Civil War Letters

Another exciting find at the National Archives! I rarely have time to look at my own family’s records there, but I slipped in a couple of requests for Civil War files for one of my great great great grandfather’s brothers, Hamilton Rankin, last week.

Hamilton’s pension file contained not one, but THREE letters that he had written home to his mother in Fayette County, Pennsylvania during the war.

He mentioned in February 1863 that “I think this war will be over in four or five months more and then I think we will all get to go home”

In May 1863 he wrote that he was “very sorrowed to hear that the rebels are there in that part of the country (Pennsylvania). I wish that we was there to drive them out... We heard that they was in Fayette county (Pennsylvania)”

He closed out one of the letters saying “my dear mother, give my love and best respects to all my dear friends and to all the pirty (pretty) girls.”

As exciting of a find as this was, the reason these letters were included in this pension file was a sadder story. Hamilton’s mother was applying for pension benefits on his behalf, because Hamilton didn’t survive the war. He died of typhoid pneumonia in May 1863, only a couple weeks after one of these letters had been sent home. He was only 19 years old.

Mothers were able to apply for pension benefits if they could verify that they were dependent on the son for financial support. Hamilton had been sending money home to his mother during the war and made mention of that in these letters. They became evidence to support her pension claim and were still in his pension file almost 160 years later.

What family stories are tucked away in your family’s Civil War files at the National Archives? Then National Archives have reopened, so I’m on site there on a regular basis and can get your records for you! 
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