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Memorial Day is now passed.
As Americans, we celebrate this special day each May acknowledging the
sacrifice of patriots who placed their lives in harm’s way so you and I could
live in peace and freedom.
So, all of this attention on
the price of freedom and the visit to a special Memorial Day service at a local
cemetery got me to thinking. Browsing through my shelves of books on the Civil
War, I ran across one particular volume about Charles W. Sherman, a soldier
with the 12th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. The book is the
compilation of letters (160 in all) that Private Sherman wrote home to his
wife, Virtue, during his two years of military service. Entitled, Letters to
Virtue, the book is subtitled, A Civil War Journey of Courage, Faith, and Love.
Charles Sherman is truly and
American story! He was born in England in 1828, immigrating to the United
States in 1838 with his family. In 1848, Charles married Virtue James, also an
immigrant from England. They had five children. He seems to have been something
of a Jack-of-all-trades, working first as a harness maker in Connecticut as
recorded in the census of 1850, then as a carpenter in Webster, Massachusetts
in the census of 1860.
Headstone of Civil War vet Thomas McKinney
The Civil War began in 1861,
requiring men to leave their families and their vocations to serve their
country in order to preserve the Union. In January of 1862, at age 33, Charles
Sherman enlisted in the 12th Connecticut. He must not have had much
of an education as his letters reflect poor spelling and grammar usage.
However, his ability to express what was important to him comes through with
clarity. You see, “Charles enlisted
because of his strong belief in the principles of his adopted country as well
as his firm opposition to slavery.”
It is a fascinating journey
to catch glimpses of a soldier’s life during the most arduous of wartime
challenges. His unit left Connecticut, traveling to Louisiana, then to
Virginia, before finally returning to Connecticut at war’s end. He is quick to
express his love for his wife and five children in each of his many letters.
His graphic descriptions of combat and its horrors are not enjoyable reading,
but he is frank and honest in his assessment of their conditions and the combat
they are frequently engaged in.
In his last letter home,
dated October 15, 1864, Cedar Creek, Virginia (The Battle of Cedar Creek), he
shares a thought that must have been troubling him for quite some time.
Describing preparations for battle, he writes, “It is not fear, but a sad feeling when you see the skirmishers deploy
into line, and the regiments unfold themselves into a line of battle.” He
further describes the cacophony of battle. “When
the thunder of the artillery comes upon you, you forget everything else and
look out for the shells that come screaming toward you, not that you can dodge
anything, but you want to see where they are coming from.”
He conveys the relief in
returning to camp, saying, “A man feels
better in going away from danger than in going to it.” I can vouch for
But it was this expressed
thought that captured my attention, and his reluctant acceptance of war’s
horrific devastation, regardless of who wins and who loses. He wrote, “I do wish this cruel war would come to an
end, for this going about to kill one another has an unchristian look to me,
when you come to look at it in that light, but it has to be done, I suppose.”
On October 23, 1864,
Sergeant Edward S. Larkum wrote a letter to Charles’ father. “Dear Sir, It devolves on me as a tent-mate
of your son to line (write) the sad news of his death, which occurred in
terrible battle of the 19th of the present month. As a soldier, he
was much respected. He was courteous alike to everyone and there was not a man
in his regiment who did not respect him. He was killed in the foremost rank,
bravely fighting for his country which he thought so much of. . . . Any
information that I can give will be gladly attended to, and if I can be of any
benefit to you in any other way, willingly will my services be offered and
gladly will I pay the last tribute to him who was so brave and so kind.”
Corporal Charles Sherman
joined the ranks of the fallen, but whose shed blood has helped to insure a
future for all Americans, whether native born, or naturalized citizen.