Soldier’s Letters Rescued from Trash Pile…

With the great discussion going on over at Eric’s blog on historical documents and copyrights, I notice this article. As you know I started as a massive rescue mission to avoid the potential loss of these aging and often discarded documents. This story just reaffirms what I believe what we’re doing over there at SS is so important. From the article:

Petersburg, Va. — Eli Pinson Landers would be astonished to learn that Civil War letters he wrote to his mother in Gwinnett County would be rescued — a century later — from an Atlanta trash pile and put on display.

The letters were published in a book that would make him one of the 13 “Soldier Comrades,” an interactive exhibit at the Pamplin Historical Park and National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, 30 miles south of Richmond.

The 21-year-old farmer, the grandson of a Baptist minister, enrolled in the 16th Georgia Infantry in August 1861 and went north to fight with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. One of the first of his letters to his mother was jovial: “Dear Mother, if I never see old Gwinnett again, tell Miss Cody I’m glad to be out of her cotton patch.”

After seeing battle for the first time, he wrote: “I get sort of ticklish when the bullets whistle around my head.” After an especially bloody battle, his humor apparently dissolved into an open-eyed realization of war’s real horrors: “I have saw the wounded hauled off in four-horse wagons, just throwed in like hogs, some with their legs off, some with their arms off, in terrible condition … .”

While dying of typhoid after the Battle of Chickamauga, near Chattanooga, in l863, he urged, “Dear Mother, weep not for me.”

Landers’ letters likely were passed through his survivors and descendants, until finally in the mid-l960s the last recipient threw them out on the street as trash. A passer-by picked them up, read them and kept them with her when she moved to North Carolina, where she gave them to a neighbor interested in history. They were stored in a closet until the 1980s, when they were given to author Elizabeth Whitley Roberson, who published them in her book, “Weep Not for Me, Dear Mother.”

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2 Responses to Soldier’s Letters Rescued from Trash Pile…

  1. John says:

    Chris – Thanks for the link over to Eric’s blog, esp. re: copyright issues. The fellow who recommended getting “family permission” (i.e. descendants’ permission) was closest to the question I originally wanted to think over. You bought their ancestor’s letters, do They have any continuing interest in them, legally or otherwise? The discussion has strayed over to archival collections held by public repositories, on which I will say this: often (usually?) the repository simply doesn’t want the trouble which may ensue from a researcher’s use of the documents they hold, and stipulate (legally) that it is the RESEARCHER’s responsibility to be certain no laws will be violated. Kind of a catch-22.

  2. admin says:

    Yeah, I understand that. My thinking is this is only going to be the case with Shermans, Lincolns, Grants, Lees, and the like ancestors of the Civil War Era. The ancestors of the average soldier will not have that kind of leverage. Also, frankly, I give my letters when I am done to Archives. I do not seek out ancestors as they may not want them, and, what will happen to them in the future? Archives are safer.


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