Being a Poor Confederate Soldier

Georgia’s Wright Vinson spoke his letters to comrades as if he were sitting across the kitchen table and speaking directly to his wife. His emotional openness astounded me when I first looked at Vinson’s letters, knowing that he was confiding to another man. in camp. Vinson did not hesitate to tell his wife that he was filtly, covered with lice, and starving. He even admitted that he felt helpless and unworthy to be a father to his son. Not a shred of heroism can be found in Vinson’s letters . His thoughts and words rarely strayed from his abject poverty in the ranks or from the worries that he had for his wife and child.

In researching the book, a number of questions arose from Vinson’s letters. Can one find politics in emotional expressions? How did the economic realities of army life figure into a soldier’s struggle to keep himself and his family financially afloat? Did poor soldiers have different understandings of being a man that was less beholden to honor and public reputation? You can reach own conclusions from one of Vinson’s poignant letters.

Camp Near Manchester December the 2 1862

            Dear Wife I will try to Finish this letter this Morning and let you hear how I am I feel tolarble well I have just got done eating Breakfast I had Bisquit and meat and Corn coffee and gravy

Darling I hope when this comes to hand it will find you the same good Bleesing of life honey I recond you wont to hear how wee are liveing wee get plenty to eat sush as Flourer and meat that is all that wee get wee dont have now Salt at all wee hant had none in 19 days it is the worst eating that I ever done in my life certain it looks to mee like I Cold eat up a hole Sack at one time it will kill all of us in our Bowels if wee dont get some soon I dont see now chance to get any wee hant got now Soap either wee hant had a Bit Sence pa left their I hant wash my Close in a month and Shant tell I get Soap ever thing is that I have got is Black as the Back Sow I dont recond you wont to see mee Bad with my fine Suit on Darling I am a Shame to tell you that I am lousey it is the Body louse I have done my Best to keep them off but god in heaven nows they ant now Chance to doo it Sow if I was to get the chance to Come home you wold hate to tech mee for you wold get them on you and I woldent have that done for 50 Dollars Dear I Cant keep them off unless I Cold get Soap to wash my Cloas nothing more on the louse serip

Dear I received your kind letter that you sent by Ms harris I received it on the 30 of last month it was gladly received it relieved mee verry mush to hear that you was well I hadent heard from you Sence pa left us Sow nothing more your loveing husband good By honey Wright Vinson

Christiana Vinson


[In upper margin:]

Kiss Charley For mee and tell him he has a Father But a sorry one

David Beem Letter from Antietam, September 19, 1862

In tabulating the losses from his company in the 14th Indiana, Captain David Beem offers more than a register of casualties. He was one of the few soldiers that I included in The War for the Common Soldier who wrote openly about the trauma of combat. The sounds of the fighting reverberated in his head for weeks. The subsequent letters that followed his September 19th missive chart his slow, physical and emotional breakdown.

Near Sharpsburgh, Md.  Sept. 19th 1862

My dear Wife

I take this opportunity of writing you a letter.  Yesterday I wrote you a very brief note to let you know that I was safe, though you may not get it.  I am very anxious that the friends should hear from the boys in my company, knowing that they are all full of anxiety for their fate.

The battle of the 17th was a hard contested one, and the loss on both sides frightful.  It lasted from 8 AM till 12 ½ o’clock, with furious carnage, and fighting more or less continuous from sunrise till dark –

Lundy, poor man, was killed by my side he never spoke after he was struck  Jess Harrold was struck in four places, but will soon get well  Hugh Barnes had his leg broken below the knee – Henry Woodsmall was shot twice through the leg.  I have not time to give you a full list of the casualties – the man to take this letter is just starting  Noah Johnson was in the fight and came out all right – so did Tom Mull – Mort Law slightly hurt – Lewis Houston mortally , James _____ seriously.

I have written one or two letters already but they may not have gone safe – Shepard Coleman and Ben Howe were not in the Battle – Neither was John Sullivan.  Ben Howe and Sullivan were detailed the Ambulance waggons.

I am worn out, but otherwise in good health.  I must close

Yours Affectionately


Oh! The rush and roar of the battle!  I wonder if the dreadful sounds will ever get out of my ears!  Of the thirty seven of my Company present, three were killed instantly, three I fear will die and fifteen others are more or less seriously wounded                   D