Upon a visit to the Special Collections Department in the University of Iowa’s Main Library, I was able to uncover a marvelous book of Civil War letters (Call #: MSC 541 Box #1 and #2) authored by Mr. Charles Thomas Ackley, a Union soldier from Iowa. Reading Ackley’s letters gave me a very realistic look into the life of a typical Union soldier from the rural Midwest.
Ackley was born in Pittsfield, New York on July 23, 1833. In 1855 he moved to Iowa and started a farm near Marble Rock. He was married in 1863 to Elizabeth Thayer (The recipient of his Civil War letters). Later that year Ackley enlisted in Company B of the Seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army. The letters that he sent home to his family in Marble Rock date from January 17, 1864 to July 5, 1865. While he served, Ackley saw intense action and fought in many battles during the war. Although he was not injured, he did contract diseases that hindered him for the rest of his life. He was discharged in July 1865.
While reading Ackley’s letters I found many things to be very interesting. One such aspect I found particularly stunning was his “quite comfortable” living conditions. Through his letters he explained he lived in makeshift barracks with 50 other men. They had a coal stove to keep them warm in the winter months. He slept on bunks with 3 beds on each, spanning about 4 feet wide that had “plenty of straw on them.” I found these conditions to be a little appalling; however, during the time period Ackley seemed very impressed.
Ackley’s personal relationship to his wife and children is another fascinating detail that can be observed. Times of love, distrust, guilt, and even undeserving feelings are scattered bountifully through his many letters. This was a very captivating trail to follow, in my opinion.