1862: Julia A. Donaldson to Mr. May

During the Civil War, soldiers sometimes placed advertisements in news papers seeking “pen pals” or urged a comrade’s relatives to strike up a correspondence with them. Some, perhaps, hoped the correspondence might actually lead to a relationship; others simply found it as a convenient way to fill the otherwise dull hours of camp life. Female correspondents often took on the task as a patriotic duty—as a means of encouraging the soldiers who were willing to “sacrifice home and pleasure” to put down the rebellion.

How Julia might have looked

In this charming letter, Julia A. Donaldson of Lafayette, Indiana, wrote to a soldier identified only as “Mr. May” who may have been local boy or not. I have not been able to find Julia in census or directory records but she may have only living in Lafayette temporarily—perhaps as a housemaid or staying with a relative. It seems clear she and Mr. May did not know each other. She states she has a brother in the Union Army. The only Donaldson I can find in military records connected with Lafayette, Indiana is a Madison Donaldson of the 20th Indiana Infantry, which was formed in Lafayette but he does not appear in the census records there. As for Mr. May, there were four different soldiers with the surname May in the 20th Indiana Infantry. Perhaps he was one of these soldiers.

I have transcribed Julia’s letter as she wrote it so you can see that her formal schooling—if she had any at all—was severely limited.

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


April 18, 1862

Mr. May,

Dear sur,

as i have hurd a friend if yourn spoke of you, i thot that i would writ to you. i hope that you will pardin me for the privlig that i have takin as this is Leep year and all foks is free in war times, i thot it would bee nise to have a unoin corasponent. i hope that that you will pardin me for making such a bold atenit as to write to you. i would not atemp to writ to eney won except won that had gon to help to put down this wiked war. i alway feel free to write or talk to eney won that is wiling to help put down this weked war. i think that eney won that is wiling to sacrifise home and plasur to help to restor aruend cuntry is the salt of our repulicen goverment.

when i pic up a paper and see that you ned help, i feel like picking up a gun and go to war mi self. But i cant. all i can do is to tri and write and pra for those Brave Boys that is wiling to tri and restor our republici goverment. i have won Brother in the army and a grat meny of mi friends ar in the army. a grat eny has gon to war. But tims ar quit flurshing in the norh yet and i hop it will always Bee so, By the help of god and our Brave Boys.

Well i supose that you would like to know what fur looking girl you corspondent is. Well i wil tell you. I am tall and slender, dark complected, dar hear and dark eyes and full of fun 21 years old. i enjoy mi self vary much ended But still i often think of a nother world apart Cold hener wher there is no mor war or parting of friends. We all hop haf to part with our friends ito am among strangers.

Will i gess that i will close this leter for i supose that i have writin mo than will enter rest you, i will close hoping that you will pardin me for the privilige that i have takin and if you think this leter worth ancering, I will Bee plsed to her from you.

From you well wisher, — Miss Julia A. Donaldson, Lafayette, Indiana

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