Primary Source Material: Manuscripts

by Donald Ackerman

Heritage Auctions 2012An interesting “sub-set” of collecting relates to manuscript material. This typically involves correspondence and other first-hand accounts. Civil War buffs have long known the importance of soldiers’ diaries and letters. In the political field, the types of collectibles are similar, but include by-laws and constitutions of political clubs, subscription lists, notes for speeches, etc. Interesting letters appear in the market on a regular basis and typically sell below $300. They sometimes describe political rallies or give the writer’s “take” on political issues of the time, precursors to the “pundits” of today. We will try to picture some of these in future installments. Along those lines, we came across a poem written in late 1862 that we thought you’d appreciate.
 
 

“The Drafted Wide Awake, or About Two Years Ago” by James A. Hassler, H Company, 16th PA Cavalry

i was a glorious wide awake
all marching in a row
and wore a shiny oil cloth cape
about two years ago

our torches flared with turpentine
and filled the streets with smoke
and we were sure whater might come
secession was a joke

if i then had only dreamed
the things that now i know
i nere had been a wide awake
about two years ago

i said the south would never dare
to strike a single blow
i thought they they ware cowards then
about two years ago

and so I marched behind a rail
armed with a wedge and maul
with honest abe upon a flag
a boatman gaunt and tall

my work was good my wages high
and bread and coal was low
the silver jingled in my purs
about two years ago

in peace my wife and children dwelt
happy the live long day
and war was but the fearful curse
of country far away

my wife sits pale and weeping now
my children crying low
i did not think to go to war
about two years ago

and no one now will earn their food
no one will be thare shield
god help them when i lie in death
upon the bloody field

Campaign stationery was sometimes used during the campaign and for some time afterwards. Letters might or might not have campaign content. This letter with a bold portrait of "Mr. Linkon" was written from Chicago just nine days after Lincoln's nomination for president. In a pencil postscript written on the front of the page, the writer says: "…I hope you will not think this is my likeness – it is the likeness of a smarter man – and hope he will be our next President. Don't you… let Carrie see this for she is a democrat and would burn it if she could get it…"

one brothers bones half buried lie
near the antietams flow
he was a merry happy lad
about two years ago

and whare the chickahominey
moves slow towards the sea
was left another wasted corpse
i am the last of three

just now i saw my torch and cape
which once made such a show
they are not now what once they seemed
about two years ago

i thought i carried freedoms light
in that smoky flaming brand
i have lerned i bor destructions torch
that wedge has split the land

if i then had only dreamed
the things which now i know
i nere had been a wide awake
about two years ago

In this typical Civil War soldier's letter written October 3, 1864, Private James H. Coombs of C Company, Maine 1st Heavy Artillery, writes to his "Farther and Mother": "…all i talk with are tired & sick of the war… they do not care with side licks so the war is over. you ask me how the soldiers would vote, for Lincoln all most to a man… Genl. Custer comands our Division…"

This single manuscript page is a list of the charter members of the "Republican Wide Awake Club" of Sharon, Massachusetts. Nineteen people signed on, pledging to aid in the election of Lincoln and Hamlin and also "of the Republican candidates for the State offices…" Such documentation seemed to be pro forma in Lincoln-era presidential campaigns.

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