July 1863/July 2013

This is a big week for Civil War fans, as it marks the 150th anniversary of both the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and the surrender of Vicksburg, a strategic city on the Mississippi river (July 4, 1863). There is a lot going on, both in town and around the nation, to commemorate this anniversary; for this week’s blog I have picked three documents relevant to the week’s events. 
 The first is a letter from Major Alexander Biddle, written to his wife 150 years ago today from a “Bivouac in the field near Gettysburg.” Biddle was with the 121st Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, which had fought hard on the first day and then been in reserve on Cemetery Ridge. (You can see the 121st’s monuments at Gettysburg and find out  more about the regiment at the Stone Sentinels site). 

Biddle, autograph letter signed to Julia Williams Rush Biddle, Gettysburg, 3 July 1863. Rosenbach Museum & Library. Rush IV:30:33
In this letter, Biddle filled the normal four page letter (a single sheet, folded in half to create four pages) and signed off as “your loving Alexander.” However, “after writing this, about 4 O’clock in the afternoon our position was violently shelled”  so Biddle turned the paper 90 degrees and kept writing, a common 19th-century technique. In a work on letter-writing, Lewis Carroll advised never to do this, since “cross writing makes cross reading,” but perhaps Biddle can be forgiven as he was giving his impressions of the attack that would become known as Pickett’s Charge. In Biddle’s words:

“Doubleday & Rowley both said they never heard more violent shelling.  every minute they burst or solid shot ricocheted over us.  After this they drove in our skirmishers and pushed up to the brow of a hill on our right, for a moment they took a battery but it was immediately retaken.  the result is Longstreet wounded and a prisoner — Garrett wounded lying on the field.  Gibbons division took 14 stand of Colors, on our front they were repulsed.  I think I have seen some 2000 prisoners pass us during the day.  Their shelling still continues at intervals, sometimes severely.  To day is certainly a great success — for which thank the mercy of God to us and our suffering Country.”

Our second document provides a civilian perspective on Gettysburg.  It is a letter to Marianne Moore’s grandmother, Jennie Craig Warner, who lived in Gettysburg with her husband, the Rev. John Riddle Warner, and her one-year-old daughter Mary (who would become Marianne’s mother).

Craig, autograph letter signed to Jennie Warner, Shippensburg, Pa.,
13 July 1863. Rosenbach Museum & Library Moore VI:05:21

This letter, written to Jennie on July 13, 1863, expressed both concern and fascination:”We were rejoiced to hear that you escaped unhurt. Mr. Warner’s desire to see the battle progressing must have been pretty great when he would stick his head out of the trap door of the roof when balls were whistling around in every direction. To see a great battle progressing must be a sublime sight that I would like to see, if I could witness it with safety. The anxiety and fear you must have experienced during so terrific a battle must have been great. How did little Mary get along? But I suppose she was the happiest of you all being unconscious of the danger she was in.”

Our final document is the celebrated wallpaper edition of the Vicksburg Citizen. The Vicksburg campaign culminated in a siege of the strategic Mississippi town and with supplies dwindling, the Vicksburg newspaper was forced to
print on wallpaper.
When Union troops entered the city, they found the July 2 issue still in standing type,
and they printed souvenir wallpaper copies.

The Daily Citizen. Vicksburg, Miss., 4 July 1863. Rosenbach Museum & Library. AN .D133

As you can see, the wallpaper pattern has come through the page in the last 150 years, making it a bit challenging to read the Union  postscript noting that “No more will [the paper] eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricassed kitten — urge Southern warriors to such diet never more.”  There were several different patterns of wallpaper used–you can see a different one on the Library of Congress’s copy.

All of these documents can be seen in the Voices of 1863 exhibition; the museum will be closed July 4-5 for the Independence Day holiday, but you can swing by over the weekend to find out more. You can also find many other Civil War documents from the Rosenbach’s collections at our Today in the Civil War blog.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.