Lynch (pictured), his family donated the wallet and watch he carried when his plane crashed. (Greg Powers)
As if to prove his point, Carroll pries open a large cardboard box sent to his apartment from Wisconsin. Inside is a vintage suitcase, and when he pops the latches, he reveals hundreds more letters. A note explains that these are the stories of First Lt. Edward Lynch his nephew John Pietrowski sent them. The suitcase had been sitting in Pietrowski’s mother’s attic all his life, but it wasn’t until after she died in 2010 that Pietrowski began to read Uncle Eddie’s stories. “It was like a book I couldn’t put down,” Pietrowski says of Lynch’s adventures in his P-51 Mustang during World War II. Lynch had written to his father—a World War I veteran and Pietrowski’s grandfather—almost every day to tell him of flying over “The Hump,” the nickname WWII pilots had given the dangerous expanse of the Himalayas, and buzzing the Taj Mahal. Lynch died at the stick of a fighter jet in a crash in Illinois in 1948, years before Pietrowski was born, but reading the letters, he says, “I felt really close to him.” Pietrowski, now retired and without children of his own to pass the letters on to, donated them after reading about a speech Carroll gave in Milwaukee.
Carroll then turns to his computer, its keyboard hidden under a pile of papers, to play the first audio letters the archive has received. He’s still working his way through the more than 50 hours of recordings that George Patton IV’s son Ben shared. He presses play on a sound file from July 17, 1969, the day Patton arrived in Lai Khê, Vietnam, to begin his third and final tour in country. Through the static and constant interruptions, Patton narrates his experiences for his wife, Joanne, who responds with stories of family and friends. Over the months of recordings, Patton is, by turns, efficient and reflective, both consummate commander and intimate confidant.
“I’m coming home after 15 months in this goddamn place,” he tells Joanne in one of his final audio letters. It’s well after dark in Lai Khê on Sunday, March 23, 1970. For once there are no frantic radio transmissions, no incessant artillery explosions. He is focused instead on the logistics of his homecoming: moving the family to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he will be stationed, and buying a new Cadillac. He yawns, and liquid and ice slosh in a glass. His voice dips: “I sat in the chopper today and I just bawled my goddamn head off,” he confesses. “I’ll just never have an experience like this again. I’m sick of this war a little, but leaving this unit is tough. That’s all there is to it. It’s tough. And I can’t describe it more than that.”In April 1945, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Bert Drennen wrote a letter to his wife, Ethel, on stationery from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina—but that’s not where he was. He could not reveal his true location, says Lynn Heidelbaugh of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, because of wartime procedures for censoring the outgoing mail of service members overseas to prevent the release of sensitive information. But Drennen had found a way around the censors. Before he deployed, Drennen took the unusual step of leaving Ethel a code sheet (in red, now archived along with the note at the Center for American War Letters). The “Aunt Ruth” he mentions in his letter didn’t exist. His concern for her meant he was stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. (Greg Powers)
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This article is a selection from the November 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine
Letters, Telegrams, and Photographs Illustrating Factors that Affected the Civil War
Prior to and during the Civil War, the North and South differed greatly in the resources that they could use. Documents held by the National Archives can aid in the understanding of the factors that influenced the eventual outcome of the War Between the States.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860, the states of the southern United States broke away from the federal union that had existed since the ratification of the Constitution. Believing that Lincoln would restrict their rights to own slaves, Southerners decided that secession was a better choice than to give up their economic system and their way of life. President Lincoln and the North opposed the South's withdrawal the president steadfastly maintained throughout the war that the secession was illegal and that the newly formed Confederate States of America was not valid as a new nation to the world. Despite Lincoln's hopes that the secession would end without conflict, the two regions fought a war that exploited the advantages and opportunities that each held over the other before their differences could be resolved.
The North held many advantages over the South during the Civil War. Its population was several times that of the South, a potential source for military enlistees and civilian manpower. The South lacked the substantial number of factories and industries of the North that produced needed war materials. The North had a better transportation network, mainly highways, canals, and railroads, which could be easily used to resupply military forces in the field. At sea, the Union navy was more capable and dominant, while the army was better trained and better supplied. The rest of the world also recognized the United States as a legitimate government, allowing U.S. diplomats to obtain loans and other trade concessions.
The South had fewer advantages, but it held several that would pose great threats to attempts by their Northern neighbors to end the rebellion. The South was able to fight on its home terrain, and it could win the war simply by continuing to exist after the hostilities ended later. The South also had a military tradition that encouraged young men to serve in the armed forces or attend a military school many had served the U.S. military prior to the Civil War, only to resign and fight for their states and family. In addition, the South had the leadership of great commanders, including Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston, and "Stonewall" Jackson.
As disadvantages, the South had to worry about its slave population, which posed the threat of rebellion and assistance to the Northern cause. Actions by the North to promote this fear included the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in all territories held by Union troops, but not in all areas of the North, such as loyal, but slave-owning, states along the borders of the two powers. Had the North tried to free slaves in these areas, more aid would have been generated for the South, and slave-owning Maryland's secession would leave the U.S. capital in Confederate hands. In addition, the North suffered because a series of senior generals did not successfully exploit the weaknesses of the South, nor did they act upon the suggestions of their commander-in-chief. President Lincoln finally got his desired general in Ulysses S. Grant, who had solidified the Union's control of the West in parts of the Mississippi River Basin. Grant directed the defeat of Southern forces and strongholds and held off determined advances northward by the Confederates on several occasions before the surrender by Lee to Grant took place in 1865.
To defeat the South, the North had to achieve several goals. First, control of the Mississippi River had to be secured to allow unimpeded movement of needed Western goods. Second, the South had to be cut off from international traders and smugglers that could aid the Southern war effort. Third, the Confederate army had to be incapacitated to prevent further northward attacks such as that at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and to ease the battle losses of the North. Fourth, the South's ability to produce needed goods and war materials had to be curtailed. It was these measures that the South had to counter with their own plans to capitalize on early victories that weakened the Northern resolve to fight, to attain international recognition as a sovereign state, and to keep Union forces from seizing Confederate territory.
The South ultimately did not achieve its goals, and after four years of fighting the North won the war. The devisive, destructive conflict cast a shadow on the successes of the United States during the 19th century, however. The country had to find ways to heal the wounds of war during Reconstruction.
Davis, Burke. Sherman's March. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.
Garrison, Webb. Civil War Curiosities. Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1994.
Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Billy Yank. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.
Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
- Letter from Robert E. Lee to Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, in which Lee resigned from the U.S. Army.
National Archives Identifier: 300383
- Message of President Abraham Lincoln nominating Ulysses S. Grant to be Lieutenant General of the Army.
National Archives Identifier: 306310
- Telegram from General William T. Sherman to President Abraham Lincoln announcing the surrender of Savannah, Georgia, as a Christmas present to the President.
National Archives Identifier: 301637
- Telegram from Abraham Lincoln to Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant at City Point, Virginia.
National Archives Identifier: 301640
- Emancipation Proclamation
National Archives Identifier: 299998
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- Photograph of the first ironclad gunboat built in America, the Saint Louis , ca.1862.
National Archives Identifier: 533123
- Sound recording of an interview with John Salling, last surviving Confederate veteran:
National Archives and Records Administration
Record Group 94 - Records of the Office of the Adjutant General
Record Group 46 - Records of the U.S. Senate
Record Group 107 - Records of the Office of the Military Telegraph
Record Group 11 - General Records of the U.S. Government
Record Group 165 - Records of the War Department Library
Record Group 200 - National Archives Gift Collection
This article was written by David Traill, a teacher at South Fork High School, in Stuart, FL.