Tiffanie and I have just finished adding the letters from the Henry H. Bowen Papers (part of our Military Collection’s Civil War Collection) to the North Carolina Digital Collection. The Bowen letters are interesting – for one thing, Henry Bowen may have had one of the more frustrating services of the soldiers whose letters we’ve read through. He was conscripted into the Confederate Marines (evidently very much against his will) in 1864. By October 1864 he was in Charleston, S.C. waiting for the ironclad that he was to serve on to be completed. By January 2, 1865, he was on-board the ironclad C.S.S. Columbia on which he was to serve, but by January 14, 1865 the Columbia had run aground and he was back to waiting on a steamer in Charleston harbor. Eventually most of the soldiers who were to serve on the Columbia were sent to Richmond, Virgina, but Henry Bowen and some of his fellow North Carolinians stayed in South Carolina until February when they were ordered to retreat in advance of an expected attack on Charleston by Sherman. They were then sent to Wilmington, only to find out as they neared the city that it was already in Union hands, so they marched on to Fayetteville which is where our letters stop.
Henry’s letters have a lot of information on the monotony of life on-board ship; general impressions of Charleston in late 1864 and early 1865 during the Union bombardment; confused news about Sherman’s army and the related fears over where they might be headed next; concerns over the devaluing of Confederate money; and the challenge of sending and receiving mail between North and South Carolina.
And then there are his wife’s letters. Ann Bowen lived in Washington County, N.C., and unlike many of our Civil War wives wrote very detailed letters to her husband. She discussed the planting, harvesting and selling of their crops and often asked her husband how much she should charge for particular items. She was active in their community and frequently reported on the opinions and events happening in the county. This was particularly true when, in November 1864, the Union military took Plymouth and Washington County. From then on, almost all Ann’s letters convey her feelings of panic and confusion at living in occupied territory. In addition, she was constantly worried about delays in the mail (which made it difficult to consult her husband) and by a mysterious illness that made their daughter Cornelia Ann unable to move.
Next up for our letters digitization project will be the Poteet Family letters (link goes to the Poteet-Dickson Letters finding aid).