The Missouri History Museum Archives has many collections that provide first-hand accounts of the Civil War. One such collection is the James E. Love Papers. James enlisted with a Union regiment in St. Louis in May 1861. When his regiment left St. Louis in June 1861, James started writing letters home to his fiancée Eliza Mary “Molly” Wilson. James continued to write these letters throughout his entire Civil War service. We believe this collection is unique because it documents not only one man’s experiences during the war, but also the great love story of James and Molly.
From June 2011 to February 2015, the Missouri History Museum posted the letters of Civil War soldier James E. Love to his fiancée, Molly, on this site. As part of that project, I visited the three battlefields where James fought, and wrote about my experiences following in the footsteps of his war service. Earlier this year, the Museum published James’s letters as a book titled My Dear Molly: The Civil War Letters of Captain James Love. Read more »
This is the last post in our series. All of the letters have been compiled into a book, My Dear Molly: The Civil War Letters of Captain James Love, which is available now. You can hear Molly Kodner talk about the project at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 7, at the Museum. Read more »
After an extraordinary life that included immigrating to the United States from Ireland, traveling to Australia and living there for four years, and then surviving four years of war, James Love married Molly Wilson on May 2, 1865, and then had an ordinary, presumably happy, life. Unfortunately, he did not leave behind any correspondence, diaries, or other papers to document the rest of his life, but city directories, the census, and other sources at least provide information on where he lived and his occupation. Read more »
Last week, we printed the very last letter that Captain James Love wrote to his beloved Molly during his time in the Civil War. But that wasn't the end of the story, in the next several weeks, we'll be providing an epilogue of his and Molly's life, beginning with James's journey home after the war. Read more »
James wrote this letter over several days in February 1865. For most of the letter, he remained at Camp Asylum prison in Columbia, South Carolina, and still hoped that his friends from his old regiment, the 8th Kansas Infantry, would arrange his exchange. James passed the time by reading Jane Eyre, which was published in 1847, and Very Hard Cash, a novel about the abuses of private insane asylums written by Charles Reade in 1863. While James’s condition had not changed, the war progressed nearby. In early February, Union general William T.Read more »
In this letter, James continues to write about the “deadly policy” of the United States government, most likely a reference to either the policy of stopping packages from home, or the persistent refusal to exchange prisoners. In early 1865, Confederate officials asked for a prisoner exchange because they needed the manpower, but Union officials refused, leaving Union prisoners to languish in prisons throughout the South.Read more »
After not writing a letter since December 5, 1864, James finally let Molly know that he was doing well. In mid-December, after dealing with almost nightly escapes from Camp Sorghum, the Confederates moved James and the other prisoners to Camp Asylum, a walled enclosure located on the grounds of the State Lunatic Asylum in Columbia, South Carolina. The prison camp became home to approximately 1,200 Union officer prisoners. In this letter, James briefly refers to his previous escape from Camp Sorghum in November 1864.Read more »
Conditions at Camp Sorghum were so bad that prisoners escaped nightly. James escaped shortly after writing his last letter on November 19, and spent the next two weeks walking through swamps and living with slaves on plantations. He reached the Savannah River, at which point he was not far from the army of Union general William T. Sherman. Sherman was in the midst of his March to the Sea, or Savannah Campaign, marching from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. On December 3, 1864, Sherman, with part of his army, was at Millen, Georgia, just south of the Savannah River.Read more »
By the time James wrote this letter, he had lost all hope of Molly’s brother William obtaining a special exchange for him, but he was pleased with the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln. The war and related issues caused the formation of factions within the primary political parties ahead of the presidential election on November 8, 1864. A group of radical Republicans, who did not like Lincoln, formed the Radical Democracy Party.Read more »
Since writing his last letter, James was moved to a prison in Columbia, South Carolina. At the end of September 1864, due to the spread of yellow fever among prisoners at Charleston and the movements of Union general William T. Sherman’s Army, Confederate authorities decided to move prisoners to Columbia. Approximately 1,400 Union officer prisoners were moved from Charleston to Columbia, including James. He arrived at the new prison camp on October 6, 1864.Read more »
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