1861: Unknown Author to his friend in the South

The identity of the author of this letter was intentionally concealed by the writer claiming that he feared for his life. The author datelined his letter from Philadelphia where we learn that he was a Southerner by birth and awaiting an opportunity to flee the city and return to the South before he might be “hung to a lamp post” or “thrown in prison.” He datelined his letter on 16 May 1861, over a month after the firing on Fort Sumter, but before all mail service to, from, and within the Confederate States was suspended on 31 May 1861 by US Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair.

“If I am spared, I will try and be once more where I can breath free and speak without the fear of being killed.”

It is my personal opinion that in concealing his identity, the author has conveniently also avoided the necessity of ever proving the extreme danger he was in. While it is true that many southern sympathizers were rounded up and thrown into prison for a period of time in the weeks and months after the fall of Fort Sumter, I have not found any reports of mob hangings though it was occasionally threatened by blowhard politicians. His representations of the impact on Northern businesses and the sufferings of the Northern populace were also grossly overstated in my opinion—perhaps intentionally. One gets the impression that he wrote this letter with the idea that it would be published in some Southern newspaper just to arouse popular opinion against the North—a common tactic in an age when news could not be easily or readily fact-checked.

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
May 16th 1861

Friend Joe,

Your kind and welcome letter came to hand a day or two ago and I was much pleased to hear from you once more. Joe, I do not know what to write as this will surely be opened before it reaches you and if it does, you can’t tell what it may cost me if it should be found out that I wrote it as the feelings of the people here are very hard towards those of southern birth or from the South. I can’t speak above a whisper here and have to keep my lips sealed to the world for fear of being hung to a lamp post, or being thrown in prison. But if I am spared, I will try and be once more where I can breath free and speak without the fear of being killed.

But do not say anything about my position here as I don’t want Mat to know that I am in so much danger as it will make her very uneasy about me. I shall try and leave here in a few days or as soon as possible for me to get off, even if I have to first go to England to get there on a sail vessel. It is exceedingly dangerous and almost death to attempt to go from here to the South.

You wanted to know the news here. There is no news except war, war, and everybody here is for war. The whole North are for war and I expect that we will have a bloody time of it very soon as we daily expect a collision between the troops. There are now thirty thousand troops in Washington City and a great many more in all the States but they have no arms to fight with at the present time.

There are a great many men here who are for the South but they cannot say a word for fear of being hung or put in prison or being shot down like dogs. Though time will tell, there is a bad state of affairs here and more suffering than you can imagine for so short a time. Provisions are scarce and exceedingly high. And hundreds have been compelled to join the army to get their daily bread or perish or go to the alms houses. The North will suffer as much as the South. All business has ceased and all of the manufacturers have been compelled to close up for the present. And times are very hard and no one knows when they will be better.

I wish I was with you but you are there and I am here. but God grant that I may soon be with you. If you answer this, be exceedingly careful what you write as your letters will be opened before i see them. Answer immediately and I may get it before I leave here. Best wishes to all. Your friends as ever, — Bo The old name

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