1864: “Being An Invalid”

Baltimore, Md.

August 20, 1864

Dear Emma

I doubt not but you are wondering why I, of late, am so delinquent in replying to your letters. The reason, which I will state, is from no lack of desire to be prompt, but the heat has such an effect on my shoulder, coupled with my duties, which are not so arduous but of such a nature as oftentimes to incapacitate me entirely, for writing letters. I trust you will consider my circumstances, being an invalid, and pardon me for my delays accordingly. Will you?

I received your letter of recent date in due time and, although tardy, read it with interest. I have no Thunder Storm adventures or might write about a promenade down Baltimore St. one Sunday evening recently, in search of an “Ice Cream Saloon,” but my time will not permit me to give the particulars, besides you are unacquainted with the place and I fear it would fail to interest you.

Tis Sabbath, P.M. I suppose that you are at this time attending Sabbath School in the little country church in New Market, are you not[?] If you could see the papers that are strewn on the different tables in this office and the business appearance of things, you could scarcely imagine even that this day is kept by some as Sabbath. I should like to be in New Market****, listening to Bible instructions.

If I continue at this rate, I will have this completed by Monday morning. It seems that there are more calling on business when I attempt to write a letter than at any other time. Captain —– has just called, to correct an error that he made several months ago, and of course, I had to search over papers that were filed away in March. It is real provoking. I gave him a piece of my mind, which he will undoubtedly remember when he makes out his musters rolls again.

I was very agreeably supprised[sp] on Thursday evening, upon meeting an old Alfred [school] acquaintance. He heard that I was in the city and called to see me. He is a brother of Amanda Langworthy and had just returned from a furlough to Alfred, so I was quite well posted as to how matters stand at the above place… He is in West Hospital in this City, with another old acquaintance of mine. I saw them both last night, and talked over, our boarding school adventures….

Yes I would very much like to see you, but as that is impossible at present, you will oblige me greatly by forwarding me a picture a representation of the original. Please do not fail to comply with my request at your earliest opportunity….

Yours, Truly

Walter G. Dunn

(Source: Dunn, Walter G. and Emma Randolph, edited by Judith A. Bailey and Robert I Cottom, After Chancellorsville: Letters From The Heart – The Civil War Letters of Private Walter G. Dunn and Emma Randolph, Maryland Historical Society, 1998. Page 98-100)

*****NOTE: Walter is not referring to New Market, Virginia. He wrote about New Market, New Jersey. There are lots of “New Market” towns in Civil War history and regimental/homefront accounts!

Invalid Corps

What did they do with wounded soldiers who recovered, were unable to “take the field,” and still had time to serve? It’s a lesser-known aspect of Civil War history.

Meet The Veteran Reserve and Invalid Corps.

Organized and appointed by General Order No. 105 of the U.S. Army on April 28, 1863, the Invalid Corps followed precedent from the Revolutionary War, creating units of soldiers to serve in garrison or light duty while recovering from wounds or disease. Basically, there were two “classes” of soldiers allowed to serve in this Corp. First: those partially disabled men who still had terms of service to fulfill before their enlistments expired. Second: those who had actually been honorably discharged from military duty due to illness or injury, but who wished to serve for patriotic or monetary reasons.

Private Walter Dunn originally served in the 11th New Jersey Infantry Regiment, but a severe shoulder wound at Chancellorsville (May 1863) left him unable to return to the ranks. When sufficiently recovered, he became working as a military clerk, keeping records and getting a good reputation for his hard work and dedication. He chose to see the service as his patriotic duty, though frequently bemoaned that it was long hours and rather boring. He continued in this type of service through the end of the war and the end of his enlistment period.

Courtship Letters

Usually letter collections offer a one-sided glimpse of a written conversation. In the Civil War period, it’s usually the guy’s letters that survive – especially in the military setting. Soldiers got letters from home but lost or intentionally destroyed the notes while the families and friends on the homefront had a better chance of preserving the letters.

I’ve read “one sided” courtship letters before from the Civil War era, and the published collection of Private Dunn and Miss Randolph’s letters is a real gem, because for the majority of the collection his and her letters have been preserved. It’s fascinating to read what they wrote about, how they discussed their futures, got more comfortable “talking,” and eventually quarreled and teased. It adds so much insight and meaning to have their letters side by side and see the progression of their relationship.

Historical Musings

Ice Cream? In the Civil War?


Walter and Emma actually mention it several times in their letters. Going for ice cream or having it at someone’s home during party was an event worth writing about – at least according to this couple. Ice houses or imported ice (from ice houses) were key to making this cold treat in the middle of summer.

Additionally, ice cream was a thing beyond the northern towns and cities. There are mentions of the new-fangled ice cream parlor/saloon in Richmond – capital of the Confederacy. Of course, in that location, the question would linger: who could afford the luxury? But that’s another story for another day…

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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