Alva Marsh

Four Letters from the Civil War – William Child, JR Montgomery, Alva Marsh, and an Unknown Confederate Soldier

One of the most moving remnants from the #CivilWar are the letters to soldiers and from the soldiers to their loved ones. I’ve written previously about the importance of and impact of mail during this time but thought I might include a couple of examples. One of the best resources for anything Civil War is the National Park Service. They have some fantastic educational materials suitable for classrooms, including a collection of letters and some fantastic videos. Although only one of the examples below are from men in the Invalid Corps, they are letters from soldiers themselves giving us insight into a moment in their lives.

Currier and Ives Print of Soldier Dreaming of HomeWilliam Child, Major and Surgeon with the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers
September 22, 1862 (Battlefield Hospital near Sharpsburg)

My Dear Wife;
Day before yesterday I dressed the wounds of 64 different men – some having two or three each. Yesterday I was at work from daylight till dark – today I am completely exhausted – but stall soon be able to go at it again.

The days after the battle are a thousand times worse than the day of the battle – and the physical pain is not the greatest pain suffered. How awful it is – you have not can have until you see it any idea of affairs after a battle. The dead appear sickening but they suffer no pain. But the poor wounded mutilated soldiers that yet have life and sensation make a most horrid picture. I pray God may stop such infernal work – through perhaps he has sent it upon us for our sins. Great indeed must have been our sins if such is our punishment.

Our Reg. Started this morning for Harpers Ferry – 14 miles. I am detailed with others to remain here until the wounded are removed – then join the Reg. With my nurses. I expect there will be another great fight at Harpers Ferry.

Carrie I dreamed of home night before last. I love to dream of home it seems so much like really being there. I dreamed that I was passing Hibbards house and saw you and Lud. in the window. After then I saw you in some place I cannot really know where -you kissed me – and told me you loved me – though you did not the first time you saw me. Was not that quite a soldier dream? That night had been away to a hospital to see some wounded men – returned late. I fastened my horse to a peach tree – fed him with wheat and hay from a barn near by – then I slept and dreamed of my loved ones away in N.H.

Write soon as you can. Tell me all you can about my business affairs and prospects for the future in Bath. Will Dr. Boynton be likely to get a strong hold there. One thing sure Cad, I shall return to Bath – if I live – and spend my days there. I feel so in that way now. Give me all news you can. Tell Parker and John and the girls to write although I can not answer them all. Tell Parker I will answer his as soon as I can.

In this letter I send you a bit of gold lace such as the rebel officers have. This I cut from a rebel officers coat on the battlefield. He was a Lieut.

I have made the acquaintance of two rebel officers – prisoners in our hands. One is a physician – both are masons – both very intelligent, gentlemanly men. Each is wounded in the leg. They are great favorites with our officers. One of them was brought off the field in hottest of the fight by our 5th N.H. officers – he giving them evidence of his being a mason.

Now do write soon. Kisses to you Clint & Kate. Love to all.

Yours as ever



James Robert Montgomery, Signal Corps, Heth’s Division, 3rd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, C.S.A.
May 10, 1864 (Spotsylvania County, Virginia)

Dear Father

This is my last letter to you. I went into battle this evening as courier for Genl. Heth. I have been struck by a piece of shell and my right shoulder is horribly mangled & I knowdeath is inevitable. I am very weak but I write to you because I know you would be delighted to read a word from your dying son. I know death is near, that I will die far from home and friends of my early youth but I have friends here too who are kind to me. My friend Fairfax will write you at my request and give you the particulars of my death. My grave will be marked so that you may visit it if you desire to do so, but it is optionary with you whether you let my remains rest here or in Miss. I would like to rest in the grave yard with my dear mother and brothers but it’s a matter of minor importance. Let us all try to reunite in heaven. I pray my God to forgive my sins and I feel that his promises are true that he will forgive me and save me. Give my love to all my friends. My strength fails me. My horse and my equipments will be left for you. Again, a long farewell to you. May we meet in heaven.

Your dying son,

J.R. Montgomery

The video below from the NPS tells a bit more about Montgomery’s story. You can also see/hear the letter in Ric Burn’s Civil War documentary, “Death and the Civil War.”


Alvah MarshAlva H. Marsh, Corporal, Company E, Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry
February 10, 1864 (Fairfax Seminary Hospital, Virgnia)

Dear Mother I take my pen to inform you that I got safe to my home in the hospital on Sunday at two o clock today I have been down to Alexandria to get some papers and envelopes so as to write to you I have been examined twice since I came back from home the doctor says that I will always be lame

I am thankful to think it is no worse then it is I think they will put me in the Invalid corps but I can stand it in the condemned Yankees for the balance of my time if they only ask me to stay for the next three months I can get out by [illegible] next if they want to stay all summer in the invalid corps I shant do it for I am sick of the war I want To stay at home some of my life don’t you think so Frank I suppose you are at home yet

I want you to take good care of the girls for me I was homesick when I began to [illegible] the hills of Virginia I tell you but it is of no use to have the blues here for a fela has got to stay but I cant write any more at present this from Alwah Sarah you must be a good little girl until I come home I don’t mean Sarah Hathaway for I know that she will be good you know I think so How is Alice and Miss [illegible] write to me as soon as you can

from A W Marsh

*from the University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University


Unknown Confederate Soldier
July 3, 1863 (Gettysburg, PA)

Dr. Holt worked in a field hospital behind Seminary Ridge. He spoke of the unforgettable courage of a wounded soldier stating, “His left arm and a third of his torso had been torn away and he dictated a farewell letter to his mother.” It read simply,

“This is the last you may ever hear from me. I have time to tell you that I died like a man. Bear my loss as best you can. Remember that I am true to my country and my greatest regret at dying is that she is still not free and that you and your sisters are robbed of my youth. I hope this will reach you and you must not regret that my body cannot be obtained. It is a mere matter of form anyhow. This letter is stained with my blood.”

*from – The epic story of the Battle of Gettysburg as told in the participants’ own words.