Of Battles and Memories: A Union Officer’s Springtime Letter

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, c. 1864 or 1865

March 20 marks the first day of spring. It’s a season often noted in Civil War soldier’s letters and journals since it’s when the winter camps broke up and the military prepared for the coming campaigns. They might not have written on the actual first day of spring, but the soldiers noted the signs of the season.

Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote a springtime letter to his six-year-old daughter, Grace – who was nicknamed “Daisy.” The letter was composed after the Battle of Chancellorsville and includes details on the scenes of the season in war-torn Virginia compared to the memories of spring in Maine. Lawrence’s sister often stayed with Daisy and her brother “Wyllys,” especially when their “mamma” traveled to visit “papa” or undertake shopping expeditions.

To celebrate the coming warmer days, pretty flowers, and singing birds, may I offer the complete letter from this Union officer to his little girl? It presents the contrast of a child’s innocence and the pleasures of spring with the realities of war and the looming promise that more battles would come with the changing days.

May 1863

My dear little Daisy,

I begin a letter to you before the battle, but in the hurry of our moving it was lost. It was night, too, so that we could not see much. I am sorry I lost the letter, for it was almost done. There has been a big battle, and we had a great man men killed or wounded. We shall try again soon, and see if we cannot make those Rebels behave better, and stop their wicked works in trying to spoil our Country, and making us all so unhappy.

Grace “Daisy” Chamberlain, c. 1862 [no known restrictions]
I have looked for the letter a great deal, but I shall enjoy writing another to you. You see I cannot write very well in this way; I believe you could write better if you should try.

I am glad to have so many nice letters from you. I sent the last ones to dear Mamma. I shall want another soon. I suppose Mamma is at home by this time, so I shall have the pleasure of a letter from both of you next time.

Do you and Wyllys have a pleasant time now-a-days? I think dear Aunty must make you very happy. She has such kind ways. I should like to see you all. What a charming little home you have, especially if dear Mamma is with you. Does Master Wyllys call her Fanny yet? You must have a garden to work in. It is very hot here, so that we can hardly bear to have our clothes on. But we do not have any May-flowers here. All the ground is so trampled by the Army that even the grass will not grow much. How I should enjoy a May-walk with you and Wyllys, and what beautiful flowers we would bring home to surprise Mamma and Aunty! I often think of all our paths and sunny banks where we are always sure to find the wildflowers. Do the beautiful birds sing about the trees, and look for places to build nests near the house, as they used to do?

I am suddenly ordered to go to the front to take command of our pickets. Mamma will tell you what they are, so goodbye once more.


[public domain image]

Alice R. Trulock, In The Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain & The American Civil War. (1992). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Pages 112-113.

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