In honoring Veterans Day, we also recognize the human toll on separated families and those who serve. Our soldiers, and those cherished by them, express their current existence, their love and dearest thoughts, and perhaps final expressions of hope and regret in letters from war and home.
The Revolutionary War
A patriot’s letter to his loyalist father, 1778
Letter from Timothy Pickering Jr. to Timothy Pickering Sr.,
February 23, 1778. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
In February 1778, Timothy Pickering Jr. received word from Massachusetts that his father was dying. An adjutant general in George Washington’s Continental Army, Pickering wrote his father this moving letter of farewell on February 23, 1778 from his post in Yorktown, Virginia. Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, a graduate of Harvard, and a successful lawyer, Timothy Pickering Jr. revered his father but disagreed with him on one critical issue: colonial independence from Great Britain. Timothy Jr. supported resistance to British rule, while Timothy Sr. remained a staunch Tory.
They and later generations carefully preserved their Revolutionary War letters, which remain remarkable windows today to the transformations the conflict brought to all aspects of eighteenth-century life.
York Town Feb. 23. 1778.
My Honoured Father,
With much grief I received the account of your indisposition; but at the same time was happy to find you rather growing better, & that there was a prospect of your recovery. Not that I deemed you anxious to live; I supposed the contrary: —but whether to live or die, I know you are perfectly resigned to the will of Heaven….
When I look back on past time, I regret our difference of sentiment in great as well as (sometimes) in little politics; as it was a deduction from the happiness otherwise to have been enjoyed. Yet you had always too much regard to freedom in thinking & the rights of conscience, to lay upon me any injunctions which could interfere with my own opinion of what was my duty….Often have I thanked my Maker for the greatest blessing of my life—your example & instructions in all the duties I owe to God, and my neighbour. They have not been lost upon me; tho’ I am aware that in many things I have offended, & come short of my duty. For these things I am grieved; but not as those who have no hope.
I am deeply indebted too for your care in my education; I only regret that I improved my time no better.
But altho’ the line of action I pursued has not always been such as you would have chosen, I hope you have never repented that I was your son. By God’s grace I will in my future life aim at higher attainments in those all-essential points; not only from a sense of duty to my Creator—from a regard to my own happiness here and beyond the grave—but that I may never wound the breast of a parent to whom I am under so many and so great obligations.
My love and duty to you and my mother,
conclude me your obedient son,
Tim. Pickering junr:
To Mr. Timo. Pickering
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
The War of 1812
A War of 1812 Soldier
ROYAL PRISON, Dartmore Oct. 12th 1814 / Yankee privateersman captured in the War of 1812
Dear Sally –
It is with regret that I have to inform you of my unhappy situation that is, confined heir in a loathsom prison where I have wourn out almost 9 months of my Days; and god knows how long it will be before I shall get my Liberty again. . . . I cheer my drooping spirits by thinking of the happy Day when we shall have the pleasure of seeing you and my friends. . .
This same place is one of the most retched in this habbited world. . . neither wind nor water tight, it is situated on the top of a high hill and is so high that it either rains, hails or snows almost the year round for further partickulars of my preasant unhappy situation, of my strong house, and my creeping friends which are without number. . . .
. . .my best wishes are that when these few lines come to you they will find you, the little Girl [his daughter] my parents Brothers sisters all in good helth. I have wrote you a number of letters since my inprisenment here and I shall still trouble you with them every oppertunity that affords me till I have the pleasure of receiving one from you which I hope will be soon. . . .
I am compeled to smugle this out of prison for they will not allow us to write to our friends if they can help it. . . . So I must conclude with telling you that I am not alone for there is almost 5,000 of us heir, and creepers a 1000 to one. . .
Give my Brothers my advice that is to beware of coming to this retched place for no tongue can tell what the sufferings are heir till they have a trial of it. So I must conclude with wishing you all well so God bless you all. This is from your even [ever] derr and beloved Husband.
PEREZ DRINKWATER, Jun.
The Civil War
Unknown Confederate Soldier
Company E, “Lynchburg Rifles,” 11th Virginia Infantry Volunteers, 1861
Unknown Union Soldier of the Civil War
Circa 1860 and 1870 – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Civil War Envelopes Are Works of Art—And Propaganda
Envelopes were relatively new for American mail in the 1860’s and printers used them to take sides.
Veronique Greenwood, National Geographic
Image Courtesy: Benjamin Wishnietsky, Confederate Patriotic covers and their usages
1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and postage stamp
Public Domain Pictures.net
1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and postage stamp
Public Domain Pictures.net
1861-1865 American Civil War envelope with postmark and stamp
Public Domain Pictures..net
I went to camp this afternoon. I got kind of lonesome so I trudged down through the snow to see the boys. While there I recd two letters one from Father & Mother so I thought I would write a letter to you & send in this. I was very glad to hear from you. I have thought of you often to day and wondered if you have had such a snow storm there as we have here. It reminded me of many such that I have seen at home. I did not suppose that they had so much winter here. I guess they seldom do…. The snow must be 6 or 8 in deep now.
We can make ourselves quite comfortable here. To be sure it is not like being in a house but compared with some soldiers to the front we are comfortable.
Dear parents I will try and do my duty and I know the good seed you have sown in my youth and watered with your prayers can never be lost. May it spring up and bear fruit a hundred fold and you will receive your reward.
I feel that there has been a change in my heart although it may not be so great as some experience. Yet with your prayers and an ernest effort on my part I shall conquer the evils which surround me. This will be a consolation to you & I know you will be more willing to give me up should I be called to sacrifice my life for my country’s sake. May your health be preserved and if it is the Lord’s will I hope I may come home to live with you in peace once more. These are my feelings. Take good care of yourselves and don’t work to hard and have everything for your comfort. For what is a few dollars or even a few hundred dollars at the end of a persons life compared to many other things. I hope Jay & Julia and all will be good to you & do all they can to make you happy as no doubt they will.
I hear Henry’s mother & sister are going to move in the village to live. Do what you think best with my colt. How much did Mr Minor offer
I must stop. With much love to all I remain your affectionate son.
Henry R. Hoyt
Soldier: Blain, David Allegiance: Confederate Unit/Service, Branch: Artillery, Home State: Virginia, Date Written: Sunday, January 1st, 1860, Location: Virginia (SoldierStudies.org)
My Precious Loulie
Your sweet and welcome letter of the 22nd came on Friday. I was highly amused at your flirtations with the widower or rather at the combination of it…I hope he will not allow himself to get too much involved tho. How he can associate with you without loving you, I don’t know. Still, he has been kind to you + enabled you to pass some pleasant hours, so that I would not like for him to suffer anything from the association. But I know you will be gentle with him, my darling + if he does address you he will love you more after you have rejected him than he did before..
I am going this evening to call on three young ladies – Misses Lynch’s, who live on the farm on which we are camped. I do not want to go at all, as I still have as great a repugnance as ever to visiting, but their mother has been kind to me + I knew a brother of theirs at the Seminary, who has died since the war begun + I am made obligatious to call on them. I know I shall be thinking all the time “if it was just my darling Loulie how different it wd be.” T his is the day for the great Chicago Convention. I do pray that God may so order their counsels as to bring about peace, but I am very doubtful as to the result of their labors & very much afraid that we are all of us expecting too much of them.
The shelling of Petersburg has commenced again more vigorously than ever. I suppose Grant has found that he has gained nothing by his occupation of the Weldon RR. We still use the road, but have to wagon our supplies further than we did before.
I am more than ever anxious to see you darling, but still undecided about when I shall come. Look for me when you see me, is as near as I can come to it. Love to Miss M, Kate, Miss Lila + the Dr. I trust your neuralgia is better. May God ever bless you my precious one prays
yr own loving + devoted
World War I
WWI American soldier, Le Mans, France
My dear Mother,
Have just come through a particularly nasty period. We went into the trenches on Wednesday night and on Sunday morning at 5am our Artillery commenced bombarding the German trenches and after 20 minutes had elapsed we went over the parapet. My goodness what a reception the Huns had in store for us, they simply swept the ground with machine gun fire and shrapnel. Poor old ‘C’ coy. caught it hot and Neuve Chapelle seemed to be a fleabite compared with this. It was found impossible to make any advance in our quarter, so I dug myself in and awaited events. It was horrible suspense, as I seemed to be the only man untouched, all around me, and being personally acquainted with each man made matters worse, in fact, it’s all wrong to call them men, as they were mostly mere boys.
About early afternoon I was hailed from the trench as to whether it was possible for me to get back. I replied in the affirmative and decided to run the risk of getting potted on the way. So I commenced crawling on my stomach until about a few yards from the parapet, then made a spring and rushed headlong over the top, nearly spoiling the features of a few who happened to be in the trench and were not expecting me. We were relieved that afternoon, but some of the fellows did not get in until nightfall and these experienced another bombardment… Billy Hastings is quite fit and the only pal left. We have been resting since and getting information but by all reports we shall be up again soon. No rest for the wicked it is said, and if true we must surely be a bad lot.
What a terrible thing about the Lusitania, and with so many Americans aboard. Should imagine there will be more trouble. Have received box and letter dated 6th and am most thankful for everything you are all doing for me. (censored)
As regards the pads, (masks of cotton pads which served as gas masks), all we were served out with were made ‘on the spot’ and consisted of a piece of gauze and tape and were steeped in a solution of bicarbonate of soda, prior to this charge. I lost all my belongings except the Gillette (razor) so should be glad of a few toilet requisites when next you are sending a parcel. Do not trouble about towel and perhaps Frank would get me a shaving brush. Must now close. Much love to all. From your affectionate son,
World War II
American Soldier in 1940s WWII uniform
Letters From the Front
Because letters from home were often censored, families and friends of soldiers were often unaware of their loved-ones’ locations and duties. Nevertheless, soldiers’ words relay the many emotions experienced by the men who fought on D-Day. Many of the details of the landing were only learned by friends and relatives long after the battle ended.
|France, July 22, 1944
…Yesterday I had to visit all the units again, to get statements for my report. The regiment is in contact with the enemy, so such trips always have their skin-prickling moments. I got back pretty tired about 7 o’clock, just in time to get a phone call from the CO of one of Sirrine’s battalions, also in the line, requesting me to come up to discuss personal problems of his body-guard, a fine young fellow who had simultaneously received word that his sister, an army nurse, and a brother, a flyer, had both been killed in the So. Pacific, and that his remaining brother had been critically wounded with another division here in France.
While up there, I hit the favorite hours for Jerry’s activities, and, frankly, pretty nearly had the pants scared off me, with samples of shelling, mortar-fire, and strafing. I got back at midnight, having driven the jeep myself all day (my driver being on guard) slipping and slewing through mud axle deep whenever I got off the surfaced roads, which was frequently. I hate to admit it, but after a day like that, I feel my years. Yeah, man! War is a young man’s game!…
News on 90th has been released. Maybe you know something now of what the boys have gone through: constant contact with the enemy since D-Day. They’ve taken their losses, too. Somebody says “Old Bill got it today.” “No!” you say. “Son-of-a-bitch!” And you go on about your business, with a little more emptiness inside, a little more tiredness, a little more hatred of everything concerning war.
There is a certain cemetery where some of my closest friends in the division lie. I saw it grow — shattered bodies lying there waiting for graves to be dug. Now it is filled. The graves are neat and trim, each with its cross. Occasionally I visit it when passing by. Always there are flowers on the graves: Sometimes a potted geranium has been newly brought in; sometimes there is a handful of daisies. The French people, especially the children, seem to have charged themselves with this little attention. Our bombers are roaring overhead just now, in the hazy afterglow of sunset. In a few seconds I’ll hear the crunch of bombs — a good-night kiss for the Nazis. There they go!
The war news is good; but we’re fighting over optimism. I suppose people at home are elated; the boys up front are still in their fox-holes.
I’ll try to write at least a note every day or so. Take care of yourself. I’m fine.
American Experience, pbs.org
Korean War Soldier
Andrew Jiang Hong, 12, in a thank-you letter sent to Korean War veteran Ralph Heck
Michael Sears, Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel
Ralph Heck holds a photo of himself and a young Korean boy he befriended when in the U.S. Army in Korea. The boy, 12 to 14 years old, made coffee, shined shoes, and made sure the soldiers were up on time for their work shifts. Heck never saw the boy again after leaving Korea. – Michael Sears
Pvt R Jones of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines takes a standing break during operation Pitt 12 miles north of Da Nang
…. Being in DaNang was quite an experience. It is a place of distinct contrasts. There are great big PXs there and the most horrible slums you’ve ever seen within half a mile of each other. The whole place is much busier than here, and they even have traffic jams. The place has much more to offer as far as entertainment and food goes, but I think I like the quiet here a little better. It’s a little easier to live without a few things than be constantly reminded that you are living well while someone else is starving. It hurts to see something like that. Paved streets, ice cream, and poverty in the same breath; it’s hard to take.
(It was good to get back, to see the quiet countryside again. That quiet countryside was Quang Tri, closer to where the war was going on. But I was more comfortable there than in the relative comfort of DaNang).
…. No mail came at all today – the second day in a row without any mail. I sure hope the mail comes tomorrow – I need to hear from you to perk me up. Guess the people in DaNang take weekends off, they don’t know that there’s a war going on….
The Gulf War
Gulf War Soldier
Dec. 20, 1990
I sometimes am afraid that we just won’t be coming back. I know it’s silly, it’s just how I feel sometimes. I just wanted to let you know how appreciative I am of the care package for Christmas that you sent…. It is very nice to know that there are people out there, besides our families, that are so thoughtful, and care so much about our cause. It’s difficult to be over here believing that all the backing we have is from our families, but with caring people like yourself, it gives us more of an incentive, to go on, and it helps us believe that there truly is a reason for us all being here, not only to defend our families, but all Americans. Again, thank you. Support is everything.
War on Terror
Pakistan-Afghanistan border. GI standing in the Khyber Pass at the Torkham border crossing.
Letter to the Next President on Fighting the War on Terror
November 8, 2016
Dear Mr./ Mrs. President,
War is a terrible event. Death and destruction almost always follow. The war on terror is a global battle between religion and freedom. One of the main questions that is often brought up is: should we be fighting in this war or not? Some say it has turned into our battle ever since the attack on 9/11. Others say it is costing too much money and not worth the life toll. I think America should be sending troops over to help fight and defend the world from ISIS because it would ensure our safety and help redeem those that died on September 11, 2001….After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. joined WW2 to protect the American Dream and defend our country. So, why is now any different?
America has always been the Country of Freedom, but what about safety? We felt safe before 9/11, but now we have become more and more unsure.
America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Ensuring our freedom and safety are only two of the reasons we should fight. War is terrible, but….our freedom and safety must be preserved.
In Grateful Appreciation For Those Who Have Served Our Nation
November 11, 2016