Letters Home to Sarah: The Civil War Letters of Guy C. Taylor, 36th Wisconsin Volunteers. Edited by Kevin Alderson and Patsy Alderson. Photos, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index, 328 pp., 2012, University of Wisconsin Press, www.uwpress.wisc.edu, $26.95 hardcover.
Like many collections of letters Letters Home to Sarah is light on battlefield narratives but heavy on how soldiers actually lived the war. The 36th Wisconsin was created in the early spring of 1864 and while the regiment as a whole did see some combat before reaching Petersburg Guy Taylor was not one of them. It seems that he was sick for much of his early service and spent nearly his first three months in the hospital. He’d eventually join the ranks but then be assigned to duty with a doctor.
Since he missed most of the combat his regiment was engaged in his letters instead cover the daily life of a soldier far away from his wife. They discuss how to run the family farm, what she should tell people who ask why he enlisted, things she should send to him in Virginia and of course the common soldier lament of not receiving enough letters from home. Because it seemed that they were missing letters from each other they quickly started to number them so each would know when one was missing. This also was important because Taylor used the mail to send his wife home part of his earnings.
An example of how personal life was more important than the war going around him is that on April 12 1865 Taylor writes his wife to let her know about Lee’s surrender and its just quickly mentioned at the beginning of the letter before he talks about how they are being fed and that he has not heard a gun fired since the surrender and thinks he’ll be home by July
A few days later he related a humorous tale of how he visited a local family and bought one of their chickens. Some other soldiers arrived expecting to steal the chickens but he liked the old man of the house so he told the soldiers they had to buy the chickens, that he was placed as guard over the house. So the soldiers paid for the chickens but were not too happy about the situation. He figured they had stolen enough chickens that they could afford to pay for some now too.
Taylor was clearly an intelligent soldier as his letters are quite interesting and lengthy. The spelling leaves a bit to be desired however it is still possible to understand it. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a soldier’s life during the Petersburg campaign.