Monday, November 7, 2016

From the attics and shoeboxes of Virginia, a trove of historical gold

Via Brother Henry


The opening line still hurts across the years.

“Dear Mother — I am here a prisoner of war & mortally wounded.”

John Winn Moseley was writing home from the Gettysburg battlefield on July 4, 1863. He was a 30-year-old Confederate from Alabama being cared for by his Yankee captors.

“I can live but a few hours more at farthest,” he wrote. “I was shot fifty-yards of the enemy’s line. 

They have been extremely kind to me.”

Moseley died the next day. His letter — on delicate blue paper, stained with what might be blood — made it to his mother in Buckingham County, Va., and the family kept it ever after.


  1. I love individual accounts from letters, diaries, and journals from that period (or any period for that matter). One of my favorite books comprised of such writings is "Last Train From Atlanta". In this particular article the author writes of becoming overwhelmed by emotions. This may seem strange to some, especially when one is reading about the hardships and deprivations of someone whom they did not even know personally. I have experienced similar emotions myself when I came across sixty plus letters from one of great-great uncles who was in the Merchant Marines in WWII. His name was Baker Bishop. He died nineteen years before I was born. The letters I have were written to his mother. In many ways they were not much different from many CW period letters in that they dealt with questions and comments about planting time, kinfolks, deaths and births in the community, and a sons love for his mother, etc. He probably had an eigth grad education, but his penmanship and writing abilities were top notch. According to the U.S. Navy's story, Baker was killed when his ship and two others collided within sight of New York Harbor in February (I believe it was the the 2nd) of 1945. I have a newspaper clipping that tells of the account. Three huge ships (Baker was aborard a tanker) colliding in such a large body of water is possible, but to me never seemed plausible. Based on historical facts that have come to light in the last seventy or so years, I figure one or more German U-boats was laying off the coast and torpedoed the three ships which were bound for Europe with supplies and that the collision story by the navy and the newspaper was a just that, a cover story. It was young Baker's first patrol. He left behind a wife and a two year old daughter he had only seen a few times, but such is war. I think the stirring of emotions is the human aspect and the realization that the men who wrote the letters were not very different from the ones who read them many years later.