‘God Has Called Your Husband to the Other Shore’: The Letters that turned Wives into Widows

Irish in the American Civil War

Few historic documents intrude on the intimate emotional experiences of past people quite like the letters that brought them news of a loved ones death. To read them is to at once imagine that first occasion when they were read. Though death may have occurred days, weeks or even months before, it was the act of reading these letters that turned wives into widows, that created bereaved parents and bereaved children. That in itself makes them incredibly powerful documents, even after the passage of 150 years. How did these families react as they read each word, or (for those who were illiterate) as each word was read to them? Many of the letters below were likely read again and again, as the bereaved sought comprehension. Others may have been quickly put away, as the bereaved sought to forget.

I am currently engaged in a long-term project looking at the letters…

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