LETTERS TO SALLIE–Life During the Civil War
When Rick Lakin, my publisher and head of iCrew Digital Publishing, mentioned he had over a hundred letters written by his great-great grandfather during the Civil War, I immediately said I would love to see them. After reading the first few letters I knew I wanted to do something with them; not just that I wanted to do this project but it seemed predestined.
A. C. McClure, “Alonzo” or “Lon” was Rick Lakin’s long deceased great grandfather. He was a young husband and father living in Belle Center, Ohio when he joined the 34th Regiment, Company D of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I.) in 1864. His letters are full of longing for home, financial instructions to his wife, complaints about late payment from the Army, and stories of the war. But I wanted to know more. I wanted them to come alive. What were the people like during that time? What was daily life like in the camps? What was life like at the farms and homesteads? How did the war affect those left at home? I wanted to know a lot more!
I was born and raised in West Virginia and lived in Huntington, which sits on the banks of the Ohio River. During high school and college, I studied the basics of the War Between the States and also knew that my own state was a byproduct of the hostilities but I never knew the importance of my very location. I knew the Ohio River was an important form of transportation; but, I never thought about the implications of moving troops and supplies during the war. I knew that West Virginia sent many families to the war where brother fought against brother or father against son; but, I did not know that the surrounding areas were once hotbeds of animosity. A place where neighbors had opposing views and where one could be sent to prisoner of war camps depending upon whether Union or Confederate troops were in charge of the area and your own sympathies.
I currently live in Columbus, Ohio and the following places mentioned in Alonzo McClure’s letter to his wife Sallie, during his trip from central Ohio to a camp in West Virginia, were all very familiar.
The following passage is what caught my attention and sent me on a journey back in time to discover life during the Civil War. All spelling, punctuation and grammar are his, nothing has been changed. The highlights are my own to point out the familiar locations.
Camp Toland, March 21st 1864
After some delay, I am at last at my Regiment where I moved, yesterday being Sabbath. I left Camp Dennison last Monday and went to Cincinnati where I remained till last Thursday then got on the Steam boat wind up the Ohio River to Gallipolis. Then got on a government Boat and went up the Kanawha.
After I left Camp Dennison our Road was down the Miami valley then up the Ohio valley and then up the Kanawha valley and although the Miami River is small I have seen no finer Country on my voyage than that of the Miami valley. The Kanawha is much nicer than the Ohio.
This is nothing but hills towering up on each side of the Ohio while the Kanawha has some fine farms in the valley close to Charleston. There is about 10 thousand here, convenient so that they can be concentrated very rapidly.
I wrote a letter to you while in Camp Dennison but have not heard from you since I left. If you knew how anxious I was to hear from you, you would write if you did not here from me for I have no chance to write as nothing is convenient but all is busy and noise.
I will not get my Bounty till next Pay Day which will be in 6 weeks or a month. Tell me how you get along collecting. If M. A. Hemphill has not gone to the Army have him pay that note.
One of our boys died since came to Camp, one drowned and one murdered in Richmond, Virginia. There is a great many in the hospital. I have had a bad cold but am some better. I find a great many in Camp that I am squatted with and they are some kind.
You must write soon and tell me all the news. Kiss the Baby for me. Tell me how she is getting with her teeth. My love to all friends.
Direct your letters to
Camp Toland at Charleston, West Virginia 34th Redg Company D
Write soon as I am anxious to hear from you. Tell uncle to send me a county paper as I want to see the local news. No more at present.
Your loving Husband
A.C. McClure, or Lon, was not a regular soldier but a Bandsman. That is, he carried a musical instrument rather than a gun. This opened up a whole new area of research. Everyone has heard of military bands but what is their purpose? Was this a safe or dangerous position to be in during the war? Did Alonzo make it home to his wife and baby?
Letters to Sallie is scheduled to be released by iCrew Digital Publishing in July 2016. I sincerely hope you will take this journey with me.