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A Civil War Christmas letter home

opinion column

With the holiday season in full swing, sometimes we focus on the hustle and bustle and lose sight of what is truly important. I am as guilty as the next person of this and when transcribing a series of letters recently, I came across a Christmas letter from a Civil War soldier to his sister shortly before Christmas in 1862. It reminded me of all the reasons the holidays are special and that these times should be cherished. A little background information about the soldier follows.

William Henry Brown enlisted into the 76th NYSV Infantry on Oct. 22, 1861 in Georgetown, N.Y. Brown was mustered in as a private in Company D one week later. Wounded while serving on Oct. 29, 1862, at South Mountain, Md., he was discharged a little under five months later. Brown would return to active duty in the Navy during the war, serving on a number of steamers.

The following letter was written while recovering from his injuries in Baltimore. His letter is courtesy of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscripts Library at Duke University.

US General Hospital

Ward 2 House 79 Camden Street

Baltimore, December 22nd, 1862

My Dear sister I could not resist the desire to write and wish you a merry Christmas. When I go out into the street I see all around me preparations being made to celebrate the time when dull care is laid aside (or supposed to be at least) and naught but pleasure reigns. Yes the merry Christmas is near at hand. How long is it since I spent a Christmas day at home? Jog my memory sister dear, I think it’s not since we called the old frame house our home. I mean the one that stood upon the hill where one could see for miles around. What did old Santy bring us then? I think if I remember right he brought me a comforter. Would that I could get one now that would not fade but outwear grim time. Little sister do you understand the comforter I wish will it not ware if worn a right? If my Bible tells me true it will. And the Sabbath school festive, you will enjoy what I neglected when a boy, neglected to, for idle play. I guess you will think my letter strange but perhaps I am not sane, my head does whirl in a maze some times. I think I’m half way crazed. But, this is idle talk; don’t let care or sorrow drive away the joy that should be on Christmas day. When you get this letter please write and tell me how you spent the Christmas holidays. This letter is a compound of random thoughts that float through my brain after eating a hearty supper in the hospital, so you see the effect of hospital fare.

Good night Mary

Henry Brown

I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year.

Do not forget to become a fan of Madison County, NY History on Facebook, and check out the Madison County, NY History webpage at madisoncountynyhistory.com.

Matthew Urtz is the Madison County historian. He can be reached at 366-2453 or matthew.urtz@madisoncounty.ny.gov.

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