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Friday, March 29, 2013

Voices of 1863

This week I have been working hard on wrapping up label copy for the upcoming exhibit Voices of 1863:Witnesses to the Civil War, which will open on May 1. The show focuses on three events of 1863--the Emancipation Proclamation, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg, and as the title suggests, the main goal of the exhibit is to highlight the actual words and experiences of people connected with those events.

It's been a wonderful project to work on, since the documents here at the Rosenbach are so rich and evocative; I just love reading them and I hope you will too. It has, however, left little time for blog writing this week, so I thought I might just offer a teaser of some my favorite 1863 quotes from the exhibit.


I do not look upon the fall of Vicksburg as in the least doubtful. If however I could have carried the place on the 22nd of last month I could by this time have made a campaign that would have made the state of Mississippi almost safe for a solitary horseman to ride over. As it is the enemy have a large army in it and the season has so far advanced that water will be difficult to find for an army marching besides the dust and heat that must be encountered. The fall of Vicksburg now will only result in the opening of the Miss. River and demoralization of the enemy. I intended more from it. I did my best however and looking back can see no blunder committed

U.S. Grant, letter to his father, June 15, 1863

It now seems that our last march was a botch as usual… we marched parts of two days to reach this point and are still here whilst our destination could have been reached, if guides were worth anything, in one. this is of a piece with all our movements — to reach this point from opposite Fredericksburg I suppose we have marched nearly twenty unnecessary miles on exceedingly hot days. with this exposition is it any wonder that the rebels move faster than we do.

Alexander Biddle, 121st Pennsylvania Reg't, letter to his wife, June 19, 1863

I mounted and directed the men as well as I could. they lay down behind a fence and returned the rebel fire with great sharpness, bullets were striking everywhere and men falling — back of us was a large brick house used as a hospital, a theological seminary I believe. I rode round this up to the front of the line and here saw the Colonel. he had received a scalp wound in the back of the head but was still on his feet and went to the hospital for a few moments. I rode out with the Colonel of the NYk 20th to the left and saw the line of rebels advancing to outflank us and reported it to General Rowley — he told me to take command and bring the broken troops there. I tried to do so as well as I could but the rebels on our left got in and the men retreated behind the hospital down to the road.

Alexander Biddle, 121st Pennsyvania Reg't, letter to his wife, July 1, 1863, describing the first day's battle at Gettysburg

Both Jennie & I think that Mother, Mary & the children should come here if by any means at all they can reach us—We are in nothing like so great danger here as you are in C[hambersburg]—I think it quite likely that if the Rebs occupy Pa. long we will have them here, but there is nothing here now of sufficient importance to either attract or keep them.

John Riddle Warner, letter to his in-laws suggesting they come to Gettysburg, June 23, 1863, one week before the battle

The war is evidently growing oppressive to the Southern people. Their institution are beginning to have ideas of their own and every time an expedition goes out more or less of them follow in the wake of the army and come into camp. I am using them as teamsters, Hospital attendants, company cooks etc. thus saving soldiers to carry the musket.

I don’t know what is to become of these poor people in the end but it [is]weakening the enemy to take them from them.

U.S. Grant, letter to his sister, August 19, 1862
For more great Civil War documents, remember to check out the Rosenbach blog Today in the Civil War


Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog






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