Letters From The War: Chapter One

Updated on October 5, 2017

From My Teaching Days

Most of my years teaching were spent passing along my knowledge about history, and in particular U.S. History. I think it’s important to know who we are as a people, and history helps in that pursuit.

About two years into my teaching career I read a marvelous writer, Bruce Catton, a Pulitzer-winner for his work writing historical fiction about the Civil War. It was a revelation to me, and it was the beginning of my fascination with the Civil War . . . and with historical fiction.

It is for that reason that I dedicate this series to Bruce Catton. He has passed on now, but hopefully he is still able to appreciate it.

And I dedicate it to all of us still living. May we one day learn the lessons of the past before it is too late! There is always hope as long as there are men, and women, who wish for peace.

Home in Pennsylvania
Home in Pennsylvania | Source

In the Beginning

July 15, 1861

My Dearest Julia,

Words cannot properly capture the wonder of it all here in our nation’s capitol. For hundreds of yards in every direction the white tents stand, row after row, the sun reflecting off of them, at times creating a glare too great for my eyes.

My heart swells at the thought of serving my country. Although I desperately miss you, our son, and our farm in Pennsylvania, this is where I need to be at this time. My country needs me, and I am determined to answer the call of freedom and help put down this insurrection.

Camp life is not romantic, Julia. The authors who wrote of long-ago wars, the majesty of flags waving and men marching, failed to adequately describe the monotony and physical exertion of twelve, fourteen hour days filled with drill. We march in formation, we take target practice, we practice maneuvers, and then we do it all again, and again, and again. Then, as our bodies scream for respite, we collapse on the ground outside our tents, eat a meal of salted pork and beans, and endure hours of the foul stench associated with tens-of-thousands of men in close proximity. No, my darling, camp life is not romantic.

Still, the generals give us a sense of purpose, and it is generally assumed that this war will not last long. There is enemy movement outside of Washington, and any day now we will be called upon to march west from here, meet the enemy, and once and for all end this foolishness. And then, Julia, perhaps within a month, I will return to you, to our son, and we can once again live the lives we once envisioned.

Do not worry about me, Julia. I am a small part of the finest army in the world, and the Rebels are a ragtag group, poorly armed and poorly prepared. I am surrounded by comrades I trust, and I am certain the first large battle will be the last for all of us.

Love forever,

Samuel

And Then

July 18, 1861

My Dearest Julia,

Tomorrow we march! There is great excitement in the camp. The many hours of drill, and the deplorable conditions we have endured, will all end tomorrow as we go out to meet the enemy in the decisive battle. We are all bone weary of building fortifications around D.C., and we are itching for a fight. The city is alive with excitement. It is rumored that many of the citizens plan on making a social affair of it, packing meals and watching the great battle firsthand. Intelligence reports have the enemy somewhere near a creek called Bull Run, several miles to the west of Washington. We shall march proudly to the encounter and there we shall be victorious, for God is on our side and in His divine grace we shall see no harm.

I saw General Mead yesterday, riding by on his horse, inspecting the troops, his troops, the 2nd Brigade of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. I was less than impressed with his stature on a horse, but he appeared confident and morale was high among the men after his brief visit. He does not look like a military man. I thought of him as being a teacher, perhaps, or a store clerk, rather than a leader of fighting men.

We are but enlisted men, and not privy to the grand plans. We only know we march in the morning and meet the enemy somewhere beyond the Potomac.

Say a prayer, dear Julia, and remember that I love you always.

Your Samuel

Home in Kentucky
Home in Kentucky | Source

Meanwhile, Over the Hills

July 20, 1861

Hannah my love,

It would be impossible for my words to adequately describe the excitement in camp this evening. Tomorrow we meet the enemy, or so it is believed, and with the blessings of the Almighty we will be victorious.

The men are all in good spirits and confident. How could we not be? General Jackson is as confident a man as I’ve ever seen, highly religious, and he is convinced that our soldiers are the equal of any on the North’s side. He told us this morning, before the march began, that he had a vision the night before, and in that vision he saw great legions of southerners thrashing men in blue, and angels cheered from above as righteousness prevailed. His vision can only mean one thing, dear Hannah, so please do not worry.

We are camped by a river called Bull Run. Nearby is Manassas Junction, and it is expected that the Yanks will approach us from the east. We do not know their numbers, but we do know our quest is from heaven above and all will be well after the last bullet is fired on this battlefield.

I suspect I will be home soon, Hannah. The green hills of Kentucky call to me, and I am eager to return home and to your loving arms. Give our daughter a kiss for me, and please tell her that her father loves her mightily. Ask old man Grady to help with the milking if you are unable. He will be glad to lend a hand until I return.

May the glory of God be with us tomorrow! We’ll whoop those northern boys and then return home where we belong.

Love,

Jedidiah

Bull Run
Bull Run | Source

Leading up to . . .

In April of 1861, the Civil War had begun with the Battle of Fort Sumter.

Three months passed without any major military encounters between North and South. During that time, both sides organized and coordinated, rapidly, and frantically, preparing for the inevitable grand battle which, they believed, would end it all.

The public clamored for action and finally in July, 1861, the North struck out from Washington D.C., intent on marching toward the Confederate capitol of Richmond.

In their way were 18,000 Southern troops determined to ruin their plan.

The First Battle of Bull Run or, if you prefer, the Battle of Manassas, would be fought on July 21, 1861.

It was a bloodbath and yet, compared to what happened later on in the war, it was a mere skirmish. Over the span of four years, approximately 700,000 U.S. citizens died. Brother versus brother, neighbor versus neighbor, one continual bloodbath which cost us all dearly, even today, one-hundred and sixty-two years later.

Join me next week as we learn more about the Civil War through the words of those who fought it.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Robin! I certainly agree with your last sentence.

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      Robin Carretti 4 days ago from Hightstown

      I immensely enjoyed this read the video with such depth and the historical war I wish the people of today would really study more my father was a Veteran and I am proud these people saved our lives I wish we had a president Like Lincoln our world is falling apart.

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      Bill Holland 10 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Brian. Considering your background, that is high praise. That sketchbook would be fascinating to look at.

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      Bill Holland 10 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Lawrence...yes, God is on our side...what a bunch of malarkey that was. :)

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      Bill Holland 10 days ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Natalie. Best wishes on that project of yours, and thank you for the kind words.

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      Brian Leekley 10 days ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Bill, Bruce Catton's last book, Reflections on the Civil War, was edited by my brother, John Leekley. In the Editor's Forward, John tells how he came to know Catton and, after Catton's death in 1978, came to edit the material that became the 1981 book.

      John followed up that experience by writing and selling to CBS the storyline for the 1982 TV miniseries The Blue and The Gray, for which Ian McLellan Hunter wrote the teleplay. John then wrote the historical novel adaptation. John went on to have a long, prolific, and still continuing career as a writer of TV series, pilots, episodes, and movies.

      The Blue and The Gray miniseries video was stocked for decades by American public libraries and was shown or assigned by many high school history teachers.

      By using the rhetorical device of making the hero an artist hired by a major newspaper to sketch newsworthy events, John included in the story about every major turning point of the Civil War, from the trial of John Brown to Lee's surrender.

      Reflections on the Civil War includes illustrations from an actual sketchbook, full of sketches of army life during the Civil War by a young artist. John acquired the sketchbook from our parents' antiquarian book shop. The sketchbook was the seed inspiration of The Blue and The Gray miniseries plot.

      I like Chapter One of LETTERS FROM THE WAR a lot. The letters home device is working very well.

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      Lawrence Hebb 10 days ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      This is a great idea, taking an important, but often overshadowed event and making it personal through the writings of men who were actually there.

      Men from both sides, who'd both been told 'God is on our side' as part of the justification for the war!

      A great piece of writing.

      Lawrence

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      Natalie Frank 11 days ago from Chicago, IL

      Bill - I love this idea and and looking forward to reading more. Both the idea of reading about the war from the soldiers point of view as well as presenting it in the form of letters is a fascinating approach. You have inspired me to return to my own serial about WWII which I had left off of because of too many other obligations. Thanks for the motivation and interesting read!

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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww shoot, Mike, now I'm blushing. Thank you for the kind words. I share your love of history, but only history which is human in its telling . . . that's why this series is so important to me. War should be personal to us all.

      Happy Thanksgiving my friend, and good health and happiness always!

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      Mr Archer 3 weeks ago from Missouri

      Somewhat ironically, I have the film "Frozen" playing on the boob tube right now, simply as background sound. The song For The First Time In Forever came on as I sat reading your articles online. I have been absent for months it feels like, time spent working and reading and just living in the real world and all of its demands. Little if any writing at all.

      These are truly great articles, Bill. I read all of them but felt it proper to comment on this the first in the series. This series is fascinating to me for, as you know, I am a fan of History, the first hundred and fifty years of our country being my favorite historical period. From the early 1700's through the Civil War is a great draw to my interest.

      I have recently been reading the works of William Martin and his historical fiction. And I can tell you this: you are every bit as good an author as he is. You paint a vivid picture that pulls at the reader in a manner I am jealous of. You are a true Master of the art.

      Here's hoping this finds you and yours doing well. Blessings to you and Bev and love as well. Take care Sir William. I've missed communicating with you and will try to not be quite so absent moving forward. Happy Thanksgiving!

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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Peace be with us, Michael my friend. I appreciate greatly you finding the time to spend some with me. Enjoy your weekend!

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      Michael Milec 3 weeks ago

      Wars, why wars? Fascinating information shared in these letters men pouring out their heart’s feelings of being human as human can be sincere, loving family, God and the country. I love the lively way of presentation real happenings the letters are revealing my friend. At some moment I felt as personally being there. As a young boy I was actively engaged into some cruelty of ww2 over the part of my native land. Being part of the history happened, this series will have a faithful follower - as time permits in my busy schedule never ending ( just this one project.).

      Peace with us.

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      Bill Holland 4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I have no answer for your question, Manatita, and I doubt I ever will. Peace my friend!

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      manatita44 4 weeks ago from london

      Man's inhumanity to man continues. Why do we fight, Bro? yet you express this very well and the choice of music is awesome!

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      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Sis, you happen to be this teacher's favorite student, so I'll grade accordingly. I fell in love with the Civil War as I struggled to get sober twenty years ago. Devoured every book on the subject I could find; and here we are, twenty years later, eager to write a story long overdue. Thanks for joining me.

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      Paula 7 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Bro...Came upon Chapter 2, which of course, led me here. Story of my life, always running to catch up!

      and so...we begin another saga by billybuc. Yippee! I am ready to take it all in. So far, so good...interesting & inviting first chapter. I'll have you know that I've only recently (in the last 6 years) acquired a serious interest in History. Silly me...didn't know what I was missing!

      Simply love the way you have written this story via the "letters." Thank you for making this about the Civil War. I believe I slept through this class. Very good thing I was an expert at last minute cramming for tests.

      Here we go....................Sis

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      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Very cool, Flourish, and thanks for sharing. I love that area; like you said, so much history there.

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      FlourishAnyway 7 weeks ago from USA

      Either I missed this or didn’t get the notice. I like the format of this. I had relatives who fought on both sides and live near Richmond and Petersburg where there was so much suffering in the seige. I love visiting the historical sites around here.

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      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Hello Anne Laurie! Thanks for reading my story. Yes, you can follow me on Facebook. I always enjoy new online friends. Look me up and I'll approve it.

      bill

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      Laurie 7 weeks ago from Ontario

      Hello, how are you

      That is a great article, great video as well. The letters were amazing.

      Very well written.

      When I attended high school I would always daydream as looking out the window in science and history classes. I found it boring.

      My mom always received a note about that.

      Now though I find it fascinating and inspiring.

      It's amazing how through times history was passed on to the future, how the information always stayed around in the right hands to inform future generations.

      Thanks for the great article.

      Oh I found you on fb, is it ok to add you. I don't go on there much, just check it once in awhile.

      I do not know what to write on here, as I mostly had poems and do not have more to add. One story I am thinking about but have to word it perfectly.

      Have a good night.

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      Bill Holland 8 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Dee! I hope you are well, my friend.

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      Dianna Mendez 8 weeks ago

      Thank you for bringing us this wonderful reminder of those dedicated war heroes. I could picture each one writing as I read.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Chris! That's my hope, anyway. :)

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Linda! Thanks for being here from the beginning.

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      Chris Mills 2 months ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      Bill, I love the format so far. These letters tell the story that no text book could touch.

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      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This looks like it's going to be an interesting and educational story, Bill. Thanks for starting a new series.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      And peace be with you, Maria, and my thanks. I've never used this style before; there's no time like the present, yes?

      love

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Peg! It's something I've wanted to do for quite some time.

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      Maria Jordan 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Bill,

      I can tell I'm going to enjoy reading this series. I also love the use of letters sent in story telling.

      Wishing you a peaceful weekend. Love, Maria

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      Peg Cole 2 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      I already love this fascinating commentary on the Civil War from the letters exchanged by soldiers. What a great way to present the anticipation, excitement, confidence and skills of both sides. Looking forward to more.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Larry! I'll try not to disappoint.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Dora! I'm so happy about the response to this series.

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      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      A good start. I'm a huge fan of the historical fiction genre, so I look forward to reading more.

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      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      I love historical fiction. I know that I will enjoy and learn from these series, through the eyes of a soldier. I like that all your work include a home and family thread. Good theme, good writing, every time!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      No, Mary, not much has changed, and how sad is that? Perhaps you are wise to be living in Brazil. Reasonably peaceful there, isn't it? The U.S. is a good place to be "from" right now.

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      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      Not much has changed, has it? Each side believing their side is in right and thus deserving of divine protection.

      Brainwashing takes many forms but we always assume it is the others who have been subjected to this treatment.

      The use of letters is an excellent way to teach a subject such as history.

      Look forward to reading more.

      Have a wonderful weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Devika! I appreciate you.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Zulma, that was one of the fascinating facts for me. People packing picnic lunches to go see the Great Battle! I vote for idiocy!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad, Rasma! This one should be fun to write for me.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All true, Gilbert! The Civil War statues is a tough topic, and I can actually see both sides of it.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I do indeed, Mike. I'm going to enjoy this series. Thanks for being here from the beginning.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Dennis, I think they were wise men, to call off war for those winters. :) Thanks for adding that.

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      Devika Primić 2 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Informative and lots to relearn here.

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      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      I find it interesting that both sides were certain that God was on their side. And I find it disturbing that the Northerners thought it would be a great excuse for a get-together. Naivete or idiocy, I just can't decide.

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      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      I love historical events and getting to know more about them. I am enjoying reading this and looking forward to more.

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      Gilbert Arevalo 2 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      I enjoyed the historical letter writing Bill, and look forward to your series. I think if the world wasn't hassled by so many storms and the recent Las Vegas massacre killing, Civil War memorabilia of the south would receive more debate and discussion. Tearing down Confederate leader statues stirred up sensitive controversy about disrespect to black people. Everyone has their own opinion.

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      mckbirdbks 2 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Bill - I enjoyed reading this 'kick-off' episode in a series that can run on and on. The view from the trenches will keep you busy as we witness the enthusiasm seep from the correspondence. I hope you have an abundance of resource material.

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      Dennis L. Page 2 months ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Hi, Bill. I share your fascination with the Civil War. I am also interested in the history surrounding the War of 1812 and the American Revolution. On the northern shores of Lake Ontario is the village of Sacketts Harbor and across Lake Ontario is the St. Lawrence River and Kingston, Ontario. The winters were so harsh in that area it forced Canada and the United States to declare a truce until the spring weather returned.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for the reference, Bill. I'm sure I would like that book.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm so glad to hear that, Kari! Thanks so much.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That's okay. I figured it out, Ms. Perfectionist. LOL

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Talk all you want, Shannon! It tells me I struck a chord and that means I've done my job. Thank you for the great comment.

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      William Leverne Smith 2 months ago from Hollister, MO

      My wife, Nancy, and daughter, Annette Lamb, published a nice book of Civil War writings a while back: https://www.amazon.com/One-Hundred-Days-Norman-Wil... They did a very nice job with it, using CreateSpace...based on an actual diary and research surrounding it, including photos of the actual soldiers.

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      Kari Poulsen 2 months ago from Ohio

      You have taught me more about the Battle of Manassas than I ever learned at school. I love historical fiction also. Great beginning, I can't wait for more. :)

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      shanmarie 2 months ago

      Dang it, it won't let me edit. Bugs the crap out of me! Stupid five minute edit window. First sentence should say that I can tell this is going to be good! Minor typo, but they almost always bother me no matter how small. LOL

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      shanmarie 2 months ago

      Ooooh, I can tell this is going go good. Can't wait to read more!

      You probably noticed that I, too, enjoy historical fiction. Plus, it's from you so it has my vote no matter. LOL. But I fell in love with historical fiction when my grandma started passing books she read on to me. Makes me wonder what my kids will pick up on now that they are taking my books after I read them.

      As for this piece here, I can see it as a book. Maybe even more so than the Oregon Trail series. It reminds me a little of Anew Frank's diary, except that it is fiction. And, of course, I thought of one of my favorites: "North and South". I loved the way it depicted the emotional anguish due to friends and family fighting against one another.

      Anyway, I'm talking too much. See what happens when I am excited about something? I look forward to more!

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shyron, those letters, if they exist, would be fascinating to read. I hope you find some.

      Blessings to you always

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you sir! I'll try to deliver that information in an entertaining way.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Pop, we are in total agreement. If a war must be fought, I see no reason to pussy-foot around in it. Get in, get it over with, and get out.

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      Shyron E Shenko 2 months ago from Texas

      Bill, how wonderful to read about the civil war, because so many of my ancestors who fought in that war. I don't recall any letters in the family, maybe my cousin would have some.

      Blessings as always

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      Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      This is a very interesting series on the history of USA. I would like to know the details and causes that lead to the war from the perception of a wise history teacher like you. Thanks for starting this series.

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      breakfastpop 2 months ago

      I appreciate the chance to view this war through the eyes of men on both sides. I have been watching the series about Vietnam, and I am speechless. War, although sometimes necessary is always awful. We have never learned to fight to actually win. Instead, we play by archaic rules that turn the tragedy of war into a game.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thanks, Linda! This is a series I've wanted to for quite some time. I hope it lives up to the hype in my head. :)

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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I know that I must have studied a unit about the Civil War, but it was so long ago (don't make me admit how many decades!), I remember just the sketchiest of details. I'm looking forward to this series. You are a wonderful teacher, and the best story-teller I know. Thank you for selecting such a great topic.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Lori and you are correct: it is impossible to tell this story without tragedy.

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      Lori Colbo 2 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      I love the idea of telling the story through letters. The Civil war was indeed one blood bath after another. It is more sad to me than other US wars in that one half of our country was fighting the other. I find myself apprehensive about further reading, knowing there will be great tragedy

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for sharing that, Jackie! Right in the fort? How very cool that must have been, with Charleston Harbor in the distance, the flag waving, an old man and a little girl...great scene you just painted.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      All true, Eric! Horror? I'm afraid so, my friend, because war is never comfortable for those who fight it.

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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Ann! I have wanted to do this series for a long time and finally, here it is. You summed up my motivation perfectly . . . lest we forget!

      Wishing you a, peaceful, easy feeling sort of Thursday.

      bill

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      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I spent my 13th summer in Fort Sumter. Right in front of where I was staying was a tobacco field with an old man and a little girl working in it every day. I guess my mind and heart craved the history I had no idea about as I did wonder at this unusual sight. (Me being from the north.) If I had known my history might I have dreamed of the battle maybe fought on the ground beneath my head at night?

      Going to enjoy your history lesson I am sure.

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      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very cool. The horror is never far from my mind, but I will look forward as you reveal more. We must study what is the human condition and prepare not to repeat our mistakes.

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      Ann Carr 2 months ago from SW England

      What a wonderful depiction of the anticipation of soldiers, whatever their side. Hope hangs in the air but so does the anticipation of disaster. I also get a sense of the leaders saying whatever they need to say.

      Though so long ago, it is parallel to many situations of today, men and women who all think they're on the side of right, spurred on by leaders who are looking for glory, probably for many different reasons.

      Oh that we should learn from it all. 'Lest we forget' rings out loud and clear but do they listen?!

      Letters bring a personal presentation; such a good genre of story-telling.

      Well done, bill.

      Ann