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This Wicked Rebellion: Wisconsin Civil War Soldiers Write Home

Edited by John Zimm, Wisconsin Historical Society Press 2012, $22.95

John Zimm has compiled a remarkable collection of letters written by Wisconsin soldiers and published in newspapers across their home state. Collected by Edwin B. Quiner, the nearly 10,000 letters were donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1867, and all are now online.

The letters are organized categorically rather than chronologically, immersing readers in the troops’ experiences. A soldier camped along the upper Potomac River declares, “This is a great country to stay in,” recounting berry picking, foraging, playing poker and “calling on the country belles.” But a soldier stationed in northern Mississippi complains “of lizards, snakes, and varmints by the million.”

Descriptions of battlefield experiences are searing in intensity and heartbreaking in candor. After Shiloh, Sergeant Calvin Morely recalls, “In a field fronting the peach orchard…a variety of bullets might have been gathered…as they were lying about on the ground like fruit from a heavily leaden tree after a storm.”

Many admitted changing attitudes about slavery after seeing the “peculiar institution” for themselves. A writer admits in 1862 that “never yet have I found one contented, and never yet seen one that was loyal to his master; and the stories of their careless happiness are forgeries, I firmly believe.”

Of the 80,000 men from Wisconsin who went to war, 11,000 never returned. But their letters speak eloquently of a time when uncommon valor became a common virtue.


Originally published in the September 2013 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.