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Letters from the Front – Correspondence Spanning Two Centuries of American War

By Andrew Carroll
10/31/2008 • Military History

Civil War
Of the 100,000 soldiers who clashed at the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh, named after a local Methodist Episcopal meetinghouse, a quarter of them were killed, wounded or captured—about the same number of casualties as the Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War combined. Andrew DeVilbiss, a Confederate soldier, offered his perspective on the battle in a letter to his wife on April 16. (DeVilbiss self-censored his epithet concerning Northern soldiers. Excerpted from the audio version of Behind the Lines.) Letter read by Darryl Worley.

Corinth, Miss.
Dear Mary

I hurriedly write you a few lines to let you know that I am well.…

I am afraid the wounded man may have been detained at the Hospital at Holly Springs and mails are uncertain. I am anxious you should hear from me. It is given up to be the hardest fought battle on the American Continent.

The Yankee camps, that we took were beautifully located with fine springs running down in branches, but on Monday morning I saw those branches having their waters all colored with blood. O Mary you could never form an idea of the horrors of actual war unless you saw the battlefields while the conflict is progressing. Death in every awful form, if it really be death, is a pleasant sight in comparison to the fearfully and mortally wounded. Some crying oh, my wife, my children, others my Mother, my sister, my brother etc. any and all of these terms you will hear while some pray to God to have mercy and the others die cursing the “Yankee sons of b_____s.”

It is a grand and awful sight to and one that can never be forgotten.

My leg is yet a little black from the spent minnie ball that struck me, as I told you in my letter before. I am thankful to God for bringing me safely through. Go to the Church and thank him also, and pray for my preservation, and tell my boys to do the same. The man waits. Good bye. God bless you.


World War I
Almost one-third of the Americans killed in combat during World War I lost their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in northern France, which comprised three successive assaults against entrenched German forces, beginning in September 1918. The third attack, which began on November 1, battered the enemy into a full surrender a week and a half later. The offensive lasted 47 days and involved 1.2 million American troops. One of these soldiers described to a former bunkmate in the Army several vivid incidents he witnessed in the final days of the war. (The writer, whose name cannot be determined, sent the letter after censorship was lifted. Excerpted from the audio version of War Letters.) Letter read by Steve Zahn.

Cote D’Or France
Dear Old Bunkie,

Now don’t go into epileptic fits or something like that when you read this letter, that is because I sent one to you as I know I haven’t written you a letter for some time. Too busy with Uncle Sam’s affairs just now and am working to beat hell.

I guess you would like to know of a few of my experiences over here while the scrimmage was on so I’ll give you a few little yarns.

We were in the line up at Thiacourt (St. Michel Sector) at first and although we did no actual fighting as we were in reserve at first and then in support, we got a lot of strafing from Jerry in the nature of Artillery fire and Air raids.

But in the Argonne Forest was where we got in it in earnest and even if I do say it myself, the good old Lightning (78th) Division will go down in history as second to none for the work they did there.

It was here, old man, that I got my first Hun with the bayonet. That was on the day prior to taking Grandpré and we had just broke through the enemy first line defenses when this happened.

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