Martha Plumb’s heart broke, and she feared the worst as she set pen to paper to inquire about her husband.
“I sent my dear husband forth to battle with a pure motive, as all true patriot women aught to,” she wrote. “He was a kind man to me, and it was hard to part with him, so kind sirs, if you will please write to me soon as you get this, God will bless you.”
The letter, dated April 24, 1863, and decorated with a bald eagle on top, was lost in history until recently.
Mrs. Plumb is not a major historical figure, but her letter captures the experience of thousands of Civil War brides and family members desperately seeking word of their beloved soldiers.
Over the next three years, the fates of those soldiers will be revealed by archivists and conservators at the New York Public Library as they arrange, repair and hand-wash an enormous collection of Civil War documents known as the United States Sanitary Commission Records.
Despite its official-sounding name, the sanitary commission was a civilian organization, founded in New York City in 1861, to help Union — and sometimes Confederate — soldiers and their families.
The top of a New York Times piece in today’s paper by Emily Hager highlighting the US Sanitary Commission Records, which we are archiving under the Manuscripts and Archives Division. The number of stories that will be discovered in these records is truly amazing.