DescriptionCivil War Letter Archive of William Thurston of Pennsylvania, of the Forty-Third Regiment, Battery F, Pennsylvania Light Artillery. Approximately 70 letters to Laura Morgan and Louisa J. Wolf, his future wife and close friend, respectively; dated from December 27, 1862 to June 7, 1865, two days before he mustered out of the army. Beginning in June 1863, Thurston wrote every two to three days from various encampments, primarily around Washington, D.C. and in Virginia.
In his letter to Louisa, dated December 27, 1862, he writes of hardship, the thought of good times past and hope for those to come. In part: "I often think of the pleasant times we used to pass in the old school house, and whereever [sic] we met, but I am deprived of all these pleasures, and I must endure the hardships of a soldier, which are many...I noticed the death of Peter. I feel sorry for his friends, But such is the fate of this wicked war. I have had some narrow escapes, But thank God I am still alive and safe.
I would have liked spent the Christmas with you for it was a dull time here. I had a mess of beans for my Christmas dinner. I suppose the folks at home are getting tired of the War, as well as the Soldiers. Well I hope that it will soon be over and then we can have some gay old times."
In his letters Thurston responded to news from home and wrote on camp life, his health, the weather, and military news. In a short message to Laura from Philadelphia, on February 16, 1864 Thurston expresses his anguish regarding the short duration of his time with her, stating, "I am to Sorry I did not remain a while longer with you...I could scarcely endure what passed when I left you, but we must be content and if God sees proper he will comfort us." He later mentions that his company should be going back to the front soon after.
His letters from July 1964 through December 1864 were written near the front during the Union Army's siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and provide a soldier's account of the long, bloody campaign. On June 28, 1864 he conveyed weariness of the war: "O, the days seem so long. I have just been meditating, wondering who could tell me the end of this cruel, cruel war. I think if I was President of these divided states for one day just now, I would negotiate with Jeff Davis and give him all he asked." Thurston was a Democrat who admired General George B. McClellan and disliked Abraham Lincoln.
His November 11, 1864 letter, written soon after reelection of Lincoln to a second term, Thurston wrote "I suppose you all know who is President. I am quite sorry, but I hope for the best. I understand that McClellan will not carry but three states, namely Kentucky, Delaware & N.J., if so he is entirely lost, and Lincoln will beat him two to one."
He was saddened, however, by Lincoln's assassination and had come to appreciate his attempt to unify the country. As he wrote in an April 18, 1865 letter, "I suppose you have heard of the assassination of the President, which is a sad calamity to our nation at this time. The solemn duties that devolve upon the Chief Magistrate of the nation I fear will not be ably fulfilled by Johnson. I must confess I never liked Lincoln, still I have learned to believe he was honest, and his whole heart and soul was enlisted in the cause of our common country....I feel to night like exterminating every Rebel in the South."
William H. Thurston (1838-1924), born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, worked as a blacksmith before he enlisted and was mustered into service on July 8, 1861 as a private with the Forty-Third Regiment, Battery F, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on April 22, 1865 and mustered out with the Battery on June 9, 1865. He married Laura Morgan (1845-1928) sometime after the Civil War. The letters are housed in a binder that includes four photographs, including one of Laura Morgan taken in 1864, which she sent to Thurston. A second binder contains background source material for the letters, such as prints of photographs of several officers and privates who served with Thurston in his regiment; various documents relating to Thurston family history, including a letter, dated March 29, 1865, written by Laura Morgan to Thurston; a typescript biographical sketch of Thurston composed in 1906; and a photocopy of pages from the 1869 History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 relating to Battery F. In addition to the two binders, there are two religious books, a late 19th century photograph that may be of May Thurston, the daughter of William and Laura Thurston; and miscellaneous material relating to the history of the Thurston family and the history of Thurston's regiment.
Condition: Most of the letters are written on 4.75" x 7.75" bifoliums and run three to four pages in length. Overall, very good condition, with approximately ten that are either fragile, with separated folds or with weak folds or have been crudely repaired with tape.
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