It is a rare thing when a series of letters over 150 years old is found intact, but to find two sets of them, in response to each other–well, that is cause for celebration.
Author Gene Barr has been lucky enough to have not only found such a collection, but wise enough to purchase it whole and work it, all for the benefit of today’s readers. His edits and annotations result in a new book of letters, A Civil War Captain and His Lady. Barr, currently the President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, comes by his Civil War credentials with a life-long interest in the war, including a term as Chair of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA. Through a roundabout path, one that began in an unheated cabin on Lake George in Wisconsin, a packet of about 75 letters, photographs, and a worn leather memorial book containing newspaper clippings and telegrams came to the attention of a business colleague of author Barr, who purchased the collection. The letters and ephemera are the story of the three-year courtship of Joshua Moore and Jennie Lindsay.
Joshua Moore, a 27-year-old Irish immigrant, was a student at Illinois’ Monmouth College when the war broke out. He enlisted and was elected captain of the 17th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The men were sent to Peoria, Illinois to train, and it was while he was in training camp that he met 19-year-old Jennie Lindsay. Apparently the attraction was instantaneous and mutual, because they agreed to write to each other. They wrote letters frequently during the three years of Moore’s term of service with the 17th Illinois Infantry. The reader follows their emerging courtship, conducted in proper Victorian fashion, and filled with religious references indicating that “God’s will be done,” in all circumstances, even if they wished the circumstances could be different.
Jennie Lindsay was not your average Union belle–her father was Senator John Lindsay, who was initially supportive of the Union war effort (wonderful stuff on the combined maneuvers of Grant & Porter to move Grant’s men past Vicksburg on pages 191-195, from Lindsay’s own recollections as an observer). However, as the war continued, he began to fall under the sway of men like Clement Vallandigham, who did not support such a prolonged war or the Emancipation Proclamation. The Senator became an ardent Copperhead. This, however, did not seem to interfere with his daughter’s burgeoning love affair with Joshua Moore.
Moore’s letters to Jennie give the reader great insight into the campaigns of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg. Through the first part of the war, Jennie asked not to be told the military particulars, but after Moore had been writing for over a year, she began to express more interest in his daily actions. Author Barr has used a large variety of letters, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources to fill in the gaps and expand on the campaign responsibilities of the 17th Illinois, giving context to Moore’s personal comments.
By the time of the Siege of Corinth, Jennie had lightened up on what she desired to hear from Joshua. His letters begin to being in more of his battlefield experience, especially concerning the Vicksburg Campaign and the federal occupation of the city in the summer of ’63. Moore also describes his participation in the 1864 Meridian Campaign, and his ordered excursion up the Yazoo River, proving that Union forces could move freely into the interior of Mississippi if desired.
The Captain had become engaged to his Lady by the time his 3-year enlistment was over, and he chose not to re-up his service. He left the army in June of ’64 and soon thereafter married Jennie. He returned to school and became a Presbyterian minister. Subsequent information indicates that Captain Moore was little troubled by any of the grief and nightmares that impacted the lives of so many other soldiers. There are testimonials as to his sterling character and to the stalwart faith he and his wife presented to their small world. The book ends with an “Epilogue: Thereafter,” following the Moores and their descendants into the 21st century.
There is certainly no shortage of books that contain letters from Civil War soldiers, but this one is especially interesting because most of the letters are in sequence. Gene Barr has built upon this foundation with supporting research. There is currently no regimental history of the 17th Illinois, but A Civil War Captain and His Lady is an excellent beginning to a study of Civil War units from the Land of Lincoln. I found this book to be a delightful read on many levels: the stilted Victorian language in the letters quickly becomes easy to understand as the reader watches the relationship between Joshua and Jennie evolve into a full-fledged love affair–one that lasted a lifetime.
- Gene Barr, A Civil War Captain and His Lady: Love, Courtship, and Combat from Fort Donelson through the Vicksburg Campaign
- Savas Beatie Publishing, 2016
- 316 pages of text
- Appendix I is an interview with author Gene Barr
- Bibliography and Index included