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.
The historical event of John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Fairy was an extremely important part of the Civil War and history itself. John Brown’s raid was one of the first rebellions lead by slaves that caused an impact on the country. John Brown’s intentions were to start a new form of government in which everyone was equal. His raid was the first step in doing so. During the rebellion, there were casualties and injuries to both civilians, soldiers, and slaves. John Brown was eventually captured, tried, and found guilty. He was hung as a result.
Ulysses S. Grant, Union Major General, commanded the siege of Vicksburg on May 18, 1863. The Union army entrapped the Confederate army under control of Lieutenant General John Pemberton. After having supplies, especially food, cut off from Vicksburg, Pemberton finally surrender on July 4, 1863. The battle for Vicksburg was a major turning point in the Civil War. Read more details about the Siege of Vicksburg at http://www.civilwarhome.com/battleofvicksburg.
The most famous battle that took place during the Civil War was the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle took place in the city of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The death toll from this three-day battle totaled well over 50,000 Americans. Months later President Abraham Lincoln delivered the infamous Gettysburg address to dedicate the military cemetery. The video is a reading of the speech.
1864: The Battle of Fort Pillow takes place. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led 2,500 troops against a Union held position, containing roughly 600 Union soldiers (Split of white and African-American). After a clear Confederate Victory, the Union were given a chance to surrender. Initially rejected, the Union were forced to surrender after imminent defeat. Atrocities performed by the South against the Union (namely the African-American soldiers) happened in the aftermath, starting the alleged Fort Pillow Massacre. Confederate soldiers are blamed with slaugthering African-American troops, as well as burying them alive, and setting fire to sick tents. Confederates deny that such an event took place.
The Civil War was a response to Abraham Lincoln being elected as President and then the United States being split into two parts: the Union and the Confederates. This war was fought for four years until finally the Confederates surrended and slavery was outlawed.
Here is a link to the timeline of the many battles and events that occured during the Civil War: http://www.mce.k12tn.net/civil_war/timeline_of_the_american_civil_w.htm
This video is a compilation of images from Civil War reenactments. From this video, you can get an idea of the kinds of clothes people wore, the kinds of weapons they used in battle, and you can hear some of the music from the time. The song in this video is The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The tune was written in 1856 by William Steffe. Eventually, the lyrics were changed by Julia Ward Howe in 1861 to be the troops battle song. Widely regarded as the best song of the time, by the people of the time, I thought it was a neat way to put some musical context into the Civil War.